Are you looking to book a studio to do some recording work? With the growth in home and project studios, less and less people are booking commercial studios. There are some do’s and don’t and to help I’d like to share some advice I offer to clients wanting to book time at my studio in sunny (sometimes sunny) South East London. Some of this stuff may be obvious to experienced artists but, I also work with artists for whom this may be their first time in a recording studio, and so to help them come prepped, I send these 8 points in an email before they come in for their session can often make that session a much easier and less stressful experience for them and for me.
1. Know What It Is You Want To Achieve
Yes yes I know I’m starting with what might feel like the obvious but so often artists and bands go into the studio because they think, “well, errr we are a band, and, errr band make records, and err that happens in a studio” and while this is true, you need to know the reason for making the recording. Are you making a demo of your band playing live or are you recording a track for your album? I view band demos as just that, a demonstration of how you and your band sound live. No over-dubs or extra tracks, just you in a room, recording live. Thats not to say we can’t go in a “tweak” bits to make it sound as good as it can but I’m not into faking a live demo. If you want to record album ready tracks be prepared for this to take much longer as multi-tracking and over-dubs take time.
I also need to know what it is that you want by way of deliverables. Are you expecting to take away the hard drive with the raw tracks on for someone else to mix, or are you after a finished mix or master? This must be agreed in advance. I don’t want to be telling you at the end of the session that what you want is not going to be possible. I’m happy to do my best to accommodate any reasonable requests but it must be agreed in advance.
2. Be Realistic
If you are an experienced band or artist there is a good chance that you could record 4 or maybe 5 demo tracks in a studio day (typically 8 hours). However, if you are a young band whose musicianship could be described a “lacking in some areas” then be prepared to only get 1 or 2 demo or band tracks down in a day. To give you an example. I’m told in Nashville a studio day is divided up into 3 sessions, Morning, Afternoon and Evening, each of 3 hours in length. A top group of local session players could get 4 tracks down in a 3 hour session but those are some of the best session musicians in the world. Don’t try telling me that you are going to come into my studio and bang out your entire album in a day. It just is not going to happen.
3. The Recording Studio Is Not The Same As The Rehearsal Studio
I have sat at the desk for countless hours while bands work on their song lyrics and arrangements. The recording studio is not the place for this and the arguments that all too often go along with it. By the time you get to the studio the tracks or song you are going to record should be good and solid and if possible gigged so you know they work for you. Yes, I know changes are made last minute, for example like changing a lyric here and there or maybe maybe change a chord or two but you really should know what you are doing well in advance of even thinking about going in the studio. If not, be prepared to not hit your goals set out in the sections above and waste good money doing it.
4. Be Prepared
Yes I know it sounds like the motto of the Boy Scouts but being musically prepared is one thing. Arriving at the studio without your guitar, amp or cymbals is quite another. If you think you need 1 jack lead, bring 3. If you think you need 3 cymbals bring 5. Do you see where this is going? Guitar players, have at least 3 sets of strings with you. Drummers, 1 pair of sticks is not enough. When I’m on the performance side of the glass, I have often been accused of bringing far too much stuff, be it drums, guitars, pedals. I’ll even bring the stuff I know the other players in the band will forget to bring. It’s called being professional and being ready to overcome problems and avoid delays which can kill the vibe of a session.
5. Tell Me What Is Expected Of Me
As the person who sits in the “technical” chair, I need to know what it is you expect of me. Do you want me to just sit there and look after the technical stuff, like making sure the performances are captured to the best of my ability or do you want me to help you get every last ounce out of your time in the studio. The first example is what I’m going to call being a Recording Engineer. If you want my creative input then you are also booking me as Producer. I’m not after an extra cut of your royalties or to steel your self production credit on your album, I just need to know where I stand, or should that be sit. I’m the kind of person who is always willing to help and I think I have some pretty good ideas on how to make a good sounding performance into a great one, but if you don’t want my help just let me know. I won’t be offended and I’ll know to keep my creative opinion to myself.
6. Make Sure Your Gear Works
Please please don’t show up to a session with faulty gear. First of all it can be dangerous and can cause issues with my gear and second of all, gear that is not working at it’s best just holds up the flow of a session. I have done sound checks with bands where the gear worked fine until we hit the record button and then the guitar players amp dies. It happened on more than one occasion with the same guitarist who insisted he had had the amp repaired.
7. Be On Time & Ready To Work
If the session starts at 10am be there at 9:30 if not 9am. “Wow you’re here too early”, said no studio engineer ever. Drummers, allows at least an hour to set up your kit and get it line checked. And if you get it done quicker then grab a coffee, and while you are at it, get one for the team at the studio running your session.
I also have no sympathy with hang overs or lines like “I was up half the night with XYZ”. I don’t care! Be at the studio on time, ready to work and in a state ready to perform at your best. And that means showered and smelling fresh. Funny, but I never have to put that bit in the email when I have female clients. Boys you have been told.
8. Pay Your Bill On Time
One of the things I hate about being self-employed is dealing with and talking about money. It’s just not in my nature as a “creative”. However, I always let new clients know how much the bill will be in advance (allowing for any extras that might come up on the session) so that way, they don’t get any shocks when I give them an invoice. I am not a bank or credit union. I do not offer terms. At the end of the session or project you pay your bill or you will not get your masters, mixers or other deliverables that we have agreed on.
Paying up on time also keeps the vibe of good will and I’m more likely to offer you more in the future if I know you are what we might call a “good client”.
I hope you found this advice useful and if you have any other tips or pointers please add them in the comments section below.