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Request for advice from those who've made it!

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Thomas W. Bethel Sun, 06/18/2006 - 07:06
Just like in real estate the main three things to consider are LOCATION, LOCATION and LOCATION.

I live in a small town in Northern Ohio. It is a college town and has one of the world's best Conservatories located here. The College gives about 400+ concerts a year and there are a lot of concerts that are given by students and or faculty that are not under the college's umbrella. There are also lots of student bands and bands from the town. The problem for us is that the college employs two full time professionals to do the concert sound and the recording plus they have a teaching recording studio that will record bands for free for the experience of the students enrolled in the audio recording course. There are also a couple of college students in town that do a lot of recording and that means that the market here is pretty well saturated for recording which means that we don't get a lot of recording gigs for the college. I was the Director of Audio Services at the college for 26 years and stayed on in town to start a mastering studio after I left the college. Almost none of my business comes from the college or the town and most comes from the other side of Cleveland. If I knew then what I know now I would have left here and moved to the East side of Cleveland after leaving the college. I still do a lot of recording but not much of it here in town, my mastering comes from all over the US and we have recently gotten into video which is the one thing that we are doing that seems to have a home here in the city.

It sounds as though what you are doing is being done correctly. It maybe that you are not reaching the people who need your services or the services you are offering are not needed by the people you ARE reaching.

We have tried print advertising, radio advertising, web based advertising, direct mail advertising, handing out fliers and post cards at Sam Ash and Guitar Centers and the thing that still works the best for us and is the cheapest is "word of mouth" We get a lot of referrals from satisfied clients and our reputation for doing the best possible job for a reasonable price does not hurt us one bit.

You mentioned in your post that you were quite successful at PSU. But you were providing a service that many people needed in that environment and you were, whether you knew it or not, doing a lot of networking which is what you will have to do in your present location.

When I was in College I was "Mr. Audio" and was the person that everyone came to when they needed something recorded or advice on how to record themselves. It was a good feeling and I did a LOT of recording while I was in college and got paid for my services. The people that I recorded went to the four winds when we left college so all those contacts went away as well. I also served two years in the military which also took me farther away from my contacts and my "network" so when I got out of the military I had no concocts and most of my "network" was gone. So I had to start all over again and build up my recording network and get new clients.

It was not easy but I kept at it while working full time for a television station and later when I worked for the local college. I got one gig then that let to another gig which lead to another gig and so on a so on.

I think you have to start doing a lot of networking and a lot of finding your niche. With your background in Classical music I would think that you should start looking at local orchestras, local opera companies, local musical ensembles and find out who , if anyone , is currently recording them and how they chose their recording engineers and how much they are paid. One problem is that today anyone with a Behringer mixer, two Behringer microphones and a DAT recorder can do "recordings" and we have lost a couple of accounts to someone in a local group that spent $1000 on recording gear and now does the recording for the group. His stuff sounds very amateurish but the big selling point is that he does it for free so the groups are happy with the results and he gets to play and being a "recording engineer"

I can only give you some parting advice which is to believe in yourself, do the best possible job with every concert you record, find your niche and keep true to your goals and aspirations.

And one more word of advice don't quit your day job quite yet!

Best of luck!!!

Pro Audio Guest Sun, 06/18/2006 - 16:37
you should go around to different highschool, community colleges, music stores, guitar lesson studios and post flyers on bulletin boards. I live in northern nj, and i know there aren't many recording studios nearby, and im not sure if there are any mobile studios at all (probably is a few nearby, i just haven't heard of them). most of the bands that get recorded around here just record themselves, or go to a studio about an hour away (which really isn't that good. a friend of mine recorded his band there, and it just sounded weak) now, im assuming you'll record regular bands, not just classical and jazz stuff, because if you limit yourself to that, your not really gonna go anywhere.

RemyRAD Sun, 06/18/2006 - 21:53
Well, let's see. I decided I wanted to build a remote truck, in 1988. I knew I needed at least one 24 track machine but really needed 2. I was operational in early 1991. By 1992, technology changed and we got ADAT's. By 1995 we had computers powerful enough to do something constructive. By 2000 every kid had a pocket studio. By 2007 we go to school for marketing.

Sound is prettier with pictures
Ms. Remy Ann David

Pro Audio Guest Sun, 06/18/2006 - 21:54
Thanks to both of you for replying!

