Josh Gannet is an audio engineer and producer who has racked up a ton of major credits as an assistant engineer, working in the studio with artists including Redman, Keith Richards, Slash, Steve Miller, French Montana, Maino, and Method Man. We spoke to Josh about his advice to aspiring engineers and musicians, keeping a positive attitude behind the glass, and what it takes to succeed as an assistant engineer:
How did you get started in the studio?
Like a lot of people in the music business, I started off playing—I was in a hard rock band. Another band asked if I’d produce their album.
By the end of that project, I’d spent so much time on the other side of the glass. Then, another band heard it and asked me to produce their album, and eventually a buddy of mine’s band, just a little cover band, asked me if I could record them.
I brought them into the studio and just tried it out and recorded it. No one was really expecting anything much, but at the end of the session, we all said “Wow, this sounds really good.”
So what really got my foot in the door was my experience being in a band. I hadn’t gone through the standard steps of being an engineer—I didn’t go to school for it—but if you’re in the room, then you have an opportunity to help out.
You’ve worked in the studio with some pretty big names from across genres. There’s Keith Richards, Slash, Steve Miller as well as Redman, Maino, and Method Man. What advice do you have for aspiring engineers who want to get in on sessions at that level?
All experience is good experience. Talk to people, learn from people.
You also have to be someone people want to be around in the studio. If you want to work your way up the ranks as an intern or assistant, you’ve got to be positive and fun to be around. When you work with big artists, you have to earn their respect and their trust.
If you have the right attitude, and can learn not to speak when it’s not your time, you get invited back, which means the more opportunities you have to learn. Like my situation with Redman: He trusts my instincts and opinions with the music, and I understand his vision.
What do you think it takes for assistant engineers to excel in the studio?
Talent doesn’t come first. Some engineers have more God-given natural talent than me, but they might not necessarily look at it as a job. They have the goal, the dream, and the passion, but they don’t want to sit down every day in front of the speakers and get better, and analyze and dissect the sound. It’s about putting in the actual work hours.
Early on in my career, I got to work with a guy, Ron Nevison. He did Physical Graffiti [by Led Zeppelin], Quadrophenia [by The Who], and a bunch of huge albums I was a fan of. The biggest thing he taught me is to always work forward…don’t save everything ‘till the end. Make a decision and go with it. Don’t be scared to try stuff, make decisions, and get creative.
Is there any favorite hardware or software you use in the studio that you’d like to share?
In terms of hardware, I love analog stuff. I’ve been fortunate to work on albums that were recorded through all tube equipment. I’ve also done stuff fully digital. With tube, you have the opportunity to get that warmer, larger than life sound a little better.
As far as actual plugins, I use UAD Apollo – their stuff is great compared to a lot of other plugins. It’s quality and it doesn’t sound cheap or as digital as some of the other stuff. But if you’re a good, creative engineer willing to try stuff, regardless of the equipment you have at your disposal—even if you just have a cell phone or a digital 4 track—you should be able to come up with ideas to make that sound bigger. It’s about finding ways to capture that moment and bring it to life, so that people can hear the energy and the vibe of whatever you were going for in the studio.
What advice would you give novice musicians who go into the studio for the first time? How can they better work with the engineer to achieve the best version of their songs?
Every hour you spend outside the studio practicing is time you save inside the studio. It’s amazing how many people come in with a song they’ve written and performed live a dozen times, but the bassist (for example) doesn’t know his part.
Track all the stuff; know the material well, first and foremost. After that, with the technology we have, critique yourself before you get in the studio. You can hear if you’re super clicky on the bass, hitting the fretboard too hard. You might not have noticed that on stage, but you can hear it on a record.
Every minute of prep is saving time once you’re in the studio. And it also makes it easier to adapt on the fly and come up with new ideas to try if you’re not spending that time in the studio learning your part.
You help run stages each summer at major music festivals like Governors Ball in New York City and Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee. What does that entail? How do you make sure that the best sound possible goes out to the audience?
I work with the Artists Relations department—communication of the advance process between the bands and the stage manager, making sure the bands have all the equipment they need, [finding out] if the band is bringing their own sound person.
The artist relations side of festivals is a good fit because of my experience in the studio. I’m used to being on the artist side of it, so it’s easier to predict what type of things people want. It’s about making the artists feel comfortable and having fun. Everyone from the opening act to the headliner gets to experience that. You’re the representative for the festival, so you make sure everyone’s running on the same page.
A live concert environment is totally different from a studio one. Live music is passing: When the air passes your ears, the moment is gone. In a studio situation, it’s not about broadcasting the moment. It’s about capturing and creating the moment forever. You’re able to put more of your mark on something that’s longer lasting. I like getting to know the artist as a person and being part of that creative process in the studio.
Thanks for sharing your advice and experience. To keep up with Josh’s work, follow him on Twitter: @JoshGannet
A graduate of Princeton University, Suzanne Raga runs the indie music blog After The Show.