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The Recording Studio Guide: Making The Most Of Your Studio Time

 

  1. An Abridged History of Recording Studios 
  2. Recording Studio Industry Analysis
  3. The Services
  4. The Artist-Studio Relationship
  5. Studio Equipment Breakdown 
  6. Studio Staff and Technical Crew 
  7. How to Prepare for and Maximize your Studio Time
  8. Getting a Studio When and Where you Need it 
  9. Conclusion 

This is your guide to the recording industry. Learn how studios operate and explore strategies to maximize your time at one.

Introduction

First off the team at Madstudios would like to thank you for using this guide, we hope it will make your life a little easier. Madstudios is an app that lets creative people book space to work quickly and consistently all over the country. This guide is designed specifically to help musicians better understand the production industry, but many of the points can be helpful to other sound professionals as well. We want to help artists, sound engineers, music producers, project managers, and music industry professionals of all types make informed choices while simultaneously rethinking the way they find space to record and master their music.  

Record player playing a record in a recording studio 

This guide explains the recording studio industry as it is today and how you can make the most of the time you spend in one. We’ll start by reviewing the history of recording studios and their evolution over the years. It’s helpful to understand where something came from so you can fully appreciate the amazing things that can be done in a modern space.

After you know more about the history, we’ll take a deep dive into the economics, pricing, contracts, and business relationships that exist in the recording industry. From there we’re going to look at the quality of sound engineering that can be done in a professional studio. There are lots of sounds that can only be created in a controlled environment. Knowing more about what can be done in a studio will help you decide if investing your money in renting time at one is really worth it.

The next section will break down all the equipment you’ll find in a studio. Understanding the specific equipment that makes up a recording space and what it does is essential for artists looking to record their music. Each piece of equipment has a purpose, the more you know about the equipment available, the better you can utilize it.

Every recording studio is different and the in-house engineer is there to help you get the sound you want out of the specific equipment present. Sometimes studios don’t have engineers in which case you’ll be dealing with a manager. Learning how to best interact with staff and what they expect from you can make the time you spend recording much more efficient.

Finally, we’re going to bring it all together and show you how to make the most out of any studio time you buy. Increasing efficiency, decreasing price, and simplifying the renting/reservation process is what Madstuidos is all about. The last section will explain how Madstudios has changed the studio rental industry and how you can use it to maximize your potential as a music professional.  

So, let’s get started with a history lesson...

An Abridged History of Recording Studios  

When you look at the entire history of musical expression the recording studio is a relatively recent development, so is recorded music for that matter. Humans have been creating music for thousands and thousands of years. Even before we made instruments we used our voices to make music. As a species, we have an innate need to create music, a recording studio is the ultimate expression of that need.  

Early Developments (1878-1940s)

Old record player in a living room

2019 marks the 141st year anniversary of the first audio recording made by Thomas Edison on his now famous phonograph. The earliest methods for recording audio involved physically scratching a metal, wax, or ceramic to record live sounds. Edison thought the market for his new technology would be in office record keeping, but it soon became clear that entertainment was the money maker for this new technology.

In the following decades, Edison improved his recording technology and recorded live music on his new cylinders which he sold to great success. While Edison’s technology improved on the quality of the sound and the length of the recording possible, the next big leap in recording technology wouldn’t come until the 1940s.

The invention of tape recording as a medium marks the true birth of the recording studio. Tape allowed for recordings to be edited, enhanced, looped and distorted. The post-production composition of recorded sounds into entirely new pieces of music is what turned a recording studio from a place to accurately capture live sounds to an instrument in its own right.

Discovering the Possibilities (1940s-1970s)

Looking a records in a store

This time period is when studios started to become something entirely different. As the technology became more complex a need arose for engineers who understood how to use it and could oversee the process of taking a musical performance and transferring it to a recorded medium.

Many of these engineers like Bill Putnam, Daphne Oram, Pierre Schaeffer, and Joe Meek saw the artistic potential of studio sound composition. Sound engineers began to isolate, distort, and enhance different sounds to create entirely new and artificial music. It was during this early time in recording studio history when engineers began to act less like scientists and more like artists.

In the mid-1960s George Martin pushed the commercial potential of recording studio experimentation as the sound engineer for the Beatles. His radical usage of the studio as an instrument in its own right became ubiquitous with the modern role that a sound engineer takes in any music composition project. Martin’s relationship with the Beatles cemented the idea that a sound engineer was just as responsible for the sound of a musical group as the people playing the instruments.

