Studio Etiquette: Three Lessons We Learn As Children You Should Apply In The Studio

A recording studio is a collaborative and creative space, designed to capture those magical moments or ideas that happen during a session. The room where RECORDS are created. That’s how they’ve always been pictured in documentaries, interviews and films.

But they are also much more than that.

Studios are full of complex relationships, insecurities and egos. Spaces where artists have to strip emotionally in front of a music producer or a recording engineer to give a performance that will endure beyond that day. Where expectations are high and people can feel vulnerable with something as personal as lyrics. It can be intimidating. So how do you navigate around that?

Whether you are the artist, or on the other side of the glass, having knowledge of Studio Etiquette can make the difference between an enjoyable, magical and productive session or a difficult experience.

There are lots of specific considerations to bear in mind such as punctuality, not entering the studio when the red light is on, and switching off your mobile phone to name just a few.  In this article, we share our tips on the mindset that will benefit you and those around you as artists, producers, and engineers alike.

Everyone is different in the industry and there is no book or set of agreed rules to learn how to behave in the studio. But in a way, you just need to follow the 3 main lessons that we learn as children:

Studio Etiquette lesson one… Always play nice

The final goal is to make great music, right? It doesn’t matter if you are a runner, an assistant engineer, a music producer or the drummer in the session. Ultimately everybody plays their part in the process and you’re there to be someone’s aid. It is important to create a nice environment where ideas can flow naturally and people can feel comfortable sharing their art.

Recording in the studio is a collaborative experience where everybody’s contributions add up. Try to leave egos aside and if you are the producer focus on everyone’s strengths and learn how to manage them to drive the session forward.

It’s easy to see close relationships established between artists or producers while working in the studio. This can be very beneficial from a creative point of view but it’s also important to keep in mind everybody’s role during the session and maintain a balance between the personal and the professional. Also, if there are well-defined roles in the room don’t overstep your position and try to do your job the best you can. This takes us to the next lesson…

Studio Etiquette Lesson Two… try your hardest

Reading the room and being ready and quick to respond to whatever necessity arise come is fundamental for the smooth operation of a recording session. Understanding what needs to be done without there being any sort of verbal communication, whether it’s the engineer, the artist or the producer is key. The only way to achieve this is to be on top of your game. Plan the session ahead and be ready for any hiccup by having quick solutions under your sleeve. It can be something as simple as getting a glass of water for the singer right before the start of the recording or having some sneaky guitar picks in your pocket ready to be out at the right time. As we said before, it’s all about getting everyone in a creative space and helping others.

studio etiquette lesson three… it’s OK to make mistakes

Everybody’s role in the studio leads to facilitating an artist’s creative vision come true, and that might be helping them with other stuff. Dealing with moods, self-confidence, and motivation is also part of the game. Sometimes all it takes to get the right performance out of the artists is listening to what might be troubling them and creating a safe and creative environment. That’s the main point.

Understanding that making music is an emotional process and that interpersonal skills are most of the time more valuable than any technical support can make the whole difference for a session. The talent should feel comfortable making mistakes and as producer Sylvia Massy said, ‘We (the producers) should be able to open the mind of the talent allowing them to get somewhere where they wouldn’t reach otherwise.’

Studio etiquette is an integral topic underlying our teaching and approach at Abbey Road Institute. We make sure that our students are prepared for real-world scenarios and they learn from industry-leading engineers and producers on the mindset and best practices in the studio.

If you’re curious to know more about this topic, there’s a great interview on TapeOp with Justin Douglas who digs into ‘Everything your engineer wants to know but is afraid to say’. And guidance specifically for session musicians from the Musicians Union.  If you’re wanting to immerse yourself in the studio environment and get hands-on learning with us, head to our course page to find out more.

Thanks to guest blogger and alumnus Carlos Bricio as well as a special thanks to fellow alumni Ramera Abraham, Antonio Esposito and Andrea Mastroiacovo for their valuable contributions to this article.