Just a few years ago, a high quality, polished production was practically a dirty word among indie artists. The DIY culture believed that using professional studios interfered with their art. But over the past couple of years that attitude has changed. Now indie acts are spending time and money to make their records sound… you know, good. In fact, acts of all genres are recording in professional settings. The reason is that today’s highly competitive marketplace demands quality recordings. And with that in mind, Music Connection collected tips and advice from a variety of experts regarding the recording process, pre-production and booking a studio. Our goal is to not only help you find a studio that suits your music, but show you how to use your time and money in the most efficient and effective ways.
BEFORE YOU CALL A STUDIO…
Ask yourself specific questions about your recording project and also ask someone with studio experience—perhaps a fellow artist—who can give you insights about the issues involved with your project. Here are some aspects to consider:
Who’s in charge of your project?
Michael Lloyd, who has produced numerous superstars over a 30-year career, advises, “Someone has to be in charge of the overall production or you’ll have chaos. You need to decide who’s going to make the tough calls and final decisions.” If you’re not working with a producer, Lloyd suggests that one person in your band be appointed the decision-maker. “A democratic approach does not work well in the studio,” Lloyd says.
What do you intend to use the recording for?
Is the recording going to be a demo, an industry submission, or a commercial product you want to sell? The approach to each is different (time-wise, money-wise and studio-wise), so determine the ultimate purpose. Veterans often say, “If the recording’s not perfect, it’s a demo.”
How many songs do you want/need to record?
Because the amount of songs will affect studio time and cost, perhaps you should avoid being overly ambitious and record fewer songs.
How long will it take to record (and mix) the songs?
This is so important and nobody ever gets it right. But you still need to estimate how much studio time to book. If you’ve been recording at home or at rehearsal, you could have a problem estimating that time correctly. Obviously, a solo singer-songwriter will take less time than a full band. “Generally,” notes producer-engineer Magic Moreno (Eric Clapton, Steve Vai, Barbra Streisand, David Lee Roth), “Recording a song with a well-rehearsed band could take a full day: approximately two hours to set up the drums, one to three hours to track each instrument, and two to three hours for vocals and comps.” Be aware: that time does not include mixing, which can vary considerably depending on the engineer’s skill level.
What gear and equipment will you need?
If you don’t have the necessary experience to answer this question, you should explain your project and vision to studio personnel to get their recommendations. You could also check with a more experienced musician or producer.
What is your budget?
Be realistic. What can you truly afford? “Money is always a deciding factor,” Michael Lloyd notes. “When you have a choice between two studios, it’s better to pick the one that has a few great things (equipment, gear, etc.) over the one that has a lot of average things.” The better gear and personnel will always give you a better recording. If your budget is limited, record one or two songs rather than a full album. And keep in mind that delays are common, for one reason or another––so, add 20 percent to 30 percent more time to your schedule––and 20 percent to 30 percent to your budget.
Do you need a producer?
According to Lloyd, “It isn’t that artists don’t know what they want. Rather, it’s having somebody with experience who can say, ‘That’s great,’ or ‘Let’s do it again.’” Often it’s better to have a third party––with objective ears––critiquing studio performances. When artists try to do it themselves, egos sometimes get in the way and the whole session could fall apart.
Did you check references?
You should check the references of any studio you are considering. Most have a client list posted online. Joshua Aaron of Audiolot Studios suggests you contact a few clients to see if they were satisfied. “Just because a band is listed in a studio’s ad doesn’t mean they were happy with the results,” he notes.
Do you have a mastering studio in mind?
If you’re recording anything other than a demo, you need to consider the mastering phase. If you’ve selected a mastering studio, ask them for reference recordings and what type of mixes they would like to get from the engineer at the recording studio you’re tracking in. Once you have specific goals in mind and a clear idea of what you will need to accomplish them, it’s time to make some calls.