A New Kind of Music (1970s-1990s)

A bunch of boomboxes that are sitting on a carpet

The 1970s was the dawn of a whole new use for the recording studio. Pioneers like King Tubby and Lee Perry revolutionized the way music was made with the invention of dub. By taking reggae recordings and radically altering them with the help of studio equipment they effectively created a whole new type of music. Stripping a song down to its most basic level and then building on back on it with new recordings and distortions established the groundwork for how much of our modern music is created today.

The 1980s heralded the dawn of modern studio music production. The studio had become sophisticated enough to mix an almost endless amount of instruments, vocals, and other sounds together into the types of compositions we are used to hearing today.

The modern studio allowed Prince to play 27 instruments and mix them together on his first album, an impossible feat to accomplish before. This studio truly has shaped the way artists go about creating music.

The Birth of Digital (1990s- Present)

Digital mixer in a recording studio

In the last 30 years, we have seen the recording studio evolve from primarily analog to almost exclusively digital equipment. Digital recording has made the process of editing, mixing, and mastering easier and more accessible than ever before.

Digital has become the new standard in recording and brought about the invention of a whole new type of 100% artificial electronic music. While we have been able to generate electronic sounds for decades, the recent increase in computing power allows us to mix them into entirely new compositions.

Recording studios are more advanced now than ever. Walking into a new control room feels like stepping onto the bridge of a spaceship and the stars are the limit when it comes to your artistic expression. We are truly living in an unprecedented time when it comes to the capability of studio technology and our access to it.

Recording Studio Industry Analysis

Studios are a wonderful place for artistic expression and creation, but at their heart, they’re still a business. Learning more about how a recording studio is structured, makes money, and keeps a good reputation can help you make a more informed buying decision.

The Market

A screen showing levels in a music studio

According to the IBISWorld report, recording studios are approximately a $1bn industry. That’s a relatively small market when you consider there are 1,693 professional recording studios in the USA per the US Census Bureau. When you break down those numbers each studio in the USA is only making about $600k of revenue annually on average. For perspective, a Mcdonald’s franchise makes about $2.5m in revenue annually. Recording studios need to be thought of as small local businesses that provide a unique and needed service to their community.

Studios have proven to be resilient in the face of the recent advent of widely available and affordable recording technology. Despite the proliferation of cheap audio recording/editing software recording studios have managed to maintain a 3-4% rate of growth over the last 5 years. That being said, there are many problems with the current way that most recording studios do business.

The Business

The business of recording a guy singing

If you’re an artist who has ever bought time at a recording studio then you might be wondering why you had to pay so much. Some studios will charge hundreds of dollars an hour for the use of their facilities, but when you take a step back and think about what you’re actually paying for the price starts to make sense.

You’re not just buying access to specialized equipment when you buy time at a studio, your buying the knowledge of the people who built it. Each recording studio is different and each was built by someone with a whole lot of specialized knowledge of sound design and engineering.

Everything from the way the control room is set up to the materials that were used in the construction of the vocal isolation booth was an intentional choice made by a professional. When you couple that with the fact that setting up a professional recording studio can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in upfront investment, the hourly rates start to make sense.

Pricing

Pricing of recording studios

Recording studios charge by the amount of time that you use their facilities. Many times this price will be broken down hourly or daily. If you have a specific recording project that you are working on, like recording an album, then you would usually have to sit down with a recording engineer and figure out exactly how long it would take to complete the project and be billed accordingly.

In most cases, a client is usually billed in two installments, half as a deposit, and half when the project is complete. This type of pricing model gets frustrating when you want to revisit your tracks, possibly for a remix, and have to rent a studio space for an entire day when you really only need it for a few hours.

If the studio has in-house engineers then your price can vary based on how much time they spend on your project. Most recording studios will have the option to do your own mastering on their equipment for a reduced price.

The Services

Recording studios perform many different types of services. Think of a studio as your one stop shop for all your music production needs.  

Recording Music and Other Things

Recording studio and recording music

The most basic function of any recording studio is the “recording” aspect, multi-track recording to be more specific. All the equipment, technology, and personnel in a studio have the primary function of taking sounds and recording them. Obviously, the way that they record those sounds and what they do in post-production will turn whatever music an artist originally played into an entirely different piece of music.

