Happy Christmas Everyone! The seasonal break has meant that I’ve had a bit of time to do a blog post in what can really now only be described as an occasional series of articles.
I saw this excellent article on “Six things to consider before hiring a recording studio”, so I thought I’d answer the questions in it from Zinne Studio’s point of view:
Q1. How do they bill?
I prefer to only bill based on the final product. We’ll agree the scope of the project before we start, and wiggle-room will always be left for the project to expand. If it expands seriously beyond initial agreed expectations, we might have to talk again about pricing, but we’d agree this between us.
The reason I prefer this is that things often take longer than we expect in a studio. Sure, we might get a great guitar sound very quickly, but it might not be the one you’re looking for, and it might take some time to get the one that’s just right for you and the song. I believe we should be able to take this time if we need to, without anyone watching the clock instead of being creative. Furthermore, you know how much you have to spend on recording, and this should be a pleasure without nasty invoice-related surprises.
The linked article goes on to say that:
There’s nothing wrong with this [charging by the project, not the hour], per se, but you will want to be clear up front with how you will both determine a song is ‘done’. How many times will you be allowed to make changes? Will you be present during the final mix down (don’t assume you will be)? Will the file be properly prepared for mastering, or will some form of mastering even be included? These are all things that you’ll want to address before you agree to pay for a ‘finished’ product.
This is all quite right, and we’ll look to agree this before we start. I am not a mastering engineer, but I know some very good ones, and I always recommend to clients that they go to a dedicated mastering engineer and studio if their budget can stretch to it. I can run tracks through a bit of a mastering process if they are simply to be used as demos and so forth, but all I’ll really be doing is making them sound louder, and maybe cutting a little mud, but a good mastering engineer, with the proper room and kit will do much more than that to enhance your tracks. Supplying tracks ready for a mastering is included in the price, and I’m happy to supply ‘pseudo mastered’ and ‘mastering ready’ tracks.
As for mixing, firstly, I’d hope to get a good sense of how you want the final mix to sound before we’ve even started, but also from the rough mixes we do as we go along. I like to do a first good mix on my own based on artist’s views about the rough mixes we’ve done and reference tracks they’ve supplied, and then send it for the artist to listen to and think about. Then they can send me changes to make, and I can have a go at making them. For me, that’s the point that it it really helps to have the artist come back in and sit with me while we tweak the mix together.
Why don’t I like to have clients present when i do the first good mix? Well, the mixing process involves quite a lot of stuff that’s time consuming and extremely boring to sit and watch, but that has to be done. For example, I may spend quite a lot of time getting the bass and kick drum to sit well with each other, or editing vocal passages, which are important, but dull to sit and watch me do. Not only that, but clients can get quite the wrong impression of how things are going to sound from hearing instruments in isolation. For instance, it’s very common to thin out rhythm guitars, and particularly strumming acoustic guitars in a big mix quite drastically at the low end so that they stay out of the way of the bass and kick drums and feel more present. Nobody likes to hear their beautiful, full guitar sound thinned out, even if it’s just the 3rd guitar, but the important thing is how things work in the overall mix, and not in isolation.
On the question of how many times we can make changes, the answer to this is as many as necessary within reason. If we are going round in circles though, I’ll let you know that we need to discuss how to firmly get to the end point.
Finally, any playing you might want me to do – guitars, keyboards, bass, etc. is included in the price we initially agree. Obviously, if you need session players, you will need to pay them directly. I have a list of outstanding session players I’ve worked with though, and I can help you find the right one.
Q2. What DAW do they utilise?
DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation, and refers to the recording software we’ll use. I use Apple’s Loxic X. The industry standard has been Pro Tools for a long time, but I have some serious issues with how the producer of Pro Tools, Avid, go about their business, which I won’t go into now. It seems a lot of other people do as well, and Pro Tools, while still by far the most popular, is loosing market share. If you have a Mac, you probably already have Garageband, which is really a dramatically cut-down version of Logic, and if you’re making Electronica there’s a good chance you’re using Ableton Live or Cubase.
