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Choosing A Studio

My band will be recording our first full-length this winter. We're currently demoing the initial batch of songs to choose from in my home studio, but want to take the project to a nicer facility to track and mix for the final product.

My initial approach was to listen to some albums that have a similar sound to what I am looking for and find out where they were recorded. That information hasn't been as ready available as what I had hoped, and the easy ones are usually somewhere like Abbey Road. We ain't flyin' 'cross the pond. In fact, we'd like to stay as close to the southeastern US as possible.

Our budget will be modest, but hopefully adequate ($3000 - $4000).

Does anyone have any suggestions?


VonRocK Mon, 10/02/2006 - 23:48
If you are extremley well rehearsed, have sparse instrumentation, and can setup and record 'live off the floor' and add an overdub or two after, it is possible. Two days recording, one day mixing. That' would be about as much as you could get. 1500 per day should get you into a decent studio with a good engineer with an assistant. Live off the floor. Add a grand or two for some mastering. Another 500 for a few CD's with artwork.

Prices vary with location.

Even if the whole project fails, the two or three days experience working with pro's will give you some real insight to the whole thing. Then you can spend anothere five grand on some home studio stuff, and carry on with life.

RemyRAD Tue, 10/03/2006 - 10:42
Here's another suggestion. If you have a reasonable home studio and are somewhat proficient, you should record and overdub everything at home. Then find yourself a popular and competent producer/engineer to mix your project, at your "studio" or theirs. Leave the mastering for a mastering engineer before replication. The bulk of your recording comes from the performance, that you already know how to do. Unless you go into a top-rated studio, most affordable studios will have the same equipment you have with an engineer that has the same amount of experience you have. Make sense?

You get who you pay for
Ms. Remy Ann David

CircuitRider Tue, 10/03/2006 - 13:09
That's a great point. The biggest thing I'm worried about is not having adequate gear. For example, in my mic closet, I have 3 SM58s, 1 SM57, a pair of MXL condensors and a couple of cheapo large diaphram condensors. As for preamps, I use what is onboard the Tascam FW1884. Still sound like a good idea to do it at home? It does put getting started closer to our reach. Would I be able to shore up the home studio for about half of my budget (e.g. get a couple of better mics for $1500)?

stickers Tue, 10/03/2006 - 16:31
Well you could borrow or rent gear with an as needed fashion.

For instance, you are overdubbing bass tracks, well maybe for a couple days you could rent a kick butt DI or bass rig.

The best thing about a DIY record in a home studio is that you can take forever and a day not have to worry about the clock. yup.

Its a good thing bands dont realize this or more of us would be out of business. :shock:... and I'm only half joking. :shock:

Also, "smart" bands, IMO, do EPs and try to get picked up by a label and let the label foot the bill for a full length.

RemyRAD Tue, 10/03/2006 - 19:12
CircuitRider, I really think you only need to buy a bigger bag of SM57's. I have made a lot of recordings with a lot of bands along with a lot of live broadcasts. I make fabulous recordings and most of the microphones used are SM57/58 and very few condenser microphones. Mostly just a pair on drum overheads which have frequently been Shure SM 81's small capsule condenser's. The TASCAM interface, treated kindly, with gain adjusted for maximum headroom should be more than adequate to make a fine recording. Good recordings, made in good studios, by good engineers always employed good headroom for maximum transients. (Transients, not street people) People frequently push modest equipment too hard. That's what sounds bad most of the time. It's not the $80 microphones, they're good! It's the $80 preamplifiers that's pushed too hard. Avoid that and you will be in the pocket, along with your money.

I actually prefer a lot of rock-and-roll vocals on the SM58 to any mediocre condenser microphone. Plus the venerable dynamic microphone actually offers a certain amount of bandwidth limiting. In that, sound that is mostly beyond recorded usefulness, i.e. the lowest frequencies and the uppermost highest frequencies, are largely eliminated making for a cleaner tighter recording with less leakage and separation problems when you are tracking the whole band together. I know this because I have specialized in mostly live recording with my remote truck. Of course, it's nice having my 36 input Neve console and 16 additional API microphone preamplifiers but I've done lovely work also with broken 20-year-old Peavey PA consoles. If perhaps you wanted better microphone preamplifiers, I've heard nothing but good things about the Mackie Onyx, available as standalone preamplifiers or integrated into their numerous mixers. The Presonus microphone preamplifiers have also gotten good notices. A good investment and less than a studio session at a mediocre studio with a mediocre console.

A couple of reasonable price compressor/limiters I think is a good investment for you also. Good for tracking when "less is more" is employed. I personally feel it's better to track a little compression than none at all on vocals, basses, snare and kick, keyboards, saxophones, I guess I like tracking a lot of compression. I have DBX's 160's, 165's (old and rare) and 166's (inexpensive and plentiful). I also have fine old vintage UREI LA3A's, LA 4's and numerous 1176's but I use those interchangeably with the 166's. They are all different but they're all good. Unfortunately those older vintage units are a little harder for a smaller studio to justify the expense of but that wouldn't stop me if I didn't have them.

