A Little Bit About Studio Etiquette

When people think of a studio and a recording session the first thing that comes to mind is the image portrayed on TV and in music videos. This image is usually far from the truth. A recording session is not finished after one or two takes and it is far from a party environment. Many studios have equipment worth thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. The most expensive microphone that I have ever used was a $12000 vintage Telefunken U47 and we were very careful around that microphone.

With that in mind, you can understand why studio owners are very cautious about what happens around their equipment so make sure that you respect the environment that you are borrowing. Here are a few thoughts to make your recording experience better.

Essential People

The only people who need to be at a recording session are the people that have a direct influence on the recording:

  •         The musicians
  •         The engineer
  •         The producer

People who probably shouldn’t not be there are:

  •         Talkative and opinionated friends
  •         Girlfriends and significant others

It is fine for them to visit because a recording studio is a cool thing to see but there is work that needs to be done and they can be the cause of unwanted distractions. Some friends even try to take over the producers job.

Talkative and opinionated friends can actually be very beneficial to a session if their opinions are in tune with those of the producer. If not, their presence becomes very detrimental to the process, especially if the friend has no recording experience. Their goal is always to help but they can have a tendency to have a short term, from take to take, perspective and not know or be aware of how one action now can effect a later process such as editing or mixing. I have seen a producer tell a band to get rid of a friend in the studio because the producer got tired of explaining to him that all of his suggestions would mean hours of unnecessary editing later. Imagine that your song is a house under construction where the producer and the engineer serve as the designer and the contractor. One day, a friend with no design or contracting experience wants to take control over the building of your house. Would you let him? 

Girlfriends and significant others can have an effect on a session because their presence can set a certain mood. This can work for or against the recording. Many people don’t want to admit it but they act differently around their partners. You can hear it when they answer the phone or when they are around. Girlfriends and significant others typically change the dynamic of the group simply by just being there which in some cases alters the performance.However, there is a time that I would say that friends and partners should absolutely be there. This is when the mixing is nearing the end and the final tweaks are being made. During this part of the process the guitar player wants to hear more guitar, the singer wants more vocals, the drummer… etc. In this situation it is good to have friends in because they can bring a less biased opinion to the group.


Use Constructive Criticism

I have a general rule when it comes to criticism.

 Don’t mention a problem if you don’t have a solution to it.

 Imagine that you are playing a new song and after you play it through, someone tells you that you played it wrong and you should fix it but offers no suggestions on what to do differently. How frustrating and de-motivating is that?

Be Supportive and Positive

There are many benefits to having a positive and supportive attitude. It has a huge impact on the result of the recording.

One of my favorite studio stories has to do with this topic.

I once had a student who was a singer. She was charismatic and a natural and a natural performer. She was also an identical twin. On one of her songs she had convinced her sister to sing back-up parts. Like many twins, her sister was not a singer even though she had almost the same voice and she was also not a natural performer. This was her first time in the studio which is nerve racking for most people. In this case it was worse because the control room was had her sister, myself and about 10 other students in there listening to her. Naturally she was very nervous and it was very easy to hear that she felt uncomfortable.

During one of the takes, I had my head down to where, form her perspective, it looked like I was just listening to the take. What I did was tell my students in the control that we needed to boost her confidence, so when I hit the talkback button everyone has to tell her that she is doing a great job, that her voice is beautiful and that she just needs to project a bit more and turn that voice loose. It took about two takes for her to fully let go of the nerves and she actually got to a point where she was projecting too much and we had to tell her to bring it down a notch. In the end, she found out that she had it in her to not only sing but to sing well. All she needed was a little positive support.

Focus on the Recording

Recording sessions can be very long and monotonous especially if you are doing take after take after take… It may seem like not much is happening but the producer and engineer are listening very intensely to the performance. Even when the song is being played back, they are listening to the performance. A rule that I learned early on in my days of hanging out in studios is that in the control room, the focus is always on the music and therefore;


No talking while recording.


Most studios have a lounge area so if you feel like you are getting bored and feel the need to talk about something other than what is being recorded, take a break and go to the lounge. The producer and engineer wouldn’t mind, in fact they will appreciate your consideration to maintaining their focus.


I don’t want to get into how drugs are bad, illegal and why you shouldn’t do them. We all know that.

I have had clients who insisted on bringing various substances to the studio in order to help their performance. It never does. All I will say is this, everything in moderation but if you need the help of drugs or alcohol in order to perform, you have a problem that needs to be fixed. Try to name a successful addicted artist who is living a happy and healthy lifestyle.

I’m sure that there are more things that can be thought of as proper studio etiquette but those are the main ones in my opinion. The bottom line is to give the support that you want to receive, the creation of the music is the main focus and have fun.