Booking studio time isn’t the most complicated thing in the world, but there are lots of details that both clients and sometimes studios miss the mark on all the time.
As an artist, you’ll need to answer several questions for yourself before you ever reach out to a studio. If you do your homework, the whole process will be a lot smoother from booking to the actual session!
Studio Bookings 101: Questions to Ask Yourself
This might sound obvious, but before you even start researching studios in your area, you should know how you’re planning to use it. It’s not uncommon for potential clients to call or email studios with a vague representation of what they’re looking for, which doesn’t do anybody any favors.
In my own experience booking studio time from the facility’s end, I can’t count how many times artists have asked to book 4+ hours and whittled that down to an hour after discussing rates. Is it possible to knock out a vocal overdub in an hour? Yes, but don’t expect incredible results.
Determining your needs and budget beforehand will dictate which types of studios you even consider for booking.
Who is in charge of your project?
As an independent artist, this might be you! You’re your own producer and decision-maker, who will make tough calls and final choices throughout the recording process.
If you have bandmates, management, agents, etc., several or more people can be involved. It’s in everyone’s best interest to agree on a leader who can make important decisions for the project.
That way you’ll be using studio time efficiently, especially on tight budgets.
What’s the goal of your recording?
Are you recording a demo to get ideas down, or a bunch of songs for distribution? The approach to each of these scenarios is totally different from a time and money standpoint, as well as what kind of studio you decide to book.
Think about it: if you’re doing a demo, you can afford to book a cheaper studio for less time because the quality doesn’t have to be perfect. If you’re planning on doing an album for release, your needs are much, much greater!
How many songs are you recording? How long will it take to record (and mix)?
Have this set in stone. The number of songs determines how much studio time you’ll need to book, and of course, cost. It’s in your best interest not to be overly ambitious, especially if you don’t have a huge budget to play with.
The other side of this is how long it will actually take to finish a song from tracking to mix-down. Most of the time, nobody gets this right. There are so many variables in studio sessions that can prolong the process, so it’s best to give yourself more time than you think you need. The last thing you’d want is to rush a performance because your time is almost up.
Now, how long it takes varies depending on instrumentation. Of course a solo vocalist will take less time than a full band. Generally speaking, recording a song with a well-rehearsed band takes about a day (think 10-12 hours). Give yourself a couple hours to set up drums, one to three hours to record each instrument, a couple more hours for vocals and comps/editing…and this is just for tracking!
Be honest with yourself and don’t try to record three songs with a full band in 6 hours! The quality will inevitably suffer. Also be prepared to book another session to finish mixing your song(s).
What kind of gear and/or accommodations do you need?
This is something to be very aware of because there are tons of cool small-scale boutique studios out there. And while these spots can be fantastic for solo vocalists and overdubs, they might lack the array of equipment you’ve seen in “legacy” studios and will most definitely be smaller.
You’ll have to figure out whether you have any gear preferences or needs for the sound you want, as well as how much physical space you’ll want/need for both comfort and recording capability. After you’ve decided on personal needs, you can start researching the right studio rental for the job.
What’s your budget?
For most people, money is the ultimate deciding factor. You have to be honest with yourself about what you can afford and what you’re willing to pay. Booking studio time can really be as expensive or inexpensive as you want; results may vary, however.
Booking Studio Time: Questions for the Facility
Once you’ve decided how you intend to use your studio time, and what you can afford, you should start researching studios in your area which fit that criteria.
The more prepared you are with information to give the studio and questions to ask them, the better your studio rental will go! These days, you can find a ton of info on studios online, but don’t be afraid to call for a little extra detail.
Is an engineer included?
You can usually find basic rates listed on a studio’s website, but it isn’t always clear whether an engineer is included in that cost. On the other hand, if you’re engineering the session yourself, be sure to make that clear to the studio too! The cost will change depending on it.
Can you tour the space before booking?
It’s important to visit a studio in person before booking. Photos can oftentimes be very flattering, whereas the actual condition of the place in person is a total turnoff.
Before committing to a facility, make sure it’s the right fit. Touring studios is something Produce Like A Pro does all the time!
What kind of clients are the studio’s “bread and butter”?
It’s not unheard of for studios to frequently work in a certain genre or to specialize in a specific type of recording. Before booking studio time, make sure you know what the facility excels at and see whether it lines up with your needs.
Can they provide any “reference” recordings?
You might want to hear some of the work engineers have done at the studio. You can usually find a client list on a studio’s website, but you probably won’t get what exactly what was recorded there.
Lots of engineers have a reel for inquiries like these, or at the very least can point you to a commercially released track they recorded and/or mixed.