When planning to record your next song or album, one of the most critical decisions will be choosing the right studio and recording engineer. Not putting in the effort to research this ahead of time can be very costly and could potentially derail your entire project.
Below are 10 questions that you should ask any potential studio and recording engineer that you are considering using for your recording. Starting with the more business-minded questions is key, because if a studio can’t get those right, it won’t matter what gear they have.
If a studio does not have the business end of things together, move on, or risk losing all of your money.
Question 1: Can I take a tour of your facility?
Although this may seem like a simple question, you would be surprised how many recording engineers will not be immediately open to giving you a tour. There are two potential reasons for this:
- After years of working in the recording business, they may have gone a bit crazy and become introverted. They mean no harm, they’re just really difficult people to work with. This type of studio owner/recording engineer/producer will become notoriously difficult to reach in the middle of your recording process, costing you time and ultimately lost opportunities.
- The next reason is the one to be extremely afraid of…This is the studio owner/recording engineer/producer who claims to own an amazing studio. He may even eventually let you tour a studio that he claims to own. But the truth is, he doesn’t own it. He has some shady backend deal with someone who works there, and when the relationship falls apart (which it always does the second YOUR MONEY becomes involved) the guy will vanish, with your money in hand.
A professional studio will make it easy for you to schedule a tour of their facilities. If a studio is dodgy about scheduling a studio tour or provide excuses as to why you can’t see their facility, move on. Indie Rock Inc. uses a simple online calendar to schedule a tour of the facilities. Click here to schedule a tour!
Question 2: What is the booking process?
Find out who you contact to actually book the studio (ie, a studio manager or the recording engineer?) and how the calendar is handled. There are two important things you need to find out:
Do they have different rates for different blocks of time?
For example, a studio may have a discounted “Day Rate.” Depending on what you plan to accomplish during your session, the studio manager should be skilled enough in the recording process to help you get the best rate possible.
How much notice must you give to cancel or reschedule a session?
You never know when one of the members of your group (including yourself) will decide to get the flu or sprain his wrist skateboarding. You want to know that your deposit will not be lost due to circumstances outside of your control.
At Indie Rock Inc., our studio manager handles your whole recording session from start to finish. You can even book your session directly online! And because you’ve downloaded this guide we’ll even give you a discount code, good for 20% off all your sessions for the next YEAR. Just use discount code “studio20year” when you book your session.
Question 3: What is the payment process?
Who facilitates payment?
Again, is there a studio manager, or just the recording engineer? Recording sessions have a habit of running over on time. There should be clearly defined policies for how you will be billed if you go over the allotted amount of studio time (do they charge an overtime rate?) and whether or not you will be refunded for any time that you do not end up using if you paid in advance.
Find out if they need a deposit upon booking time, how much it is, what happens in the case of a cancellation, and when your remaining balance will become due. It is also important to know their refund policy if you book more time than you need.
Indie Rock Inc. bills you for your session directly inside our online booking calendar. A “no questions asked” cancellation may be requested up to 24 hours before the downbeat of your session. Although we issue the refund on the same day, it typically takes 3 – 5 days for the refund to show up on your credit card or bank statement (this depends on your bank). If a session does run over-time, no worries. Indie Rock Inc. does not charge an additional overtime fee (just the standard hourly rate), and your card will automatically be charged for the extra time. We try extra hard to make the booking and payment part of your session as painless as possible.
Question 4: How do you deliver my files?
You need to know how the recording engineer is going to deliver your files upon completion of the session and whether or not you need to bring your own hard drive for recording. At a minimum, the studio should provide you the full multitrack (all the individual audio files that make up the song). Walk away from any studio that refuses to provide your multitrack files.
At Indie Rock Inc., we make file delivery a simple process. After the session, all the files associated with your session are uploaded to our secure server. We then email you a link where you can download them in a single zip file.
Question 5: What types of artists do you generally work with?
It is important to work with someone that shares the vision and aesthetic of your project, as well as having the technical ability to achieve this vision. Engineering an alt-rock record requires a different approach to say, a hip-hop record. You want someone who has experience working with musicians that are in the same or similar genres to yours.
Question 6: Can I hear some examples of things you’ve recorded?
