At Future Crab Studios we’ve found a trend in the questions customers ask. Some customers are experienced and savvy and know exactly what they want to do. A lot of potential customers are newbies however. We’ve found that a startling number do not properly understand basic terms such as mixing and mastering. Others do not properly understand the process that gives you a finished song. This article will educate anyone looking to book studio time how to effectively communicate their goal to a recording studio so they can achieve their desired result with minimum friction.
SOME BASIC TERMS EXPLAINED
Believe me when I say that I fully understand the pain of a new customers. I remember my first time walking in Highway Records. The engineer in that studio, Lamar “Beebo”, did a good job of explaining the terms in a concise fashion. After that, I was able to navigate other studios with ease. My goal is that after this article you will be able to do the same. When recording a song, there are really three basic processes you need to appreciate as they accompany any commercial recording.
This is where you actually lay down your vocals on the mic. If you’re in a rock band, instruments will also be recorded. For recording you pay by the hour so it’s usually given as a rate. Most studios in Trinidad reside between $150TT and $400TT per hour.
PRO TIP: Practicing your song at home will minimise the time spent in studio and save you money. Having a basic microphone with some basic recording software is a good investment.
A song will comprise of vocals and backing music. The average beat, hip hop, pop or otherwise, comprises of multiple sounds or samples. After you record your vocals, the engineer will mix all these sounds together so that they are cohesive and sound polished. If this process isn’t done, a drum beat or saxophone for example, could drown out some of your lyrics causing a muffled or muddied sound.
Now most rappers will come to the studio with an instrumental that they wrote to. This is fine. However if you purchased the instrumental from a producer, whether locally or online, it’s important that you get the individual sounds that comprise the beat or the ‘stems’. That way, the studio engineer can give your song an even better mix. This goes for any other genre where you’ve bought an instrumental to write on.
A mix is often considered the most important process in making a song. The cost varies greatly and depends on the reputation of the studio. Generally in Trinidad you would expect to pay between $800TT and $2500TT. The number of sounds in your song is also a factor. Ensure that you listen to examples of songs mixed by the studio before you decide to get your song mixed there.
Mastering is a final polish on your song that makes it sound good across multiple devices – phone, car radio, club, tv etc. In the most basic sense, the song will sound ‘louder’. It gives the entire track a sparkle and a professional feel. Radio stations and professional tastemakers would not accept your music if it isn’t mastered properly. As with mixing, ensure that you hear examples of mastered tracks.
PRO TIP: Give the mastering engineer an example of a track that you want your song to sound like. So if you’re mastering a trap song you could give the engineer a Migos song as reference. The reason for this is you want your song to sound comparable in loudness and quality to other songs within your genre. This is especially desirable if you intend to release your song to radio.
INSTRUMENTAL PRODUCTION/BACKING MUSIC
Rappers usually will come to the studio with their backing track. Some people have written a song without one. If so, the producer in the studio will create backing music for your song. This can be programmed using software which will typically comprise of mainly electronic sounds or a live sound can be played with live drums, guitars and other instruments. Or a combination. At Future Crab Studios we do all three.
The price range on this is wide. Keep in mind that live music usually requires that musicians be brought in to play which is a separate cost. Musicians normally would charge by the hour but some would give a price for a session. The total cost of the production will depend on the rep of the producer. A producer who just created a hit for Machel may charge between $8000TT-$10000TT. But there are producers who will do it for between $1000TT and $2000TT.
A full production is a deal most studios offer that comprises recording, mixing, mastering and production. This is the best option if you want a professional song recording and you already have the song but no backing music for it. Some recording studios, especially in the soca genre, will include a finished song into the deal. The cost usually ranges from around $4000TT – $15000TT.
PRO TIP: Make sure you hear examples of songs that the recording studio has done in the past. Also, ensure that the studio specializes in the genre of music that you’re doing. Or at least has done similar stuff before. You don’t want to be recording an acoustic soul track and the producer is asking whether he could “add some trap vibes to you track”. Have a meeting before any recording takes place to ensure that all parties are on the same page before spending money.
RECORDING A DEMO
Sometimes you don’t plan to release a song commercially. You either want to test out how it will sound or you just plan to release it online in a limited fashion. Or you just want to freestyle on a Drake beat in which case you can’t release it commercially for copyright reasons. In these cases, a demo recording is appropriate. The engineer would usually give you an hour or so to record and do a very basic mix and master on the song and you would leave with a song that sounds decent. This would usually cost between $500 and $1000 to do. Some studios, especially the bigger ones, don’t even offer this service so ask first.
PRO TIP: You don’t want to release this type of song to radio. They won’t accept it. Unless it’s a viral hit 😉
With those basic terms explained there are certain ways to move in a studio. The engineer may not tell you but sloppiness, indecisiveness and unprofessionalism are highly annoying. And an annoyed engineer will not go the extra mile to polish your song. So this section will explain how to move in the studio in different situations.
Now pay attention because this part is very important – Doh beg for freeness.
Remember, studios deal with artistes everyday. They have literally heard it all. Pitches like “I real bad eh so what allyuh could do for me” are highly annoying. Studios do help out artistes they like but they would usually reach out to you. If your name not popping and ringing out in the streets, don’t bother. A studio is a business and respect their time.
Think about what you want to do in terms of what the studio offers. Saying “I have like 20 songs written and I want to hear what they sound like” doesn’t help. It’s up to you to pick one and decide. Also decide whether you want to do a demo recording or record/mix/master aka whether you intend to release to radio or not. When you are that assertive and concise, you’ll come across professional and will be a joy to work with.
Additionally, make sure you have a budget. You’ll find that many studios will be willing to give you a discount. But if you come with a vibes that you “eh ha no money”, you’re just wasting your time and theirs. If you aren’t willing to spend any money, record your stuff home and practice until you save enough. You wouldn’t go by the barber with no money for a haircut would you?
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. From inception, I maintained a good rapport and reputation with every engineer I worked with because I was always prepared. I would usually record my songs quickly without much mistakes because I would record and practice them on my computer from before. With many free recording software out there such as Garage Gand on the Mac and Audacity on the PC, there is no excuse not to prepare. If music is a career you would like to pursue, I would advise you to even spend some money and acquire a professional DAW such as Ableton or Pro Tools.
Once you’re prepared, everything else should fall in place. Note that you pay by the hour or part thereof so being quick is advisable but don’t try and cheat the engineer. Taking an hour and 5 mins means you spent two hours. Most importantly make sure you record properly. It’s better to spend and extra $300 and nail your vocals than ‘save’ and have a terrible sounding release. Be open to advice as well unless you are 100% sure of what you’re doing. As a matter of fact, until you’ve recorded a few times, be very open to advice. If they tell you that you’re off-key, you probably are. Don’t be that person.
As an artiste it’s relatively easy to make a deal or get a discount with a recording studio. The key however is to be upfront. And don’t back down on your word.It’s generally accepted that you pay half down and half when the song is finished but you can negotiate even monthly payments. The key is to stick to your word. If after getting a discount you act professional and pay on time, most likely you will receive another one in the future.
And that’s it.