Plenty of bands have reservations when it comes to throwing down their hard earned cash on studio time... and for good reason!
With the advent of cheap recording gear it has gotten infinitely easier for any guitar player with youtube and an interface to set up a "recording studio". These wonders of the modern world charge next to nothing and turn out mixes that'll make even your deaf dog cringe.
On the other end of the spectrum many legitimate commercial studios are either out of the band's price range, end up taking way too long to make their album, or quite simply won't record the damn project! What?!
The sad reality is that many of these bands succumb to the allure of becoming overnight Guitar Center recording sensations and end up swearing and spitting at their MacBook until they turn out an album that no one listens to BECAUSE IT SUCKS.
Aside from all of that nonsense there is a small subsect of the audio production community that you should always look into before laying down that epic, non refundable deposit for studio time!
1) Live recording engineers are extremely efficient.
Ever been to a festival or concert that costs more than $30 to attend? Chances are you noticed a number of people scrambling around the stage in between sets. These people are called stage hands and often times a live recording engineer can be mixed in with them. Their job is to make sure that each band is loaded on and off the stage in a safe and efficient manner.
In the studio... this is huge. There is nothing like having an engineer that drags his feet through a session that you're paying damn good money for. Also, a live recording engineer is used to helping load in and load out which can make the recording process run even smoother.
2) People skills.
Recording sessions can often be a challenge for new and experienced bands alike. Getting used to recording through headphones, frustration about not hitting the right notes, and even inner-band turmoil can quickly throw a session off its course.
Live recording engineers have developed a knack for dealing with all types of people in all types of situations. More often than not live recording engineers are forced to deal with FOH engineers, stage managers, tour managers, promoters, record labels, and yes, even overly sensitive artists. This can go a long way in the studio when your band is faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge.
3) They roll with less than ideal conditions.
Let's face it - live recordings are almost NEVER perfect. There is always a little bleed that just can't be snuffed out, the bass player is out of tune, the singer is wasted, or some idiot in the crowd grabs ahold of a room mic and starts yelling "Freeeeeebird" it.
Regardless of the issue, live recording engineers are extremely quick at sussing out problems and extinguishing them so the project can move forward. Furthermore, a mix engineer with a fair amount of experience working on live recordings uses a wide array of tricks to correct or augment certain elements of a mix that traditional studio engineers may not think of.
4) The stylistically versatile workhorse.
One of the greatest strengths of an experienced live recording engineer is that they have likely worked on a broad array of projects. Unfortunately many brick and mortar studio engineers get good at working with one or two styles of music. Hell! Record festivals for a summer or two and you'll get the point!
Why is this so powerful in the studio you ask? The answer is that by working with a wider variety of genres the live recording engineer learns the full spectrum of the tools he/she uses. For instance, a hard rock vocal may be compressed and EQ'd a certain way to stand out in a mix where as a soft jazz vocal may be treated completely differently. This cross-discipline training allows the live recordist to be more precise and efficient with his/ her tools when in the studio.
5) They aren't afraid to track it live!
Probably the biggest drawback to many traditional studio engineers is that they often refuse to record an entire band live. This is often due to more and more engineers having an insatiable appetite to fix performance issues "in the mix". What this means for your band? Your performance will likely be chopped up, locked to a grid, tuned, and completely sterilized beyond recognition.
A live tracking engineer however, understands what it takes to push a band to get the right takes live. Although time alignment and pitch correction can be very useful tools in the studio, many studio engineers have begun to regard them as necessities in producing a great album. Often the time saved during tracking is added on after the mix engineer spends hours sampling your drums and tuning your vocals. Again, leaving you and your band broke and with a record that sounds like everyone else's!
In summation, a word to the wise... Ask around town, bug the FOH engineer at your next show, talk to some of your local venues... Chances are they know someone or at least can point you towards someone with experience as a live recording engineer. If you find the right one who knows... maybe they can save your next album from impending doom!