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Tips for choosing a recording studio

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Tips for choosing a recording studio

Postby alexnewbury » Tue Sep 11, 2018 10:22 pm

Hey all,

May have chosen the wrong thread but i'm new here...looking for some sage advice on my best option for recording a (as professional as possible) studio album. My budget is somewhat flexible at $8,000 and I live in Connecticut.

As far as I can see, I've narrowed my options down to three:

1. Record in a lower-end studio in CT (est. $30/hour) and take tracks out to be mixed and mastered at a higher-end facility.

2. Record in a higher-end studio in NY (est. $3500/50 hours total) and have them mix and master in-house there for an as-yet undetermined price.

3. Record in a higher-end studio and take tracks out to be mixed/mastered in a different high-end facility.

Obviously budget plays a factor in this decision but for me it's mostly sound quality. I'm aware good engineers can do great things with raw tracks regardless of price/location/ etc., but I'm looking mostly for a best case scenario option.

Thanks in advance!!

Alex

P.S. the genre is folk/rock/etc and I have other musicians to fill the roles I can't do myself
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Re: Tips for choosing a recording studio

Postby James Perrett » Tue Sep 11, 2018 11:08 pm

If you aren't an experienced studio customer then the best advice is to hire a producer whose style you like and let them choose the studio and run the sessions. I've heard plenty of lacklustre recordings where an inexperienced artist has chosen a top studio without realising the issues involved. The sound quality is usually fine but the performances are stilted as the players are in awe of the studio and want everything to be technically perfect - at the expense of feel and inspiration.

So the question should be: who do you feel most comfortable working with and where would they suggest you record?
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Re: Tips for choosing a recording studio

Postby alexnewbury » Tue Sep 11, 2018 11:32 pm

James Perrett wrote:If you aren't an experienced studio customer then the best advice is to hire a producer whose style you like and let them choose the studio and run the sessions. I've heard plenty of lacklustre recordings where an inexperienced artist has chosen a top studio without realising the issues involved. The sound quality is usually fine but the performances are stilted as the players are in awe of the studio and want everything to be technically perfect - at the expense of feel and inspiration.

So the question should be: who do you feel most comfortable working with and where would they suggest you record?

James,

Thanks for the reply! Though I may be an inexperienced customer I'm by no means new to recording/recording studios--just a stranger to self financing recordings. That said, at home I've demoed out the CD to 80-85% of what I'd like it to sound like--with the only issue being sound quality (due both to my budget equipment and limited mixing/editing skills). IMO, hiring a producer at this point is redundant and expensive, as all I really need in studio is for an engineer to press record. Other than that, my biggest concern is the mixing and mastering phases. Again, thanks for the reply!

Alex
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Re: Tips for choosing a recording studio

Postby James Perrett » Wed Sep 12, 2018 12:11 am

I can see where you are coming from - but having seen this situation a number of times as an engineer, even if you go without a producer the choice definitely comes down to finding an engineer that you can work with who shares your view of the project. I'm sure that there are good studios in your area that can give you the sound quality you need but do you know any engineers that understand what you are trying to do?

Around here there are a few studios that do dry hire - they supply the room and gear while the artist hires the engineer separately. Most large studios would probably supply an assistant engineer but may well expect the client to supply the engineer too. On the other hand, your chosen engineer may well have their own studio - which simplifies the studio choice question.

I'm also very much in favour of having the engineer who does the tracking also do the mix as some of the decisions they make during tracking could affect the mix approach. However, I would always suggest going to another engineer for mastering - that's where you want a different pair of ears to listen to the project more objectively.

That's why I'd suggest that getting the people in place at the moment is possibly more important than choosing a studio.
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Re: Tips for choosing a recording studio

Postby alexnewbury » Wed Sep 12, 2018 1:58 am

James Perrett wrote:I can see where you are coming from - but having seen this situation a number of times as an engineer, even if you go without a producer the choice definitely comes down to finding an engineer that you can work with who shares your view of the project. I'm sure that there are good studios in your area that can give you the sound quality you need but do you know any engineers that understand what you are trying to do?

Around here there are a few studios that do dry hire - they supply the room and gear while the artist hires the engineer separately. Most large studios would probably supply an assistant engineer but may well expect the client to supply the engineer too. On the other hand, your chosen engineer may well have their own studio - which simplifies the studio choice question.

I'm also very much in favour of having the engineer who does the tracking also do the mix as some of the decisions they make during tracking could affect the mix approach. However, I would always suggest going to another engineer for mastering - that's where you want a different pair of ears to listen to the project more objectively.

That's why I'd suggest that getting the people in place at the moment is possibly more important than choosing a studio.


