"I bet I can DIY it! Hold my beer." - or- 7 reasons to still consider a recording studio f
Living in the country, our home's water supply is fed by a natural well dug almost two hundred feet into the earth. While it looks amazing to fill a tub with almost "water park" blue water, it can be rather hard on certain appliances. This was certainly true last year when our virtually brand new water heater, with less than 4 years of use, popped a leak from the effects of the water sitting in it. I was aware of flushing your water heater as routine maintenance, but had never heard of one failing in that amount of time. Because of the style of our home, safety regulations, and the desire to minimize the risk of this happening again, I decided to go the route of the tankless water heater to remedy our situation. After many of the other home repairs and DIY projects I had tackled before, I felt confident I could tackle this one as well. I was about two full days of work in when I swore, in more ways than one, that next time I'd be hiring someone who had done this before.
Which brings us to why we are here.
The last several years have been like a dream for home recording enthusiasts. Equipment entirely capable of being used to create radio ready hits has never been more attainable than now, and acquiring the knowledge necessary to put these tools to good use is just a mouse-click away. Then again, there's no shortage of home repair lessons provided by the University of YouTube, either.
Don't misunderstand; there's no magic wand needed to learn how to mix a track or fix a water heater. Popping a CD (we'll talk about the reported "death of the CD" at a later date) into your ride so you can hear your mix in all the sonic glory you imagined it, is absolutely feasible. So then why pay someone for a job you could probably do just as well yourself, and why trust them to care as much as you do about your music which you have invested much time and poured much emotion into?
Acoustic Space - Anyone who has ever read a thread on home recording techniques anywhere on the internet has undoubtedly learned that the typical home bedroom already sets you up behind the 8-ball. It is not the ideal location to record or mix due to the physics, acoutiscally speaking, that the size and shape of your room will introduce into your recordings. Getting a great recording in the beginning can lead to a stellar track in the end, and it can go a very long way to not only making it easier to mix your track later, but possibly making it so that you don't need to do much mixing in the first place. Reflections and phase issues, color added by surface materials (i.e. drywall of a bedroom, concrete floor of a garage, etc.), unwanted transmission of waves through materials, etc.; these are all potential problems of recording at home that have most likely been addressed in the construction and treatment at a recording studio.
Gear Versatility - As we covered earlier, there's never been a more affordable time than now to get your hands on some great gear. That being said, while a small recording package of decent quality may cost as little as a few hundred dollars ("little" in the relative meaning), to get the amount of versatility a recording studio might have could cost you into the thousands upon thousands of dollars. If you don't do this full time, can you justify that sort of expense? A good general purpose mic is a must and definitely enough to get good recordings, but there's an entire palette of color and texture that having access to other mic's can provide. The attitude of a ribbon mic on an amp. The subtle but defining character of a tube pre-amp on a vocal. Not to mention the difference that can be made from mic'ing each piece of a drum kit versus one room mic. There's no doubt that great drum recordings have been made with a mono, one-mic'ed-drum approach (think 60's/early 70's, a' la the Beatles), and there's definitely no need to worry about things like phase cancellation. However, having the extra capability when you really need those drums to envelop the listener (modern rock, pop, etc.) is virtually a must. The chance to get "that sound" you don't even know you're looking for yet isn't just limited to recording equipment. Some studios can even outfit you with a guitar, snare, or other instrument for your tracking session that just might be the polishing touch you end up loving. To quote one of my favorite characters, Dr. Frasier Crane, "Ah, but if less is more, just think how much more "more" will be!"
Noise and Neighbors - Here is a little known fact; while you may feel you're living the dream and just one drum fill away from being the next John Bonham, your neighbors may be one rim hit away from setting fire to your rehearsal space. Sound proofing your jam spot is an astronomical task not to be taken on by the faint of heart, or light of pocket book. So while leaning a foam, egg-carton mattress pad up against your window might do the trick, you may be better off finding a place that has addressed this by either investing in proper sound management, or planting their roots in a somewhat isolated location in the first place. "Are the walls to keep people out? Or keep people in?" That's an idea that's been said many a time during a suspenseful movie moment. The sentiment is applicable here, as well. Sure, you increase the odds your car won't be egged every weekend if you keep your impressive, vocal growling mayhem away from the wake your neighbors are holding for their much loved, recently deceased auntie, but you also don't want their lawnmower as the ambient track for your stripped down acoustic hit. Using a studio that has taken effective measures to eliminate or even just reduce unwanted noise may just save that perfect, once in a lifetime take.
Objective Mixing - Let's face it, the vocalist is the only element that matters. What's that, dummer? I apologize, I meant the percussion. No, you're right, bassist, your groove definitely needs to be showcased throughout the entire LP. Having an objective party mixing your music, or even tracking for that matter, can mean the difference between your CD being an unbiased and perfect balance of all the elements vibing together more greatly than the sum of the parts, or your track sounding like the earth rattling, car-show-winning Impala from a block away, even though you're in the same room as the speakers. Which are only three feet away. Input from the band is definitely something that should be freely given and taken during a project. The importance of that input is even more evident when you consider, for instance, the countless hours a guitarist will spend on the ton