Like most studio owners, Jason Suko started out playing in a band. He was the one that was running the sound at their shows and taking care of technical details, which morphed into buying more and more gear and eventually started up his own studio. South Sound Sound has been at its current location in Olympia, WA for five years now.
What advice do you have for a band coming into the studio for the first time?
If the band is coming into the studio for the first time, my biggest suggestion is that they are well rehearsed. It's also important to be able to play to a click track. I don't make this a mandatory thing in my studio, as I think feel is much more important than perfect metronome time. Obviously there are a lot of advantages to tracking to a click for overdubs and fixes and all the other tricks in the box. However, I've seen too many times the mojo just killed out of the song because the guys are trying too hard to focus on keeping perfect time to a click, rather than just enjoying the music in the moment. I think it's important to feel comfortable, and if you are not very familiar with a ticking sound in your headset it can be very unnerving.
Do you prefer tracking live or one isolated instrument at a time?
In my studio, I encourage the band to record as many instruments as we can at the same time, with the exception of vocals. Most bands coming to my studio have drums, bass, guitar, vocals, keys, percussion… the basic stuff. 9 times out of 10 I'm recording the drums, bass, guitar and scratch vocal all the same time in the same room. I just think this helps things gel together much better, it also makes recording process move along quicker. Mic bleed is not too much of an issue, although I do let people know that if they are going to go off on a tangent on a guitar solo for instance, and then make a mistake, the track may be lost for the group. I prefer not to track one instrument a time. I do have an isolated booth, but I don't use it that often. I also have an adjacent room with the real piano that I can use.
Do you offer producer advice to bands in your studio or do you clearly distinguish the different roles of the producer and engineer?
I have never been a sound engineer who wants to focus strictly on just the engineering side of things. I just can't seem to keep my mouth shut. :) Most of the clients that I have coming to my studio need additional help with production. On a rare occasion I will have a band coming with their own producer, or if I'm doing voice over work or something similar it's common to have someone else calling the shots. But when it comes to recording music, it's common to be both the producer and engineer simultaneously. I think it also helps me build the rapport with the musicians that I'm recording so they trust the decisions I make during tracking, as well as the mixing process. I do not charge extra for being a producer.
Do you record digitally or analog? If digital, have you ever worked with analog tape?
I do have a Sony reel to reel tape machine, but don't use it for more than just transfers. I have done all of my mixing in the box until recently, when I picked up a midas Venice mixing console which has a hybrid technology of digital and analog. So far, the tests I have done have been promising. I think it's going to add some additional "mix glue" which is tough to get "in the box". There are some really good plug-ins out there that can emulate console sound as well as tape, which I typically use on most of my mixes at this point.
Here's a common question... How long does it take to record a song?
This is a "well it depends", type of question. Each group is a little different, though I see similarities. The speed at which I work, and which my clients prefer, typically results in recording 10 to 12 songs in two full day (8hr) sessions. This time would not include mixing as that is always done afterward, I need to get a break from the music for a little bit to get some fresh perspective! It is usually a couple of hours to mix a son. I like to work quick.
Some groups that come in will record two songs in one day, I've also worked with some artists that will take multiple sessions to just work on one song so, I guess it depends. I will say that I know my room, my gear, and that makes it easier to make quick decisions on what sounds good and what doesn't sound good in the room. I won't fiddle with mic placement on a guitar amp or snare drum for 30 minutes. I typically pick one, two or maybe three position changes, and call it good.
What is the biggest, most common mistake bands make when coming into your studio?
The biggest mistake depends on the genre of music. I find that in hip-hop and rap, it's a culmination of not being prepared with the material and not understanding the hook. Can't tell you how many times I've had artist trying to come up with their hook in the studio while they're on the clock. For bands, it's a bit different. The most common mistake I see there is not being able to play your music as a group without vocals. I think it's important for the musicians to be able to play the songs without the lead vocal so they can focus on their individual instrument and give that their best performance. Cutting vocals after the other instruments almost always yields the best results both sonically and in performance
A few other things that I like to make happen, I always like to ask for a reference track from the artist so that I can understand where their mind is, and where they want their music to go. This can help me as a producer and engineer to understand that if the sound they are producing in the studio during the recording process is not on par with what they want as an end result, some adjustments need to be made. Or at least, expectations need to be readjusted.
I also serve Yogi tea constantly in my studio and prefer no shoes, it's a funny thing I know but it helps save my cables from being trampled on and damaged. I'm not a big fan of using a soldering gun.