All DAWs basically do the same thing, and it’s largely a matter of preference and familiarity, but the important thing is that they are not all easily compatible.I am totally happy to put the entire logic project on a disc or USB drive, but preparing for your tracks to be imported into another DAW is quite time consuming, so there’s an extra charge. If you are not likely to want to take your source tracks away, and just want the final stereo mixes, this shouldn’t concern you, but please let me know if you are likely to want someone else to mix (which is totally fine) or otherwise want the source tracks in a form that other DAWs can use.
We also have a great selection of additional plugins to help find the sounds you want.
Q3. What back line do they have?
Put simply, we try to have stuff you might not have. Most electric guitarists will have an excellent setup that they’ve worked over time on getting to sound and work how they want. This might form the basis of their sound, and we might record this rig for the main sounds. However, using an identical rig for multiple layered parts often doesn’t sound great, so it’s good to use different guitars, amps and pedals to get different textures. We don’t, for example, have Strats or Les Pauls. If these are central to your sound, you almost certainly own one already. You might however need a particular solo to be particularly stinging, to have a modern metal sounding rhythm guitar on one track, or want to double a baseline with a baritone, without buying a Tele, EMG-loaded shred guitar or a Baritone.
Therefore, we have a big selection of guitars and pedals, and a smaller selection of carefully chosen amps that I know will record well and can be manipulated into a massive variety of sounds. Use of anything here is included in the price, and I can and will help in suggesting different setups and finding sounds.
The same goes for acoustic guitars and basses. Your beautiful gibson Hummingbird might not be the thing that a certain track needs for a finger style part, or for a bright strumming part, or you might fancy a bit of dobro or lap steel even though you don’t have one. in my experience, bassists really have their own number one instrument, but even then they might want just one track with fretless or a retro sounding hollow-body thunk.
For drums, we have a basic kit which records very well, but drummers should bring their own snare and cymbals (and anything else they particularly love the sound of of theirs).
We don’t (unfortunately) have a load of analogue synths lying around. This is partly because I’m mainly a guitarist myself, and therefore not an expert in this field, but also because synth players tend to come with their own patches ready on their own kit. We have loads of nice software synths to play with though, and nice feeling midi keyboard.
There’s a list of the back line and instruments we have available for you to use at the end of this post
Q4. What does the mic closet contain?
We have lots of excellent mics, but, I’ll be honest with you, we’ve stayed away from simply splurging on a few Neumann U87s and other classics. We are a small studio, and try to fill a gap between what people can do at home, and what the very excellent but also rather expensive bigger studios do. For that reason, we don’t set out to compete against the big studios; what they do is outstanding, but we can’t have our prices and have the cupboard full of vintage German and Austrian handmade mics that they might have. Instead, we have a carefully assembled, and ever growing selection of mics that I have worked with extensively and have something particular about them that sets them apart.
As with backline, we try to have a wide variety of stuff you might not have, and some unusual stuff. This is particularly important as every voice is different, so taking the time to try a variety of different mics with different characteristics. We might need tube presence, toppy bite to cut, through, clarity and detail, rock focus or retro warmth. All of our mics are good, but different, so I’ll never just put ‘the best’ mic up and expect it to work for everyone. Sometimes, it is a surprisingly humble mic that works best for a particular singer on a particular track. It’s worth remembering that Michael Jackson recorded ‘Thriller’ and ‘Billie Jean’ with a Shure SM7 that can be picked up for about EUR 350, for most of Back to Black Amy Winehouse was singing into an SE 2200 that cost less than EUR200, and Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’ was recorded with a Rode Classic 2 that, while not cheap at around a grand, still comes in at less than half of the cost of many of the established studio standards, and a quarter of the cost of some. The important thing is not the price, but that the mic, the room, the technique, and the performance are the right ones that day for that artist on that track. We also have a great selection of instrument mics, some standard, some more interesting or specialised. We’re also constantly acquiring new mics as we go and as we find interesting stuff.
