Past Guest Moderator
Joined: Sep 2005
(I’m starting to notice some questions have already been addressed while answering other posts. So in the interest of time, I’ll just answer the new ones.)
There is so much to say about the subject of assistants that I’ll just feed it out in morsels.
Training assistants is something I’ve been doing for many years and I have it down pretty pat. I take on one assistant for a period of two years, not including being a second for 6 months or more.
Up until a couple of years ago, all the information was passed on verbally from one assistant to the next. It was overwhelming to educate someone new without a kind of manual they could review. So, last year I had Keith Gary, my assistant and protools engineer write down all the procedures for everything pertaining to a session. For example; pre production, console input set up, MHB desk setup before I walk in, tape alignment, PT alignment, PT procedure checklist, Recalls, post production, back up etc. We are always tweaking this manual. It is an invaluable document because it makes the transition for a second assistant so much smoother. Until they memorize it, they can sit down and follow the step-by-step list for everything that goes on in the room.
Aside from learning all the technical requirements, they also learn about interpersonal communication. This covers the do’s and don’ts of studio etiquette, client relations, integrity, and basic growing up under the gun. Ask anyone that’s been on my session and they’ll remember the name of my assistants. Clients rave about these guys. Their attitude is great and they keep the client well cared for from the moment they walk into my room. They help make the session run like a dream and everyone notices their professionalism.
You can pretty much gather by now that I run a tight ship. I have to. There is an important amount of work passing through every week and unless it is organized down to a science, there’s going to be mistakes made. Even with all that in place, these guys are human and mistakes happen but they are minor because I have so many backup fail safes in place. The order in which things are done must be followed in the proper sequence or it opens the window to a chain of events that can lead to a mistake. Major errors made by past assistants were because they ignored the proper sequence of procedures and the fail safes were no longer in place to stop the chain of events. When that happens….it’s not a good day.
Their hours are long and they learn to work well under extreme exhaustion. It’s good training for when they become engineers because mistakes are generally done when exhaustion sets in.
One thing I don’t do is work weekends. We all need a 48 hour break. For me it’s going to the country, for them it’s working on their music, which they do in my studio.
It’s a tough job and it’s intense but when they leave they are prepared for the real world.
Regarding explaining how each box I own works the answer is no can do. I have a sh*t load of toys and they are on standby when I need a sound. If I didn’t have them to use, I’d still get the sound I was looking for. I’m a toy junkie but I use them, I don’t buy them just to feed my need for collection.
I started with two pultecs and one 33609 neve stereo compressor. Now look at me, it’s out of control.
The console is always setup the same way for me. Keith or my second busses out all the PT tracks to the desk. Drums, bass, gtrs and vocals come up in the same places on the desk. Everything else is put close to me according to how important it is to the song.
Keith is both my assistant and my Protools engineer. I read from one engineer that he lives in the studio…so does Keith. It saves on the rent. What’s the point of paying for room that you only spend 4 hours in a day…on a good day!
Thinking about this question, I thought it would be a good idea to have Keith add to this question since it pertains directly to him,
Michael: “So Keith, what have you learned from being my assistant?
Keith: “Assistants should play whatever role is desired from the engineer. The engineer is the boss, and as an assistant, you do whatever you can to make his/her life easier...no questions asked. In my case, my responsibilities include prepping the sessions before Michael comes in, doing any protocols editing that's required during the session, and printing all of the passes and backing up once the mix is complete. The most challenging aspect of my job is documenting every piece of gear and patch for every mix, and being able to bring it back perfectly two years later...there's certainly no room for error. It's pretty easy to read a client's demeanor as soon as they walk in. I adjust my behavior according to how well I know them, whether I've worked with them before, the energy they're putting out, etc... the same goes for "being seen and not heard," If I know a client really well and have a relationship with them, they'll sometimes ask for my musical opinion. then, and only then, will i give it to them. I always tend to offer a cup of tea or coffee once they're settled and getting comfortable in the room, and it's never gone unappreciated.
Michael trains us to have everything ready to go before he walks into the room. All he does is hit play on the console and then begins mixing. This enables him to think solely about the music. His mind isn't bogged down with technical problems or any other distractions. Many times, I’ve run into pretty major problems at the beginning of the day, and Michael never knew anything about it...because I allowed myself enough time in the morning (many times I start prepping the session the night before) to find whatever problems decide to show up that day and correct them before he comes in. More than once I've pulled an all-nighter just to make sure that he would be ready by 9 am.
Michael trusts his assistants implicitly...he has to. He has to know that he can walk out of the room once the mix is done and be completely confident that I'll take care of every little thing that has to be done. And having to live up to his expectations is great training. I know that if I can keep Michael happy, there's not many positions out there I can't handle.”