The Artist Area contains information, recommendations, and tips to help make your recording experience the best it can be, as well studio polices and info on payments and booking. Please have all of the artists/musicians involved in your project read through this page before your recording session.
This page is a work in progress and I'll be adding to it constantly. Enjoy!
STUDIO PREPARATION TIPS
I'm a huge believer in getting the sound right at the source. I do everything I can on my end to make that happen, but the musicians (that's you) are responsible for a few things that can and will make or break your recording. Let me know if you have any questions!
GUITARISTS / BASSISTS
Please have all guitars and basses PROFESSIONALLY (i.e. by someone with a lot of experience) set up and intonated with fresh strings just prior to recording. This usually takes a few days and costs about $40-60 per instrument so please make sure to plan ahead so that you can get your instruments back just before you come into the studio. This will dramatically improve guitar and bass tones and will insure productive recording sessions and that the guitars stay in tune on your record.
If you're in the metro Phoenix area my recommended guitar tech is Evan Nichols of Nichols Guitar Company - (480) 390-2387. Evan does great work with quick turnaround times and musician-friendly rates.
Make sure to specify to the repairperson what tuning you use and what kind of strings you want (or better yet, buy the ideal strings and give them to the repairperson when you drop off your instrument). I’ve personally had the most success using thick string gauges for electric guitars (I use D'Addario NYXL 12-52 on my personal guitars and may recommend even thicker gauges for dropped tunings of dropped-B or lower) as they tend to sound fuller and stay in tune better than thinner string gauges. Poorly set-up instruments will almost always end up costing you more money in studio time than you would have spent getting them set up in the first place, and they won't sound as good.
If you're wondering what strings to get, recently I've been very impressed with D'Addario NYXL series strings. They sound great, stay in tune really well, and hold their tone longer than most other strings. For bass guitar I find stainless steel strings to sound best for aggressive or picked tones (I use and recommend D'Addario Pro Steels), or get some nickel-wound steel strings if you're after a subtler, warmer tone. For acoustic guitars, John Pearse makes my favorite strings (I use the 700m phosphor bronze set on my personal guitars, you can find them on Amazon).
Once you get your instrument back, I’d suggest leaving it unplayed in the case and using a backup for rehearsals/shows so that the instrument is fresh and ready for recording. I also have some great guitars and basses that you may use for sessions – the band is responsible for the cost of setting these up if necessary.
Please make sure you have plenty of extra strings, picks, etc. Strings can start wearing down within hours, which affects the clarity of your tone - I've recorded several guitarists who can wear out a fresh set of strings before they're even done with the first song. For this reason I recommend getting a fresh pack of strings for every song you're recording. This doesn't mean we'll end up using them but it's good to be prepared.
Make sure you have your lyrics and parts ready – ideally you should be able to sing the songs comfortably without needing a lyric sheet. Get plenty of sleep and don’t have too much caffeine, sugar, dairy, or alcohol prior to recording. Practice every day. Practice every day. If you’re a regular smoker, DON’T quit before recording. Also, type up your lyrics for the songs and bring me a copy. And practice every day. Seriously. It’s important to keep your voice well exercised throughout the recording process and to know your lyrics by heart.
Please do your best to respect the studio environment and help keep it clean. Clean up trash, be professional, respect the studio’s neighbors, don’t show up drunk or high, take showers, check your ego, leave your girlfriends/boyfriends at home, bring extra headphones and batteries for video games/iPods/laptops, don’t pee on the toilet seat, chip in for the bottled water, etc. This will help keep the sessions running smoothly and comfortably for everyone.
Drug and alcohol policy - There is a strict "no illegal substances" policy on the studio premises, this is part of my agreement with the property owner and is non-negotiable. If you're of age you can bring in beer or wine as long as it's not going to affect your performance (ideally, save it for when you're done recording for the day).
Please be prepared to record the songs with a click track/metronome. I’d recommend practicing playing with a click/metronome every day before recording if possible. If the songs have any changing tempos I can program the click to change tempos where appropriate. If we are overdubbing instruments over the drums (which is the usual process for the vast majority of bands I work with) it’s essential to use the click so please make sure you’re prepared!
