what makes a good recording studio

Written by on 26th May 2016


It’s a fact of life in the world of music that somehow, someday, you will have to record. Whether that means going into a fancy, high-budget studio, or pressing record on a four-track at home, you won’t be able to avoid it forever. It’s a source of anxiety for many musicians, especially those who aren’t used to being in studio settings, mainly because it’s a totally different experience of playing music than, say, performing live or jamming in a garage, or even showing up to play in an orchestra.

The recording studio environment has its own set of rules and demands its own set of behaviors. How do you act? Will you be able to perform as well “on demand” as you do on stage? Listening to yourself play on headphones? What if you mess up?

These are valid and intimidating questions for musicians who haven’t yet had to battle the studio monsters. How do you even prepare for that battle? Well, that’s what I want to talk about, so let’s get you prepared for your first (or next) recording studio experience.

And if you’re really in need of some help with writing, recording, producing, or finishing a recording of your music, let us know. It can be super helpful to get a professional’s feedback and support in these times, and that’s why we created the Headliners Club, a short-term, goal-oriented coaching program designed to help you meet your next goals and scale them!

Start small, or do a trial run

First off, you don’t have to go and book a high-budget, super high-fidelity recording studio with a world-famous engineer right away. If you’ve got the money to burn and the time to lock out an entire week for recording, by all means, go right ahead. But for the rest of us, recording is a major investment for a band, and there’s a better approach out there than blowing everything you’ve saved up all at once.

Home studios, university studios where you can record with a student engineer, local community-focused studios — all of these are as common as dandelions on the musical landscape. I’m also willing to bet you already know somebody who can engineer a pretty good recording — whether a demo or a pared-down version of the real thing — at a pretty high level for a fraction of the price of a professional studio.

In both scenarios, it’s worth it to spend some time at a friend’s studio, getting to know the various pieces of equipment and what they’re used for, and getting a few basic tracks on tape to get a sense of how you sound in a studio setting, and how it feels to plunk yourself in front of a microphone.

The goal isn’t necessarily to cut a record, but just to get some experience under your belt so you know what you’re doing when you finally decide to spend real money. This will be much, much cheaper, but one of two great things will also happen: either you’re unhappy with the result and you learn what changes need to be made in advance, or you end up very happy with the result and skip the professional studio all together!

In the digital age, it’s actually incredibly easy to record and mix a great-sounding record with nothing more than what most home studios already have.

Practice your songs to a click track

Most musicians I know hate this, but the truth of the matter is a click track is your best friend in the studio. It makes editing and layering tracks so much easier. Even if you’re great with keeping time, without a click you’re bound to deviate to some degree. Find the ideal tempo for your song — this should be one where it doesn’t feel rushed, but still moves along and maintains the groove.

Practice to that tempo until your ears bleed — I suggest starting to do this several weeks before your session, rather than procrastinating. If you happen to be working with a producer, they’ll help you with this part of the process, too. If not, it’s all gonna be on you to prepare — but don’t worry, it’s totally doable, and can also be quite fun.


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