Here's a quick list of how you can avoid being "that guy" in the studio!
1. "I brought a couple people to hang out in the session..." as five people walk into the studio
We've seen all of the "behind the scenes" from studio sessions with an entourage of people hanging out. I do want artists to be comfortable when they come in to work on a project, but when the control room is more crowded than a frat house basement on a Saturday night, things quickly go from being a "hang" to a clusterf#k. No one at any level is productive in that environment.
2. "I gave you a bunch of tracks to choose from while mixing – I want you to have fun with it"
Don't be afraid to make commitments, please. For the love of God, commit to something. Printing some effects you liked on a separate track, including a DI from your guitar sessions for re-amping, and providing an alternate vocal take are all well and good and helpful. But opening a session with 135 tracks and having to choose "what's best" now goes beyond any definition of the word "mixing" – and I better be getting a producer credit out of the deal as well, by that point.
Also, "I want you to have fun with it" tends to be code for "I'm going to need you to do all the work and be clairvoyant in regards to what I'm looking for, too, so hope you've been working on that mind-reading that's all the rage."
3. Messing with knobs or gear that you weren't expressly told you can touch
I'm not territorial by any means, but just because you've booked studio time doesn't necessarily mean that you've also booked the ability to crank on every piece of gear in the place. Ask first – or perhaps better yet, just don't do it. I'm fine with you adjusting something if needed, and I'll point out what things are yours to control for the duration of our time. Otherwise, it's basically the equivalent of grinding dirty shoes into someone's couch.
4. Showing up an hour and a half late to the session and wondering why we "ended early"
If the session starts at 9:00 p.m., it starts at 9:00 p.m., not when you get there. A studio session is not something to be fashionably late to. Call ahead if there's traffic. I'm human, too, and I get that "life" happens sometimes. However, your session time is your session time, unless we work something out otherwise.
5. "Dude, where's the food, weed and liquor?"
Again, I'll do anything in my power to make clients comfortable. I'll even buy them dinner sometimes, but walking into a studio and expecting the accommodations of an all-inclusive cruise isn't how any of this works. I don't have all the flavors of Ciroc. There's a folder of takeout menus in the kitchen, and no, that won't be on the studio's dime.
6. Needing to redo work from a session because you out-drank/smoked yourself
The studio can be fun, but effectively wanting a refund on your time because you blacked out is one way to never get booked back. I'm here, sober, and ready to work. Keep the partying to a conservative level, or perhaps consider saving the raging for after the session when the "work" of the day is done. Do what you have to do to get in the zone, but I've never seen vices add constructively to a session.
7. Showing up completely unprepared for the session
If money is no object when it comes to booking your time, feel free to do what you want. For most of us, though, we don't have that luxury. Change your strings, put new heads on the drum kit, and make sure all the parts are down at the practice space, so we can make the most of your time and your sound when you get here.
8. Not having reasonable expectations
At the end of the day, the way you sound is the way you sound. Why don't you sound more like X, Y, or Z despite the fact that we're using the same gear, you ask? Because you're not X, Y, or Z. No amount of gear or "studio magic" will change that. You are you, and we're going to do everything we can to get you the best product possible, but there are just some things that aren't a matter of plugins, time-aligning tracks, and twisting knobs. Knowledge is half the battle, and understanding that fact is going to make us all a lot happier and more productive.
Aaron Staniulis is not only a freelance live sound and recording engineer, but also an accomplished musician, singer, and songwriter. He has spent equal time on both sides of the microphone working for and playing alongside everyone from local bar cover bands to major label recording artists, in venues stretching from tens to tens of thousands of people.