Finding the right studio/producer/engineer

When you go to record, you want to make sure you’re prepared as much as possible, especially if you’re funding something yourself without help or a label as we mentioned in our post ‘Preproduction and Preparing to Record.’ You will want to have all the right tools you need in order to get the most out of it and to get the best product. Tools such as having the songs well rehearsed and practiced, a vision for the songs, goals, a plan, an understanding of the sounds you want, and knowing the songs inside out so that when it comes to tracking you are ready. A huge component to making your recordings a reality is finding the right Producer, Engineer &/or Studio, or even having a plan in place to do it yourself. Either way, finding the right match to your music and sound is important - whether a songwriter, punk band or pop artist... regardless of genre, finding the correct place and person to record and capture the songs is imperative!

There are studios all over the world, and in a ton of places you wouldn’t ever expect. In big cities, in small towns, in warehouses, in churches, in garages, converted houses etc. and with the new digital age, on our home computers or mobile laptops. The location doesn’t have to be close to you to be the right one either. It’s not uncommon for a touring artist or band to record on off days while on the road with a producer from another city. In addition, artists and producers around the world are also making great use of the internet by sending recorded files back and forth to each other.

Most of the time, the style that comes out of a particular recording could be due to the engineer/producer. Depending on their experience, and their knowledge, this person can make a song sound a certain way as well as a studio/room. (Example: if a Studio has a tracking room that’s large like a church and the engineer use’s lots of microphones on the drums this sound might be very distinctly big and roomy with natural reverb - or if they have a production suite in a major studio or even a home with a smaller set up where they program beats or live drums, their sounds might be known for being really tight and polished, with a focus on vocal production - it all varies.) Maybe they’re most well-versed in punk music, or pop music, or jazz. Of course there are exceptions to this and people of different genres who collaborate, but for the most part you want to work with someone who can bring out the most from your sound, knows the influences you have, or is familiar with the scene you play in and your style.

If you know this person or if you don’t, first ask them what their specialty is or which bands/types of music they have worked on in the past to get an understanding of their background. If it’s similar to what you do, maybe this person is a great fit. Ask for some samples and see if you can get a list of their discography that lists their credits.

Another thing to consider is price. What is your budget? How much can you afford per day, hour, or per song or per person? Some studios have per-hour rates that may or may not come with an engineer (price will change), and some studios will have day rates and there’s an extra charge for an assistant or engineer. Producers may have a day rate or even a per-song rate, but the amounts will vary from person to person, mostly depending on the studio, the person’s background, and their skill level. Some do everything - record, mix & master - while others do not.

Tip: If you’re self-producing and need to record or need to find a producer or engineer - do your research. Search on the internet and look up studios near you, try looking up the bands or artists you love to find the places they’ve recorded or who they recorded with. Ask your friends or people you know who are similar to your sound where they recorded. Then find out what these studios or people offer and the prices they are, and also reach out to producers (e-mail, websites, social media, phone calls). Often the producer will have access or know a studio that he or she likes to work out of and can offer suggestions or good prices. Some producers also engineer and own their own studio so in that case prices will change! 

Keep in mind that all engineers/producers work at their own pace and the vibe is different with each individual place and producer. Meet up with this person prior to recording, visit the studio (most offer free tours), and see if something clicks!

Tip: For those who are new to recording, sometimes there are additional costs for mixing and mastering if the producer or engineer doesn’t offer this - so keep that in mind when budgeting. Also some artists will take recordings to a mixer (different engineer) after recording with another person, but really it all varies and there is no right or wrong way.  If you’re self producing, maybe you just go to the studio and use an engineer for some tracking and do some other tracking at home on your computer and then hire a mixer! Or maybe you can track it all at a studio and then you or your band can mix it if you have the skills to match your needs.

There are many different routes these days and no one way is right! All that matters is that the music sounds great and represents you well!

Extra Tips:

- For artists wanting to try to record themselves or even do Pre Production demos you can now get ProTools for about $25 a month to record on your computer, Logic Audio is available to buy for about $200, GarageBand comes macs.

