Confessions of a Small Working Studio—Wisdom Over Pride

Nov 15, 2010 1:35 PM, By Lisa Horan and Kevin Hill

When Small Studios Need to Call In for Reinforcement

photo of John Cuniberti

John Cuniberti

Though the specifics may vary, that lengthy chain is much the same for San Francisco Bay Area mixing/mastering engineer John Cuniberti, who has worked with such clients as Chickenfoot (Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony, Chad Smith and Joe Satriani), Aerosmith and the Neville Brothers, among many others. However, for Cuniberti, the process typically involves more personal contact with clients and juggling of studios. For a recent project focusing on a singing duo, for instance, multiple steps were involved. First, Cuniberti brought the duo named Yep! into a rehearsal facility where they could work on material and make informal recordings. Once the arrangements were worked out, Cuniberti brought the group to Fantasy Studios, a large facility in Berkeley, Calif. Fantasy offers large rooms and consoles, and has the space available to record multiple musicians at once. Cuniberti spent five days there tracking the band. He then went back to his home studio, sifted through all of the tracks and edited the material. In his home studio, Cuniberti brought the singers and musicians in to record vocals, along with acoustic guitars. “I felt like my home could effectively accommodate this portion of the project, because my living room has nice acoustics and I use a simple high-end signal path of Telefunken mics as well as D.W. Fearn and Great River mic preamps,” he explains. “However, each of the other places we used was a necessity.”

The physical spaces, of course, are not the only consideration. There are also the different files and platforms that engineers have to consider. Fortunately, in most cases, the engineers we talked to have not run into significant problems in terms of file sharing. “The biggest problem we run into when it comes to file-sharing is the fact that every DAW handles audio differently, which often affects the speed and ease of transfers,” says Lombardi.

photo of Adelio Lombardi

Adelio Lombardi of Side 3 Studios in Denver, Colo.

Maneuvering Through Pitfalls
One of the most common issues that engineers find themselves dealing with is operating effectively and comfortably in unfamiliar studios, because they are at the mercy of the setup. When it comes to working in a project studio, this means coming prepared with additional equipment, just in case. McCauley says he has had to spend hours just tweaking the room so that he could actually begin working.

However, a significant landmine that engineers find themselves trying to avoid is agreeing to mix or master projects that were not recorded properly because of low-quality equipment or user error. “If I receive a project and it's such a mess that I know I'll have to spend two days of my life just organizing and going through every track, I turn the project down,” says Cuniberti, who speaks from experience. One of his remedies is a questionnaire that he sends out to potential clients. The 15 questions included on the questionnaire usually provide him with enough information about whether he wants to take on the job or not. "The problem often is that a project has been recorded and produced by an amateur, but now the band or artist decides to hire a professional to do the mastering. It’s a fantasy to believe that someone is going to magically undo all the mistakes made in the previous steps of the process,” he says.

McCauley agrees. “My philosophy is, if I have to do more fixing than mixing, I don't want to deal with it,” he says. “Unfortunately, a guy may be a great musician, but he may know nothing about engineering, yet he will take it upon himself to act as engineer on a project. By the time he sends me the tracks, they’re virtually unusable because the right equipment wasn't used or the track is blatantly distorted.”

Cuniberti's concern is that in these cases, a client will expect that he’s able to make the project sound 50 percent better in mastering, when in actuality, he’ll only be able to make it sound 5 percent better. “At the end of the day, the client will wind up being unhappy, which makes me unhappy, so the bottom line is, if I can’t provide the client a good-sounding master, I will, in some cases, ask for a remix or I simply won’t take it on.”

Studio Unknown is full-service audio post-production facility and recording studio that specializes in helping clients discover creative sound for film, video, Web, gaming, and artist projects. For more information, visit

Acceptable Use Policy
blog comments powered by Disqus

Mix Books

Modern Recording and Mixing

This 2-DVD set will show you how the best in the music industry set up a studio to make world-class records. Regardless of what gear you are using, the information you'll find here will allow you to take advantage of decades of expert knowledge. Order now $39.95

Mastering Cubase 4

Electronic Musician magazine and Thomson Course Technology PTR have joined forces again to create the second volume in their Personal Studio Series, Mastering Steinberg's Cubase(tm). Edited and produced by the staff of Electronic Musician, this special issue is not only a must-read for users of Cubase(tm) software, but it also delivers essential information for anyone recording/producing music in a personal-studio. Order now $12.95



Delivered straight to your inbox every other week, MixLine takes you straight into the studio, with new product announcements, industry news, upcoming events, recent recording/post projects and much more. Click here to read the latest edition; sign up here.

MixLine Live

Delivered straight to your inbox every other week, MixLine Live takes you on the road with today's hottest tours, new sound reinforcement professional products, recent installs, industry news and much more. Click here to read the latest edition; sign up here.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]