As the saying goes, “attitude is everything”. In business, this is often the case. Whether it’s the way you talk to/treat employees or customers, the way you handle your business can make or break it.
This is very true when it comes to running a recording studio business. It not only affects your bottom line but it can also affect the success of a music production.
It all starts with first impressions. How does your studio’s web site look? How about the social media pages? When someone calls you do you answer the phone or does it go straight to voice mail?
Is the physical studio looking good or is it an unwelcoming space? High end studios often times offer amenities like a full kitchen, place to shower, green rooms to watch TV/play video games/hang out and sometimes even a place to sleep!
The environment has a lot to do with the studio’s vibe. What color are the walls? Decorations? How about the lighting? Bright overhead fluorescent lights are nice for setting up equipment but low wattage incandescent lights or even candles can help set the mood. All of this stuff matters. This is where doing some research on your competitors helps out a lot. What do they offer? What do their facilities look like?
Having a great attitude even when you are feeling down can go a long way to better recordings. Don’t make the mistake I used to by bogging customers down in technical talk. Set things up and give them a great recording! If you are going to talk while setting gear up, talk about their project or something else music related. Or…anything else if they don’t want to talk about music!
Music producer Warren Huart made an excellent series of videos on this topic and more. I would start with this one and then go down the playlist.
When you lease a commercial property, you want to maximize that space. Any time paying customers aren’t occupying that space you are losing money. Don’t get into the studio mindset…think outside that box!
Many musicians just want a place where they can practice without neighbors calling the cops for noise disturbances. Provide them that sanctuary at a lower cost than studio time. An added benefit to this is when it comes time for that musician to record their first EP or album, they have already built a relationship with you.
Just be sure to lock the really expensive stuff up! Yeah, I hate to be that guy but gear tends to grow legs as they say when eyes aren’t watching. For this reason, it may also be a good idea to invest in a security camera system. Even if it’s one of those cheap fake ones.
You wouldn’t create a daycare in an area where there aren’t any children, right? So why start a studio where there are few musicians or other businesses/people that could use your services?
Starting a business will take you out of your comfort zone. If you don’t live in a popular area then you will have to move elsewhere. Unless you are only going to do mixing/mastering and in that case you can do it from nearly anywhere that has a decent internet connection.
A lot of businesses fail because they chose the wrong location. Money factors into everything. The good thing about a studio is that unlike a retail establishment you don’t need to be in an area with a lot of foot traffic. Most people will find your services through word of mouth or with a Google search. It is nice to have a place that’s accessible via a major highway HOWEVER that does not bode well for audio recordings!
The less outside noise the better. Otherwise, you’ll need major sound proofing renovations which costs a lot of money.
Speaking of which, the best areas to set up shop are not just densely populated areas but also areas where there is economic diversity. In other words, there are a lot of industries that keep the money flowing. You don’t want to set up shop in an area that relies on one major business because that place could close up and affect everyone around them. You’ll need to do a lot of research on this.
Parking. This is a big deal for potential customers. How many spaces are near the facility? Is parking free, cheap or expensive? Is there a time limit? These are important factors to consider. Free and ample parking is always a plus.
How much are utilities? What’s in the lease fine print? Is the building new or old? Old electrical wiring can wreck havoc on audio. Are there business licenses that you must get? What other local and state laws would affect your business? How many local music venues are in the area?
Finally, perhaps the second most important factor after how many potential customers does an area have is how much competition is in the area? Research them. If you can offer a better service at a competitive or lower price then you may be in the clear.
Good luck finding the best spot for your business!
On DGTRS you’ll find a lot of crazy ideas coming out of my brain and translated to the computer keyboard. Or at least these ideas seem crazy on the outset.
Well…this idea isn’t mine. It belongs to Donald Mohr of Get Off My Lawn Records. Watch his video below and then read my commentary afterwards:
Overall I really like the idea. Musicians have zero upfront costs and get the benefits of cross promotion. The studio assumes the financial risks although they are kept low. And since they are acting as a record label, they only work with bands that they want to work with.
I’m not a fan of the “family” language because it’s a little too hippie-esque for my tastes. Especially when ultimately the musicians are legal contractors. Which is fine without the flowery language. But hey…to each their own.
Audience transparency, equal profit distribution and logistical limits are good. Inventory control is key and promoting other bands is very important. Project parameters, 20% booking fee for gigs…all good stuff. Master recording ownership and no re-recording for five years with a buy out option. Songwriter/copyright ownership stays with the appropriate people. I could go on but I want you to watch the video.
The only thing I really take major issue with is the unreleased material provision. Why does Don get to let others listen to the material prior to public release? I’ll ask Don on YouTube to get back with me on that. Update: Don responded and had this to say…
Real Home Recording: what is the reason for allowing you to let others listen to the material prior to public release but not the band?
Donald Mohr: Mostly to involve photographers/artists to make the cover. Also Publicist so they can hit the ground running. In the end, it’s about developing hype from those who can understand a work in progress, but being able to identify who those appropriate people would be.