- To look up different Artists or Bands album credits (for producer and engineer names etc) look up records onallmusic.com

 (Take at Studio 606 in Los Angeles CA)

 (Take at Studio 606 in Los Angeles CA)

(Photo by Doug Batchelder at The Den in North Reading, MA) 

(Photo by Doug Batchelder at The Den in North Reading, MA) 

Pre-Production and preparing for recording

You and/or your band are sounding like a solid unit, you’ve practiced multiple times on a regular basis, and you’ve possibly even played your music out in some venues. The songs are sounding good and you’re really happy with how they’ve come together - the next step could very well be stepping into the studio to record!

The first step for preparing for recording your songs is pre-production. Pre-production is one of the most important things an artist or band can do and have an understanding of, especially in this day and age when both money and time are such factors. Just like first promoting your show and then playing the show happens in two steps, so should pre-production & recording.

Pre-production is the time you spend to prepare your songs, practicing your parts as a band or artist, checking arrangements, breaking the songs down so you make sure everyone is playing the same notes, checking all the musical parts, practicing harmonies, refining lyrics, making sure the key is right, finding the tempos (whether you’ll play to a click or not, depending on your music) before entering the studio.

*A lot of us artists have some sort of home studio or computer recording setup available to us, and even with technology at our fingertips (which is a great luxury we have these days!) it can be overlooked. There are many opportunities to take your time to figure things out on your own for finding the best result - so take advantage of these things so when you spend your time and money on a great studio or great producer you are prepared!

When practicing your songs, you could even time yourself and see how long it takes you to set up all the instruments, play through the song(s) you want to record, *plus factor in the engineer mic’ing instruments and testing sounds (that will give you an idea of how long it might take in the studio to set up even before tracking). Find the BPM (beats per minute) of the song and try practicing to a click track, this will further tighten up the band and the song, speed up time in the studio, and when it comes to tracking it (especially via the computer), will give everyone a guide, allow the producer and everyone involved some more flexibility and creativity to build the song into something really cohesive and wonderful!

Tips:

- There are multiple tempo / click apps (try TEMPO) available for free or for a couple dollars online for iPhones or Smartphones that you can tap tempos out to.

- When you find a tempo for your song try it a couple beats slower and faster to see which sounds best!

- Try using a Phone or Computer mic to record your band or your songs to see how songs are sounding! This is a great way even if it’s rough to hear your songs.

- Typically full production indie band songs can usually be fully tracked in 1-2 days (of course depending on a lot of factors: if a band or artist is well rehearsed, instrumentation, style of music, budget)

- Typical studio rates can vary from $250-up (maybe cheaper depending on the place/location)

- Most average studios run $350-700 and up a day in major cities. Sometimes the rate includes the engineer if he or she owns the studio.

- Engineer rates average w/o a studio usually run $150/$250 a day and upward -or- $35 and up an hour

- Assistant rates run usually $100/150 a day

- Typical tracking hours in professional studios run 8-12 hours varying on the studio and engineer rates

Your friends, family, and fans are all going to want to be able to take something home that you created and that they can listen to over and over again. (Plus as a touring artist, CDs are a must have and merch sales help to pay for lodging, gas, and food. Recordings are also important for any band or artist who is serious about wanting to be a professional musician as it is an opportunity for online sales and a way for fans and industry folks who don’t live in the same city or country to hear you.

This is just a small glimpse into preparing for recording but above all, have fun and enjoy the process, learn who you are and what you like as you go - make sure to communicate how you want things to sound when you work with people; the more direction as a band or artist the better. Also, being flexible during the recording process will make things easier and less stressful. In pre-production, if it’s not sounding the way you want, experiment with some different pedals, amps, instruments, or even better - try different things out (second guitar parts, solos, arrangements, drums fills). Have a few great options and a couple ideas you can bring into the studio or to the producer so you can try things until you find your desired sound.

Recording can be a really great process and experience. Like anything though, it can become frustrating or present challenges when you least expect it - especially if you’re not prepared - so doing so will really help! Be patient, and understand that the recording process may take longer at first, but once you get familiar with how it all works, and familiar with a studio, it’ll get faster and become even more fun. Be respectful to the equipment, the people you’re hiring on the songs, whether it’s the engineer, assistant engineer, producer, mixer, etc. or hired players if there are any. They are all working with you to carry out your vision, and it can be a really rewarding experience for everyone when everyone’s on the same page!

