Recording Connection mentor John Terrell on Studio Etiquette
When you’ve been in the industry as a musician, producer, and engineer for as long as John Terrell has, working and producing quality records isn’t enough, you start to want to give back. John works frequently with Lost Electric, A$AP Ferg, and Dimitri From Paris among many other artists, out of his Soul Haven Studios in Virginia Beach, VA. He recently sat down with us to talk about what got him into recording, studio etiquette, and being a mentor.
When asked how he got his start in the music industry, John replies, “When I was 14 or 15, I started playing guitar and writing songs, and then I got a little tape recorder that everybody gets at some point. I started doing that, started recording, and then I got a little drum machine, and then I started recording vocals, realized how bad of a singer I was. But I loved the process of recording, and putting together tracks, and ended up getting a copy of Fruity Loops and figured out how to make beats and compressions and stuff. So I would sell that to the kids in my high school who were rappers, and found out…I wasn’t charging any serious money at all, but I was able to make more money than I would at McDonald’s…And so that’s where I locked into the production side of things.”
Both of John’s parents are educators so perhaps it’s only natural that he would grow into the role of mentor for newly aspiring audio engineers. But as a younger man, John had a hard time in school. He suffers from dyslexia and, understandably, that made an impact on his experiences in the classroom. Nevertheless, he had a music teacher who really invested time and energy into him and helped him grow. Now, John pays it back, not only as a Recording Connection mentor, but by doing charity audio work with local non-profits and even offering tours to local elemetary schools. As a mentor, he’s seriously passionate about enabling people from all walks of life to get their start in audio engineering. He shows them the ropes, helps them grow the skills they need to be competitive in recording, then he watches them take off and build careers for themselves.
Over the years, John has found that the hardest part for many students isn’t the technical side of the recording industry, it’s the interpersonal stuff that throws them for a loop. When it comes to giving advice on what proper in-studio etiquette should be, he says, “When people are in the studio creating, it’s a very sensitive environment. So you have to figure out the level of humor in the room…There’s some clients you can make an offhand joke with and it’s fine [but for] some people, it throws off the game. And so you have to figure out the relationship in the room, who’s leading the session, and then understand the pecking order. You’re the assistant, and so if you have something that you want to suggest, like, telling people, ‘Hey, this would work well.’ If you go to the artist and say that, now you’ve bypassed the producer, engineer, and the other members of the band, when really you’re just there to take notes and move a mic. So understanding the order in which things need to happen, and how to creatively suggest things [is important]. Also, making sure the needs of the room are met. So, if somebody looks a little uncomfortable, just sort that out. But yeah, etiquette is everything in the room…So much of this business comes down to, ‘I don’t like that guy.’ So you just need to be the person everybody wants to be around and be honest and genuine.”
Working in the audio engineering industry is both simple and complex. Some jobs are going to be relatively effortless, others will be a tightrope walk from start to finish. Here’s the clencher: both can yield amazing sounding results. Making the most of any particular situation is dependent upon the individuals involved. John teaches aspiring audio engineers how to be an asset to producers, not a liability. When you’re apprenticing with a mentor for Recording Connection, you’re not just learning micing, key commands, or file management, you’re getting trained on building professional people skills that are unique to the music industry. In so doing, you’re learning how to be a well-rounded audio engineer, one interpersonal interaction at a time.
Learning the ropes and cutting your teeth in a real studio environment enables our students to build holistic skills and professional awareness. Remember, personality and being able to read a room are valuable skillsets to develop. Do them well and artists and producers will want you to be their engineer in the room.