You say you have a pair of MXL's and a pair of cheapo large diaphragm condensers? And you don't think the MXL's are cheapo's? So you're talking about NADY's? Or some other Russian or Chinese thingies? Either way, you have the tools necessary to cut some good tracks. If you contract an engineer to mix and they're not happy with some of your tracks, I'm sure they could fix you right up with the equipment you have on hand. If you need help when tracking, we'll be here to help you through the process.

Looking forward to hearing your tracks.
Ms. Remy Ann David

Pro Audio Guest Tue, 10/03/2006 - 19:15
I can take that job

I'm not that close to the Southern East coast of the US, but I'm not in Europe either, I work a bit down south, in Valencia, Venezuela. But I'll be happy to record your proyect at a price inside your budget limits if you're willing to come down here. My email is, you can write or add me in msn messenger whenever you like and I can show you some of my work and tell you a bit more about the studio.

natural Tue, 10/03/2006 - 21:26
Assuming that you're doing contemporary type music that will actually qualify for airplay (ie: Coldplay, Aerosmith, Train,3 doors down etc) Then basically you're wanting to create a better demo than what you can do at home. (which I guess we could call the Demo of the Demo) This puts you in a better position to shop the project to labels and in the meantime, sell to fans, get some airplay etc.
You're in competion with a lot of other artists doing the same thing. In the end you're going to spend close to 8K. Oh,you might start out spending the 4k as planned, but somewhere between the final mix and the pressing, you'll realize that a lot of details got overlooked. Some things need remixing, replayed, maybe you finally realize why the studio was so inexpensive. Now you want to redo things in a better studio.And if you discover these things AFTER you've pressed the CD's, .... Well... may your diety of choice have mercy on your wallet.
Anyway, Do this, and you'll sleep better at night.
1- Pick 2 songs that are similar. And pick 2 studio's in your area that you feel comfy with.
2- Record basic tracks for the songs in each studio(1 song each). Concentrate on a good drum take. Scratch bass and voc, or gtr and voc can play along, but concentrate on the drums.
3- Take this back to the home studio and fill in the rest of the parts and mix.
4- Compare the 2 mixes, and pick one of the studios.
5- In that studio, Record basic tracks for half the songs.
6- back at the home studio, fill in the rest.
7- Go back to the studio and record the vocals for a couple of songs. (don't try to do marathon sessions- at this level of production it's all in the details and you just can't keep up that level of concentration all day long)
8- Get good ruf mixes, and start replacing in the studio any tracks that just didn't cut it from home.
9- continue this process until done and happy.
This is A LOT OF WORK to be sure. And it will take patience and time. Hopefully, during this time, finances will continue flow in and you won't need to outlay a pile of cash in a weekend.
Now, in the end, you're still going to spend close to 8 grand. And if we're talking about a typical 14 song Cd, that comes to less than 600.00/song.
And I say, that's very economical for a quality production.

JoeH Tue, 10/03/2006 - 21:30
As usual, Remy, your post was DEAD-on, right on the money. I wish more people thought that way. With all the gear-snobbery out there, it's no wonder people think they can't record with simply GOOD gear, vs. outstaning, top of the line stuff. (Frankly, IMHO most "Good" gear available today has better specs than some "Great" gear of 20 years ago.)

My first live pro sound gig in 1976 was limited to 10 SM57's and 6 SM58's, plus a couple of really banged up condensers. We made it all work, indeed. I had a friend open a studio around here a few years back, and his budget only included a handful of mics, most of them SM57's. Didn't matter; the guy KNEW how to make it all work, and the tracks sounded great.

The point is, one CAN make great recordings - even if they're only demos - with some pretty basic stuff, at least while one is learning. I'd take Stickers advice, and do it yourself, at least for now, get a good demo done, and then see where you're at.

CircuitRider Wed, 10/04/2006 - 09:00
I think I'm convinced, Remy. We had a long discussion last night, and agreed that we don't want to spend the entire budget tracking in a studio only to find that we could have nailed it better in the living room. We have actually found a couple of places that have some basic equipment and some good room treatment that we can use for cheap where we may do some tracking. We'll probably bring some mics and our own gear and put in a few days that way, but we'll basically just be paying for space and an isolated no-distraction environment. We can kick down for two or three more 57s and maybe get a pair of 81s for over the drums. I'll look for a deal on at least one dbx 166 compressor. That allows us to get started much sooner. I'll probaby have lots of questions and may see if a couple of you could listen to a raw track of a vocal or the drums, but I'm confident that we can produce a good product this way.

RemyRAD Wed, 10/04/2006 - 10:13
CircuitRider, I don't think you will fall short of your goals and ideals? You are starting the right way, on the right note.

Thanks again for your support JoeH! I love ya'!

And just think, after you cut all of your tracks, and you know the performances are good, you're mixing engineer may choose to jump into his own ProTools rig, slap on a bunch of cool plug-ins and give you a product that you thought was impossible. There are lots of microphone emulation plug-ins that frequently require a SM57/58 to be used as the source microphone. From that microphone, they have the ability to model almost any popular any "high-end" microphone sound imaginable. So if you're on the right track!

