Recording Studio, Mixing
Located in Northern NJ, SMB Recordings is a private, home recording facility with a great collection of boutique, high-end recording gear that combines great analog sound with modern digital workflow. Our goal is to create and capture unique original music with the best sound possible and continue to exceed expectations.
The studio is owned and operated by Stephen Michael Babula—an independent artist and musician who became infatuated with the recording process early on from his time spent recording in various local studios. Primarily a self-taught recordist, Stephen has spent the past 10+ years learning the art of recording and mixing through hands-on experience with other local artists as well as completing a mentorship program in a professional studio environment.
Our overall recording philosophy is not just about the gear we use, but about how we listen and most importantly, how we capture sound that best represents the intended creative vision. A project is never complete until this goal is reached and everyone is happy with the final outcome.
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Interview with SMB Recordings
Q: Tell us about a project you worked on you are especially proud of and why. What was your role?
A: I recently finished a single that took a long time (over a year) to complete because it went through so many changes and iterations. There were a lot of "cooks in the kitchen" so to speak... so I had to have a lot of patience and carefully navigate the project so that everyone was happy, but still retain what was going to be best for the song. In the end, it came out great... everyone was more than happy and I felt a sense of accomplishment. My role was recording engineer, co-producer and mixer.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: Currently working on an 8 song album for a contemporary Catholic-Christian artist.
Q: Is there anyone on SoundBetter you know and would recommend to your clients?
A: I just found this website today and signed up, so I hope to meet some new people on here and would love to develop some networking relationships.
Q: Analog or digital and why?
A: A little bit of both. In today's world, there are so many great options for both and as much as it is about getting great sounds, it's even more so about overall workflow. The gear shouldn't get in the way of the process... it should only help it along and improve it.
Q: What's your 'promise' to your clients?
A: I will always do my best and everything in my ability to give you the best sound that I can. I'm always learning and getting better with time. I don't claim to be the best... or even good at anything, but if you give me a chance and we work well together, I usually go above and beyond to exceed your expectations.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: I am equal parts creative and technical/nerdy. So this seems to be a great fit for me. I love the creative, musical and soulful side of recording... but also love and am always challenged by the technical.
Q: What questions do customers most commonly ask you? What's your answer?
A: How much do you charge? Generally my rates start around $40 per hour for basic studio tracking but can vary greatly depending on the project and what is needed.
Q: What's the biggest misconception about what you do?
A: That everyone making a recording in a studio will sound good and/or great and that everyone recording will achieve big success or become a rock star. Even the best gear and engineers in the world can't truly make a bad song great. The source sounds, material and song are everything. It's not just the studio or engineer's job to make everything great. It's teamwork and greatness should happen from both sides.
Q: What questions do you ask prospective clients?
A: What is the end goal? What are your main expectations? What is your timeline? What is your budget?
Q: What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
A: Definitely contact me first and let's discuss your project. Every project is so different and might even be something so personal. Open communication is everything... from creative, to managing expectations, timelines and of course budget. Ultimately you have to like and respect the people you are working with in order for a project to go smoothly. It's about the people. Get to know them a little bit through enough conversation and make sure it's a good fit.
Q: If you were on a desert island and could take just 5 pieces of gear, what would they be?
A: Acoustic guitar, microphone, laptop, 2 pieces of 500 series gear
Q: What was your career path? How long have you been doing this?
A: I’ve been a musician almost my entire life. I started playing guitar when I was about 11 years old— it was something that transformed my life and propelled me on this never-ending musical journey that has been a constant thread throughout my entire life. I’ve played in lots of different local bands, write my own music and have met many great people and musicians along the way. Music for me has never been just about playing guitar. More than anything, it has always been my number one creative outlet and a constant need-to-do-thing… like breathing. When it came time for college, I pursued a different career path in graphic design/advertising… got a job right out of college and have worked full-time in this field for the past 15 years. Having a steady, full-time career was a necessity for life things like you know… buying a house, getting married, raising a family, paying bills, etc. But, I never, ever gave up or lost sight of my passion for music. Slowly, but surely over these years, I began to accumulate recording gear and started teaching myself basic audio recording techniques. I recorded anything I could… my own band rehearsals, other musicians and friends… just to learn. I made lots of mistakes and many bad recordings, but needed to keep pursuing it further. I knew I could do better… so I kept going. I reached out to other local professional studios and learned from their engineers. I completed a brief mentorship recording program at another studio and just continued to roll my sleeves up and gets hands-on with lots of small projects. Fast forward about 10 years later and here I am with a pretty amazing home studio… ready to take the next step. Although I’m always still learning (and always will be), I feel I have finally reached a point with my skill set that I can really offer value, great quality work and musical perspective to other musicians and artists. I love both the very technical (nerdy) side of audio and recording as well as the super creative and artistic side. They both go hand and hand for me. A great recording always starts first with a great song, arrangement and musicians and I love the challenge of trying to bring out the best in all these things without ever getting in the way. Having amazing recording gear is great, but the most important part of any signal chain is the person… and I strive to be that person that musicians/artists want to work with because I can help them make their music better and the recording process enjoyable. So in a nutshell, that’s my story.
Q: How would you describe your style?
A: Polished and professional, but always looking to experiment and do something different.
Q: Which artist would you like to work with and why?
A: Any artist that is open-minded, friendly and challenges me to think of new ways to do things.
Q: Can you share one music production tip?
A: Listen with your ears... don't worry so much about the gear and the technical aspects of recording, but it's always, always, always about the song and the creativity.
Q: What type of music do you usually work on?
A: Mostly singer-songwriter or rock based music. Also contemporary Christian and faith-based music.
Q: What's your strongest skill?
A: My strongest skill sometimes is just listening to both the artist and the music and trying to figure out the balance between what the artist is envisioning and we can can realistically achieve.
Q: What do you bring to a song?
A: I try my best to bring the best sonics possible for the song, but also help shape and guide the emotion of the song with the music and production style that is appropriate.
Q: What's your typical work process?
A: I'm very organized, detail oriented and methodical... but also very flexible. Every project and every artist is different and it is important to be able to adapt to the task at hand in order to best achieve the goal. But it is also important to follow certain processes and best practices in order to be efficient and continually make progress.
Q: Tell us about your studio setup.
A: It's a home studio, so it's nice and relaxed, but gear-wise rivals any other professional studio you'll find in the area. I have a hybrid analog-digital approach that combines the best of both worlds. By utilizing really great microphones, preamps and compressors along with good sounding sources and the right mic placement, the initial capture is the most important part of the sound. There's a lot that can be done afterwards "in the box" with Pro Tools, but getting as right as possible to begin with is paramount. I am setup to mix fully in the box or combine that with analog summing with outboard compression and EQ... and also great ADA conversion. Really, it's whatever works and sounds best for the project.
Q: What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?
A: Some of my heroes are Andy Wallace, Michael Brauer, Joe Chiccarelli and Nigel Godrich.
Q: Describe the most common type of work you do for your clients.
A: I've worked mostly in one-on-one situations with individual artists or musicians that might have just the sketch of a song and want to have it recorded and produced fully with a bigger arrangement, more instrumentation and basically taking the original raw idea and turning it into a more complete sounding production that ultimately best serves the song. I also love just mixing in general... even projects I haven't recorded. It's always a challenge and a puzzle to solve. My goal is to always try to do my best to make something better and exceed my clients' expectations.