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Choosing a recording studio

A post by David Mellor
Thursday January 01, 2004
How to select a studio for your recording. Do you want a 5-star hotel-grade studio, or a bed-and-breakfast?
Choosing a recording studio

As a top record producer you will be booking into a top studio. A top studio will of course charge a top price, but since the record company is paying the bill (and charging it to the band's future royalties), all you have to do is make sure you come out with a chart topping record. As an aspiring producer still working your way up the ladder of success, your budget will be more limited, perhaps to what you yourself can afford, so you will have to be very careful in your choice of studio and arrive at the best compromise between doing certain tasks in the comfort of your home studio, and watching the clock ticking in a good commercial studio at around a penny a second, or more.

Commercial studios can be split fairly arbitrarily into three types: demo studios, mid range, and cost-no-object. Let's take a look at what you will get from each of these three types of studio:

No studio owner will describe their facility as a demo studio, but at the lower end of the price range you will encounter compromises that will reduce the likelihood of being able to make a top quality recording. Some demo studios have a general air of crustiness. They obviously don't employ cleaners on a regular basis, the staff are miserable and surly, the equipment though once good is now falling apart and you or your engineer have to work around dead channels and dodgy patchbay connections. If you think I'm joking, I'm not. I have a lot of respect for anyone who can make money out of operating a recording studio, such is the competition, but there surely must be a marketing opportunity for a studio that can provide a clean efficient working environment at a reasonably low cost. To be on the safe side, you would need to look at the upper division of demo studios to have a reasonable degree of confidence that you will be able to get good quality work done.

Moving into the mid range league of studios, what you will tend to find is a studio that was once very well set up, but is now looking rather tired, both in terms of equipment and decor. Decor may not be important to you if you can live with torn carpets, lumpy sofas, and equipment which is ten to fifteen years old, and looks it. But as long as the equipment is well maintained, then it doesn't matter how knocked about it appears, nor how old it is within reason. If you don't need an awe inspiring environment to do your best work, you can make a great recording in a mid price studio - as top producers continue to prove. There is also something to be said for a slightly down-market atmosphere, in that it doesn't put pressure on you or the performers. For many styles of music, you need to be totally relaxed and comfortable within your surroundings to perform at your best. And just as you will feel comfortable in your old worn out jeans and trainers, then an old, worn out studio (but with good equipment maintenance) may be just right for you.

If you are working with a top act, then undoubtedly you will want to work in a first rate studio. If you imagine a well respected American artist flying first class and being pampered by flight attendants all the way from Los Angeles to the UK, checking into a good five star hotel then settling down for the night after a meal in the restaurant and drinks in the bar. When they go to work (by limo) the next day, they don't want to be downgraded into a two star studio! They are used to the best, and even if they don't demand unreasonable luxury they expect a good business class hotel to offer clean, pleasant surroundings with attentive staff. If there are any problems they should be dealt with quickly and efficiently. A guest expects to be treated politely and with respect. A good studio should be like a five star hotel, with recording facilities instead of a swimming pool. The food should be good too. The control room will have coffee and tea on tap, courtesy of the tape op or assistant engineer, perhaps a continuously replenished fruit bowl. There should be good quality food available in the studio's bar or restaurant, or these facilities should be very close by. Of course, you have to remember that you are there to work, not to have fun, so don't overdo it!

Mid range and top studios should have good acoustics. What you want from a studio's acoustics is a debatable matter, but you will be looking for freedom from outside noise, a pleasant acoustic environment to perform and record in and an accurate control room for judging the mix. Some studios specialise in mixing and have only limited recording space, or none at all. The 'sound' of a studio is an important factor and it is not unknown for producers to use studios on both sides of the Atlantic on a single project because they have distinctive sounds that suit certain instruments, or combinations of instruments, well. Also consider the physical size of the studio. If you have thirty string players to accommodate, you need plenty of elbow-room!

A post by David Mellor
Thursday January 01, 2004 ARCHIVE
David Mellor has been creating music and recording in professional and home studios for more than 30 years. This website is all about learning how to improve and have more fun with music and recording. If you enjoy creating music and recording it, then you're definitely in the right place :-)
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