Session Setup - Studio Interns Checklist Volume Two

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   In no way do I claim that this list is inclusive, nor is it within the scope of this article to mention all of the many permutations that any client, artist, engineer, producer, and/or facility may require for any particular session.  This should give you a good start, though.

    One book that I haven’t read in a long time that has an abundance of information on this topic is Tim Crich’s Assistant Engineers Handbook.  To some it might seem like it’s filled with a lot of “no-brainers”, but I’m just glad that it’s all gathered up in one place.

    Typically, once the control room is properly zero’d & restored to a clean & stocked state for the incoming engineer, the assistant can begin setting up the live room while the first engineer sets up the control room.  The two of you then race towards the middle.

Session setup:

  • Get yourself a xerox or printout of the input sheet, setup map, and gear request list for today’s session.
  • Break down the previous session where appropriate.
  • Going by the setup map, clear an appropriate “landing space” for the incoming musicians’ gear.
  • Turn on the tape machine or DAW. Turn on any power amps for speakers last!
  • Give the control room a good look & wipe down any dirty surfaces, the phone & the doorknobs.
  • Are there any important light bulbs that are burned out?
  • Prepare a space for the engineer’s speakers, if she/he is bringing their own.
  • Going by the request list, bring all applicable outboard gear into the control room.
  • Power on the tube gear to allow it sufficient warm-up time.
  • Give a quick look at control room supplies. (See volume four.)
  • Place the mics on appropriate stands, leaving enough room for the musicians to set up.
  • Don’t forget to check each mic’s pad, filter, and polar pattern settings.
  • Do you need pop filters (aka wind screens) or music stands?
  • It also might be a good idea to label each mic (either by instrument or wall plate number).
  • Going by the input sheet, plug in each mic into it’s designated wall input.
  • Make sure you visually inspect every cable you plug in, to make sure it’s in good shape.
  • Going by the setup map, place the headphone stations/mixers near the musicians.
  • Label the headphone boxes for the musicians.
  • Plug in a good pair of headphones in each station & check them.
  • Restore the headphone mixer settings and set them all for a good, low-level, starting volume.
  • Does anyone in the live room need water or coffee?  Pencils or paper?
  • Make sure the lighting is set for everyone’s comfort.**
  • Patch in all the outboard gear.
  • Label each piece for its desired instrument.
  • Ensure that the tape machine is aligned and spooled up, or fire up the session/project on the DAW.
  • Give another brief look at the control room and make sure there are enough supplies.
  • Once the session is rolling.  Take a walk.  Is there anything that needs your immediate attention, re-stocking or fixing?  (More on "Take a walk" can be found in volume one.)

    *See volume four for a sample list of materials to stock in the control room, such as sharpies, pads, console & splicing tape. (Coming soon.)

    **Thanks to Stav for reminding me of why lighting is so important in the studio.  If you haven’t picked up his book already, you’re missing out.  It’s quite remarkable.

    And grab a manual for a piece of gear being used today that you and/or the engineer might not be as familiar with.  Practice multi-tasking by paying attention to the session, practicing your silent art of studio etiquette while increasing your usefulness, following along with a new piece of equipment literature.  You just might save the day if something goes wrong.

    If your engineer is happy and the session is rolling, maybe it’s time to grab everybody some lunch....

    (I'm going to go out on a limb and say if there are any fledgling audio people out there who'd like to come hang out for a setup or session, let me know.  I may have some tracking sessions coming up that you'd find educational.)

    And thanks again for reading!   

 - JW

Other articles you may find useful:
Studio Interns Guide Part One: Overview
Studio Interns Guide Part Three: The Lunch Run
Recording Preparation for Bands Part Two: The Phone Call
(or, in reverse, an intern's guide to getting clues for what the setup will be like!)