Top 10 Skills All Assistant Audio Engineers Need

  1. Organization – You must be organized. Know when you session is. Show up on time. Know what band you are recording. Look them up online and learn their names. Take notes.
  2. Education – You don’t have to have a vast degree in audio to know how a cardioid differs from a figure 8 mic. It’s crucial information. Knowing that the attack and release knob on the 1176 is inversely obvious – that will keep that engineer calling you back next time.
  3. Knowing how to mic – Knowing where to move the mic is essential. Knowing how the sound changes moving the mic from the center of the guitar cabinet cone to the side is even more helpful.
  4. Gain Staging – With digital, gain staging is less important. But digital clipping is pretty unpleasurable so it’s still something you to be aware of! However knowing how to feed preamps and your recording devices with sufficient signal to noise ratio is something you want to be sure to understand, that said, most modern gear is sufficient enough where you don’t have to constantly worry about recording “hot”. Working with analog outboard gear (where noise is often added) is where this skill comes in handy most often.
  5. Setting up and tearing down – You set up and tear down while the engineer and producer are setting up in the control room. Set up the mic stands where all the mics would go on a drum kit. Pop a few in front of the guitar cabs. If the engineer tasks you with mic’ing up the drum set, ask what mics and where. And take notes so you don’t have to ask twice for clarification.
  6. Wrapping cables – Seems obvious and seems easy, but learn it. And learn it again. Do it in your sleep. And before you unwrap a cable, look at the size of the wraps. Memorize how they do it in the studio you are working at. And re-create that when you are done with the session and asked to break down. Always use cable ties and never use your elbow to assist with the wrap. That’s just cruel to the copper wire inside.
  7. Taking simple tasks seriously – If the engineer asks you to get paper towels get them expediently. Sometimes you might need to be the runner and get coffee. It’s often all part of the job no matter where you are on the ladder.
  8. Trouble shooting – If you aren’t getting signal, why? Is it phantom power? Is the preamp set to line and not mic? Did a cable short out? You need to know how to troubleshoot and in what order and with grace and calmness.
  9. Soldering – Quite possibly one of the most important skills an engineer can have. If you can fix gear or at least trouble shoot what’s going on, you will be indispensable. That and being able to fix a cable will give yourself job security.
  10. Being open to learning – Take notes. Read a book. Watch a video. Be a sponge. Learn. I’ve been doing this almost 25 years and I am learning new things all the time. Generally from those younger than me. Everyone knows something. Take it and then give it to someone else.