  (Photo by Greg Jacobs)

 (Photo by Greg Jacobs)

  (Photo by Doug Batchelder)

 (Photo by Doug Batchelder)

Preparing for a live show

You’ve got your goals, you’ve found your band (or are flying solo), you have some songs, maybe you have some songs recorded (or in the works and ready to test the new material with a audience) and now wondering what is the next step. Live shows! Once you have your first show booked this is something you’ll really need to prepare for and some of these steps you’ll continue to use to prep for in the future as you continue to play more live shows.

So how does one go about bringing their material onto the stage and into these venues? How does one begin in a market, promote and start to make a name for themselves?

Let’s focus on the music and Preparing around that!First you have to make sure that what you’re bringing to the stage is a good representation of how you want to sound and how you want to be received by your audience.


Music: You’re going to want to rehearse with your band, going through all your songs one by one and making sure they sound good. Are all the instruments lining up? Is everyone singing in pitch? Are you getting the right tones out of your amps?

Tips:

- When rehearsing try breaking down the songs instrumentally or just vocals & harmonies or just bass & guitar. Any wrong notes or off parts will stand out! Also this will help tighten everything.

- Practice running the set, time it & make sure it works for the time slot allotted.

- Practice optional transitions into songs if you’re planning not to talk.

- Practice moving and try video taping you or your band rehearsing so you can see how you look.

Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse! Until it sounds good. If it doesn’t sound the way you want it to, then you’re probably not ready for the live show yet. You will know when this moment is!

Stage clothes: (*Refer to what we mentioned in our ‘Intro to Imaging’ entry). The biggest question should be image-wise, does my image / look and represent my music? Does it represent me? Or us? Wear something that sets you apart from the audience. Show that you’re IN the band. Be a unit! Or stand out as an artist. Be and look more than a person who plays on stage with jeans and a t-shirt. What inspires you? Have fun! You could even go to thrift / vintage stores with your bandmates and find some cool, cheap outfits together! Or maybe you have some friends who are clothing designers? Whatever it is - think about it and plan it out.

Tips: Look at magazines, old records, YouTube videos of your favorite artists, look at art! Anything to inspire image.

Banter on stage: Whether you’re a talkative artist or not, and even it if it’s not part of your image to say much, that is fine; but do at least acknowledge and say hello to the crowd and thank them for coming/being there. Your audience, the venue staff, bands, bookers etc., just like you, all took their time to come out and be there. If it’s a new market or new venue, know that your representing yourself and these people are taking their time to listen to you.

Tips:

Without being too rehearsed - so it doesn’t feel unnatural, think of some things to say to the crowd that you can fit between songs. Funny things that happened that day, brief stories behind the songs, ask the crowd how they’re doing, thank them for coming, tell them about the merch you have for sale, tell them about your next show, what you have in the works, thanking the other bands and the promoter who booked you, thanking the venue, be creative! (*Also you don’t have to talk after every song either - this will get tiresome for both you and the crowd. Find a natural flow and read the room!)

Product: You’re going to want to prepare to give your audience something to remember you by. They will want to take home something if they liked your performance. Before you play your show get some stickers made, buttons, wristbands, lighters, or even something small along these lines that are cheap to produce and cheap to sell with your name on it.

Tips:

- If you’re first starting out try a small run of t-shirts to see how they do! You can always print more. You can also try painting them yourself with a print screener or fabric paint.

- If you don’t have a recording finished yet, make sure all your social media sites are up so people can find you in the meantime and you’ll be able to tell them the url at the show.

- You could make a small home demo tape or even just one acoustic song single on a CD that you could give out or make into a free download to give to your new fans. You could also put a couple acoustic videos of songs up online and give out music business cards with your social media links and a link to the videos as well.

Website Tips & Social Media site suggestions:

- Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, SoundCloud, Squarespace (custom websites), Wix, GoDaddy & Register.com

- Merch & Duplicating Sites: Halfpriced Buttons, Sticker Guy, Hollywood Disc, CD Baby

Prep before show tips: Do all the guitars and pedals have charged batteries? Find out what the backline is at venue (do they already have a house drum kit or amps). Make sure to pack your tuner, extra strings, your capo, extra cables that you know work, and that your stage clothes are clean in time for the gig!

Before you step on stage for the first time Ask yourself these questions:

⁃ Are the songs sounding good and is our gear sounding good?

