How to Be a Rockstar Recording Studio Intern

Posted by Caleb Hsu on Oct 29, 2015 08:00 AM

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The competition for landing an internship at a large-format recording facility is constantly increasing, and the expectations of assistants are higher than ever. If you want to get your foot securely in the door in a commercial recording studio, you're expected to be technically proficient, musically skilled, aware of the current climate within the industry, and equipped with the social skills to work amidst a widely varying clientele roster.

Luckily, we've got you covered with insight on what typical studios seek when hiring interns, and what you can expect walking in on your first day. Following these tips will help you transition from feeling invisible to becoming invaluable.

What qualities do studios look for in interns?

1. Humility

Most interns must retain some level of selflessness, but it's especially important in the control room where seasoned engineers, recording artists, contracted writers, label executives, and top producers are already working to balance egos. You don't want to add to any tension present in the room, and while you can expect to have opinions about things, it's best to keep your head down and observe how those around you navigate difficult conversations.

2. Anticipation

Try and have the stand ready before the vocalist asks for it. Constantly be thinking ahead, processing what's going on in front of you, and keeping yourself one step ahead of the game, learning to anticipate what's to be asked of you before anyone opens his or her mouth. Find tasks that are manageable that you don't need to be asked to tackle, and do them quietly. It may seem insignificant, but if someone sees you pick up an empty Dunkin cup and properly dispose of it mid-session at 2:00 a.m., it sends a message that you're independent and dedicated.

3. Cueing in

If you're ever asked about something that's going on in the moment, or something that just happened in the live room, you don't want to catch yourself not knowing what it was. Always have your ears everywhere and analyze what you're hearing; producers often like to surprise you by asking your opinions on a take or a specific sound, and they're looking for you to be alert and have an opinion, even if they disagree. It shows you're involved and capable of expressing your own ideas, bringing something new to the panel of creative minds at work.

4. Asking questions

A lot of interns at studios feel frustrated and let a year go by without learning anything. Understand that these days, you're already expected to know a lot about recording, and it's your job to keep asking questions to learn. Studio operating teams want you to be proactive, and they usually won't treat the internship like it's school where you can acquire information just by showing up. Treat your internship like it's a job, and integrate yourself into the pre-existing team dynamic in a way that you feel transparent but resourceful. Knowing when it's appropriate to ask questions is also key, although this changes in every new studio situation.

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How to be a rockstar intern

1. Make yourself indispensable

Be the first one in and the last one out. Constantly look for new tasks to accomplish, as minor as they may seem (e.g., filing paperwork or calling ahead to confirm future sessions). The more hours you're able to stick around, the more opportunities to prove your value there will be.

2. Research and learn about the studio's gear

Know the studio's outboard gear and consoles, and try and obtain manuals or tutorials to help get yourself to a working level of proficiency. Engineers don't have time to sit down and walk you through every button and all the complex signal flow structures – it's on you to learn as you go, asking more detailed questions as they arise. Also, be constantly listening to music and research records that have been successful and become iconic. Knowing your history will surely impress folks who've been working for decades in the industry.

3. Always say yes

Reliability is key, and if you're ever asked to do something, always say yes. Whether it's going on coffee runs, checking a mic cable for a second time, or coming in on a Sunday morning, you want to be ready to enthusiastically go after any project given to you.

4. Speak the language

Know how engineers speak, and be able to translate what musicians are saying into useful information. Use key phrases like "frequency spectrum" and "dynamic contour" if you're ever asked to describe sounds you're hearing, and shy away from generic terms like "happy" or "loud." Train your ears, and be able to classify sounds based on their EQ, timbre, texture, and color within the context of the sounds and song surrounding them.

[Understanding Frequencies: How to Describe What You're Hearing]

5. Know your key commands

If you're asked to edit or operate Pro Tools, expect to be judged based on your speed. With YouTube tutorials, Lynda lessons, and e-books, there's no excuse not to be able to work in various DAW environments like Logic Pro, Ableton, and Cubase. Keep a working one-sheet of the most useful key commands for each software program, and work towards memorizing them. It's embarrassing to attempt to use a Logic shortcut in a Pro Tools session, and it makes you look unreliable.


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Caleb Hsu is an independent vocal producer and freelance recording engineer based in Los Angeles. As a classically trained pianist and composer, he enjoys writing music technology features that combine his psychology background with current industry trends.

Topics: Recording, Musician Success Guide, Strategies for Success, Honing Your Craft


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