Many of us have home studios that may vary in size and scope from a laptop and a controller to a full blown production setup. We can get lots of work done there at our own pace and certainly create great sounding tracks. But working in a professional recording studio is an experience that can achieve results far beyond that of our home setups. Let’s take a look at a few good reasons to take it outside your comfort zone.
There are many reasons I choose to work in a professional studio and having a control room separated from the live space is one of them. At the studio that I do most of my outside work at, which is the Clubhouse in Rhinebeck, NY, theres a large control room with a great Neve console in it, lots of outboard gear, and several sets of large reference monitors.
The room has been professionally tuned, meaning the results you hear out of the speakers there will translate in a balanced fashion to the ‘real world’, so you don't have to guess how your mixes sound. Also, another great thing about working in a proper control room is you can see the musicians in the live room through the glass, and hear them back through the speakers when recording tracks. This lets you objectively judge the parts as they are being created, which can help the end results dramatically.
Also, with a decent size room there's space to work and think. You can gather the whole band in there and listen collectively. The back and forth discussions and exchange of ideas in a separate control room helps you think, relax and make better music.
While we're still talking about the control room, few things beat having a great analog console in it. At the Clubhouse, there happens to be a Neve 8058 MKII loaded with classic 3 band Neve EQs with filters and 24 channels of Neve console preamps. There’s a reason countless hit records have been tracked and mixed through Neve consoles, but many other consoles also sound great as well. They have a certain vibe, sound and attitude that can help deliver results outside of staying exclusively in your DAW.
Many professional studios also have a great selection of outboard gear. Sure, you can have a few pieces in your home studio and many great plugins, but when you want to make things bigger and badder, few things beat great compression, EQ, preamps and effects processors.
For example, last week when working at the Clubhouse, I ran a pair of Earthworks QTC-50 mics in the live room into a pair of Purple Audio 1176 style compressors and got a huge drum print. We ran the guitars (Park head/Marshall 4X12) through API preamps, the drums mostly through the Neve, and the bass through a classic Ampeg SVT head and a chain of vintage compressors. There’s something about reaching into the rack, twisting knobs of outboard gear, and dialing in a sound.
Many professional studios have much bigger live rooms than most of us can have even in a home studio. At the Clubhouse for example, there's a large live room and three separate isolation rooms, all with glass doors so a band could track together, be isolated sonically, yet still have eye contact to each other. In home studios, including mine, recorded parts are often ‘built’ one at a time. In a professional studio with a live space and isolation, a band can play together all at the same time, which helps create a more natural performance.
Also in a large live space, the instruments, especially drums, can ‘breathe’. Drums are acoustic instruments, and often they sound more open and airy when tracking them in a great sounding space where you can have close mics and room mics. This also applies to many other instruments from acoustic pianos (there's a 1922 Steinway B at the Clubhouse) to acoustic guitars and amps. I often like to track guitars in a live room where I can turn my tube amps up really loud and get that attitude that cannot be captured at a lower volume point. Some refer to it as ‘moving air’, but I just think it delivers an sonic attitude that cannot be captured any other way.
Another great thing about working at a professional studio is often the availability of different mics. Great mics can be quite expensive, and the time you're paying for at a professional facility often includes access to gear you may not have at home. At the Clubhouse, owner/engineer Paul Antonell has a huge closet full of great mics, including Neumann U47s and U67, Earthworks, Schoeps, ELAM 250s and great ribbon mics like the RCA-KU3A and some great AEA’s. Different mics give you different results, and paired with great preamps and live space, you’re now taking your project to the next level.
Sometimes I will bring my own amps to the studio, but sometimes I’ll just plug in to ones I don’t own for something different. Many of the studios I work at have a variety of different amps, from vintage Fenders and Marshalls to newer monsters like Bogners and Engls. I will contact the studio ahead of time to see what they have and plan my approach, but part of stepping out of your comfort zone might be to try recording through different amps, even ones that you don't know.
This part should not be overlooked. Most professional studios employ professional engineers that not only know the room and gear, but have skill sets that you may not possess. Aside of the obvious points of letting them get your sounds, this lets you focus on what you're supposed to - the music. I tend to work with engineer Mike Dwyer at the Clubhouse and also Shawn Mendez who not only knows Pro Tools and the room inside and out, but is familiar with the way I work, making the flow of ideas effortless. That has real value.
Also, when you can take your headspace out of engineering and worrying about how to get the best sounds, you become more creative. You can learn from a professional engineer by observing and asking questions, allowing you to build upon the experience to increase your own skills.
Working in a professional studio can benefit your productions in many ways. From tracking through a console to using great outboard gear and amps to just working together as a band in one space with a trained engineer, there are often more options at your disposal. Not to mention the ability to take off your ‘self recording’ hat and just paying attention to nothing but getting that great performance across. Step out of your comfort zone, save up a few bucks, and think about doing some tracks in a professional studio for your next project. It’s worth it.