In the rehearsals leading up to drum recording, please focus on “mixing” yourself behind the drum kit – emphasize hitting the kick, snare, and toms with power and consistency, but try to focus on balance and musicality when hitting your cymbals (i.e. don’t go all caveman on your cymbals unless it's musically appropriate). The goal is for the drums to sound loud in the room without the cymbals overwhelming everything - you want lots of drums without a lot of cymbal volume washing them out. Here's an admittedly silly video full of great information and painful truth to illustrate my point. If you can master the art of mixing yourself as a drummer, your drums will sound miles better both live and in the studio.
Focus on hitting your snare and toms in their “sweet spot” – usually dead-center in the middle of the head - for the best sound. Whether you play rimshots or standard centered hits, this is HUGE if you want your drums to punch. Most drums ring less and punch more when struck dead-center, and hitting them off-center - even a little bit - will take away power and increase ring/overtones. You'll find that when hitting the drums dead-center, the drums will sound bigger, more focused, and louder than when hitting them off-center, and obviously this makes for punchier drum recordings.
Finally, your drums will record best if you set up your cymbals in a way that leaves some room for the mics. A little extra height and distance from the mics reduces cymbal bleed and gives us more leeway when mixing the drums to make them sound the best they can be. Obviously your setup should be comfortable to play, but if you can make a few adjustments it can pay off in the studio.
Speaking of cymbals, please try not to hit your cymbals dead-on. Instead, use glancing hits across the side/bow of the cymbal. This reduces sway, improves tone, and extends the life of the cymbal. Please watch this short video for a few pointers about how to mount and hit your cymbals to make them sound their best (and also not break them). This is mandatory if you're using the studio's cymbals and there will be a quiz.
WHAT DRUM HEADS SHOULD I GET?
One of my roles as your producer is to be your personal drum tech - we will work together to tune your drums to sound their best under the mics and for the style of music you're doing. Please have fresh heads for your drums - old, worn, or damaged drum heads often don't tune up properly and can compromise your drum tones before a single mic even gets set up. If you're not sure about the condition of the heads on your drums, I'd recommend purchasing fresh heads but keeping them boxed up until we can check out the old heads in the studio (and save your receipt!). There is also a studio drum kit available to use for a modest fee of $15 per song (bring your own cymbals and hardware), this is a good option if you don't want to spring for all new heads or if your kit isn't ideal for recording. More info on the studio kit below.
Sometimes different heads work well for different sounds so if there are multiple recommendations you should choose the head that best suits what type of drum sounds you’re looking for. Over the past 15 years or so we have tried just about everything out there and here are my recommendations for the heads that have consistently worked the best for us in the studio.
Kick Drum (batter head)
Remo Powerstroke 3 – Our preferred kick head for most music. A clean, punchy kick drum sound with great lows, attack and presence. This head is right in the sweet spot between sounding deep/resonant and tight/punchy .
Remo Powerstroke 4 - Similar to the Powerstroke 3 but double-ply, which makes it more durable and dampens the sound a bit more. Good if your kick is on the resonant/ringy side and needs a little extra control.
Evans EMAD - EMADs are nice if you want a deep kick sound with less attack and punch and more roundness and body. In my experience they don't have quite as much punch/impact as the Remo Powerstroke heads but they have a nice deep "boom." They can still sound punchy if you hit the kick hard. NOTE: EMADs usually have to be tuned very low to sound their best in my experience. There are a few variations of the EMAD:
EMAD (single ply) - Most sustain and tone
GMAD (single-ply) - Thicker than EMAD, more punch and durability
EMAD 2 (two ply) - More punch, less sustain
EMAD Heavyweight - Max punch and durability, least sustain
What about Aquarians? In my experience many Aquarian heads tend to sound overly plastic-y and in past tests have been beaten out by their REMO and Evans equivalents. Yes, we have compared them side by side. That doesn't mean Aquarians won't sound good, it just means I don't generally recommend them.
