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What are you scared of in the recording studio?

Do you ever avoid a certain audio technique because of fear? Fear of failure? Fear of bad sound? Fear of... the unknown...?


I love getting comments from people who read my articles. After many, many years in audio, I sometimes forget the things that newcomers worry about. It's good to be reminded. I was a newcomer once.

A recent comment contained this snippet - "If I've learned anything from reading your articles it would be to not be scared!"

Well that was unexpected. Audio isn't mountaineering, deep sea diving or motorcycle racing, so what is there for anyone to be scared of?

Well there is always the fear of failure. Everyone suffers that from time to time, even people who are highly successful. No, especially people who are highly successful, because they are always worried that they will fall off their perch.

There isn't much to be done about fear of failure other than to press on regardless. But is there any audio technique that might cause a case of the shivers? Or is this commenter worrying about nothing?

Personal injury

Unless you're doing something really way out (I once saw Adamski record vocals on top of a step ladder. Really, I don't know why), the biggest risk in audio is hurting your spine through carrying heavy objects, such as large loudspeakers. Another real risk is repetitive strain from over-use of a computer keyboard and mouse. And if you habitually monitor too loud, then you should know what to expect. YOU SHOULD KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT!

Other than that, there's nothing in recording that is any more hazardous than being at home. I'm not saying that there are no hazards; electricity is always there to bite you if you're not careful. But it's hard to see anything that is especially dangerous about recording, other than what I have mentioned.

Damaging your equipment

It is entirely reasonable to worry about doing something that might damage your equipment. Fortunately, equipment is very robust these days. You wouldn't want to submerge your microphone under water, connect a power amplifier to a microphone input, or stack equipment on top of your mixing console (Oh dear, I've seen this far too often).

You might worry about your software, but there is nothing in normal studio operations that can harm it. Your DAW is at no more risk than your word processor.

Damaging your reputation

Aha! This is where we get to something that really can go wrong in the studio. Suppose you have been working successfully for a client for some time. You do the work, you get paid. Rinse and repeat.

But then one day you fail to check your work before you send it off. There's a problem of some kind. It gets broadcast before anyone notices.

In this kind of scenario, your reputation will take a dent. But you can build it back up again, if you do good work and keep the problem rate very low.

Slightly different is the scenario where you try to be too clever and give the client something they didn't ask for, although you thought it was a good idea at the time. Getting into the head of the client is always a good thing to do, in any kind of work.

Doing something stupid

Now here, I feel, is where the nub of this problem lies, and is what the commenter is actually scared of. He's afraid of doing things that others might laugh at or criticize, if they found out. For instance, I once observed a seasoned engineer at a very high class studio make unreasonably disparaging remarks about a junior engineer who was struggling a little with a mic stand. On another occasion another engineer in a similarly high class studio commented that the singer "can't sing". This kind of behavior is impolite, but more importantly it is actively harmful. The more a person is criticized, the more they creep back into their shell and the quality of their work suffers. Most people perform better with encouragement, rather than criticism. Any problems should be pointed out of course, but unreasonable disparagement and 'making fun' is unprofessional.

Fortunately for most of people working in home recording studios, they can make all of their mistakes in private. Indeed, making mistakes is part of the creative recording process. If you try out new techniques, most of your ideas won't work. But some will. It's a bit like Edison who found a thousand ways not to make a light bulb before he was successful.

The moral - there is very little to be scared of in audio. Audio is an activity where you can be as adventurous as you like. And, as the saying goes, fortune favors the brave!

By David Mellor Thursday November 29, 2012

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