Hello again and welcome to my regular ramblings about studio life. I thought this time I would try to talk impartially about how to choose a studio and producer for your project. I’m the first to admit that it’s a “horses for courses” approach and that although a studio or producer may be successful and high spec it may not be the right one, just as at the other end budget studios aren’t always financially sensible in the long run.
This is not meant as an advert for any one studio or producer and not ours or me. This is, hopefully, a helpful guide to how I would choose for my own projects.
Choosing a producer
Choosing a producer is a decision that can be just as important as the studio you record in and really make or break your record. These days a lot of bands and musicians self produce, have a definitive idea of what they want to achieve and how to do that with the correct facilities. This can work well but sometimes an extra perspective in the form of producer or creative director can really open your eyes to new ideas and ways to put across your music. If this is for you then here’s a list of qualities I have always looked for with producers when recording with Idlewild or solo.
Anyone who you work with to achieve your creative vision should understand what you are trying to say and have a rapport with you. They are almost an extra member of the band. Someone you can spend and enjoy time with and who will bring the best performance out of you in the studio. Always try to meet or at least talk to them before you choose the person to work with to see if you get on. Of course there are many producers out there who have a reputation and CV that makes your mouth water but not everyone clicks with everyone. You are trusting this person with your songs and to represent what you are saying creatively. You should definitely have a spark with them.
Reputation Vs Hunger:
Some producers you may approach as they have a back catalogue of work with artists you admire and yes sometimes this may mean they are more expensive. Assuming you click with them, you have some peace of mind that the results will be great. On the other hand you may know a less seasoned producer who is cheaper but also hungry to progress and will work their metaphoric ass off on your project to prove themselves. If you can’t afford the “big guns” then it’s wise to meet with some up and coming producers and ask to hear examples of their work and talk through your project with them to see what ideas they have to bring to the table.
“I’ll fix it later”
In my opinion, the producer who tells you “Let’s just get it down and I’ll fix it later” is the guy to avoid. Of course, there are time and budget constraints in recording and sometimes less time can be spent on something that you would like but it’s worth bearing in mind that fixing it later also takes time.
When I started out i used to make this mistake alot too and rely on time later on to fix vocals or drums. This mounts up quickly and you don’t ever get a contextual vision of how the recordings are progressing as you pile up a queue of to be fixed later takes. This also ends up taking more time and money in the edit and so doesn’t always even benefit the budget.
There is something to be said for the tape approach even if recording digitally in that you commit to recording and getting it right at the time. This allows you to make decisions on the song as you go and have a better idea or progression through the process. Too often the ‘fixed later’ takes and instruments may not end up how you imagined and it’s too late to change them. You will often end up with generic results that don’t best represent your performance.
Choosing a recording studio
Over my 21 years in Idlewild and working as a musician on various projects, I’ve been in many recording studios from the high end to the project or even makeshift in a rehearsal room or holiday house. All of them have their merits and all have their challenges and i hope in this blog to try and give a checklist for how to choose the right one for your project.
Budget Vs Expectations:
First off it’s worth thinking of what you want to achieve and be realistic. Plan out what instrumentation you want to record, how much you want to experiment in the studio and the sonic vision of the project. Obviously this may be with a producer who can advise you on the right decision.
If you don’t have the budget for a fancy recording studio for the whole project then sometimes it’s wise to split the recordings into sections. For example if you want a big room drum sound then track all the drums somewhere that can accommodate it, then move on to track guitars, vocals etc somewhere smaller and cheaper. Many studios have more than one room or a studio B that you can move on to for overdubs to save money. There are plenty of smaller project studios than can achieve good results but again being realistic about what you want to achieve is key.
If you want a posh big room sound then the easiest way is to do this in a posh big room studio. What you may save in going to a smaller room for this you will probably spend later in fixing it or taking longer to achieve or fake the results to sound the way you want.
Project studio Vs Posh studio:
Before learning my craft as an engineer and a producer, I recorded in various degrees of these over the years and had good results from both types but always had a producer or engineer at the controls who knew their stuff and just as importantly; the merits and limitations of their studio space. Clever engineering can get the best out of any room but there are spaces that suit certain projects that won’t suit others.
A well run project studio will be cheaper than the posh one and can allow you more time to experiment and try different things. Even “pop up” studios in your own space using what you have can work well. Recording in our own space during “make another world” was a great experience although the room itself was good sounding and large and we had a great producer in Dave Eringa at the controls using his wealth of experience to make up for any shortcomings of the set up.
On the flip side, if you want a record that sounds like it’s recorded in a big room on a high end console then that’s the best way to go. Yes you can fake it to a degree with technology but it will always be a compromise. Similarly if the vibe of a record is to make it live sounding or “band in a room” make sure there are the facilities and spaces to achieve this. Vibe and “liveness” can’t be faked.
Visit or at least look in detail at the recording studio you are thinking of receding in. Without sounding like a spiritual warrior, the vibe is extremely important. You should feel comfortable there and creatively energised so that it inspires the best performance and artistry in you. Again the people running the space should be people you feel you can spend time with and are comfortable around.
Recording studios can vary from the dark and cosy, to bright and airy or even so posh you feel bad putting you cup coffee down anywhere. We try hard in our studio to create a creative and welcoming atmosphere that we would want if visiting a studio based on the parts we have liked from other studios we visited and worked in. Our vision however isn’t to everyones taste so make sure you find the right space for you.
As with anything else, you get what you pay for. If a recording studio rate seems too cheap it can be for a multitude of reasons and you must be careful to identify why. Often it can mean although the gear at the studio is impressive versus the cost that half of it doesn’t work or isn’t maintained properly. Make sure the things that draw you to the studio are actually there and working!
It’s a competitive industry nowadays more so than ever so there are bargains to be found but check it’s not at the expense of quality and consistency. Talk to other artists who have worked there, read reviews and be realistic again.
Buy cheap, pay twice?:
This isn’t always the case but i regularly feel terrible for people who approach me or the studio asking us to save projects or even redo them because they have been recorded poorly or not met their expectations. Sometimes this is the artists own doing in not being realistic in the first place but also can be due to being told that they can have Abbey Road results on a budget by a cheaper studio trying to fake it with back end technology and samples. We have a post about avoiding this type of scenario by preparing for the studio.
As much as we always do all we can to help in this situation it will save you money and time if you think carefully about what you want to create and then pick your recording studio appropriately in the first place.
Hopefully this has all been of some use and I want to stress again that no space is a bad space. It’s about picking the right one for your needs and the right people to help you get the best out of it.
As with always, wherever you choose, please remember to bring biscuits. We all like biscuits. Apart from Kris who prefers cake…..
Top 5 takeaways:
Take time to find the producer that’s right for you
Be wary of relying on digital to fix a lackluster performance
Make sure your budget and your expectations match
Take time to find the recording studio that’s right for your project
Read more posts like this at Post Electric Studio Blog.