Booking A Recording Studio: 50 Essential Tips

QUESTIONS TO ASK THE STUDIO…

If you’re curious enough about a studio to give them a call, be sure you’ve got an informed list of questions to ask. Do not come across as scattered, vague or unprepared. Take a look at Music Connection’s one-of-a-kind Directory of Recording Studios, do your homework about studios that seem to fit your needs. Most studios’ basic rates are cited in the directory.

Is an engineer included?
When you ask them about their rates, be sure to find out if the studio charges hourly or by flat rate. Is an engineer included? If not, what would the extra cost be? Make sure you will have everything you need when you begin recording.

Can you tour the studio?
The condition and vibe of a studio can make, or hinder, your project. Steve Burdick of West-lake Studios advises, “You should always tour a studio before booking it, to see if it’s right for you.” Don’t ignore your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t book it. And take note of the studio’s location and any special hassles you might have in regard to parking, load-in, etc.

What style of music has the studio produced?
Joshua Aaron advises that you ask about the studio’s history. “If you know the style of music a studio generally produces, you’ll have a good idea of their sound and how they hear things.” Obviously, you wouldn’t want to record a country act in a studio known for heavy metal records.

What kinds of rooms are available?
If you are basically a “live” act, you may need a live room. Live rooms are generally large enough to fit a full band, but not every studio has one. Get the room specs to make sure it’s not too tight or too cramped. If you’re going to track each instrument separately, you can go with smaller rooms.
Drums are another matter. When recording drums, acoustic ambience is important. In fact, some studios are known for having great drum rooms.

Is there a sight line from the control room?
Musicians, producers and engineers need to communicate. Often, that communication requires “seeing” one another. Most control rooms have a window for that purpose. But some don’t and, instead, use close circuit monitors. If a studio doesn’t have any sight line whatsoever, you need to decide if you need one. Most producers believe you do.

Is there an isolation booth for vocals?
Vocals are the heart of most songs, and where you record vocals makes a difference. Ambient sounds must be avoided and a booth is designed to do that. You won’t get the same acoustic effect if you’re singing in a large room or the control room.

Does the studio have digital expertise? 
Today, many studios are digital domains. But digital audio has inherent weaknesses when compared to analog audio, because most sounds are analog in nature. As a result, digital recordings tend to be more strident. Studios (and engineers) should know how to finesse the sound and avoid digital anomalies. Be sure you’re comfortable with the studio’s expertise in this regard before you book your time.

Does the studio offer analog?
Magic Moreno believes that combining analog with digital gives you a superior sound. Moreno maintains that an all digital recording could cause digital artifacts, especially at the top end. To compensate for that, he digitally records a performance at a high sample rate (see “sample rate” next page), and then mixes it to a two-track 1/2-inch analog tape machine. He then puts it back into the digital realm and records it at a lower rate for CD transfer. This produces a high-resolution mix that has a transparent high-end with a panoramic, dynamic sound.
Moreno, along with many other producers, also prefers to record drums on analog tape. “It gives the drums a rich, natural sound,” he says, though it is more expensive.

What kind of equipment and gear does the studio have?
Microphones: Mics are one of the most important items in a studio, and having a selection to choose from is beneficial, especially for vocals. Producer Jan Linder-Koda says, “Tube mics are not as brittle and offer greater frequencies and more control.”
Preamps: Preamps boost and punch up the sound from the microphone. As such, they can make a big difference. Dave Williams of Melrose Music recommends, “You can’t go wrong with Neve, Avalon or API.” Another engineer we spoke to had high praise for Focusrite.
Outboard Gear: Good outboard gear, especially analog gear, can also make your recording warmer, richer and more dynamic.
Instruments: Some studios have a range of instruments available. You never know when you might need a replacement, or a particular vintage sound.
Consoles: Large consoles are cool but, according to our experts, may not be as important in a modern digital studio that is well outfitted.

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