Recording studios aren’t only good for recording music. There are lots of other commercial applications for high-quality audio recording. Voice over work needs to be done in a controlled recording space like a studio. Everything from the voice work in commercials to your favorite audiobooks was most likely captured in a studio. Specifically, voice recording is done in a vocal isolation booth, read more about your options in vocal recording here.

Mixing and Mastering

 Mixing and mastering with a apple pc

Another word for this kind of service is post-production and it involves all work that takes place after the actual recording is complete. Simply recording the sounds is only half the battle. Recording studios have the equipment and knowledge to take a recording to the finish line.

Mixing is taking all the different tracks that you recorded and combining them into a singular entity. Mastering is the process of cleaning up and refining a track so that it has the highest quality of sound possible. Studios have top of the line equipment to mix and master on as well as professional engineers that can do the work if you don’t know how to yourself. Check out our blog on why mixing and mastering work is best done in a studio.

Rehearsal Space Access

Band rehearsing music in a recording studio

If you have a band then it can be difficult to find a place to practice. Many recording studios will have dedicated rehearsal spaces that you and your band can practice in. The best part about practicing in a purpose-built rehearsal studio is the acoustics. A professional rehearsal studio lets you hear your music properly so you can make adjustments and improve your sound. Another added benefit is that you’ll never have to worry about violating a sound ordinance because you’re playing too loud.

Having a dedicated place like a recording studio to rehearse makes your musical organization much more professional and allows you to maximize your rehearsal time as much as possible. If you want to know more about why renting dedicated rehearsal space can be a great deal head over to this post.

Distribution

Music store with lots of different records

Traditionally music distribution was something left up to record labels, but as costs for implementing these services have dropped, access to them has increased. Digital distribution is a service that will be offered by almost every recording studio, but is it really worth paying for?

If you’re not a technically savvy person then paying someone to upload your music to different online distribution networks might be a good idea. This type of work takes almost no special knowledge and is something that every artist should consider learning to save on costs. However, it is important to note that distribution directly to social media channels or hosting platforms like Spotify is not the same as promoting your songs or albums.

The Artist-Studio Relationship

Recording studio and artist relationship

Creating music is hard work that takes time and money. When you choose a recording studio you’re really choosing the place where you will bring your artistic vision to life. It’s okay to take some time at this step of the process to shop around.

With the amount of time that you will be spending in a studio as a music professional over the course of your career, you should make sure that you feel good in the space you choose. Your particular style will determine the kind of space that resonates with you, this is not the place where you should settle for good enough. The space that you choose will affect the quality of art that you can create within it.

Studio Equipment Breakdown

A guy in a recording studio running the board

There’s a ton of specialized equipment that goes into a professional recording studio. Understanding what the equipment in a studio is and what it’s used for will help you pick the best studio for the needs of your specific project. Below we have listed the primary pieces of technical equipment that you’ll find in every recording studio.  

High-End Computer:

A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is the software that is used to record, edit, mix, and master music. This kind of software is very demanding on processing power, so a high-quality and powerful computer is needed to run it. Pro Tools and Logic Pro X are the most common DAWs in the industry, familiarizing yourself with this type of software is a great idea. The more you know your way around these studios, the better you’ll be able to utilize your studio time to its fullest potential.

Depending on what software you may need to have a specific operating system, but regardless the suggested minimum requirement to mix or master are as follows.

  • Intel® Core i5 processor or Higher

  • 16GB RAM (32GB or more recommended)

  • Internet connection for software, and digital instrument installation

  • 1TB SSD Drive (internal or external)

  • USB Audio Interface

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW):

This is the software that is used to record, edit, and mix music. This kind of software is very demanding on processing power, so a high-quality and powerful computer is needed to run it. Pro Tools and Logic Pro X are the most common DAWs in the industry, familiarizing yourself with this type of software is a great idea. The more you know your way around these studios, the better you’ll be able to utilize your studio time to its fullest potential.

Virtual Studio Technology (VSTs):

These are plugins that interface with a DAW and provide a large selection of effects and distortions right at your fingertips. While it’s true that many of these plugins mimic what can be done on studio hardware that will likely be present, almost every studio will keep a large VST library to enhance capabilities. VSTs are expensive, libraries can cost thousands, these libraries are one of the reasons it’s almost always better to mix and master in a studio. They also include a wide selection of virtual instruments that can be extremely helpful when your mixing.  

