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8 Tips For Choosing
The Right Recording Studio

by John McKay


While it might seem like choosing the right recording studio in Phoenix for your project is a straightforward process of finding the studio with the best price, there's much more to it than that!


The question of price is probably first in your mind, and at the end of the day,it will likely be a deciding factor. So, with that in mind,we'll look at the options, as they relate to the price you'll pay for your recording project.


1. Check Out The Gear (But Don't Believe The Hype!)


Most studio websites show their gear, with a gear list. There's a reason! For a savvy producer, knowing what gear is on hand can be important. The cost of renting extra preamps, compressors, or microphones will impact the cost of the project. Finding a studio that is well-equipped can keep these rental costs lower. A well-equipped studio has more money invested in gear, though, so their rates will be higher. 


What gear do you actually need for your project? 


If you're planning to record your band 'live' in the studio (recording the drums,bass,guitars, and scratch vocals simultaneously) you need a studio with enough mics, preamps, cables, and inputs to their recording system to handle that load. Many smaller studios charge a lower hourly rate, but can only track a few sources at once. This means that getting your basics down will take 4-8x as long. So that'll cost more than you might think.


I personally have a rig with enough preamps and mics to track a full band live. I prefer to edit complete takes together to get a master take, rather than punch in, though I can do that, too!


2. Check Out The Space


If you're planning to track drums, you'll want to see the drum room. If the owner has spent the money to build a facility, hopefully, they've built a decent drum/main room. I'd be looking for a good reverb decay (somewhere around 1.5-2 seconds to decay to silence) and high ceilings. The BBC recommends tracking in rooms over 1500 cubic feet, and I tend to agree. The room should sound good, if it is too dead, you'll need to use reverb effects, if it's too live, it'll make for some unfocused sounding tracks.


I prefer tracking in bigger spaces, anything from a living room to rehearsal hall or art gallery. Deadening an overly live room isn't that hard with some blankets and gobos!



3. Check Out The Guy (or Girl!)


While it might be cool to work with a young kid who likes your music, and he probably charges a low hourly rate, be prepared to spend a lot longer getting sounds,and a lot longer during mixdown. On the other hand, using an older guy with tons of experience, but who isn't really into what you're doing may result in a product that just doesn't capture what you're going for. Try to assess the engineer's tastes, and whether he's familiar with your type of music. Hearing some work he's done in the past will help a lot in evaluating whether he's a good fit, as will talking to him and seeing if you gel personally.


I specialize in music that I like, generally indie stuff, punk, garage, surf, some post-rock, pretty much anything with guitars, except modern country and metal. 


4. Check Out The Vibe


If you're looking at recording studios, try to visit them in person if possible. See what the place feels like, what it smells like. Does it seem like a place you can be comfortable? Do they have clean bathrooms? A Kitchen? A lounge for the band members to chill in while your vocalist is tracking his parts? What about parking? The vibe in the place will determine, along with the engineer, your comfort level, which affects your performances. If you're not feeling comfortable, plan on spending a bit longer tracking, a few extra takes to get warmed up, etc. Keep in mind that building and maintaining a great room costs a lot, the rates will reflect that.


I built my business around the idea that artists perform best in their own creative space. I come to you, and blend in with your world. I have found this to be a tremendously satisfying way to work, for myself and my clients.


5. What's The Reel Deal?


Some studios charge for a master CD of your tracks, they may charge for hard drive space, or you may need to provide or pay for tape, etc. These generally aren't huge expenses, though you could easily spend $500-$1000 for 2" tape if you're tracking an album (more than that if you want multiple takes, or don't like to record over old work!) 


I don't charge for CD-Rs, and I record to and archive you tracks on Hard Drives that I own and keep. If you need copies of the individual tracks for your own use, I can burn them to a DVD, for my regular hourly rate. I don't charge to make you rough mix or master CD-Rs.


6. How Do We Pay?


While most commercial studios take credit cards, checks, cash, etc, many small studios don't, as they are operating as hobbies, not businesses. You should be aware of that before showing up, as things can get a little awkward when you whip out the old Visa card and the engineer says "Cash Only,please!" 


I operate an AZ licensed business and take checks, cash, credit card, Paypal, and will even barter for gear! 


7. What Is The Schedule Like?


Ask about upcoming available dates, many studios will ask for a few weeks to a couple of months advance notice of a date. Also, find out the policy on deposits. Many studios require 50% to hold a date. If you need to reschedule, do so with 48 or more hours notice, or you may surrender some or all of your deposit.


I don't currently require deposits, but that policy is subject to change


8. Do They Offer a Guarantee?


Not too many studios offer money-back guarantees that I've seen, but it's worth asking. At the least, they may offer a free remix/tweak if the mix doesn't translate when you get to your home stereo. 


I offer a 100% money back guarantee, and minor mix tweaks are always free.



The Verdict


You will need to find a space that you feel comfortable in, with the right gear to capture your vision in a short amount of time. You need to work with an engineer that you like,who understands your music,and has been doing this long enough to get it done quickly and correctly. And the price shouldn't include hidden charges that catch you off guard. 


I have built Suitcase Recordings around these principles, and would love to talk to you about your project. If you don't feel I'm the right guy, give me a call, anyway! I can recommend other rooms around town that I think would be a good fit for your project.


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