planning recordings - ask
a studio manager
Steven came to New York from Santa Monica,
CA, via Nashville, having worked at Star Song/EMI and DreamWorks
Records SKG. He has successfully managed Dubway Studios since 2003. In this interview he tells us about Dubway and
shares with us his opinions about how to plan a recording.
What advice would you
give to a band that is entering the recording studio for
the first time?
"Well- I would say have a plan. Map out what you want
to accomplish each day so that you have a realistic idea
of how much time you will need to complete your project.
It's best to be as prepared as possible. Time fly's in the
studio and it doesn't take long for you to eat up your entire
budget. I would also say that you should be smart. If you
can be flexible and work odd hours, most studios (even ours)
have discounted rates for working in off times like in the
middle of the night."
Many young artists
tend to ignore any production or technical advice to pursue
their own vision. Confidence of youth... but - in your experience
- how often does that pay off?
"You could probably make your own shirts, but
they probably won't look very good, or fit too well. If
you are working in a pro studio it's likely that you will
be surrounded by people who are very good at what they do,
you should take advantage of that."
It seems today that -
with the advent of the lo-fi scene - many bands think that
any crappy recording (and performance) can become a hit
and that sound engineers are not necessary. What's your
opinion about that?
"Many people hear these recordings that are really
stripped-down and raw sounding and are astounded by them
including me, but don't kid yourself. Those albums are recorded
on some pretty amazing equipment and with microphones that
cost five thousand dollars. There's a lot of work involved
to get that kind of pure sound. But it goes beyond the equipment.
A great engineer can make a below average artist sound great,
which is really kind of a drag if you think about it. But
a really great artist is probably going to sound pretty
good even in a home recording situation. The technology
has gotten really good. The problem is, you will never be
as good as a pro engineer. They know how to record things
in ways you don't. I'm a singer/songwriter myself and have
done many projects. I've gone the DIY way in the past like
everyone else and it's never as good as the studio. I guess
I feel that if you are really good, then you should treat
your art like it's worth a damn and do it right. If you
aren't willing to spend money on your own music, then probably
no one else will be either. Including music fans."
And what about
producers, what can they add to the equation?
"Producers are sometimes completely necessary, and
sometimes completely superfluous. It really depends on the
artist. Some people need lots of direction and others have
a very clear picture of what they want and how to get it. I have a handful of producers whose work I absolutely love,
yet I have always produced my own albums. I couldn't imagine
working with a producer on my own album. I fall into the
category of knowing what I want and how to get it."
Is expensive gear
really necessary to record great music?
no, sophisticated yes. The problem is, sophisticated gear
usually cost a lot of money. And even then, unless you have
an experienced engineer, the equipment is only going to
take you so far."
How do you see
the contradiction of using expensive gear in the studio
to make great sounding records that end up being listened
via mp3, i.e. a very average sounding compressed audio format?
"Well-that's not the same thing. A great recording
sounds pretty good on anything. But crap will always sound
like crap. I like mp3's. I imported my entire music collection
into my iBook & iPod a while back and I love it. And
this is coming from a guy who has access to super high quality
What are your feelings
about Mp3s in general?
"I like them. They have gotten better with mp4 etc.
Anything you buy from iTunes is pretty high quality. The
technology is only going to get better. I love to buy music
online, it's easy and it's immediate. It doesn't have the
physical limitations of a record store where they can only
carry a certain number of CD titles. There is only so much
rack space and only so many customers that live within a
reasonable distance from that store to sell CD's to. The
internet doesn't have those limitations. Every album recorded
past, present and future will be available to anyone anywhere
who wants to buy it. This means all the small obscure and
unknown albums indies or majors, will make more money than
the few hits. It's shear numbers. There are more misses
than hits and the dollar value of the misses is greater
than the dollar value of hits simply because there are more
of them. This isn't futuristic thinking, this is today,
right now. iTunes, Amazon and Netflix have built their entire
business on this idea. Even though the misses only sell/rent
one or two copies, the number of the misses is endless and
they can carry every single title because they don't need
to build physical retail outlets. This all started with
the internet and selling things online, but when mp3's came
along they gave it a jolt. So like I said, I like them and
they will only get better. The record companies are already
gearing up for this new way of releasing and buying music.
CD's will be gone in five years."
What's the band/artist
that changed your life?
"God, there have been several. I love Gillian Welch,
Patty Griffin and Sam Phillips. Sam's my favorite-I worship
the ground she walks on, seriously. Back in the day, I was
a huge U2 fan from the beginning. They were really it for
me back then. These days it's anything stripped down and
honest with a good voice."
you enter the studio, have a plan. Map out what you
want to accomplish each day so that you have a realistic
idea of how much time you will need to complete your
project. It's best to be as prepared as possible.
Time flies in the studio and it doesn't take long
for you to eat up your entire budget. Also, if you
can be flexible and work odd hours, most studios have
discounted rates for working in off times like in
the middle of the night."