Do a Google search for “[insert city name] recording studios”. See how many pop up. Surprised? In a lot of cities, the number of music studios is staggering.
That’s why my best advice to anyone who comes across this web site is to consider another career path. There are already more than enough businesses serving a small number of customers. Even if you are good at what you do it will be tough to compete. Why?
Not everybody needs audio services.
If you look around at the most common types of businesses, what do you see? Stores to buy consumer products like food and medicine. Including restaurants. Everybody needs to eat and if you’re not 100% healthy medicine helps. You have gas stations because if you live in the United States a large percentage of the population drives an automobile. Hence, car dealerships and auto mechanic shops are another business you’ll see in nearly every county/city.
Banks are important so people can safely store their money and do easy money transfers with bank cards. Landscaping businesses, because people like to or legally need to keep their yards in shape. Bars and night clubs serve as common gathering places. Gyms, because people want to lose weight or maintain their fitness. Weight loss products and services is a HUGE industry in the USA.
Transportation? Be it humans in taxis/buses/trains/airplanes or cargo on a UPS truck or courier, moving stuff and people around is big business. So is storing that stuff and people (apartments, rental properties or home purchases).
Another thing that you won’t see many media companies talking about? Franchises have hurt small independent businesses. People are more likely to trust a brand name that they are familiar with vs. Sarah’s Drug Store or Bob’s Mechanic Shop. Brand awareness is a big deal!
If you don’t want to go against my advice and start a different type of business or go to college for an in-demand career field then keep reading. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you that this industry is very tough!
Back to the audio business…your potential customer base is small. Very small. Not many people need audio recorded/mixed/mastered. That’s why it is important to branch out as much as possible.
What do I mean by that? Live sound…and not just musicians. Businesses hold meetings/conferences and need people for those events. DJing weddings and other events is also a viable business to go along with the studio end of things. Think outside the box, as they say. In this case, the box is your studio.
Once your audio business is up and running you need to network and market your ass off. Remember the large number of studios I talked about in the first paragraph? Your studio will need to be unique. People who need your services must be drawn to it for some reason. And even if you have a cool and unique studio if people don’t know about your business then it may as well not exist.
That means you need to get involved in the music scene and make a ton of phone calls/send out mail to potential business customers. That’s the bootstrapping legwork that is behind most successful businesses. The owners and employees worked their butts off to get their name out there!
But before you do any of that you’ll need to demonstrate that you can do pro quality work…which is a whole other topic I’ll be writing about in the near future.
One of the big draws of higher education is the fact that the federal government subsidizes U.S. citizens’ tuition. This is probably the number one reason tuition rates have skyrocketed over the years. With the Parent PLUS loan program, they are pretty much handing out unlimited amounts of money to people with good credit.
It reminds me a lot of the housing bubble. Except if you can’t pay back a mortgage the bank takes your house. This is called a foreclosure. If you can’t pay a student loan back? Tough luck. You are stuck with the bill until you die.
Time is the most valuable resource. Every day that is spent sitting in a college or trade school classroom could be a day that you are building a business. But, it takes money to start a business. Yep…it does. But there are options!
The normal ways to fund a business are through personal finances (saving money), investors (people who will get a portion of a business’ revenue) or through a loan.
Before the 2007 recession hit, it was relatively easy to get a business loan from a bank. Perhaps a bit too easy…which is one of the causes of the Great Recession. Nowadays, you need to have a business going already and prove that it is making money before even thinking about asking a bank for a loan.
So, what is a wannabe entrepreneur to do? Turn to the government…just like with the Federal Student Aid program but for small businesses. That’s the category an audio production services company falls under. Now, here’s the catch.
The government makes it pretty easy to get a student loan. Getting a small business loan can be a little trickier and there are strings attached. I have never personally applied for a business loan from the government but the starting place is here. My advice on this topic ends here so best of luck!
Think different. This was Apple‘s slogan during the late 90s. It’s time for people in the United States to think different when it comes to college. In particular, Recording Arts schools.
I’m going to tell you something that Recording Arts technical schools and colleges don’t want you to hear or read: You don’t need them.
I’ll also tell you something else that they probably won’t. The chances of finding a job in music production/audio engineering are slim. Just look at these Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. Those are real world numbers. How many people graduate every year with audio engineering degrees from the hundreds of schools across the United States? If you live in another country, find the equivalent numbers. You’ll probably be surprised.
So, right off the bat I will say that a career in audio is a very tough road to go down. You should consider another career path and maybe produce music on the side. Many go that route out of necessity. Why?
The reality is many musicians build their own home studios because good enough gear is cheaper than going to a studio. And once they are finished recording they sell their gear. Another reason is music has become a free commodity, first thanks to Napster then later YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, TIDAL and others. Paying for individual music albums is passé. Subscription services both free and premium are where music fans have turned. Budgets have gotten lower and lower as less people purchase music.
