What is it? Is it indefinable? Kinda like love? Probably, but there may be some areas to consider.
When my own room was developing it was really just an extension of a rehearsal room and grew from there. The gear slowly became the stuff I wanted and needed to make competitive records with no limits to creativity. The look of the room lagged behind. I loved that people felt comfortable, like it was their tree house, but I noticed they we’re getting almost too comfortable – late to booked sessions, etc. I finally had the chance to close the studio down for a few days and went to work on the look of it and sound treatments for the tracking room. When sessions started back up it was obvious that people respected it more, in that they showed up on time, ready to work. The room’s look affects how people use it and also on their artistic process. It was interesting to see it happen.
“Studio’s” are rarer things now. They come in all shapes and sizes, some suited for all music and others for a specific type of music. For my taste (and everyone’s different) I want a place to feel comfortable, to have it sound amazing – pumping out sound quality as good as anything I’ve bought to listen to, and I want an underlying idea of getting things done, without fuss or question. An artistic place of business and creation. Not a lab, not intimidating, not necessarily a cover of MIX magazine, and not a place where I have to kick Jethro off the couch he’s been sleeping on while waiting to find a more permanent place to crash. A place you can make your own, inspires and makes you want to create.
How does the room sound? Room treatments (the way a room is tuned) really vary and often reflect a “vibe” that is either musical or not. For me, I want a room that feels like a recording studio but won’t make me freak out if I spill a drink on the floor. Treatment isn’t just decore. That’s important too but treatment is about stuff that will limit or enhance the recorded sound. Sometimes treatments by the numbers just gets you a soul-less room and vibe. In the end, room treatments should only be reflected by you wanting to play in that space. It should inspire both in how it looks and feels, and how it sounds.
Does the studio have the gear (ie equipment) to deliver a product that can compete in the market? Mic’s, mic pre’s, compressors, audio interface, room treatment and knowledgeable personnel. I’ve recorded in a lot of rooms that looked pro, if only the gear had worked. But it looked AMAZING! Recorded in places that looked great and had the right gear but the personnel had no idea how to make all the pretty lights of the equipment come on, or how to use it to the standards needed for a particular style of music. So what do gear and cool looks have to do with anything if it can’t deliver a final product that realizes or exceeds the artistic vision? I’ve also worked in rooms that were nothing more than a semi treated room in a house. Sometimes that situation can produce good quality stuff – most times it’s a struggle to get the music up to standards, but you work with what you have.
Price is always a consideration, and like most thing, you usually get what you pay for. Depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. A demo to get some gigs doesn’t necessarily call for big league studio time – nice if you have the funds, but not necessary. A mid sized facility can do the trick. At the same time, the studio should do your music some justice , with the pain meter far away from peak.
Beyond being a hypothetical question, it really comes down to what kind of music you are making that will dictate the right studio for you. Environment and quality are lesser concerns in certain genres. Lots of electronic is done with nothing more than a laptop anywhere you are. Many times they’ll take that to a studio to mix it, sometimes not. Recording a band’s record requires a certain basic situation, recording a bands demo another, a chamber orchestra session another.
There is one thing regardless of room or gear that always makes me feel like I’m in the real deal and that is: anticipation of needs. When the engineer or studio personnel have something ready before I even knew I needed it. It’s like when you’re having a discussion with the producer and there was some talk about punching in on a vocal line, the discussion ends and low and behold a mic is set up with a headphone mix ready to go. Oh my, my I get a little dreamy just thinking about it. Here’s what I’m really saying: anticipation means being 120% a part of the team, means no slow down in work or taking away from a potentially inspirational moment for some boring ass technical reason. This is music, it’s got magic to it. When I don’t feel the technical or have to wait on it, I feel totally focused on music and creativity.
So it seems the answer to what is a pro studio is what kind of music are you making and what does it need to be and most importantly, can you be creative there and get what you hear in your head to come out the same way for people to hear.