For most styles I recommend you get a Remo Impact Patch, Falam Slam, or equivalent pad for your batter head. This will protect the head and add punch to the sound.
Kick Drum (resonant head)
Evans EMAD resonant or anything in good shape with a 5” or larger mic hole - Please install the front head with the hole either centered or at the 2:00 or 3:00 position (not lower) to aid in miking the drum. Audio engineers (both live and in the studio) will thank you. An offset hole will usually sound slightly more resonant and will provide a little more bounce-back from the pedal, a centered hole will sound a little tighter and punchier but with less sustain and bounce-back.
Kick Drum Beater
The kick drum beater has a noticeable effect on the sound of the drum. A felt beater will have a softer attack than a hard plastic or wood beater. Please make sure your beater suits the type of kick sound you want. Wood or hard plastic beaters tend to work best for aggressive kick sounds and felt shines when you're looking for a rounder, less aggressive attack. Vintage-style beaters such as the Vic Virth "VicKick" can also be very cool if you want the kick to sound big and deep but don't want an overly punchy sound.
Snare Drum (batter head)
Remo Controlled Sound X coated – This has become our preferred snare head. It’s slightly thicker sounding and more durable than the regular Controlled Sound and it’s great for big, beefy snare sounds. It's essentially a slightly thicker Ambassador with a dampening dot in the middle which helps focus the tone. Get a 14” if you want to use one of the studio snares (a 6.5x14” Ludwig Black Beauty, 6.5x14” DW Aluminum, 5x14” Ludwig Acrolite and a revolving selection of a few others) – 9 times out of 10 we use one of the studio snares (unless you have something really tasty!).
Remo Controlled Sound coated – Similar to the Controlled Sound X but slightly thinner, which gives it a brighter, more open sound at the expense of being less durable and ringing a bit more. I recommend this head for quieter, less hard-hitting musical styles that require more sensitivity but when you still want a meaty sound. This is basically a coated Ambassador with a durability/dampening dot in the center.
Evans Genera HD and Genera HD Dry - The Evans Genera heads are nice if you’re tuning the drum higher and/or if you want a very fast, punchy snare sound. I still prefer the Remo Controlled Sound and Controlled Sound X for most things but the Genera HD and HD Dry can be perfect for certain kinds of sounds.
Snare Drum (resonant head)
Remo Ambassador Snare Side or Ambassador Hazy
Evans Hazy 300 or Snare Side 300.
Snare wires can have a huge impact on the quality of the snare sound. I really like Puresound wires (I usually use their Super 30 wires on all of the studio's snare drums) and Tama Snappy Snares (the 42-strand version is great on larger, louder drums if they can accommodate large snares). If you've got stock wires, cheap wires, or bent/damaged wires, I'd suggest grabbing a fresh set if you want to use your snare on the recording.
Toms (batter head)
Remo Emperor Vintage (clear or coated) – These are fantastic and are our favorite tom heads for most music. They're great for a super-beefy, thick tom sound with plenty of attack and slightly less sustain than the standard Emperor. Amazing for “big rock” drum sounds. Don’t let the “Vintage” tag fool you, it’s just means “thick” in this case.
Remo Emperor or Evans G2 (clear or coated) – For a warm tom sound with controlled overtones and normal attack and sustain. Clear heads tend to have slightly more top end, coated will have slightly more warmth.
Remo Pinstripe (clear) - Pinstripes are a classic choice for toms and offer a nice, wet "smack" without a lot of overtones. They tend to sound a bit scooped and "pre-EQ'd." They're great if you want a polished "studio toms" kind of sound.
Remo Powerstroke P4 (clear or coated) - These are great for deep, buttery tom sounds with minimum sustain. More beefy than punchy.
Remo Ambassador clear or Evans Genera clear single ply – resonant heads should be changed if they are old, warped/stretched, dented, etc. Subpar resonant heads make it hard (if not impossible) to tune the tom properly. Please do not put any dampening on the resonant heads.
