Studio Unknown's Confessions of a Small Working Studio—What Artists Are Really Looking for In a Studio

Jun 30, 2010 4:23 PM, By Lisa Horan and Kevin Hill

Winslow Ct. Recording Studio

Winslow Ct. Recording Studio

Singer/songwriter Rich Sheldon

Singer/songwriter Rich Sheldon

Each month, we talk to professionals who give us an insider’s look at studio life. This month, we decided to turn the tables a bit and talk to the artists who keep studio owners in business. We wanted to find out what makes them tick, how they go about choosing a studio, what qualities they really look for,and what impresses them enough to open their wallets to record there. What we found out was that artists are looking for a lot more than just gear and cred. They want comfort. They want charm. They want skill. And, in many cases, they want an experience that is ultimately going to produce life-changing results.


We really don’t have to drive home the idea of competition, do we? There are exceptions, of course, but most of us are painfully aware that potential clients have more than a few choices to meet their recording needs, so we were curious about what allures an artist to a studio in the first place. Is it all about money? Do fancy digs do the trick? What is it that makes an artist choose one studio over another? First and foremost, artists are more inclined to try out a studio because people they know have had a good experience. It's that all important word-of-mouth phenomenon.

That's what drew Venice Beach, Calif., singer/songwriter Rich Sheldon to Hollywood's Winslow Ct. Recording Studio. Some music buddies of Sheldon's told him about it, and despite some previously disappointing recording experiences, he decided to give the studio a whirl. Baltimore-based singer/songwriter Bob Sima didn't have a middleman; he met Bloomington, Ind.'s Airtime Studio owner David Weber at a gig and hit it off. "I opened for this amazing singer, Krista Detor, and her husband, [Weber], one night, and after the gig was over, we were sitting around having a glass of wine, and David said, 'You have to come out to my studio in Indiana.'"

Sima admits that he forgot about the invitation for a while, but after a failed attempt to record in a local studio, Sima popped a CD Weber had given him into his car stereo, and he was hooked. "The moment I heard the first song on the CD, I got goosebumps," says Sima. But what sealed the deal was the reaction from a very important person in Sima's life. "My 2-year-old son was sitting in the backseat, and he kept saying, 'Play it again, daddy.' We must have listened to one song 11 times, and that was that; I made the phone call to David to get out to Indiana."

In fact, clients will travel from far-away places—across the world, in fact—to get to a studio they feel some sense of familiarity with. Take Nashville's Omni Sound Studios. With all of the obvious competition, we were surprised to learn that Omni entertains clients from as far away as Australia. And it hasn't been the result of word of mouth; in many cases, it's thanks to the Internet. "We rely on the Internet a great deal to get new clients, and one of the most effective tools we've used is a video on our homepage in which I introduce myself," says studio owner Steve Tviet. "Even if people are coming from another country, they feel like they know me because they've seen me and a little bit of my personality, and the personality of the studio from the video. It's a big deal for artists to go a long way from home to do a recording project, so establishing a sense of familiarity and comfort before they ever set foot in the studio is really important."

Another way Tveit helps establish that familiarity is by making himself accessible to clients and potential clients—just about anytime they call. "When someone calls or e-mails, I either answer the phone or immediately get back to them," says Tveit, who admits that the one drawback to this is that it does tend to drive his wife crazy. "I've just found that giving immediate attention is really key. In the past, I've had interns take a message for me when a potential client calls in, and I'd call them back the next day, but by then, they'd already found another studio to work with. A lot of things happen last minute and artists want answers immediately, so I try to meet that need and give them personal attention at just about all times of the day or night."

Scottish songwriter Ed Gardyne

Scottish songwriter Ed Gardyne

Making yourself accessible is one important piece of the puzzle, but it's irrelevant if what's on the other side of the phone isn't personable, friendly and interesting. Artists tend to be colorful creatures by nature, so in many cases they find themselves most comfortable in studios and with people who have a story to tell. That was how it happened for Sima. He got on an airplane and headed off to a town he knew nothing about in the middle of nowhere and found himself in a cozy farmhouse sipping wine and watching his new producer build arrangements on the fly at his kitchen table as Sima kicked out his tunes. “I really had no idea what to expect, but I felt like I walked into heaven on earth,” says Sima. “Here I was with a guy who was once a trapeze artist in the circus, who had built his house and studio board by board, and who could listen to a minute or so of each of the songs I brought as I played them on the guitar, chart them out and make note of all the players he was going to bring in for each. I was sucked into this other world. I remember sitting there in the back of the studio and watching as the door opened and this understated guy wearing tennis shorts walked over to the B3 and started playing. He went on to lay down all kinds of piano, harmonica and accordion on my tracks. It was unbelievable.”

According to Sheldon, the most colorful character at Winslow Ct is owner Craig Parker Adams. “He's hilariously funny, and right off the bat we totally clicked,” says Sheldon. “He makes me laugh the entire time we’re working while keeping it all professional. He is really able to make it fun at the same time.” Adams’ studio, itself, is intriguing. It’s located in an old RCA sound stage where they would record Foley. “When you first walk in to the studio, there’s a huge picture of Frank Zappa standing next to this enormous sound board,” explains Sheldon, who says one of the studio’ s staff is good friends with Dweezel Zappa. “It’s warm and inviting, and just a really great place.”

It was the trust factor that sealed the deal for Scottish songwriter Ed Gardyne, aka "Kodyne." An experienced businessman, Gardyne’s biggest concern was working in a studio that would have his best interest at heart. “I did my research on the Internet and talked on the phone with the guy several times before making a decision,” says Gardyne. “I tend to go off of gut feelings and intuition, and I got a good feel for Andy and his studio, and I have been working with him ever since.”

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