WHERE LARGE STUDIOS ARE ECONOMICALLY VIABLE

/April 7, 2013

In this blog I’d like to make one simple point: that large studios are not the dinosaurs they’re so often purported to be, nor do they all rip you off the moment you step through the door. Some of the remaining Australian studios represent great value for money if the bands you’re recording are well prepared for the sessions.

A popular myth seems to have developed over recent years – that big studios are a rip-off and you’re better off recording in a small space, spending long hours overdubbing and mixing.

Hmm, well, that depends. If you can’t play very well, or if you spend days and weeks crafting your takes, sure – large studios will certainly prove expensive then. But if you’re well rehearsed…

 

LAY IT DOWN
For the band I was doing pre-production with last week there was an interesting choice to make in this regard, and the answer was by no means clear-cut. As the producer of the project it was up to me (to some degree) to decide where the band should record. With limited funds at their disposal the band was keen to record the whole project down here at The Mill, thinking it would be cheaper and better for all concerned in the final wash-up.

However, after a couple of discussions it became clear to me that the better outcome for this five-piece outfit – both sonically and financially (rather than merely for my hip pocket) – would be to record the vast bulk of the album in a big studio. Sure The Mill is big, but in terms of tracking a large band, it’s not particularly.

The band in question is well rehearsed and prefers to track everything at once, which is great for the music if the members can pull it off. Coincidentally, that’s also when a large studio becomes the most economically viable.

 

DO THE MATH

With good separation, quiet rooms, lots of space, countless sets of headphones, mics and preamps, and a friendly assistant at your disposal, a big commercial studio can actually work out cheaper in the long run, depending on how much can be achieved in the time allotted.

Once I had a clearer picture of how the band likes to record, the size of the ensemble (five-piece will occasionally blow out to seven), and the type of sound they all wanted, the decision almost made itself. Opting for a big commercial facility in their case will reduce the bottom line and simultaneously improve the sonic outcome. How?

Simple. By spending far less time mixing a brilliantly tracked album (all humility aside) than a compromised one, the mixing costs will be reduced. This music really demands big recording spaces, large room ambience, all of which should ideally be captured during the recording. Best of all, everyone will have a great time and that’s bound to be reflected in the performances… crucial.

The band looked shocked and excited when I told them about the prospect of going to Melbourne’s biggest commercial studio … a good sign.

 

CHEAP TRICK

It begs the question: how many producers turn a blind eye to these emotional and economic realities when they arise, putting their own profit margin ahead of what’s best for the band? I’d wager lots of them.

In their defence, most producers know how to scrimp and save. Many of them (along with their families) even tolerate the invasion of their personal space on a regular basis just to get an album tracked on budget. Problem is, this sacrifice isn’t always necessary.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the perfect album production, that’s for sure. Each has its own limitations, needs and aims that require a specific set of plans to achieve the best outcome. (I sound like a housing loan consultant!)

But seriously, if you’re a great band; if you nail take after take in the rehearsal room and feel confident about playing together… indeed you thrive on it, don’t shoehorn yourself into someone’s bedroom and splinter the tracking into an enormous pile of overdubs in an attempt to save 400 bucks. Chances are you’ll wind up spending two or three times that in mixdown ironing out all the problems you created during the recording process.

Make the most of your strengths as a band, hire a good studio and go for it. You’ll have a better time, spend less money and produce a far superior record.

Of course, if you’re not a great band, or indeed you’re not in a band at all, you might be better off recording elsewhere and spending the money mixing the album with a professional who knows the space they’re working in.

But if you’re a great live band, what are you doing tracking in someone’s bedroom?