(this is part 2 of a 5 part series about the most common mistakes I see bands and artists make as they are approaching making a record. It'd be good to scroll down and check out part 1 if you haven't already)
Bad question #2.) Can I visit the studio/ do a tour?
Ok, it's not that this question is the worst question ever, it's more of an issue of WHY it's being asked.
Basically, studios all do the same thing: capture audio. I’m not AT ALL saying all studios are created equal, but there is this ridiculous hyped magical mystique of “The Studio: where dreams are made”. We have a fairy tale-like affinity for the studio environment because we’ve all seen so many movies and heard so many stories, and we want to create our own legend, too. We want to sit on that couch behind the big mixing desk and tell each other "it's a hit". We desperately want someone to call so we can tell them "I'm in The Studio". We must Instagram everything.
The only thing wrong with that childlike sense of wonder about the whole thing is when it gets in the way of you making the right decision for your musical career.
Are you deciding where to make your record based on the artist lounge? Of course not.
Big expensive recording facilities, just like the big budgets for making records, are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. So many of the big facilities I’ve been in in the last 5 years have been totally underwhelming if you actually know what you’re looking at. The overhead is massive (so prices are higher), the old equipment is expensive to maintain (so sometimes it's not), many places with a big old analog mixing console never even turn it on anymore (if it even does turn on). In many places that giant sexy mixer is just a stand for the computer.
Check out, for comparison, the place that Taylor Swift made her first 3 records with Nathan Chapman. This is by and large where the world is going, really already has gone. Don't make a decision based on amount of knobs and blinking lights. Looking for the most visually appealing place is not the way to do it, if what you care about is a great record.
It's not that a big awesome room and a giant sexy console isn't super cool, they are and I generally love working in those places. For my alt-country rock band Rosaline, we rented out a big room for tracking so that we could have 4 players track together with a decent amount of isolation, and I'm glad we did. But this is rarely how records are made anymore, so consider what you'll actually need.
What you want to focus on the most is the quality of the work of the person/people you’re hiring, and secondly, will you like working with them. This is where a pre-production meeting may be absolutely necessary. Find out if you can afford to hire someone that worked on a record you love. (Guys, Steve Albini is so cheap) Often, you actually can.
Better question: Can I listen to some things that you’ve worked on in my genre?