How to Maximize Your First Studio Recording Experience


This is a “guest post” taken from an email exchange with Adam von Gootkin, co-owner and producer at Onyx Soundlab.

How to Maximize your First Studio Recording Experience

You have to have a plan going in. Are you recording to put together your first demo to hand out at shows, or are you ready to start submitting material to record labels?  Will you be selling the material, or just trying to get something simple recorded?  Having a good plan going in leads you to putting together your reasonable budget for a project.  Your expectations should match the size of your budget.  I get a lot of clients that call up and their main question/concern is what is our hourly recording rate.  One of the things I try to educate our clients on, is that it’s better to have a budget in mind before you start calling studios.  If you know you’ve got $1,500 and want to do a demo, then we will customize a package based on that price.  

Pro Studio Rates: Value vs. Cost

It is VERY important to understand that cheaper prices don’t mean anything.  I often say, if you’re primary concern is finding the cheapest recording rate, then we will not be the studio for you. You really get what you pay for in terms of recording.  For example, we include a producer with ALL recording packages we offer to independant artists.  That comes included in our standard recording rate, which is very rare.  And our prices are comparable with other high end studios in the area.  An experienced producer can sometimes charge upwards to $250 an hour, so there is a lot of value there and it definitely shows in the end product.  Remember to shop for studios on a value basis, not necessarily price.  If you find a home or garage based studio and there price is super cheap, recognize it is likely the acoustics are not great, the equipment is cheaper and the skill set of the engineer/producer may not be to the level you require.

One Great Song is More Valuable than Five Mediocre Ones

It is important to look at the big picture.  If you’re a young band with no funding, and your intentions are to get a pro-sounding 5 song demo for $300, the fact is that will not be a reality.  So you have to alter your plan.  I always say having one really well recorded songs instead of 5 songs that haven’t been well mixed is a much better way to go….but again, that depends on your end goal.

Have a Plan

At the end of the day, you have to look at pro recording and a music career as a business venture.  You have only one product, you and your music.  If I was getting started in a band or as a solo artist and had a limited budget, I would spend a few months saving and raising money to do a pro recording. I would look for a studio that could offer guidance and help with production in addition to just recording.  That would ensure I could do the recording once, and have some solid material to hand out, shop out, or sell for the next year or two.  It will save you money over the long run and likely get you where you want to be faster.  Have a plan, know your goals, organize your funding, and have reasonable expectations.  Like they say in construction:  "Measure twice, cut once!"

Thanks again to Adam for giving his feedback. As a pro studio owner, he didn’t necessarily agree with my previous post about sticking with my home recordings for the time being because my limit budget has led to some disappointments in pro studios in the past.

Networking & Music Placements – Onyx Soundlab Interview

Having just written a post about my home recording experiments, here’s a great interview from the professional recording world with Adam von Gootkin, co-owner and producer at Onyx Soundlab in Manchester, CT.

I had the pleasure of recording a track at their studio last year, and definitely enjoyed my experience. I was doing a pretty basic classical guitar and vocals track, and we pumped it out in an hour or so. The studio was very nice, and the guys there are very professional.

From my discussions with Adam, I knew they were heavily involved in pitching music to major labels, TV and film, which I knew would interest themusicsnob readers, as most of our popular posts have been about revenue sources like music licensing. So here’s what Adam had to say on some of today’s hot topics for indie musicians:

What types of music projects are occupying most of your time these days?

Actually we’ve been doing a large amount of singer/songwriter acoustic rock-pop type stuff. Historically, we’ve done a lot of hip hop, R&B, and pop. So it’s definitely been nice to diversify a little more. When we first got into the music business we were doing almost exclusively hip hop and R&B. Now, projects here can range from classical music scoring for film, to regular rock projects. It’s really cool how we’ve expanded out into many genres. As a producer, I’ve really expanded my musical interests. I actually have a jazz vocal project coming up with an independent singer. Kind of a Michael Buble meets Zooey Deshanel and I seriously am excited about getting started because it’s a little out of the box for me as a producer.

