10 Ways to be an Indispensable Assistant Engineer


Recording School StudentsThe Assistant Engineer (or 2nd Engineer) is the person who does everything the engineer should do but doesn’t have time for.  It’s a specialized skill that will be a huge step in your climb to head engineer.  The great thing about being an assistant is that you will typically have the chance to work with bigger names.  The more you prove yourself, it will lead to a lead position.  Here’s 10 ways to stand out and get noticed.

1. Puncuatlity: It’s like being an intern, only worse.  You have to show up before you are expected to show up.  Being an hour early is the goal to aim for.  Never expect to leave early, it’s unacceptable and will kill your career before it starts.  Also remember, you will be there as long as you need to be.  So be prepared to sacrifice your social life!

2. Maturity: You have to cover for the engineer.  this includes maintenance, getting food, taking out trash, the overall studio operation.  You cannot be immature, not for a second!

3. Humility: Leave the ego at the door, even if you have worked with bigger, well-known names.  You are there to make the engineer look good.  Never undercut or undermine them, for ANY reason.  You will take the blame for everything that goes wrong and give credit to the engineer if things go right.  You are the safety valve, do not take it personally, as a second you are still learning so things won’t be as harsh on you.  Plus everyone really knows what’s going on.

4. Reliability: If you want to be indispensable you HAVE to be reliable.  The Engineer has to count on you.  If they say “Go to my house and feed my dog” they have to trust you to do that. There are two parts to this A) Know what the engineer needs before they ask B) When they ask you for something, do it immediately, drop everything and do what they asked.

5. Technical Competence: You won’t become a full time assistant until you have reasonalbe technical skills.  You’ll need all the “Tool Sense”  you can muster.  You MUST give a relaxed appearance of knowing everything, and be able to scuffle like made behind the scenes to learn whatever it is you need to know right now.

6. People Skills: You REALLY have to get along with people.  As an intern, you are cute and helpful.  As an assistant you need to read minds, you have to make the sessions happen and make everyone happy.  Never ask questions unless it’s to confirm something, “I assume you’ll want the U67’s on the vocalist as usual?”  This can get crazy with an erratic engineer.  If there is a very important question, take the engineer aside, never ask it in front of anyone.  Remember you are there to make THEM look good.

7. Documentation: The Assistant who can keep a good session log, production grid, take sheets and logs is a gift from the heavens!  Document everything legibly and efficiently.  You need to have all of this information at your fingertips.  If you do that any artist, producer or engineer will KILL to have you.

8. Self Motivation and Self Regulation: You have to act professionally.  Nobody will cut you slack.  You have to be the picture of perfect.

9. Meticulous care of property: You are responsible for everything!  Studio gear, artist gear…everything!  Take exceptional care when working with anything.

10 Meticulous Respect for your studio, engineer and clients: Clients are the lifeblood of the business.  The tricky part is that the artists may come to like you better than the engineer if you do the top 9 things well enough.  It may be flattering, but can also be toxic.  It’s your job to steer attention back to how well the engineer is doing.

Your success will come from your good karma as an assistant engineer.  The larger professional rewards that will ultimately come as you move up the record business food-chain, such as getting your own clients, credits and a possible move into a producer role, won’t come from trying to take those clients away from the old studio, engineer…etc.  If you weaken and try it by mistake, it’ll take you about 10 years to live it down.  Be an indispensible assistant, and at some point somebody will really notice you.  Your time will come!  When it does, ENJOY!

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