Microphones:

These are one of the most fundamental things in a studio. The microphones you’ll find in a recording studio will each be designed to capture a specific type of sound or instrument. No one microphone can do it all. Many of these will be fitted with a device called a “pop filter” which reduce the popping sound caused on certain notes when you sing or speak into a microphone. High-quality microphones that are set up properly are essential to any successful recording session.

Headphones:

You’ll find two types of headphones in every studio, open and closed back. Open back headphones are used for mixing and have the highest possible sound quality available. Closed back headphones are used for recording tracks. The headphones you choose make a huge difference and you can expect to find some top of the line ones in a recording studio.

Studio Monitors:

A type of speaker sometimes referred to as a “nearfield monitor”, these special type of speakers put out a completely flat sound that is a true representation of the audio in the live room. Studio monitors are important so that the engineer listening to the recording can hear where the problems are and make adjustments accordingly. The monitors you’ll find in professional studios can cost as much as $10,000 each, but there are many high quality and affordable monitors for starter studios.

Microphone Preamp:

This device is used to make sure that the signal coming from a microphone is processed and is transferable to other pieces of equipment. Many times the raw signal from a microphone is too weak be usable, the preamp eliminates this issue. While not the most expensive piece of equipment, they are very important for efficient recording.

Headphone Amp:

These are great for making sure that your headphones are performing at their top level. All they do is amplify the sound coming into a particular pair of headphones, but you’d be surprised how much of difference this can make.  

Monitor Management System:

Most pro studios will have multiple sets of playback devices and speakers, a management system allows you to switch between them. This kind of comparison ability is important when you need to hear what something will sound like no matter how a consumer chooses to listen to it. People might be listening to what you produce in their car or on headphones, you need to make sure that you know what your music sounds like in these different situations.  

MIDI Controllers:

These devices allow you to physically play virtual instruments. These are a necessity if you want to use virtual instruments in your composition because trying to control them on a computer can get frustrating. Most studios will have a selection of MIDI controllers to complement the main control board. These controllers come in hundreds of configurations and can be considered unique instruments in their own right.

Analog Mixing Console:

This is by far the most iconic piece of studio equipment that you’ll find in a recording studio. Mixing boards can be massive and provide engineers with an unprecedented level of control. While many people look at a mixing board and probably think it to themselves: “wow that looks complicated” they are actually pretty simple. Each column of knobs represents level control on one specific channel. A channel on a mixing board represents an audio source that is being recorded. The advantage of a set up like this is it makes it much faster to mix sounds when you can see all the channels laid out in front of you on one board. So, don’t be intimidated by the mixing board, if you understand how level control works on one channel you can understand how it works on 32.

Digital Converters:

A digital converter does exactly what it sounds like, it converts analog to digital. Stand-alone digital converters provide the highest possible quality for a price. These devices can cost thousands of dollars and are differentiating factors of working in a professional studio.

Master Clocks:

When you start connecting several different recording devices together a major problem becomes syncing. Master clocks work by syncing together several different tracks to make all the recordings work together.

Compressors:

These are an essential piece of recording hardware that can be found in every recording studio. An uncompressed recording will have level spikes, extreme highs and extreme lows, a compressor evens out these spikes so that the sounds live in a fixed range. If you want to be able to hear your vocals, drums, and other instruments on all on the same track, then you’re going to need compression.

Multitrack Recorders:

These devices allow for recording from multiple audio sources into one single track. It is an absolute necessity of modern recording. Multitracking technology was first developed with reel to reel tapes, but since then has become digital.  

While there are hundreds of other pieces of technical equipment to be found in professional recording studios, this list is a good start. If you know what these devices do and why they’re important, then you can find a strategy to incorporate their use into your specific recording.

Studio Staff and Technical Crew

Recording studio studio staff doing his job

While the equipment in a recording studio is one of the most important aspects of that studio, it would be useless without people to operate it. Recording, mixing, mastering, and editing are all jobs that cannot be performed correctly without the help of a professional who knows what they’re doing.

One of the biggest advantages of working with a recording studio is the people that come along with it. Each studio will be different when it comes to who they keep on staff. Some studios may use freelancers almost exclusively for technical work, while others may employ in-house engineers. Here we’ve included a list of people you can expect to work with at a recording studio and how to best utilize their skills to make the most of your time there. While in most cases the work of a recording, mixing, and mastering engineer is done by a single person, on larger projects this work can be divided. Even if the project has separate engineers, each one will usually possess the appropriate skills to do each job.  

