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Articles for the indie community
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February 1, 2006
Choosing A Rehearsal Studio
Advice for new bands…
By Jay Cascio

You posted ads all over town looking for a singer, guitarist, bassist and drummer (maybe even someone who plays the keyboard). You’ve been dying to start a rock band all your life, and after fielding the responses to your ads, you’ve selected a group of individuals you want to explore musical chemistry with.

Now, it’s time to meet up in the studio.

You think (or pray) that none of the “dudes” showing up are wasted on anything (pot, E, percs, take your pick), and you’re just praying that at least one of the hopefuls will work out. If you’re lucky, you might just find 2 musicians worth giving a second audition to.

But there’s something you’re about to learn that is more important (at the moment anyway) than figuring out who your future bandmates are gonna be: and that lesson, my fellow musician, is learning what kind of rehearsal studio you want to set up as your home base.

Whether you’ve got yourself a monthly rental, or you’re blocking time on a weekly basis somewhere, the first thing you need to know is, “is the equipment in perfect working condition?”

Sometimes it takes a little while before you’re keen on the studio equipment; just because you’re a good guitarist does not mean you’re a technical wizard with the amps and heads in the room. Hell, after 8 years of playing bass, I still have a hard time grasping some of the features on the Hartke or Peavey cabinets (or whatever’s available to me in any given rehearsal space). LIKE most musicians, I’ll fiddle around with the knobs and switches until I get a good sound. UNLIKE most musicians, I don’t pretend to know what I’m doing.

Anyway, let me get to the point….

When you and whoever it is you’re with walk into a room, check the equipment out first before you unpack and plug in to everything. Turn on all the amps and let them warm up for a couple of minutes. While they’re warming up, check for any visual damage on the units/components, and have a real good look at the drum kit. Do the skins look decent enough to jam with? If not, report anything and everything to whoever is managing the studio at that moment. This little inspection should take place within the first 5 minutes of having entered the room.

Everything look cool so far? Good. Now, plug in.

Hearing weird noises from the guitar and bass amps? Check the quarter inch jacks you or your fellow jammers’ are using. Jiggle them slightly about 5 inches or so from the inputs/outputs. If the noise you’re hearing increases, maybe you need another plug. Sometimes you need a new input on your instrument. But in most cases, the amp in the studio has gone to crap. Call the studio engineer in to look into the matter. In a lot of cases, it’s just a matter of clearing out loose dirt/dust, or tightening the bolt around the input head.

If all is fine, cool. Turn up the volume and play a couple of riffs.

Are the cabinets making sounds akin to low octave farts? If they are, the woofers are cracked. If there is good light in the room, you can actually see the cracks open and close while you strum notes.  Again, the moment you hear this, bug that studio engineer again. I’m sure that by now, this guy loves you! ;-)

Ok, maybe all is fine, lets even assume that the drum kit is in somewhat decent condition. They usually never are, and most drummers already know to bring their own snares and cymbals to jam sessions. Most are even smart enough to bring their own stands and drum keys. In any case, drummers find a way to make things work out for them, so let’s pay some attention to that PA System.

As a singer, I always asked whoever was working at the moment to spray the mic with Lysol or something similar. Why? Because the person using the mic before I walked into the studio was spitting all over it, that’s why. Germs, foul smells. It all sucks. Singers have to be up close and personal with the mic, so who the hell wants to put their lips close enough to an object that might give them the flu or mono? I’ve never trusted anyone in this regard, and if the studio didn’t have Lysol, I found my own ways to disinfect the mic screen (wish I could share my secrets, but something tells me I’ll end up some kind of future litigation where all the blame was placed on me). All in all, make sure that mic is clean!

I really didn’t work with ‘strange mics’ for long. A couple of months after starting TWOTONRHINO, I went out and got myself a mic. It was a crappy mic, but it was nonetheless mine and mine only. It was even better when my bandmates surprised me with a Shure Beta 58 for my birthday the following year – a mic I still have and use to this very day.

Anyway, now that that’s settled, there should be an engineer working behind the board to set up the sound levels. Drummers first (that is, if the drums are mic’d), bass second, guitars third, and vocals are leveled out last.

So long as the sound check process goes smooth, and the engineer can provide the vocalist with some reverb - or other effects the singer might be interested in – and your band should be good to go. However, if the engineer is having a hard time gaining quality sound levels, or there is a ton of feedback screaming through the PA System and causing you some freakin’ Tinnitus, you should be concerned. This has happened to us many a time, and regardless if the engineer was inept or the equipment was problematic, it sometimes takes a half hour or more to figure everything out.  If this happens, you immediately mention to the engineer, or whomever is in charge, that you shouldn’t be charged for the time it took the studio to figure out it’s own technical difficulties. If the studio disagrees and expects you to pay for the time it took for them to fix it’s own problems – walk out.

As a matter of fact, walk out of a rehearsal studio if you experience any of the below:

  1. If its cold outside, but even colder inside. (If the studio can’t give you heat, then you shouldn’t give them your patronage)
  2. If it’s hot outside, but even hotter inside. (Same idea as above)
  3. Defective equipment that cannot be replaced. (How the hell do you practice, then?)
  4. Smoke billowing from the electrical outlets.
  5. Poor PA System. (Ideally, all systems should have 2 speakers and at least 1 monitor, and it shouldn’t feed back during your session)
  6. Suspicious looking individuals selling crack/cocaine near the bathroom.
  7. If you’re made to wait more than 20 minutes to get into the room you reserved (this means the studio cannot handle their inconsiderate clientele - sometimes they’ll even expect you to eat the time difference)
  8. The studio does not provide recording decks for you to record your session.


That last one is important. If you can’t gauge how your sessions sound from the last take to the next, what’s the point? I bring along my own recorder because experience has taught me so, but lack of any kind of tape deck leads me to become suspicious of the studio I am in – and I’ve been in quite a few during my career.

Some studios are smoke-free, others are not. Some studios are clean, others are downright nasty. If you have high expectations with regard to sanitary conditions, you may want to visit a studio beforehand and check to see if you can rehearse in its environment. Fortunately, studios have been focusing on housecleaning responsibilities in the last few years, but beware; quite a few dumps remain out there. It’s up to you to avoid them.

So there ya go – the best advice I can give about choosing rehearsal space in short summary. Perhaps I’ll elaborate further in a future article, but the topic was on my mind today, and I felt the need to put forth some prose on the matter.

Make yourself a checklist – and Happy Jamming!

© 2006 Jay Cascio


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