⁃ Have we rehearsed recently? Is the band all on the same page?

⁃ Do we have a setlist that is cohesive and flows nicely?

⁃ Are our instruments in working order and comfortable to play?

⁃Do we look like a band?

⁃ Do we have stage banter/things to say to the audience?

⁃ Do we have a thing or two that is cheap to sell or give away at our march table?

There’s nothing more magical than playing music live and sharing that with people - so put your heart into the process - you probably did when you wrote your first song! Also recall the first time you saw your favorite band or artist live. It was probably a night you’ll never forget - give YOUR crowd that same feeling!

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Photo: Concretegrey  

Photo: Concretegrey  

Writing & preparing songs

Whether you have just started playing or you have been in bands for years and you’re starting a fresh project, writing strong and thoughtful material will always rise above all else.

Creativity comes in so many ways and at so many different times - lyric ideas can come while walking outside, while in the shower, while talking to people, while seeing live music, melodies can come while sitting in traffic, or doing things free-flowing. Great parts of songs can come to life from 20 minute jams with different players (Tip* be sure to record it and listen back later!), from poetry notebooks, after seeing an amazing inspiring movie or even after reading books & local news! Concepts, music and lyrics have endless possibilities and there are no rules regarding how they come to be. Most of the time ideas will likely come at very inconvenient times! Be sure to mark it down wherever you can, sing it to yourself in a voice memo or voicemail, use a notepad or text yourself. The idea might leave or be quickly be forgotten (we live in a very busy age!) so whatever it is write it down right away! It doesn’t matter if you’re punk, pop or a heavy metal band... Song material can come from literally anywhere. When you’re building your band or self as a solo artist, whether to prepare for playing shows or to record your first CD, you’re going to need some songs! And some great ones for that matter!

Writing Tips:

- What genre are you? Who are the successful bands or artists in your genre that inspire you? What makes their songs great? Try studying & taking note of their arrangement (i.e intro, verse, chorus etc) to get ideas as well as their approach lyrically (are they clear, do they tell a story, are the words simple or is more poetic or cryptic)

- It can be easier sometimes to start with a song title or even a message you’re trying to convey and branch off from there.

- What inspires you? Are there certain places around you that you know bring creativity or inspiration? Are there certain activities that you do that get that creative energy going or put your mind in a close-to meditative state? Be open to these places and actions and write down what you’re thinking about.

- When you’re first starting out you may want to consider writing some goals for yourself or together as a band so you have at least 6-10 songs to pick from to play your first show.

(Typically most live acts will get a time slot of 25 mins-45 mins to fill, so your material will need to cover this time. Also for acts that play loud full band shows you may want to consider having the ability & flexibility to play your songs acoustic / at lower volumes for particular shows or even for recordings - one acoustic for your record to show diversity or have a couple extra for marketing- like a free download or Alt version of a song *of course there are exceptions, for example - if you’re a metal band & that is not your direction). Additionally, you’ll want to include and prepare the time in between songs on stage for conversation and banter.

So how do you know which songs should stick? It’s hard to know sometimes before playing them out and before a crowd reacts.

Asking yourself these questions about each song might help start you in the right direction when making a set list:

Is this particular song one you always look forward to playing? The audience wants to hear songs that you enjoy yourself!

How relatable is the song? Does the melody of the song match it’s mood/lyrics? If it’s a sad song & a quiet moment in a bridge will people feel that? People will pay attention if it’s something they can relate to.

Will people be able to sing along, dance, or bob their head to the song?  Either way, whatever it’s about, mean it when you sing it! Play it 100% because people will feel it!

If the melody is catchy enough, most likely in a live setting the words won’t even matter and people will connect and move their head to the beat anyway!

Ultimately it’s not about pleasing your audience, but it’s about giving your audience an experience and music they’ll remember - We are all humans with feelings and that is how we relate. It’s about opening up, sharing your honest emotions, yourself and creations that you’re proud of with people who have opened their ears to it. For the Every crowd will react differently, and every room will have a different vibe. It is important to believe in each one of your songs genuinely so it’s not up to anyone else if it’s a hit or not. If you don’t believe in it, leave it out, more songs will come to you. Focus on the songs you believe in and make them really great. That way others will start to believe in them too.

(Photo by CJ Lucero) 

(Photo by CJ Lucero) 

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