How to be a … Recording Engineer

Based in L.A. where he runs live music productions for Show Cobra, ex-Kiwi/ex-Londoner Nick Abbott has been recording bands across the world for around 20 years. I’ve lost count of the number of amazing artists he’s worked with – from massive global mega stars like Robert Plant and Rihanna to his brilliant studio work which has produced some of the best albums to come out of New Zealand. Check out Goldenhorse or Pluto if you want to hear some of the countries finest talent.

When I met Nick I’d just got back from filming a documentary in Memphis and was way into Elvis and anything remotely rockabilly, but then Nick introduced me to Nick Drake, Mclusky, Shellac, The Band, Tom Waits… the list goes on.  Like most excellent audio engineers, he has impeccable taste and isn’t afraid to tell you if yours is shit. Though I once heard him say he quite liked Kate Nash, so he’s not perfect.

deep man
Deep Men recording at Urchin Studio, London

What did you do when you finished high school?
After a spell in university I bummed around for a bit with a normal job, studied at an audio school, dropped out, bought some gear and started recording bands. I then applied to work at what was then the most professional studio in town and started doing that.

How did you get your big break?
In retrospect being choosen to work in this big studio was what could be considered a break. Every day you could be working with a different engineer and producer and so that’s where you learn your craft.

Tell us about a typical day at work.
Every recording session has specific requirements so you identify what needs to be done, set up instruments, microphones, headphones, recording equipment, and start recording.

Who are the biggest or best artists you’ve worked with?
I found myself in a mixing session with Robert Plant. I don’t think I’ll ever find myself in a more nerve-racking or wonderful situation ever again.

Who did you love the most?
The best record I made was at Fish St Studios in Dunedin, New Zealand over a snowy weekend many years ago. I’ll never forget the power, the eccentricity and the extreme focus till the day I die. It was a five piece band and we used the best 9 tracks on a marginal 3M 24 track tape machine.

Weirdest experience in the studio?
Probably girl singers losing their shit. It’s happened more than once.

Strangest request?
Nothing is strange. It’s just a problem that needs to be solved.

34307_443393206387_6311283_nWhat’s the difference between an engineer and a producer?
‘Producer’ is a very broad term now but in a classic sense they’ll be responsible for the recording budget, booking time and personal, the songs that are recorded and most specifically an ear and opinion on takes and arrangement. An engineer deals with the technical details of the equipment and recording.

If you didn’t become a recording engineer what would you dream job be?
Architect

How do you find people to work with?
Mates talking to mates.

What can a job applicant do to get noticed?
Have applicable skills that no-one has. If an engineer can replace a transformer in an amp or re-cap a tape machine, you’ll never be out of work. Can you read a score? Gold.

Can you give us your 3 golden tips for getting into record producing?
1/ see live music consistently.
2/ learn everything.you can about electronics and music theory.
3/ buy some gear and start making mistakes.

Your Career high
Every time I’ve mic’d up a band and pushed up the control room faders. It’s one of the satisfying things I can do. It’s magic.

Your Career low
Anytime the band walks away unhappy. I don’t think this has happened that often.

Your favourite TV show
Deadwood

Your Favourite Record
Talk Talk- Laughing Stock, Shellac-Dude Incredible. Dylan-Blonde on Blonde.

A few of your Online Bookmarks
electricalaudio.com, Tapeop.com, Groupdiy.com

Steve Albini or Rick Rubin?
Always Albini.

Rhianna or Beyonce?
Ryley Walker

Last thing you searched for on Google?
Peerless Transformer 4665

Follow Nick on Twitter