Do they still exist? Maybe I just don't see them since I do more work out at people's home studios or am working on projects that don't need one 95% of the time. I remember the day where there were tons of great assistants in this town. Every big studio had 1 if not 2 great assistants, sometimes more and they trained the new kids coming up but something happened along the way and that process got derailed. No offense to any of the good assistants out there now but there doesn't seem to be as many anymore as there used to be. Is it my imagination or do I just not get out enough?
Boy this one can get me started....but not for the reason you might think. There's the old saying, "The more things change, the more they remain the same." Reading this I have to say, totally honest here....I'm not sure it's that different than when I started...back in "the bad old days."
I remember listening in on a conversation exactly like this many many moons ago when I was an assistant. Jack Puig and Jeff Porcaro (sorry for the name dropping...just the fact's m'am...it's true) were talking about assistants and glancing my way to make sure I got the point! Jack said that assistanats were only really good for about a year, tops. Before that, they didn't really know what they were doing. And after that, they got frustrated that they weren't working as a first and developed bad attitudes! ( I got an extra look from Jack on that one!)
As I moved up and got out on my own I found...even in the days where work was always done in a commercial studio with staff assistants, that the quality was very mixed. And what Jack said was true. If you can imagine this, at the defunct Sound Factory I was assisted by Tchad Blake. And at Capitol on my string sessions, Lesley Ann Jones (now chief at Skywalker) was there running the remote. To be honest, Tchad was so-so. He'd been assisting long enough and was about to tear things up on his own as an engineer. Lesley was great. She was ready, but still had a great attitude...maybe female patience with boorish males?
Believe me, even in those days in some of the better rooms I found plenty of poor assistants. And I have to say that in my years here in Nashville, I've had some of the very best. Glen, Aaron...you two were awesome. Melissa Mattey, Steve Beers, Lowell at Blackbird....remember Carey Summers? What ever happened to Greg Parker? And of course Sandy Jenkins....now in the Pacific Northwest...all great people who made me look good. I'd go so far as to say the best here are on par with any I've ever worked with.
I will say this. In the "bad old days" I think it was a much better system to learn one's craft. I honestly don't know what things will be like in a few years. The knowledge that we have can, and unless things change, will be lost. I'm digressing here, but the fact is the studio technology follows musical fashion. In the 50's Bill Putnam made those great rooms becuase popular music demanded a place to record Ella, Sinatra and the like with their big bands. These days what kind of space do you need to record last year's top ten albums? Go to iTunes and look at the Billboard end of the year charts. Pitifully few albums required any decent space to record. Country music and choral print are probably the biggest reason there are guys and gal assistants who can handle that sort of thing. It's not that way as much in other cities like LA and NY where a large majority of what gets recorded has only the vocal moving any air.
Okay...sorry...off the soapbox!
Back to the subject....anyone with awareness and some experience knows that a good assistant isn't just one who doesn't screw up. They are a quiet, but positive vibe in the control room and ANTICIPATE. They show effort enthusium, and drive. I'd take someone like that with leser knowledge than the opposite. Fact is someone like that I can teach them what they need. But as Yogi Berra said, "If they don't want to, you can't stop'em!" That's why I say it's really no different IMHO than back in the 80's in LA. The percentages of the good are about the same. Those who have the drive and fire, find a way to learn. Those who don't....well they show up more quickly now than ever. At least in the old days one worked in only one room. These days with the advent of the independant assistant, they have to know several. And those who don't....well they stick out like a sore thumb.
I got long winded...but I'm nursing a really nice Cab.
Cheers! And thanks to all of you guys who helpe me over the years.
Thanks for the compliment David. I still keep in touch with Sandy and she's got a family now in Washington. Haven't seen or heard from Greg or Carey in years.