What are some of your biggest accomplishments in terms of production or song placement?

We’ve had a large amount of high profile recording artists in the studio. Just recently, we worked with Asher Roth on his "Asleep in the Bread Aisle" album, which has gone on to do quite well. We had a lot of fun doing the song "White Lies," with Jessica Sutta of the Pussy Cat Dolls and DJ Paul van Dyk. They did a full music video for that a couple years back and it is up on youtube. We’re working on songs now for the debut album of Shanika Knowles (of the Hannah Montana show,) and think that will be a great album. I really like Shanika’s voice and she has a unique style. We’re also getting tracks together to submit for the next Mariah Carey album.

We have a couple new publishing companies we’re working with right now and expect to be moving a lot of our material much more aggressively in the coming months. We’ve been pursing a lot more tv and film opps as well.


How did you network your way into placing songs with major labels?

Really it’s all about establishing relationships. It’s important to keep in mind that A&Rs and publishing agents have a job to do. Their job is to find great music that fits the respective project. The easier you make it for them to do that job, the more success you’ll have. After years of going to conferences, shaking hands, reaching out via myspace and facebook, and making cold calls and emails, after a while you start developing a solid network. We’re fortunate enough to be in a place now, where we don’t just shop out our material, but also that of our studio client’s if the music is up to par. We have so many opportunities from our different connections right now that placing songs into projects is becoming a regular part of my job. As producer/songwriters, we can only create so much product on our own.


Where do you think the biggest opportunities are for indie musicians and songwriters right now?

Honestly, I would say in the film and tv publishing side. While the budgets aren’t what they once were, there are hundreds if not thousands of opps on a daily basis. Connect with the right publishers or agents and stay on the opportunities. If you don’t have many direct personal contacts, starting with a company like or is a great way to get material in front of some decision makers. But success in this business is tied directly to persistence, consistency, and longevity. You have to keep making the music and keep getting it out there over a period of time.

What are some common mistakes or misconceptions you see among musicians trying to get into the industry?

Owning a busy recording studio allows us to see musicians at all different levels of preparedness. From a music side, I’m surprised at how many aspiring recording artists and bands neglect vocal training. Even songwriters should have a good understanding of vocals. I see a lot of R&B singers, and lead band singers that are just kind of winging it. If singing is your reason for getting up in the morning, you better get those vocals right! There is such a flood of music in this business right now, only the truly excellent shine through. So it’s crucial to present top notch product from day one. On the business side, many independent singer/songwriters and bands haven’t educated themselves on the different opportunities that are available to them. I’ve told a band before, "this song is great, would you give me permission to submit this to a publishing agent for a film opportunity?" and they have no idea what I’m talking about or how that works. If you intend to be in music as a full time career, you have to learn the different ways that exist to generate an income. There is a lot more to it than playing gigs and getting an advance from a record deal.


What tips would you give a potential recording client for getting the most out of a session?

The first thing I tell a client before coming in is that they better have their material memorized. If you have to read lyrics off a sheet then you might as well not bother. At that point, we’re recording you reading instead of recording a performance, which is the true reason for professionally recording in a studio. Know your material front and back so we can use our time in the studio focusing on the creative side, instead of just trying to get something down that is a decent take. Also, do a bit of reading online or get a book about the recording process. If you understand some studio basics, such as recording, production, mixing and mastering, that will help you understand the process much better.


Are there any developments in recording or the music industry that you’re excited about that you think indie musicians should know about?

It seems like for the past few years the music business has been full of a lot of bad news. It’s like weekly headlines of, major label sales decrease due to itunes downloads and blah blah blah. At the end of the day, the system will correct itself. Companies are figuring out new ways to increase sales, labels are getting creative, and due to technology, opportunities are more available for bands and artists that are organized enough to take advantage of them. As far as great developments, I don’t really know of anything new at the moment. I think, kind of like the state of our economy right now, everything is slowly regrouping and heading towards an upswing. Hopefully in the next couple years, there will be some exciting new music as we watch the industry evolve. People that are preparing and developing their sound now, will be ready to take advantage of it.