What sort of band are you? Electronic? Thrash? Indie? Folk-rock? Abstract Psych? What's the best way for you to get your sound down? Where is the best place to go? If you're at this stage of your career, you need to give some serious thought as to where and how you're going to record your hard-crafted labour of love.
In this day and age, there is a strong bent towards home recording. The sheer cheapness of soundcards and microphones, not to mention the likelihood of someone you know having a copy of some recording software, means that you're probably tempted by the idea. The question remains though – do you know how to record? What's the best way to lay out the room? Do you DI the bass or close mic? What's the most acoustically efficient room for guitars? And that thorniest of questions – how are you going to get the drums down?
The answer to all of these questions is threefold. Either a) learn all of the answers through trial and error, b) go to university and study sound production, or c) go into the studio.
There are countless studios all over the world. Most will record any type of music, the in-house producer scrabbling to get your part-formed acoustic-drone-tech quintet into WAVs while looking at the next band coming in. But some have a signature sound. Peter Tagtgren was famous for the grinding metal sounds he achieved at The Abyss. Toe Rag studios in London's Shoreditch area goes out of its way to offer old school sounds through vintage, analogue equipment. Sending the Blue Man Group to a studio like Muscle Shoals would be unhelpful. Likewise, Seasick Steve pitching up at Austin Enterprise in Nashville would also produce a record, but the equipment would not be ideal, as it is geared primarily towards producing bone-crushing metal.
It's important to think of how choosing where you go will effect the band, the process, and naturally, the end result. Some bands choose to record locally as it inspires a feeling of trust in the product they produce. At the other extreme, there are tales of bands travelling to the far corners of the world to achieve a certain vibe, far from the distractions that plague musicians so easily. A story exists of former Idlewild bassist Bob Fairfoull leaving the remote studio they had rented in rural Scotland to use the local phone box, only to find himself being chased through the darkness by deer. Though this is far from a common happenstance, it is worth considering whether you want to be in/near a city where you have accommodation, or if you want to do what many bands have done since time immemorial and sleep in the studio.
Staying in the studio, or on studio grounds, means that there are fewer distractions. There is nothing to deviate from the mission of creating music. This allows greater focus on the material if you can spare the time. Many artists are unable to commit extended periods of time to the studio environment. Though usually down to the musician's eternal enemies of finance and work, this can also be because certain individuals in the group do not operate well in confinement, or that the members with less to do get bored. This is especially true of singers, who spend a lot of time waiting for everyone else to get finished. Even those who want to be there for the whole run can get cabin fever, so consider bringing in your vocalist at a later stage if they are predisposed to restlessness. There is no right or wrong way where time is considered.
As far as money is concerned, the vibe in the local scene will be to go to a local studio. When utilising these facilities, do your research. The single most important thing is to ensure that you look at the location, the space available, and any previous work that's been completed. Look through the eyes of guys in the scene you trust. Your local musical community is the litmus test – if they go in and get a bad product, you hear about it immediately. Local studios offer many benefits; being close to your base of operations enables you to relax into the day, and any prior association through your scene colleagues allows you to establish a rapport with the producer before you book anything.
The hardest part when selecting a studio is knowing who to talk to in order to make the right selection. Past those you know, it's difficult to know where to turn. Music Gateway exists for this very reason – to put you in touch with those who can get you the sound you want to achieve. The most important thing is ensuring that your single, EP, album or demo is as first-rate as it's possible to be, and choosing the right studio will make all the difference.