Great advice, thank you! Every studio I've researched thus far supplies an engineer except for a few guys who have messaged me about basement studio stuff--all places also offer in-house mixing. I guess my question really boils down to whether or not these for-hire engineers are competent at mixing or whether I should farm out for that side of things. I'm going to start digging, thanks again.
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Re: Tips for choosing a recording studio

Postby CS70 » Wed Sep 12, 2018 7:27 am

I'd check first a few studios in CT since you are there - visit the places and ask to listen to some of their production, or even better have them we-transferred to you so you can judge the results.

As James say, the personal chemistry with the person behind the console is paramount - follow literally your gut instincts there - performance is everything and if you aren't a professional artist doing this day in day out you usually can't perform well without being supre-comfortable.

The advantage of studios (for folk-pop-rock stuff) is that you should have a good sounding room to record drums - so you can use the room drum mic - and you can record the band playing together. Then of course there's the ease of use of someone pushing "record" for you. So make sure the room sounds good - for drums, the bigger the better and you can go around clapping your hands and just talking in the room and listen for ringing, changes in timbre etc.

When it comes to mixing, there's no way of knowing about someone's skills without listening to the results and possibly the original recordings. Nowadays it's not a viable job for anyone but a very few people, so even very skilled people do it as "one of many" activities. Don't dismiss necessarily the guy in the bedroom studio, but get examples in the genre you target and try to make a blind test when listening.

Don't let yourself be impressed by kit. Owning a studio is not guarantee of ability - it just means you had the cash to fund the gear and you found a good location. The only thing which matters is how the final result sound - not how glizty that guitar is, or the size of the speaker or how many Fairchilds are one the wall (not that will find many outside top studios, but that's the point.. you need no Fairchild to make an awesome mix). People falls for that all the time, but it's being gullible. Nowadays a skilled mixing engineers can do amazing stuff with a laptop and a UAD interface, and nobody's the wiser.


There's also no necessary relationship between recording skills and mixing skills. They are two different fields, each requiring long practice to master. That said, they often go together and today the market is such that people wear more hats because there's no money for more people, so it's possible for the same people to be both good at recording and mixing. You just have to judge from the results.

A final thing, which James hinted at and you probably know already. People are all the time putting down the weaknesses in their mixes and masters and records to poor kit and tech. Often it's not it - it's the arrangement and the performance. So before investing dollars in the recording/mixing part of the chain, make absolutely sure that your material is top notch and you can perform it with the best of them. Otherwise it's just disappointment.
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Re: Tips for choosing a recording studio

Postby Dave B » Wed Sep 12, 2018 8:22 am

alexnewbury wrote: I'm aware good engineers can do great things with raw tracks regardless of price/location/ etc.,

Can I just pull you up on this? It's a bit of a fallacy - whilst a great engineer can often rescue some less than perfect recordings, it's usually incredibly expensive to do so. A much safer - and cheaper in the long term - option would be to get great tracks recorded in the first place and then the mixing mostly takes care of itself.
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Re: Tips for choosing a recording studio

Postby Sam Spoons » Wed Sep 12, 2018 9:04 am

I would say the priority should be the recording environment and engineer. Most mixers work in the box but you can't improve the raw files, only maximise their potential. It has been said recently on here that the reason pro studios still exist has little to do with the inventory but much to do with the recording space.
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Re: Tips for choosing a recording studio

Postby The Red Bladder » Wed Sep 12, 2018 9:43 am

We (commercial facility) face this problem all the time - novices see the sexy kit, the big desk and assume that is all it takes to get a great sound.

As James said - the people are more important than the kit and the most important people are the musicians. If they are great, the recording will be great.

The most important musician is the drummer - never make do with a second rate drummer!

If you want to save money at every stage of the process, use a click track. It is also a great way to find out if your musicians really can play - if they don't like using a click, get someone else! Not having a click makes editing and mixing that much harder and more time (i.e. money!!!) consuming!

As for the engineer, tracking and editing are two different skills, so get the best old-school tracking guy who comes with his own pet mic collection. The best was Bruce Swedien (now retired) and he came with an entire trailer-load of gobos, dozens of mics old and new, baffles and strange duvet-like things that his wife had stitched together for him!

Once the multitrack recording is done (take it with you on a DVD or stick) you need an editor and that nowadays means a person who can fly his fav. DAW at Ninja level (Def-Com 5). This can sometimes be a youngster with an unlicensed copy of Reaper on his laptop and a set of headphones or a crusty old-timer like me. Editing is an art form and very few can do it well, though many think that they can.

Last comes mixing and mixing is NOT editing and again is yet another art form - some can and some cannot. But unlike editing, mixing really is all down to experience. Nowadays, editing and mixing is usually done by the engineer in his or her own space.

Each one of those tasks requires a different skill-set and usually a different person.