Cymbals and Misc. Drum Stuff - Bringing in great cymbals is probably the most important thing you can do for a great drum sound. If your cymbals sound bad, your drums will sound bad, so please buy, beg, borrow, or steal the best possible cymbals for your recording . UPDATE: I now offer high-end cymbal rentals for a small per-song fee, see below for details.
Microphones tend to prefer thinner, darker, and/or quieter cymbals for the best possible sounds. Zildjian Ks and As (including the Custom, Sweet, Mastersound, etc. series), many Sabian AA/AAX/HHX, Dream's Energy series, and their competitors’ equivalents work really well. Thick,loud cymbals like Zildjian Zs or cracked cymbals will sound overly loud and/or harsh under microphones. So please bring great cymbals, because the best engineers in the world can’t make bad cymbals sound good. Also, if you didn't already watch this video you should definitely do it, even if you have been playing for decades.
THE STUDIO DRUM KIT AND CYMBALS
I have a great studio drum kit available to use. It's a Tama Starclassic birch/bubinga with 10"/12"/16" toms and a 22" kick. I also have a 14" tom and several snares that can be integrated into the kit if needed, and the kit can be configured however you like. I tune it for each project and keep it maintained with fresh drum heads, and if you haven't used Starclassics they are among the best sounding drums out there.
Bands are welcome to use the house kit for a small fee ($15 per song) to help with the cost of keeping it maintained with fresh heads - the cool thing about this is that you don't have to spend a bunch of cash buying new heads for your own kit if you're just doing a single or a few songs, and the kit will sound fantastic. Please bring your own cymbals and hardware. The house drums are generally equipped with a Remo Powerstroke 3 on kick, Remo Vintage Emperors on toms, Remo Controlled Sound X on snare, and Remo Ambassadors for all tom/snare resonant heads - this is my preferred configuration for most genres based on having used most of the popular drum heads out there.
I also have a modest selection of excellent cymbals on hand, there is a small per-song fee to use them (it's totally worth it) - there are more cymbals coming so this list will be updated periodically, if there's something you need let me know. You can always check out the studio cymbals with your setup before deciding if you're like to use them. Cymbals and hardware can also be rented from Guitar Center and other local music stores on a per-day, per-weekend, or per-week basis.
Zildjian K Sweet 16" Hats - $10 per song
Zildjian K Sweet 21" Ride - $10 per song
Zildjian A Custom Mastersound 14" Hats - $10 per song
(More to come)
FILES AND BACKUPS
I will hold back-up copies of the master recordings for up to 30 days from the end of recording sessions. The Artist is responsible for providing an adequate USB 2/3 or Firewire 800 hard drive to retain audio masters of the recording sessions if desired. To keep things streamlined and ensure future compatibility with other digital audio workstations I will generally furnish the consolidated individual WAV files from each mix without routing, processing, or unused files unless requested otherwise (the nature of some special requests may require extra studio time booked at the normal rate). I assume no responsibility for archiving or maintaining files after the recording sessions have concluded (though I generally try to hold on to everything as long as possible).
SCHEDULING AND PAYMENTS
Music production packages generally include 2 to 3 full days (8 hours plus a lunch/dinner break) of studio time per song depending on your needs. The band must book the entire day so please make sure someone from the band can be there to record all day (if different members want to come at different times that's okay, as long as we can work the whole day). I do my best to give accurate estimates but depending on production style, song length, level of skill/preparedness, etc., some projects will require extra time, which can be added at the discounted package rate.
There is a non-refundable deposit required to book your studio dates, which is applied towards your total studio costs. The deposit is $250 for 1-3 days of time or $500 for 4 or more days.
Half of the total balance is due on the first date of your booking, and the remaining balance - minus the deposit - is due on the last date of your booking or before any materials (mixes, files, etc.) are released from the studio.
For mixing and mastering projects, I can be more flexible with the scheduling if necessary, please contact me for details and if you have any questions.
Payments can be made via cash, check, Square's "Cash" app, credit/debit card (a 2.75% fee will be added) or Paypal (the client must cover any fees).
Paypal address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cashtag (for the Cash app): $CorySpotts