Check back regularly for tips and suggestions while you're in the process.
Ms. Remy Ann David

Reggie Wed, 10/04/2006 - 13:51
I'm not that close to the Southern East coast of the US, but I'm not in Europe either, I work a bit down south, in Valencia, Venezuela. But I'll be happy to record your proyect at a price inside your budget limits if you're willing to come down here. My email is, you can write or add me in msn messenger whenever you like and I can show you some of my work and tell you a bit more about the studio.

What kind of desperate spam is this? Why would they spend half their budget getting the band members and equipment down to Venezuela? :roll:

Anyway, I think I will go against the prevailing wisdom so far in this thread and recommend doing your album in a real studio. It will be faster, you can focus on the performance part rather than trying to get all the technical details right, the pressure of the studio clock running can sometimes invoke extra "magic" moments of the performance by causing you to take on a more serious mindset, and I'm willing to bet the end result will be a good deal better than DIY. You should be able to find deals in scheduling large blocks of studio time; maybe find special deals for late night blocks. If you rehearse your songs a ton so that all the parts are tight (if not, maybe don't bother with a studio?), I would recommend recording drums/gtrs/bass all at the same time to seperate tracks. Of course you will need a studio that has enough iso rooms for this, but a lot of times this gives the parts an extra bit of cohesiveness with eachother. Then go back and do a few overdubbed instruments if necessary, and vocals of course. If you can't get all that done for about $2000, either the talent isnt there, or you went to a studio that is way out of your league, or you just got a crappy deal. Then put the rest of your budget towards mixing and mastering.

Pro Audio Guest Wed, 10/04/2006 - 18:41

I'd like to know your definition of a real studio, have you ever even seen the studio that I work for?, have you ever heard my work to know what I do? and the quality of my work?, my price doesn't describe my work, it's just cheaper because everything is cheaper here than in the US, so I'd appreciate it if you didn't make destructive crticism about something you know nothing about. I was only making a suggestion, it's not desprate, I just saw that their budget fits with my price AND their travel costs.

Pro Audio Guest Wed, 10/04/2006 - 23:22
Is this album something you want to sell on?

If so, track the kit professionally (in a good space, studio etc) on analog tape with someone who KNOWS DRUMS and get it transferred to whatever format you're working on. It will be less expensive than the weeks spent trying to emulate the sound.

Then track whatever other shit you like wherever and get someone who has MIXED RECORDS to look at the results.

Hand the finished product to someone who KNOWS MASTERING.

If you don't know people like this or can't afford to hire their time, your record will go down the pan sonically, and be at best a good DIY attempt, not in any way a "killer sound", or something a label will pick up on.

No offense, but I doubt you will get releasable results with that gear. (I'd love to be proved wrong here). If the record is the real issue put the funds into that, it will be there forever, to hell with the rest.

good luck!

Reggie Thu, 10/05/2006 - 09:16
Cosme, I wasn't insinuating that you didn't run a "real" studio; it just seems like a rediculous proposal to me that they should spend a couple thousand bucks getting 4 dudes and all their gear down there, maybe have to take time off from their day jobs to get the recording/mixing/mastering process done while they are down there. Typically only larger budget recordings can afford to take an out of state (or in this case, out of country) vacation for a few days(weeks?) in order to work on an album. Or maybe you are willing to work for $20/day and pay for their lost wages or something. As you say, I don't know you; so, whatever dude.

Circuit Rider, check out his work and see if it is worth the hassle to go down there. Maybe it is; I don't know.

JoeH Thu, 10/05/2006 - 09:33
Hey, it might be crazy, but it might work. You never know without at least trying; the worst anyone can say is: "Thanks, but no thanks."

When an artist(s) is young, hungry, and fairly unencumbered with family, job, entourage, etc., sometimes things like that (a trip to another country) can happen. It could be an adventure as well, if it's the kind of thing that the musicians could do (Travel on their own dime) for the experience and sheer helluvit. It's kind've an artistic roll of the dice, as well...sometimes recording projects are deeply influenced by locations they're recorded in. (The story about the making of Deep Purple's 'Smoke on the Water' is one that comes to mind, ditto for McCartney's Band on the Run...)

There's a very good case to be made for artists doing their best work while they're still innocent, hungry and willing to suffer for their art. Who knows? I wish I was young and naive enough to take a month off and go record somewhere far far away. 8-)

CircuitRider Thu, 10/05/2006 - 10:08
Unfortunately, going to Venezuela is not an option for us. I do appreciate the consideration, though, Cosme. And it would be one hell of an experience, I'm sure. Hell, maybe the next project. We're going to stay within driving distance for this one. Everyone is pretty attached to their own rigs and we have some pretty heavy stuff. I think we're going to go with a combination of Remy and alimoniack's suggestions. We'll get a scratch track of drums and redo them in a studio if nescessary.

Reggie Thu, 10/05/2006 - 12:30
Just a word of warning, I would HIGHLY recommend against rerecording drums to your main gtr/vocal tracks. Any of the bands that I have worked with that have tried, never have good results. It never seems to be as tight as getting your drum tracks set in stone, and then recording the "fiddly bits" over them (or record live all together works too). But I guess you'll figure something out...