Once you have decided on a studio, an engineer, and a producer, it boils down to money. You need to ask some very important questions to get the most for your money and negotiate a better price. (This information can also help the studio owner understand how to prevent any miscommunications with his clients.)
If you are like most people, you are working within some kind of a budget. You need to get as much information as you can from a prospective studio so you can negotiate the best price, and so there will be no financial surprises when you get the bill.
Here are some points that you may want to consider:
Some studios will charge a day rate. And in some cases, this can be a good thing, depending on the rate and the hours. A day rate can be figured into blocks of 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 hours, or any other combination of blocks of time. It may or may not include the payment to the engineer, so make sure you know what you are getting before you start to move in your gear.
For sessions that can take days, block rates may be a good way to save time and money. This way, the studio knows that the facility will not be idle for the days that you have booked it. The owners will be much more willing to make financial concessions, especially if you are planning on paying for a lot of studio time from the start.
Some studios may charge an hourly rate and nothing else. If that is the case, you’ll need a very good approximation of how many hours it will take to record, mix, and perhaps master your entire project to your complete satisfaction. If you don’t get this approximation right, you could end up with an unfinished project and some empty pockets. You will have to rely on the studio to quote you an overall price, which can be a daunting task because it’s impossible for anyone to foresee the future. If the studio quotes a flat rate for your entire project, it could end up making much less money than if it charged the normal hourly rate.
However, if the studio doesn’t know approximately how long the project will last, and you don’t know how long you’ll need to work on it, you could end up running out of money before you finish. A flat rate can be the riskiest proposition for the studio and probably the best deal for the act, because any number of problems can affect the amount of time needed to make a great product.
This may be your only chance to record this material, and the last thing you want to do is compromise the overall sound because you run out of money. Remember that the music business is very competitive. If you are shopping a demo and/or trying to get a record deal from these recordings, you had better make the absolute best record you can. People in the industry are very spoiled, and they expect quality product.
If you can get the studio to stick to its original quote for the time allotted to complete your project, you may not have to pay for any extra studio hours past the original estimate. To that end, it would be wise to draft a formal agreement setting forth all of the terms that you have agreed upon. This way, the studio can’t change the terms after you have already started the project. Get it in writing, or you could get hit with a very large bill that you can’t pay and never receive your masters.
All studios want to stay booked every hour that they possibly can, because that is how they stay in business. In fact, the studio may have a session booked right after your session closes. Make sure you know exactly what time you have to quit. If not, you could be in the middle of some of the best playing you’ve ever done, and yet you will have to quit to make room for some other band that’s booked the studio. You may never get to that place in the creative process again.
Furthermore, if another band is coming in, you may lose any non-automated settings on the mixing board or other outboard gear. It’s always much harder to come back to something in the studio if things have been changed than it is to just knock out what you need to do before anyone else comes in and moves everything around.