View Single Post
Old 1st March 2021
Special Guest
djswivel's Avatar
Originally Posted by Whitecat ➡️
Hiya Jordan, thanks again for joining us here!

Just wondering if you can describe a day or even a week in the life of being the staff engineer for a major artist... is it different to the freelance life, so to speak? What sorts of things do you find yourself working on on a regular basis? Did they "host" other artists as well that you worked on kind of on their dime?

Thanks for the great question! Although I've primarily been a freelancer, I have had moments in time where I was mostly working with one artist (Fabolous, Beyonce, The Chainsmokers), or the earliest moments of my career working for Duro on staff, so hopefully I can provide a nuanced answer.

When I first started my career in NYC, I was interning for Duro at his studio, so in that regard I was a staff engineer/assistant. One of the biggest differences between being a freelancer is I personally had zero control over who I was working with. Generally it would be Fabolous, or whichever client Duro was working with at the time. I would be told when a session starts, and I would be expected to arrive 30 minutes early, and stay until the artist decided it was time to leave. Sometimes that could be 6am, 10am, or sometimes the artist would stay for 24 or more hours so I would be there all day/night. One of the challenges with this way of working is, it becomes quite difficult to schedule the rest of your life, because you're pretty much on call at all times, and artists usually don't have an idea when they're going to wrap up for the day. Doctors appointments, family time, vacations, girlfriends, were very challenging.

As an assistant I was mostly cleaning, going on food/supply runs, and of course setting up and breaking down gear for sessions. I would also handle any gear rentals, ensuring they arrived and got back to the rental house on time, as well as printing of files and backing up all sessions. I would also handle a lot of technical maintenance (software updates, gear repairs etc). Once I became an engineer I would do all of this, plus be in the drivers seat for the session. It was a lot of work.

Once I became a freelance engineer, one of my first clients was Beyonce, and I went full time with her. This wasn't all that different, through my only job was handling files, managing sessions, and I would have an assistant who would support with setup and tear down of gear, food, cleaning etc. I would still bill for a day rate, I wasn't on salary, so in that regard I was still technically freelance, just with a little more job security...sort of. But even when you're full time, everyday is different. Some days Beyonce would know her hours, because she would have plans before or after the studio. And other days she would come to the studio and never leave - I can count a handful of 30+ hour sessions. No artist tells you ahead of time they plan to stay 30 hours straight. The average week would consist of waking up, checking my emails/texts, usually have a text from her assistant with a start time for the day. I would try to arrive 30 mins before, though often these texts were so last minute that was impossible. There were a handful of times she arrived before I did. I was literally on call 24/7. I carried all the hard drives and managed backups, so once I arrived, I would setup the hard drives, make sure her mic chain was ready to go, and if there was any other context provided for the plans for the session, prepare anything else that was needed. Often those plans were delivered to me last. One day Kanye is showing up, another day Chris Martin, and I recall one time, 30 minutes before they arrived, I was told the entire Fela Kuti band from the Broadway show (20+ pieces), were coming in to record. So I round up every assistant I can find and we get to work setting up a very complex recording session. That's just how it goes, you learn to adapt on the fly, and be as productive and efficient as you can. Once she was done for the day, I would handle backups and go home, waiting for the next message for a start time. I would also handle all my own invoicing, and on several occasions would be asked last minute to travel with her. I found out about my trip to Australia about 5 hours before the plane was taking off.

With regard to job security, working with an artist like that was very helpful, knowing there's an ongoing project that is constantly being worked on, it meant I didnt have to spend much if any time setting up A&R meetings, making the rounds trying to get gigs. However, it's a double edged sword. Once Beyonce finished her album, she moved on, and I was left with very little going on. I worked for her on a near daily basis for 18 months or so. The issue is, all the regular clients I had before I began with her, they had to find replacements for me, because I was never available. That forced me to focus solely on mixing after I left Bey. There's not much more to be accomplished as a recording engineer after you work with someone like Beyonce, and it felt like I had to start again from scratch, so I made mixing my next challenge.

As a pure freelancer now, I work when I choose to, I take vacations when I need to, and generally just do whatever I feel like. That being said, I'm still very much active and I still find myself working 7 days a week. But it's much more relaxed and on my own terms, which is a necessary balance and freedom I needed as I got a bit older. I do have to handle all my my own relationships, business, goals, but I do have a team who supports my vision and plans, which is tremendously helpful.

It's also worth mentioning, every artist does it their own way. So my experience is entirely based around the artists I was specifically working with. I hope this answers the question!