Music is Life

Studio Tips

Ready to book some studio time? Here’s some advice to help get the most out of your studio session and keep the most in your wallet.

Most recording studios, myself included, usually charge by the hour or at least base their flat fee on a time schedule to which they think your project will adhere. If you want to get the most bang out of your buck and keep everyone happy here are a few suggestions to bear in mind.

  1. Finish your song! This is a recording studio owner’s dream, the band or artist comes in and their song isn’t finished. They plan on working on it in the studio. Tick-tock-tick-tock, there’s another dollar or $150 that just went by. Personally I don’t mind if the artist goes over a little bit especially if we’re making good progress but there’s a threshold. Also, it’s not very respectful to expect an engineer to sit there for hours and not get paid; how would you like to show up to work and wait for hours without getting paid? Unless you’re a big artist who’s got a budget to sit in a studio for days on end to experiment don’t show up to create, show up ready to start recording.
  2. Do not make drastic changes. This ties in with the first suggestion, don’t show up to the studio and try to make significant changes to your song. Let’s say the drummer comes in with a totally different groove to a particular song, that’s going to change the way the rest of the band plays their parts meaning more time meaning more $$$. No bueno. Even if you’re a hip-hop producer or DJ who has no “band members” per se you’re going to have to make adjustments with your own musical style which is probably even more critical than three other separate individuals meaning more time meaning more $$$. It’s all about the dollar dollar bill y’all.
  3. Practice. Beforehand, that is. Whether you’re a 4-piece band or a solo vocalist you don’t want to show up to the studio and practice your part, it should be fairly ready to go. If you’ve ever been part of marching band or orchestra you should really know this mantra: show up ready to practice “music”, not practice your “part”.
  4. Be there. This sounds kinda weird but if your group consists of multiple artists they should all be there ready to participate in making creative decisions. In my experience this usually involves song arrangement but can also include things such as effects and mixing decisions. This doesn’t mean that everybody needs to be there for the entire mixing and mastering process as it usually involves mundane processes such as corrective EQ or obtaining proper compression levels but if you’re thinking about cutting entire verses or putting in a guitar solo where there wasn’t one then everyone should have a say.
  5. Studio Equipment. Is your name Dewey Cox and your track requires an ensemble of 20 Aboriginal percussionists? Does the studio have the proper space and equipment to record them or do they only have a vocal booth inside their mother’s closet? Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions with the studio you’re using, some requests seem extremely complex yet are incredibly easy to accommodate and some requests are so simple yet nearly impossible. Some studios are stocked with plenty of gear, others have only mics ready to record. If you’re using gear from the studio be sure to ask if there’s any additional fees for that, I personally include gear usage for free but other studios charge.
  6. Your gear. No, this isn’t a quote from “Bad Santa”, your gear should be fully functional. You don’t want to show up to a recording session and your bass amp speaker is blown or you don’t have drum sticks. Make sure your instruments are good to go and bring spare strings, sticks, cables, picks, etc. And batteries, if your gear relies on batteries be sure to bring spares; although there may be a liquor store across the street you don’t want to waste time sending someone out to buy a 9V when everyone is completely on point, the vibe can die very quickly in these situations and you end up wasting a couple hours trying to get back in the zone.
  7. Files. This usually applies to singer/songwriters, DJ’s, or solo acts. If you’re bringing in your own files be sure that the files are where they are supposed to be or that they will actually load up. If your projects are DAW specific—that is they are saved as a particular project file such as a Pro Tools, Cubase, Logic project—be sure that you have all accompanying files such as samples and MIDI clips (usually there’s some kind of option called “contain” or “collect and save” )
  8. Plan a Schedule. Think about all the processes you’ll need to go through and plan your time according to these tasks. It’s usually a good idea to add in a few hours in case something unexpected comes along. In my studio I don’t watch the clock like a hawk so I don’t mind the occasional 15 minutes or so to change out batteries, rehash a melodic line, or simply take a break but when you need 2-3 hours to re-write a verse you can bet it’s gonna cost.
  9. Project Compatibility. This kinda goes hand-in-hand with number 7 up there. If you plan on taking the recordings home to do all the editing, mixing, and mastering yourself be sure that the studio is using a DAW that you can work with. Although this isn’t a problem with transferring stems it can turn into a nightmare when there are complex edits involved.
  10. Your well-being. Seems like a no-brainer but if your singer is sick or a band member’s performance significantly affected by a virus they’ve caught then it’s probably best to cancel the session. Every studio will have their own cancellation policy so be sure to ask about that beforehand so you can plan and budget accordingly. You can push through sickness but your vibe will definitely be affected which means your performance will most likely suffer.
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