Any legitimate recording engineer will readily point you to samples of music they have worked on (if they can’t, move on). Listen to their work and, beyond assessing whether or not it sounds good, ask yourself if it fits your aesthetic.
Question 7: What is your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) of choice?
There’s a multitude of professional DAWs out there, so the important thing is whether or not you’ll be able to work on the sessions either on your own or at another studio after the initial recording session. If they are working with a different DAW then you, be sure that the recording engineer understands this up front and has the technical skills to export your files so that they can be imported directly into the DAW you use at home.
The studio at Indie Rock Inc. provides Pro Tools HD, Logic, Cubase, and Ableton. That being said, no matter what DAW you plan to continue work on (at home or anywhere else), we are able to export files you can use.
If you’re looking for help regarding the build of your home studio, check out our post 3 Ways To Build Your Home Studio Cost Effectively.
Question 8: What kind of front-end do you have for tracking?
“Front-end” refers to gear used during the actual recording process. This includes microphones, preamps, and even the recording device itself. You don’t necessarily need them to list off every single piece of equipment that they have available in their studio. Most studios will gladly give you a general idea of the microphones and preamps they have available, which recording console they are using, and how they’re interfacing digitally.
Here are the main things you want to ask a studio about:
- What is the quality of their gear? Is it prosumer or professional?
- How many simultaneous channels they can record? Can they accommodate a drum kit, or even track your entire band at the same time?
- Is a lack of quality or quantity equipment going to cause you to waste time and money, or worse compromise quality…this is more of a question for you to ask yourself once you’ve assessed the situation.
So now I’ll admit this to you. Everyone at Indie Rock Inc. is a total gear junkie. From our custom built 96 channel 16 bus analog console that features Solid State Logic, Rupert Neve, and Vintage API components, to the 64 channels of Avid HD IO that handle the AD/DA conversion, we make sure whatever it is you plan to record, there is no better place to do it.
Question 9: What is your general microphone setup for recording a drum kit?
Ask this question even if you have no plans to record an actual drum kit. This question is more about feeling out how deep their engineering knowledge goes, how confident they are in a complex recording session, and if their studio could even handle the task.
There are a lot of “recording engineers” out there that have little to no experience recording drums, or even bands. Whether or not a recording engineer can easily give you an idea of how they like to record a drum kit will be very informative about whether or not they’re someone who is professional enough to work with.
Have you had a chance to check out the Indie Rock Inc. blog page? Besides being totally stocked with great information that will have a direct benefit to your career as a professional musician, we post articles about our studio equipment and the techniques we use every day.
Question 10: What would you say are your gear “staples?”
Most studios will have some pieces of gear that they are particularly proud of. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a $10,000 vintage tube mic, but it should also be something nicer than a condenser mic that costs three or four hundred dollars. The particularly important thing to consider here is whether or not they have a great vocal chain (microphone, preamp, compressor, and equalizer). If a studio can not record the singer’s voice at a professional level, what’s the point?
It’s always so hard to pick your favorite pieces of equipment. It’s like a parent trying to pick a favorite child. It’s impossible. Every artist, no matter if they’re a vocalist or instrumentalist, is so different and unique in their musical delivery that it would be impossible to capture everything they would have to give artistically with just one recording chain.
Personally, I love the sound of Indie Rock Inc’s. custom U47 microphone and Neve 1084 preamp working together to create sonic whip cream. Throw a little vintage Urei 1176LN rev. D on that and it’s pretty much magic. But then again, we used a Telefunken ELAM 251 with the Retro Powerstrip last week and that was KILLER. Totally different sonic landscape, but so great with the artist’s vibe.
Thinking back, the one piece (or pair in our case) that really do end up on the majority of vocal and guitar overdubs are the vintage Pultec equalizers. It’s one of those pieces of kit you put last in the recording chain that adds just a bit of awesomeness.
Wrapping It Up
I hope you enjoyed this information on what to ask a recording engineer before booking your next recording session. If you’re in the Los Angeles area and would like a tour of the studio here at Indie Rock Inc., we’d love to have you. Click here to schedule a studio tour.
If you’re not local, there’s a lot more information inside the blog, and of course, I’m hanging around there to answer any questions you may have in the comments section.
See you in the studio,
Indie Rock Inc.