A funny story that happened to me at Quad a few years back. I showed up to work a background vocal session in the old sphere room. I didn't ask for any help but one of the interns asked if I needed anything or if he could do the set-up for me. I was like, sure, it's two mics, how hard could it be and how could he screw it up. Well, guess what, he did. I forget exactly what I asked for but it was two mics, 48 and 67, audience perspective and a simple signal chain, maybe the A-range modules to the 1176's? I also had a pair of Genelecs that needed to be put up. Well, the mics were patched singer perspective and the Genelecs weren't hooked up. After the session I was sitting in the front lounge talking to him and a few of the other interns and I brought it to his attention in a very low key way that his set-up wasn't done properly. He then responded to me that he didn't have to do this and that it didn't come with the room. At this point I went off on him. I was like, you offered to do this, I didn't ask. I also said, if you're going to offer to do something, do it right or if you have any questions about what needs to happen ask but don't do it wrong and then say you didn't have to do it. There was a reason this guy was an intern at Quad for 11 months at that point and is now no longer there. I don't know what happened to the other interns sitting there at the time but I hope they took the lesson well. I think one of them is still in the business if I remember correctly and he's a great guy and we laugh about what happened that night.
I'm just amazed at the audacity of interns/assistants sometimes. We've all been there and had to go this road if we went to school or not. We've all had to pay our dues. I understand it's tough and you sacrifice a lot but bitching and moaning about it or not doing your job isn't going to gain you any favor with anyone. If you are going to bitch and moan, you do it with someone else at your level or with someone you have a good working repoire with. I had a guy who was going through a tough time and even though we had been there all day and I was exhausted I stayed an hour to talk to him about his plight. There have been so many guys that took the time for me that I knew it was the right thing to do by staying and talking to him. I hope he's still in the business because he had the skills to do it.
It's a thankless job being an assistant. We are expected to keep everything moving along in a positive direction. The best thing that happens after a long hard day is the engineer coming up to you and saying great job today, thank you. That makes you want to come back the next day and work for the engineer. The fact that he took the time to say thanks is a huge support because sometimes we feel as if we go unnoticed. Any great engineer recognizes the assistant as his support system. The fact that he takes the time to say something reflects well on him. He knows, he's been there, that's why he says what he says.
I have to second that (no pun intended). I think many things are still the same too, just new clothes, new styles, and new ways of working. I do think the younger set are a little less patient though, more on that later.
I don't want to moan for the past because I am so excited about the way technology has enabled us to do things we would have never dreamed of when we started out. I can't wait to see what comes down the pike. But it has made the inexperienced feel like they have arrived. It's given them a sense of empowerment and entitlement.
JDB (sorry for mentioning that one) once said to me. "if Mozart and Beethoven could see the way we get to make music today they would FREAK OUT." He said that 20 years ago when I moved to Nashville and was assisting him.
All this technology still won't grab the right frequencies to make something blend well in a track, or tell you when you've got the right mic on the source, or how to make "not so good" gear sound great. It can't know which section of the strings is sticking out, or how sometimes the simplest solution sounds best.
I worked for 10 years in a small market, learning the craft, watching others, making many mistakes before I moved here, then spent a whole year before I got my first real session...doing last minute keyboard overdubs at Downstage on a record you were mixing over at Omni for Billy Smiley. First time I met you. How's that for history!
At the end of the day it's about making great music, whether you play with strings, keys, sticks or FADERS, and you wouldn't expect to become a studio musician with just four or two years of music lessons at MTSU, would you? There is so much more to our craft than knowing technical stuff.
I think many younger engineers don't realize that if they will put on the attitude that you outlined, then the majority of us will pass on everything we know. There is no need to prove anything. When I see the opposite, I fold the cards...
Here are a few you didn't mention who were some of the best assistants to me.... all doing great stuff now.
Shane D. Wilson, Todd Robbins, and Dave Dillbeck, I couldn't have done it without them.
I am graduating this December witha a Bachelor's in Music Education and another bachelor of arts in general music. I have done some work with Ben Speer Music. I am a quick study and even looking at going to SAE or MTSU for audio engineering. I will be available by this January.