All is not bleak though! There are other areas where audio production hasn’t taken a big hit. Post production for movies and TV shows. Video game audio. Mobile app audio and live sound plus a few others.
Apologies…I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Adam and I’m a professional audio engineer. Since the year 2011 I have produced over 500 videos on the subject of audio engineering on a YouTube channel named Real Home Recording. Before YouTube I produced many internet radio shows (before they were called podcasts) since 1998 and engineered a good deal of local musicians.
Why did I start this web site? Simply put, I don’t like to see people wasting their money. I will not stand by and let this continue without trying to stop it any longer. What must be understood is that my desire to combat recording schools didn’t start in May 2017. Oh no. This has been brewing since the 2013 release of this video.
A couple more videos about the topic were uploaded to Real Home Recording over the years.
But this LA Times news article was the final straw. The article made it personal for me. In it, a young woman by the name of Emily Erdbrink spent over $200,000 learning audio and could not find a job for two years. She finally did get one after the article came out, but how many more people share Emily’s story and frustration? And even with a job, how quickly will that $200,000+ debt be paid back? This problem needs to end.
Most schools do not make any guarantees in terms of job placement but at the same time they are charging the same tuition rates that they do a doctor or some other high paying, in-demand career field. Instead of complaining about it yet again I’ve decided to do something about it: Offer legitimate alternatives to going to a college or a technical school for audio engineering/music production.
Alternative #1 The Internship
Before applying for admission to a recording school, call up every recording studio in major cities. Long distance is free and most cell phone plans offer unlimited talk time…there is no reason not to these days. Ask them the following questions:
Do you have any internship openings?
Do these internships require college credit?
Do you have any job openings?
If not, how often do job positions become available?You’ll find some interesting results. At many studios they have people beating down the door to work for them for free, so they will turn away free labor.Think about that for a second. Companies are rejecting free labor. That is INSANE! And rarely does anyone question this craziness. So many people are willing to gain experience at a “real studio” that they will work for no pay.
That said, an internship or apprenticeship is a much better option than paying a recording school tuition fees. You’ll learn more and get real world experience without spending a lot of money.
Having trouble finding an internship? Try bribery. No…seriously. A lot of studios are struggling to make ends meet. Offering them $5,000-10,000 and most will magically find room for you to be a fly on the wall and to scrub their bathrooms. Even if you aren’t getting college credit.
Just make sure you are truly getting something out of the experience, not just doing coffee runs and cleaning toilets. That’s actually the way the law works in the United States…internships are supposed to be mutually beneficial.
Don’t want to call around to different studios? I plan on making a monthly listing of internship/job opportunities in the major U.S. cities but you’ll have to pay for that.
Alternative #2 Start Your Own Studio
A scary thought, right? Well, so is spending $15,000 or a lot more and not being able to find a job. There are plenty of books available on the subject of audio engineering and music production along with video tutorials right here on YouTube. You’ll be paying your dues one way or another. Why not do it to your greatest benefit? Instead of cleaning somebody else’s toilets, clean your own damn toilets at your own damn studio!
Let me warn you again though. Commercial studios are dying at a rapid rate. Many have started their own recording arts classes to make up for lost income. The writing is on the wall…you just have to read between the lines sometimes. But if you absolutely positively want to produce music and attempt to make a living at it then I believe entrepreneurship is the best route. Instead of relying on others to provide a job, create the job yourself! Think Different.
Want another reason to not go to recording school or interning at a big studio?
Limited Access to School Gear
When you go to a college open house, they show you all of this cool equipment. Guess what? You won’t be able to use that equipment as much as you’d like because you have to share it with other students. And most schools won’t allow you to make money with the gear they own even though you are paying tuition to use it!
When you choose to start your own business and buy your own gear you can immediately start making money. Isn’t that why most people go to college in the first place…to better themselves financially and intellectually? More importantly, you have all the time you need to learn and use that gear. And if it doesn’t work out, you can always sell the audio gear to get a partial refund. Good luck getting a refund from a college after you can’t find a job!
Still Not Convinced?
I don’t blame you. You don’t know me and I don’t know you. So don’t just take my word for it. Here are some others’ thoughts on the topic of going to recording school:
Be sure to read the comments section on those videos as well. Again, I would strongly suggest another career field. But…if you REALLY want to be an audio engineer or music producer then keep reading.
The Journey Begins
You kept reading. You’re brave! But you are also in luck because you have found one of the best resources for audio engineering related information on the entire internet. I’ll point you in the right directions but it will be up to you to learn and implement the information.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad information on the internet mixed in with the good. I will do my best to only put excellent information on this web site. The other goal of this site is to not flood your brain with unnecessary or redundant information either.
What topics will be covered? From the newbie level questions of what gear to purchase and how to use that gear. Songwriting and arrangement tips. Onto the topics of mixing, mastering, marketing and the important stuff in-between.
If you need a mentor–somebody to help you set things up and to answer your immediate questions–then I do offer online and in-person premium tutoring and business consultation services to put you on the right track to starting your own studio.