Scene and Heard

Where to record your first album in North County

It’s one the biggest steps an emerging band can take toward success and glory: recording your first album. Sure, you’ve got some shows under your belt, written some pretty good songs that people seem to like, and you have people asking afterward where they can buy the CD. Well, lucky for us San Diegans, we’re blessed with a lot of options in the way of decent recording studios.
North County, as always, has a little something to offer everyone from every budget. Obviously, if this is your first time ever recording besides putting a tape recorder in the middle of the room during band practice then there are some ground rules you should set before even thinking about setting foot in a real recording studio.
When talking about studio time, there’s a saying, “Time is money.” If you plan on going into a studio without having finished songs and the direction you want your sound to go, then don’t even waste your time or money. Most places charge by the hour/session and typical sessions range anywhere from eight to 12 hours so being prepared is extremely important. Most of the time, you’ll need at least three days to lay down all your songs, depending on how well you and your band have it together. And since all recording studios require employing an engineer for all sessions, additional charges are often racked up there, too.
To be sure, most studios you’ll find will only record your album. To mass-produce, distribute and even master your audio, you’re going to have to go elsewhere to get those things done. And don’t forget about album artwork, a band logo and merch — all of which are usually done separately.
Do some research online about what you can get for the budget you have. It doesn’t hurt to call studios around the county and get quotes to try to find the one that best fits your budget and the needs you have. I recommend you take a tour of the studio before you commit; it’s your dime and you need to be satisfied with the location. Obviously, if you’re a garage band looking to just cut a demo to send out to clubs and to maybe sell at shows, then you’re not going to want to consider top of the line guys like Big Fish Studios in Rancho Santa Fe.
Big Fish has recorded major local acts like Switchfoot, Blink 182 and even Burt Bacharach. It is considered one of the best studios in all of Southern California and they know it. Unless you’re really serious about cutting a great sounding album and using the best studio equipment available, you’re going to spend a lot of cash in a place like Big Fish where a single 12-hour session can cost you up to $600 per day. That doesn’t include hiring the engineer which can cost up to $400 per 12 hour day. So you can easily spend $1,000 in a place like that for a single session of recording although they will take into consideration your needs and work with you the best they can. “We’re the place you go to when you want to get serious about recording,” owner Paul Waroff said.
As is usually the case in North County, greater opportunities are within your reach just outside the county if you’re willing to take a drive to surrounding towns. Places like Red Crosby Studios out in Fallbrook, a family-owned business that caters to bands on a budget, can really stretch out your dollar. I spoke with Kyle Craw, one of the engineers and team of brothers who run the business, about what Red Crosby can do for North County bands. “We can do a lot,” Craw said. “We have the studio which provides all of the equipment a band needs to record, including top of the line instruments and mics; we also have video capabilities so we can create little Quicktime videos for your Web site or MySpace page, we also do web development, logo design, and even own a T-shirt screen printing business.” Red Crosby has been in business a little more than four years and many North County bands like Despite the Wolves have flocked there to work on their CDs.
Sessions at the Red Crosby usually start out at $200 per eight-hour session, which is a steal considering that includes an engineer. Bring your own hard drive and they’ll upload all your data for you to take with you. Red Crosby can have your CD mixed and ready to go in just three days typically when prepared. Unprepared bands can take up to five days of recording to get the finished product.
There are many other studios in and around North County, including Hilltop Frog Studios in San Marcos, Studio West in San Diego and countless others. For more information on Red Crosby, visit and visit Big Fish at