Ok, I'm coming into this discussion very late, sorry! I just stumbled on this doing a search of the site.
There isn't much I can add about the industry that hasn't already been said, all by people with way more experience than I. I have been in town since 2000 and been freelance assisting since 2004ish. I feel lucky to have gotten to town just in time to get my start at a big studio with a staff and on-staff assistant and first engineers. I learned about 95% of what I know by hanging out at the studio and just absorbing everything I could. I was fortunate to work with some great people and get some great opportunities thrown my way. I tried to make the best of each situation I was in.
I don't think I'm God's gift to assistants, but I think I hold my own. I try to treat every session or new client as a job interview. Your job is basically on the line every session. There is a long list of guys waiting to do whatever you're doing, and probably for less money. I always want to leave a session thinking that the engineer, or producer, would think of me again next time they needed the services I can provide.
So yes, good assistants still exist. In the current market though they have to work harder to stay on Engineer's radars. We also get less calls than before because assistants are used less and less on overdub sessions and mixing. With everything happening in the box, people aren't putting assistants into the budget for anything other than tracking sessions. There are an abundance of interns out there, and I know many engineers use them for overdubs when they can't afford an assistant. Sometimes they may even complain about the interns quality and attention to detail. Hmmm, makes me wonder if the session would be better off with an assistant? :)
I've heard there may be a backlash coming soon with sessions not having assistants, mainly for documentations sake. It's hard to engineer a session and also document everything to the label's liking, or to your liking, for when you have to do a recall. Budgets are getting smaller and smaller, artists are sharing studio days with other artists to save costs, and assistants are getting knocked off the money chain quickly.
But yes, in the end, there are still good assistants around. They are just mainly doing tracking sessions.... or working their tails off to get more firsting gigs, b/c it's harder to stay busy as an assistant. :o) or at least that's what I'm doing! hehe
I make a very big distinction between assistants and interns. As a studio manager, I am tempted to use an intern for clients that would rather not pay for an assistant. Judging by the rest of the comments, I have been very very fortunate to have found a great house engineer / assistant. Having that solidly in place has made it easier to pick and choose interns very carefully. I've found more good interns than I have room for.
I learned only a little while ago that Full Sail has an etiquette class. Our now-former intern was telling our client about it while explaining how the 2nd chorus could really use another verse in front of it.
On the positive side....The best thing I've ever experienced in a second is when a "second" could be a "first" on any other day. Like Todd Tidwell over at Starstruck. All he does is make you look like a hero all day and he knows things about Starstruck that I may not have time to know about. This is invaluable to me as I spend most of my time at my own studio. On an orch date I need more time to focus on what I'm actually printing. Many times I'm also supposed to be watching the charts and adding another set of production ears to the process. Todd is a guy who just takes care of things so I can focus on what I'm doing with 40-50 pieces out in the room. Stressfull , even if you do it everyday. That's a $25,000 day for the client. I'm better off with someone who may know more than me in that room and is willing to work "for" me that day. My DAD always said, "Surround yourself with giants and you'll be ok". Credit where credit is due.
Back in the day you had to assist to get any experience. The only way to record was to be at a decent sized studio. You couldn't just walk in and start pressing buttons and rolling tape. You had no choice but to assist, have the producers get to know you, learn along the way, move up the food chain, and some day, after paying your dues and acquiring a bunch of experience and knowledge, you get to produce.
Now, anyone with a laptop and the internet is a producer. Not only do you not need a room, you hardly need a mic to "produce" music.
So the mentality is "why would I assist you, when I have everything I need in this box?"
I'm just commenting on those who might have that attitude. I've worked in studios and with producers that had some great assistants, with great attitudes.