But it has to all start with great musicians!
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Re: Tips for choosing a recording studio

Postby CS70 » Wed Sep 12, 2018 10:06 am

The Red Bladder wrote:But it has to all start with great musicians!

Amen! :thumbup:
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Re: Tips for choosing a recording studio

Postby blinddrew » Wed Sep 12, 2018 10:24 am

So given all of the above, I'd start by phoning a few studios and having a chat with their engineer and arrange a visit when you and he/she will have time to properly discuss your project. $8k is a chunk of money, they should be willing to give you some time to get your business. If they're not... ;)
Following this you can discard any options where you didn't get a good vibe - either from the engineer or the studio. You want to be going somewhere where you get a buzz just crossing the threshold. That'll put you and the band in the right frame of mind to give your best performance.
And you want to be able to trust the engineer and be able to take it the right way when he/she says, "That take wasn't really good enough, I know you can do it better than that."
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Re: Tips for choosing a recording studio

Postby James Perrett » Wed Sep 12, 2018 3:05 pm

The Red Bladder wrote:If you want to save money at every stage of the process, use a click track. It is also a great way to find out if your musicians really can play - if they don't like using a click, get someone else! Not having a click makes editing and mixing that much harder and more time (i.e. money!!!) consuming!

And this is a good example of how different engineers work differently. As a drummer I hate click tracks for many types of material. I like to be able to push and pull the groove.

As an engineer I recognise that the feel is one of the most important parts of a good recording and I don't like to do anything that will inhibit that feel. Having come up in the days of analogue tape, I much prefer to create a recording that needs minimal editing and I still use the computer in a similar way to a tape machine (with the added luxury that I can always go back to previous takes).

The Red Bladder wrote:But it has to all start with great musicians!

Yes - exactly! And they need to be rehearsed enough to play the songs backwards!
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Re: Tips for choosing a recording studio

Postby alexnewbury » Wed Sep 12, 2018 3:23 pm

Wow you guys are awesome, thanks again.

Luckily I'm the drummer in this scenario so am less concerned about that end--and love click tracks btw. Also didn't mean to imply that garbage recordings can be saved in the mix, or that basement studios are somehow worse options, but rather that I'd need to worry less if I had a trustworthy engineer in charge of the mixing side of the coin. What I'm getting most from this forum is trustworthiness from engineers and overall vibe from the studio. I will definitely be asking every place I look at for some material to reference but am still in the early stages of looking so haven't traveled that road yet.

Thanks everyone for the feedback!!
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Re: Tips for choosing a recording studio

Postby blinddrew » Wed Sep 12, 2018 3:47 pm

:thumbup:
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Re: Tips for choosing a recording studio

Postby The Red Bladder » Wed Sep 12, 2018 4:34 pm

James Perrett wrote:And this is a good example of how different engineers work differently. As a drummer I hate click tracks for many types of material. I like to be able to push and pull the groove.

And I would argue that you can still push and pull the grove around the click!

James Perrett wrote: Having come up in the days of analogue tape, I much prefer to create a recording that needs minimal editing and I still use the computer in a similar way to a tape machine (with the added luxury that I can always go back to previous takes).

I began in '67 and back then we had to record music in black-and-white and write all our zeros and ones down on paper. Stereo was still a novelty and had to be hand stitched out of leather.

Fortunately or unfortunately, modern tastes are for absolute precision and that means having everything edited to within an inch of its life and every solo instrument and vocal 'nudged' back into tune. To do this cleanly, quickly and easily, one needs a MIDI-map.

Yes, in Reaper and in CuBase one can conform the music to a map or visa-versa, if it has been played without a click - but the OP has a limited budget and the results are always cleaner if the music was played in-line to a map (and therefore a click) in the first place.

The worst for wanting everything edited to death are usually the classical musicians. Every vocal autotuned, every damn note re-positioned and one page of a simple score can have 30 edits all over the place! I sometimes come within a hair's breadth of saying "Why don't you just feed the damn score through a MIDI sampler and we could all go home!"

Give me great musicians playing live every time! But I don't get to decide!
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Re: Tips for choosing a recording studio

Postby alexnewbury » Wed Sep 12, 2018 9:14 pm

The worst for wanting everything edited to death are usually the classical musicians. Every vocal autotuned, every damn note re-positioned and one page of a simple score can have 30 edits all over the place! I sometimes come within a hair's breadth of saying "Why don't you just feed the damn score through a MIDI sampler and we could all go home!"

I'm more of the early Van Morrison/Neil Young type. Anti-perfectionism--although everyone says they want to hear the mistakes until they actually hear them so we'll see ;)
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Re: Tips for choosing a recording studio

Postby blinddrew » Wed Sep 12, 2018 9:22 pm

alexnewbury wrote:everyone says they want to hear the mistakes until they actually hear them so we'll see ;)
Ha! Yes, this happens a lot. :)
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