Studio Shopping 101: what to look out for in a recording studio

What to look out for in a recording studio

Consider the following scenarios. A full swing band dressed up in classic Rat Pack regalia, crammed into a recording booth the size of a bus stop, with the drummer getting smacked in the face with every pump of the trombone and a huge double bass pinning the singer to a wall. How about this: an experienced vocalist struggling through the 43rd take of their song after the red-faced producer once again “forgot to hit record”. And finally, picture an up-and-coming band struggling to drum up the funds necessary to go on tour because they rinsed their entire budget on a studio with plush velvet seating and a chocolate fountain. What’s the common denominator in all of these situations? Well, namely, it’s that each of these musicians could have probably done better research when deciding on a recording studio.

What these scenarios also show is that recording your music in a professional studio is only rewarding when the studio you’ve chosen is suited to your individual needs as a band or artist. This can be tricky territory, especially for new artists who don’t spend their entire working lives either bundled up in a recording booth or sweating it out on a stage. It may be tempting to look solely at the usual ‘wow’ factors such as famous clients, luxury amenities, sleek interiors, and mixing desks ripped straight out of a Boeing 737. However, as you’ll see in the following points, the value of a recording studio lies more in how well it works than how impressive it seems.

In other words, musicians need to pick a studio which perfectly suits them in terms of factors like workflow, environment, sound, and equipment. Only then can they guarantee the best use of studio time and the best possible recording – a recording that captures both the tactile qualities and the emotional character of their music.
 

Staff

Perhaps more than anything, a recording studio is characterised by the people at its heart. Indeed, a great engineer will make all the difference when it comes to the quality of your record, the speed and flow of your session, and even the synergy between you and any bandmates. Even if the artist has a clear vision of their record and the producer has all the tools to realise it, neither party will be able to perform at their best if they don’t have that all-important connection. For instance, Malibu’s Shangri La Studios has the reputation it has not because of its facilities, but rather because of Rick Rubin, the experienced and acclaimed producer in charge.

As such, artists should mainly be looking at the producers and engineers they will be working with when choosing a recording studio. Every producer is unique in their approach and style, working better with some musicians than others. It’s therefore your responsibility to find a recording studio staffed by people who you can rely upon to bring structure, creative energy, efficiency, and personality to your studio session. Try taking a people-first approach to studios, and start asking fellow musicians who share your musical ethos for their best recommendations!
 

Space

When we talk about ‘space’ in the context of a recording studio we’re talking about its facilities, its size, its environment, and its location. On the whole, a studio space should give your session balance of function and inspiration, bringing out the best of your musical abilities while guaranteeing a professional recording. Let’s take a closer look at the main aspects of a space:

  • Facilities - A recording studio will usually consist of a control room and a live space, both of which are instrumental in the quality of the music produced within their walls. Does the space have suitable acoustics for your desired sound? Are the rooms properly organised and equipped to your standards? Consider listening to samples of music previously made in the studio and perhaps tour the space before you book in a session.

  • Environment - Beyond the technical specifications of a studio’s individual rooms, musicians should also be considering the immeasurable feel of the studio at large. Whether you’re looking for a chilled-out atmosphere or a more fast-paced one, environment will influence the way you work and the character of your finished project. So opt for a studio that opens up the right headspace to help your music flow better.

  • Location - Ideally, the studio is based in a location convenient to you or your band. Remember that you may have to transport some cumbersome equipment to the studio (such as instruments, amplifiers, stands, and pedals), and its therefore best to keep studio sessions as local as possible. You might also want to look at local amenities: restaurants, pubs, shops, and parks can all provide deserved respite from studio time.

  • Size - The size and capacity of a recording studio could make or break its suitability, especially if you’re part of an orchestra or big band. Before you book a studio session, make sure that there’s enough space to accommodate your musicians.
     

Sound

Ultimately, it’s important not to lose sight of the real reasons behind all studio sessions: creating a record that sounds professional and accurately capturing the essence of the music. Achieving the sound you would expect from a recording studio comes down to a few things, namely the standard of equipment being used and the expertise of the producer who is using it. We’ve already looked at the human side, so now let's consider the machines!

Using a studio with high-quality equipment is a must if you want a record to sound professional. While not every musician should be expected to tell high-end gear apart from low-end gear, there are a few basics to keep in mind when scouting out the best recording studio for you. (Hint: take a look at our own equipment list for a good idea of what high-quality gear looks like). Microphones should be available in a range of types (condenser mics/dynamic mics/tube mics), manufactured by industry-standard brands such as Neumann, Shure, AKG, and Sennheiser. There should be a diverse selection of gear for compression, distortion, reverb, delay, and EQ, as these pieces give you the option of layering in effects and mixing your sound properly.

Likewise, research the console at the centre a studio’s control room. Does it have sufficient inputs and routing capabilities to handle the type of recording you are doing? If it is an older model then enquire as to its service history. Is there a maintenance guy on hand or an inventory of spares should channels go down? Does it produce a sound in keeping with the style and aesthetic of your music? Listen to some samples of music produced with the console in question to get a feel for its qualities and capabilities. If you want an analogue sound,

for instance, consider using a recording studio with a 2” tape machine. On the other hand, studios that rely predominantly on digital computer based systems may be better suited to contemporary pop recordings. Once you have a basic knowledge of how recording equipment can influence the overall character of a particular piece of music, you will be in a better position to know what you're looking for in a recording studio.
 

Spend

Recording studios can get expensive, and its crucial for musicians to set a budget and stick to it. As such, the cost of studio time should factor into your final decision. In many ways, musicians should approach the recording process from a business perspective by thinking mainly of the end product while keeping an eye on cost and efficiency. If all the big studios are too pricey then look for the unique qualities in smaller and more intimate studios. Remember, keeping the costs low does not mean compromising your creative vision. Expensive production does not a good song make!

 

Kore Studios is a recording studio in West London run by experienced producer/engineer, George Apsion. We offer a large live space and two control rooms, backed up by a mixture of high-end and vintage gear, brought together by experts in producing and mixing various different styles of music. Get in touch to arrange your tailored studio session.