You guys all make some pretty good points. One thing that hasn't been mentioned is the number of studios around town that don't pay their "assistants". I know that business is way down from where it was just a few years ago, but the bottom line is that quality help is hard to find and is worth paying for. Sadly, many of the facilities around town seem to be relying exclusively on interns to do their set-ups and tear downs, and the competition for even just an intern position is so fierce that everyone just takes it. Did anyone else realize that there are no less than FIVE schools in Nashville with recording programs? That's a lot of "engineers" hitting the job market every year, and they're all willing to work for nothing. And yes, most of them don't have a clue. When I was in school you could pretty much look around and tell who was still going to be doing this a year from graduation. I assist from time to time, and I try to always go into the day prepared to do anything and everything in my power to make the session run smoothly. It takes a lot of dedication though, and most people just don't care enough. The hours are insane, sometimes the clients are insane, forget about lunch, and go ahead and tell your significant other that you'll see them next week sometime. The schools don't exactly put that information in their brochures.
First post! As an engineer fresh out of college, there were several factors that went into my decision to go out on my own as opposed to take a job assisting at a studio.
First, as studios and producers continue to worry about the bottom line, studios get less use which means they take on fewer assistant that get fewer hours. Because of the multiple schools in Nashville, competition is more fierce for jobs that pay less and less. I could possibly spend months working at a restaurant while I waited for a position to open up just to move into a spot that barely paid enough for me to pay my bills. In contrast, I found that by taking the time to take out a loan and invest in some nice gear, I could use the contacts I had made while in college to do enough free lance assisting to learn from people who know more than I do while being able to offer my own services. It also allowed me an additional source of income of renting out my gear when I'm not using it.
Secondly, that with today's technology there are a lot of bands that have the idea that doing an album doesn't take a whole lot of money because it can be made out of your home. While I prefer to use commercial studios (my personal favorites are Sound Kitchen and House of David), I equipped myself to meet the demand of these clients. Often times their budget isn't big enough for more established engineers to take on but the money and the market is there for talented but less experienced engineers to hone their skills while building a credits list. To me, it just made better business sense to try to fill a void in the market and stay busy than compete for a job where I might work three or four days a week tops.
Also, while some on this thread have said that young engineers today feel a sense of entitlement, I tend to disagree on the context of it. From all of my research into this business, it seems that the learning curve for engineers has shifted. Whereas in the past, the only way to learn to use a Neve or an API or an SSL or any piece of gear/microphone was to get onto the staff of a studio, schools today allow access to those before people hit the job market. I don't think the entitlement problem is a generational one as much as it is an educational one. Students go to school to get their "engineering degree" thinking that a piece of paper will get them a job somewhere just like it does in other professions. As a result they don't work as hard as they should and spend as much time in their schools studios as they should. The peers that I went to school with that are having success right now are the ones who chose to go the extra mile while still in school - interning, staffing in the school's studio, e-mailing established engineers and meeting for coffee, etc.
All of that rambling was basically to say that if there ARE fewer good assistants out there I don't think it's because of a sense of entitlement. I think it has more to do with a flawed educational system that allows people who are unqualified to graduate with their degree and a changing industry that often times forces people to think outside the box (er...maybe that's inside the box) to make a living.
Welcome to the real world. When I started out I had several mentors and interned... then took several crappy gigs to get ahead. Met people......learned for those that knew, not the instructors at the SAE type schools. Besides "Those that can't, teach". I've had several interns in the past couple years that "dove in" and lost their ass. While you might be able to do the various projects in your basement, it's all about "track records & word of mouth" If you can't pull it off, you will be exposed!!! You really should read my bog "Class Action Suit Against Digidesign" and let me know what you think. I've od'd and mixed several project in the last year where the so-called tracking "engineer" didn't touch an EQ or compressor out of not knowing how-to or why-to, needless to say, putting the tracks up, I feel bad that the band had to listen to this cue mix. I don't want to discourage any engineers but DAMN!!! make the players inspired. Whoever gets it next knows the difference..................
Just because you can, doesn't mean you should....................