Get The Demo Done Right: Part 1: How And Why To Choose A Professional Studio

Posted on September 13, 2010


In this series I will present to you some considerations of what to do when preparing to make that professional demo that is going to sell you to the major leagues. As I have mentioned in previous articles, the label wants to hear a demo – not a promotion of the new release. Your best bet is going to be to impress them with a demo that showcases the very best of what you can do. Please remember, this is a business maneuver and when creating a business, you will spend some money. You have to spend it wisely and be as prepared as you can be to get the most from your dollar’s availability.

Article one responds to the question – Why do I need to use a professional studio to record my demo?

It’s a business for professionals. Professionals are going to hear your music and judge you on the level of professionalism that you offer. In today’s music world, they have some high standards. You should also have high standards for yourself! You’ve spent a lifetime honing your craft and developing your music with your personal flavor – face it, you’re ready for the pros! The best representation for you is going to employ every top-level element you can plug into.

The biggest argument people offer is that if a song is truly a great song, it can be recorded on an iPhone and people will know it’s great. If you’re Paul McCartney or Jon Bon Jovi or someone who has proven themselves with their work – this might be true. I have demos of Jon playing to a tape recorded in his mom’s house, but they only mean something because I grew up listening to the professional recordings of those songs. If I was an A&R Rep hearing them for the first time – that would most likely be a different story. I don’t care if a girl is a cover-model in her daily career – if she comes do my door un-bathed and dressed in rags, I’ll most likely be looking for another model to be on my cover. Get it? First impressions make all the difference. You’ve got one chance to make a great one.

So now we have to consider – how do we find a great professional recording studio? Word of mouth is good if you get that word from someone who has a proven release that has received overwhelmingly positive response. Researching the options using the Internet, telephone book and other respectable artists in your genre is a better bet. Go out and compile the very best information you can find on any and all the studios that are in your area, price range and comfort zone. Comfort Zone? Yeah, you need to be comfortable with your decision.

If for some reason you haven’t questioned all the things that can come up in the recording process, you may very well enter the studio with that one big question in your mind. Try recording your very best when you have the thought of hidden expenses for re-tracking a song on your mind. You’ll be playing your worst trying to get it right in one take. Big hindrances those questions will become – get it all out first. Even in the middle of day one, don’t be afraid to ask if something is on your mind. Can I smoke outside the back door? Is it okay if we have a beer during the downtime? Can my girlfriend sit in the back of the control room and watch through the window? Ask first!

The studio you choose should have all the modern conveniences, regardless of how they choose to record. I have a friend who operates Chessvolt Studios here in California. He uses authentic and aged equipment that he gets amazing sound quality from. Peter Malick knows how to use that gear – however, when I plug in and I want to hear myself – he gives me a brand new set of high quality headphones. When I plug that cable into my guitar – it’s a fresh new Monster Cable and if I sing into a microphone, I know what leaves my mouth is going at its peak quality to the recording device. Pro Gear! Pro Studio! Pro Recording!

Another good thing to consider before shopping for that pro studio is this: Do Rockers Record here? Is it a contemporary Jazz recording studio? Have they ever recorded a rap artist? Whatever your genre – find a studio that traditionally spins up top quality media in your specific genre. The producer might be able to cook a great turkey – but I want a chef to do that. He’s going to work best at what he enjoys and is familiar with – recently familiar! That way, he’s on top of his game. If you go in to record a CD and get a turkey – well, you understand what I’m getting at.

So the producer you end up working with is going to clearly be the big thing that gets your sound. Are you comfortable with this dude? I recorded a two-song demo years back and Bob St. John was in the studio, for a pretty penny, to produce the sound. He showed up – stood at the soundboard for about 15 minutes during the tracking of the first song and then he split. We never saw him again during the recording. My singer was pissed, but I know Saint and there’s one thing I can count on with him. If he comes in the room and tells the engineer it’s great the way it is – IT IS!

You might not find that in an engineer, and it’s probably best to have your guy there the whole time producing – but the issue here was comfortability. I was completely comfortable with Saint, but my singer wasn’t. We didn’t discuss the situation beforehand and the end result was that we had to calm his ass down to get the vocals done properly. The demo was amazing, we got a nod from Chrysalis and opened for a major act on tour halfway around the globe – but still, in the studio it’s about being comfortable with that producer. He’s going to do it right, but you need to find the place where you can relax and trust his work. That is going to take a good deal of research beforehand and the ability to discuss your work with the producer as the demo develops. Be sure you are comfortable with who you choose, as tempers can flair during the pressure of the recording process. I’ve seen both bands and producers walk out during the recording of a demo – it just ain’t pretty! Both the band and the producer take their work to heart – so make sure you are all on the same level.

Now lets talk briefly about the dinero behind this bad boy. Have you got money to spare? Most people don’t so it’s about using what you do have to get the best work done. Is the end result going to be a pressed CD that will come off the line in multiple copies? Be sure the end result of the recording is the quality that you need for that. Get your master copy ready to press to CD. Get more than one master copy if you can, but above all – make sure that you are going to get what you need from the amount of money you have to spend. Up front! In writing! All fees explained beforehand and legally binding. In the off chance that one more day is needed to get that last guitar solo or vocal harmony done, the last thing you need is someone telling you that one more day is another $800. Negotiate – sign and file that contract with someone who has legal ease. That might cost you too – so figure out what you have to spend, and the order you need to spend it in. Maybe getting the lawyer first before getting the studio and producer is the right thing to do. Maybe you get the studio you want – but the producer’s top student becomes your personal producer at half the cost. Bonus! Figure out your needs and negotiate for the best of what you can get.

There is a lot to consider before committing to the money you are going to spend on your professional studio. I will always advise that you get it all in writing to make things most comfortable for you. If both parties are in agreement before the process begins, than there should be no problem with everyone signing on the dotted line. If someone doesn’t want to sign – chances are there’s a hidden agenda so keep shopping.

Next article we will take a look at something to consider before entering the studio you have chosen.

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