Studio manager:

The manager oversees the daily operations of a recording studio. In many cases, this job is held by the owner of the studio, but in bigger studios, they may be a salaried employee. A good studio manager can make all the difference when it comes to the time and scope of your project. A professional manager will make sure that your project is moving along in a timely manner by organizing the resources and staff of the studio to best accommodate your needs. If you’re working with a studio regularly this person will be your “go to” for questions, updates, or help.

Recording engineer:

These engineers are responsible for the setup of the studio and recording strategy to achieve the desired sound. An in-house recording engineer will have experience recording lots of different types of music in that specific studio space on their unique equipment. A song is just an amalgamation of different track recordings neatly stitched together. A professional recording engineer will record your music in a way so that each track is high quality which gives the mixing engineer something great to work with.

Mixing engineer:

This person is the one who brings it all together. A mix engineer takes the “raw material” provided by the recording engineer and weaves it together into one cohesive track. Sometimes it can take 4-6 hours to mix a single track. The mix engineer will match up all the different instrument and vocal tracks so they sound like a singular song while adding effects and new sounds to the mix. Many times this work is freelanced because it can be done remotely, but some studios do still employ a dedicated mixing engineer.

Mastering engineer:

The work isn’t over after a mix is complete. It’s the mastering engineer’s job to put the final polish on a track before it gets distributed. A mix is full of audio imperfections before it’s mastered. The mastering process removes these imperfections, smooths out the sound, and achieves the highest possible sound quality from any given mix.

Of course, there are many other jobs in a recording studio, but these are the people that will help you get your song made. Making music is a complex art. Thankfully, there are professionals in every studio to help you get the most out of your time there.

How to Prepare for and Maximize Your Studio Time

A guy preparing for a recording session

Recording in a studio is like anything in life, the more preparation the better. In the recording business, time is money. You’re paying for your time the second you step into a session, so it’s important not to waste it.

In this section, we’re going to talk about what you can be doing to make sure your time in the studio is being used to its full potential. This section is geared specifically for artists who are recording a single or an album, but you can still apply many of the ideas to other recording studio activities as well.

Know your track:

This should go without saying, but you should know what you’re recording inside and out before setting foot inside a studio. If you play with a band then each member should know their specific track and be able to play it perfectly independent of the other members. The more time you spend practicing your track outside of the studio, the less time you’ll need to spend inside the studio.

Practice with a metronome/click-track:

You’ll be playing to a metronome or click-track in the studio, so it’s important that you’re comfortable playing to one. Practicing this way will take some getting used to, but it’ll benefit you immensely once you start recording.

Know your desired sound:

The more you know about what you want your final product to sound like the better. This part is all about effective communication with your engineers. If you have a specific way you want something to sound then find a sample of it and give it to your recording engineer before you start. This will eliminate confusion and allow your engineers to focus on exactly how they should capture your music to achieve the sound you want.

Know yourself and how you work:

Do you work better in the morning or evening? When it comes to scheduling recording studio sessions, simply picking times when you’ll be your most productive can mean the difference between a good session and a bad one. Once you start a session you can’t just stop and pick up again the next day, you need to see the track through to the end.

Make a demo:

The more information an engineer has ahead of time the better. It’s always a good idea to make a rough demo recording of your song that you can provide to your engineer before you start recording. Your engineer should be able to have a basic understanding of what your song is like so they can start thinking of the best ways to improve on it.

Getting a Studio When and Where You Need It

The traditional way of finding a recording studio to rent involved doing a Google search, checking out the websites of nearby studios, making phone calls to get quotes, and finally paying for the time. This antiquated way of finding a recording studio is time-consuming and stressful. Many times it can be almost impossible to rent a studio the same day, even if they have the space available.

Madstudios simplifies the process of studio rental by providing all of that information you need in one place and giving you a simple way to purchase the time right when you want it. If inspiration suddenly strikes, you can feel confident that you’ll be able to purchase time at a nearby studio that same day without issue.

Conclusion

The purpose of this guide was to give you a complete understanding of the recording studio as a tool. Recording studios don’t make the music, but when they’re used correctly they can be a powerful instrument of creation. Recording studios are a wonderful place to grow creatively and using them properly will lead to the proliferation of your art.  

If you’re interested in learning more about how Madstudios can make recording studio rental easy check out our app. If you still have questions, get in touch with us and we’d be more than happy to help.

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