The art of recording and recording the right way for you, is a constantly changing and evolving thing. In fact, it’s really so subjective, and most folks don’t seem to really know where to start. I know that for me, it took a long time before I felt as if my ear and my decisions were really in synch with each other when it came to my own recordings, and how I really wanted them to be handled.
The first thing is to truly and wholly trust your engineer. Most of them have their own personal style and approach to recording, so it’s best to listen to some of their previous work to try and get a sense of just what they are capable of, and in what sonic direction they tend to lean. Of course, a truly great engineer, like a truly great player, should be able to bend and adapt to each and every situation they find themselves in. For example, they should be equally comfortable and proficient at recording symphonic and orchestral instruments as they might be recording a Heavy Metal band, for instance! It doesn’t mean they have no sound or touch of their own, but you want to make sure there is no challenge too big or diverse for them to tackle, and that they embrace any new ideas or challenges set before them.
Of course, many engineers these days originally started in the “harder” days of recording to actual tape, and then made the change and the “bridge” over to the digital era. Still, regardless of the actual medium of recording they are working in, certain skills will always be constants. This includes the all-important skill of mic placement and choice for the application at hand, use of EQ, how to handle the particular space you are recording in, and countless other things that all “factor in” to the final product’s creation. Even the speakers you listen back on are critical. Most really good studios and engineers will have as many as 3 or 4 sets of speakers to listen back on, so you can judge your music as it would be played in many situations. There are lots of times for example, after we have a song mixed, we are sure to listen back on tiny speakers that actually mimic an old AM car radio…perhaps the worst way to listen to music, but also perhaps the most oft-listened to way in history. Back in the earlier days, this was so critical, as most folks did their listening to Pop music in the car, and it was only on the thinner-sounding AM as opposed to FM.
This process is important from beginning to end with any recording situation, and you must remember that almost all music sounds good and exciting on the BIG speakers, and when they’re loud, but the true test will be on the more humble level of listening experiences. Experiment with them all, and remember that the whole process, though tedious, is also incredibly fun to take part in!