Much more importantly though, we have excellent acoustic treatment. If you are recording at home at any serious level, acoustic treatment is the number one thing you should consider investing in. Even the very best mics will sound awful in an untreated room, while even a very cheap mic can give excellent results if used carefully in a well treated room. This does not mean an acoustically dead room necessarily, but a room carefully treated with multi-band absorption and diffusion, bass-trapping, and parts of the room more lively than others. Perhaps a point for another blog post. A list of the mics we have is at the end of this blog post.
Q5. How knowledgeable does the engineer seem?
This is a very important question. While the studio has only been running full-time for around 18 months, I’ve been recording for over 10 years part time, and have been a musician for over 20 years. I have not been to college to learn recording – I am self taught over many years in other studios as a musician and tech, and here recording myself and my friends. I’m still learning though, and I expect to be for the rest of my life. If we need to do something I’ve never done before, I’ll research and experiment with how to do it, and get expert advice. I will never just try and blag it, or pretend I know what to do when i don’t. Some things may be beyond the possibilities that me or my little studio offer, and, if that’s the case, we can work together to find additional venues or personnel for the project.
However, I believe that the most important job I have is to capture great performances well, and therefore the whole studio is set up with a homely, cosy and relaxed feel. I will never dictate the pace of a session. If you want to go fast, we’ll go fast, and if you want to go a t a more chilled pace, that’s cool by me. If you’re not feeling the vibe for a vocal track, we can work on something else and come back to it. If you have a great idea you want to try for a part, we’ll try it. If it doesn’t work, no harm is done.
I have had some frustrating times in studios, against the clock, being chivvied to get a part right, and not having time to experiment or work through new ideas, and this does not bring out good performances. As an engineer, I’ll make sure we get the performance recorded, and recorded well, but you’ll never be pressured to work any way other than the way you want to.
Q6. Where are they located?
We’re in Ixelles, Brussels. Parking’s not great to be honest, but this is made up for by being close to Metros, trams, shops, bars and food places. If you have a great space you want to record in, I can also bring my kit to you and work in your space if it is suitable. I’m happy to discuss any possibility!
Kit – This is not everything, but should give you a decent flavour
- SE Gemini 5
- Sontronics Helios
- SE 4400a (x2)
- Shure SM7b
- Rode NT2K
- EV RE320
- Groove Tubes Model 1
- Audio-Technica 2020 (x2)
- SE R1 Ribbon mic (x2)
- SE 1a (x2)
- Sontronics Halo
- Shure SM57s, SM58s and Super 55
- Senheiser e602 (kick drum)
- Senheiser e609
- Beyerdynamic Opus 83
- AKG D12
- Heil PR20
- Electro-Voice Raven
- Fender Deluxe Reverb Reissue
- Marshall Vintage Modern 2×12
- Vox Night Train
- Vox AC4TV
- Laney LC12R
- MarkBass 1×12 combo
- Fender Telecaster ’52 Reissue
- Fender Telecaster ’72 Deluxe Reissue (Bigsby)
- Fender Telecaster ’72 Custom Reissue (Bigsby and Bare Knuckle pickups)
- Fender La Cabronita Telecaster
- Fender Jaguar (MIJ)
- Burns Marvin Anniversary
- Eastwood Airline ’59 Deluxe
- Epiphone Dot (Bare Knuckle Pickups)
- Reverend Buckshot (Bigsby)
- Reverend Flatroc (Bigsby)
- Charvel Skatecaster (EMGs, Floyd Rose)
- Gibson Melody Maker
- Danelectro Baritone
- Odd lap-steel thing
- Taylor 310
- Washburn Anniversary Parlour
- Washburn 000 size
- mid-‘70s Ibanez Conchord 12-String
- Regal resonator
- Fender Jaguar bass
- Warwick Corvette (fretted and Fretless)
- Warwick Alien Fretless Acoustic
- Ibanez Artcore hollow-body
- Squier Bass VI
Too many to mention, but including Z.Vex, Emma, Electro Harmonix, Malekko, Lovepedal, Groove Street, Xotic, EBS, MXR, Caitlinbread, HAO, Digitech, Van Amps, Red Witch, Dunlop, Danelectro, Diamond, Ibanez, Tech21, Maxon and (of course) Boss.