So your songs are written, fully rehearsed and now it’s on to getting all of them recorded. How do you go about choosing a studio to record them in? Unless you have a considerable budget many top tiered pro-studios may be out of the question for most independent artists. But there is good news. There are thousands upon thousands of smaller studios that given a qualified recording engineer can pretty much deliver anything a pro studio can, absent the hot tub, 10,000 couches, a luxury suites. Remember you are in the driving seat, and if you do some homework you can find a great studio for a great price. Below are just few things to consider when looking for a recording studio.
THE STUDIO – Everything must be recorded in a hi-quality studio environment; complete with sound proof room & an engineer who is fully qualified to mic, record all musical events and performances in a proper manner. Your music must be recorded adequately before it’s even considered by a professional mixer and subsequent mastering engineer. If the music was not recorded properly than it may present artificial limitations on what the next 2 engineers can do to it. Bottom Line – It all starts here.
THE ENGINEER – The most important link in the chain. Look for credentials to see what other acts have been recorded by the studio engineers. Listen to their work, ultimately hearing is believing. A good engineer can get great results with average gear. A poor engineer may deliver average or even substandard results even with the greatest gear available. If possible, look for a studio with engineers who are well-versed in the style of music you’re recording. Your mileage may vary but you may not get your desired result if you pick a studio known for producing extreme metal to record your ambient songs so matching the engineer to your style is a good place to start.
THE FACILITY – Make sure the studio space fits your needs. If you’re a full band and plan to track some or part of your songs by playing live together to get the feel and spontaneity of your performances then make sure the studio can accommodate that. On the other hand, if you’re a small group or solo artist and plan on building songs piece by piece a small project studio might be all you need. Above all, the facility should make you comfortable. You’ll be at your best when relaxed versus working in a space that makes you tense or nervous.
THE GEAR – It’s not the end-all-be-all but a good, experienced engineer using quality gear will deliver quality results. A good engineer with good gear is going to get you where you want to go. Look for studios that do a lot of work in your style or genre. Consider extras like drums, amplifiers, pianos, guitars that you can use to compliment your own gear. Are you a huge fan of analog? Then consider a studio that offers recording to tape or hybrid studios that can track to tape but mix and edit in the digital domain. In general, good sounds are achieved with proper mic choice and placement and quality mic preamps to capture the signal. Quality studios will have a good selection of preamps and microphones and the skill to use them. Digital recording offers other options by way of plugins (software versions of hardware gear like synthesizers, FX processors, etc) and good quality plugins can give you the sound of more expensive outboard gear without the associated costs. Some studios favor a balance of hardware gear and plugins but the most important aspect is the ability to get results from the gear so always listen to examples of their work and make sure you’re happy with it.
THE PRICE – Always remember you’re in the driving seat. Shop around and get the best rate available. Experience counts but you have to pay for it., but the reality is most studio owners realize most independent artists aren’t made of money anyway. Great facilities with great engineers mean more cost to you but a higher probability of getting the results you’re after. Project studios are more limited in their facility space but might be all you require to get your songs recorded. Ask about package deals where you can get x number of songs for a fixed price. Whichever way you go, make sure that you’re well-prepared before you enter the studio. Common budget killers are poorly maintained gear (fix that rattle in your amp or the squeaky bass drum pedal) and uncertainty. Know your songs and be rehearsed otherwise you end up paying studio time for rehearsal or gear maintenance.
OTHER – A few other things to consider.
- Will the studio allow you to bring in your own experienced engineer to cut costs from using the house engineer?
- Do they provide editing and mastering services along with the recording portion?
- What about mixing? Often a new pair of ears can bring objectivity to your project and may be just what it needs to get that desired result.
- Find out if the studio has a mix engineer you can have work on your finished recording.
- Ask other bands where the recorded at – Put the feelers out and ask 3 or 4 popular local bands where they recorded their projects at. Ask about price, location, the qualifications of the engineer, and the overall experience.
Final Thoughts – Choose studios that suit your specific needs, make sure it’s a place you’ll be comfortable in, listen to results they’ve gotten with other clients and consider your budget. Also ask other local bands where they recorded their projects at, what budget they were quoted, and how their overall experience was. The studio should help you achieve your musical goals, not hinder you. Keep in mind that you’ll always get better results if you plan carefully and are well prepared before you start paying for time