@Thomas - looks like we have very similar setups/contracts, etc. as far as business models go - everything from setup times to travel expenses... As for our experiences, once again sounds very familiar. Once I left PSU, all of my clients disappeared and I've had to start all over, since moving back to NJ. I've also had a few years of television experience and ended up creating a 45 min. documentary on becoming a msucian. if Musical Horizon takes off I do plan on adding a video component to it. Networking is obviously the key here. As I said my main target audience is the "up-and-coming" professional musician. (I guess mainly because that's who I am...). I've contacted all of the local youth orchestras and the like... Though, I haven't targeted the professional orchestras, etc. I guess that's my next step! Though, I just assumed that the pro orchestras, if they record, already have yearly contracts with their engineers. Then again... professioal musicians have students and don't necessarily just record with the orchestra itself.

@Nirvalica - your suggestions are very simlar as to what I already have in place as well as what I already have planned for the future, hence my contests... I have sent stuff to the universities/conservatories in the area (more probably will be sent out in September when school is back in session), and I've thought about high schools, but thinking back to my high school experiences, they never had enough funding, etc., etc. As for mobile recording people in NJ, there are only 2 companies including myself that I have found that SOLEY do mobile recording in NJ. There are some recording studios that have mobile rigs, but that's not their main business and they start at a much higher rate than I do. So, if you're looking for mobile, I'm probably your best bet! As for recording regular bands, I"m not really setup to record that type of music professionally... of course I've had experience with doing so, but I only have the equipment necessary to do more "classical and acoustic" music. I originally got into recording and editing in order to promote myself as a violinist. It turned out that I became popular for recording student recitals, audition tapes, etc. If you want your recording to sound like it does in the room - whether it be your living room or a concert hall - that's the type of music I can record the best. In fact, I recently started recording myself in my living room (which is L-shaped and has standard 8-ft ceilings - not great acoustically-speaking) for my own personal reasons and was very surprised at how well it sounded after a few hours of experimenting with microphone positions... my pianist was even more impressed when my console piano sounded like a grand when I played it back (hope to have audio clips on the website soon)! As for what I can do with "regular band" music - micing a bunch of amps might work, but I've never had the best sucess in doing so with my company's setup. It would be much more appropriate to plug-in directly to the mixer, patch-bay etc. (and since I'm mobile, and don't have a van yet, I don't have a large enough setup to do that). But as always, I'm willing to experiment, if the performing artist is!

RemyRAD Mon, 06/19/2006 - 00:35
You might even want to consider an advertising slogan like:

" We don't care if you spill a beer, it's not on our carpet! "

Or perhaps:

" We'll deliver the pizza in 30 minutes or your recording session is free. "

Maybe something with some more musical incentive?

" Download for free! We'll tell you where to set the equipment up. "

Maybe something Saucier?

" Want a better master? We'll send the master betterer's to you. "

I think if you use any of those slogans for your advertising campaign it will definitely show your character. Whether it will inspire any other business, is getting imagine?

Your competition is stiff. Don't bring up the rear.
Ms. Remy Ann David

JoeH Mon, 06/19/2006 - 09:20
Musical Horizon; You've gotten some good advice here so far, and I'd like to help as well. (As long as you promise to stay out of Philadelphia! ;-)

For starters, remember that the sub-genre of the business you're interested in (classical) takes a long time to get into. Many people can't stand to wait till it begins to pay back and run out of patience. There are institutions (schools, academies, orchestras, choral groups, etc.) involved that are older than any of us; they have been around since before we were here, and chances are they will be here long after we're gone, so remember it's all relative. Friends you make now could become clients later (ditto for enemies).

You're in a great location (NY area) for all things classical and jazz, but it's going to take some time for you to get going in this market and put down some serious roots. Believe me, there are LOTS of competitors out there looking to do exactly what you're trying to do. (But don't let THAT scare you off!)

Are you up for a TRULY long-term challenge like this? I've been doing more classical and Jazz since approx. 1985, and before that Jazz and Rock since the mid-70's. Nothing comes cheaply or quickly in this biz. It's a myth to think it does. 99% of my work comes from word of mouth, through folks that know each other in the musical world. (In my case, it's become a sense of folks saying: "Hey, we want what YOU have; who did you use to make your recording?!?" One good thing tends to lead to another, but it truly does take time and follow-up.)

I find advertising doesn't do much, but it's one of those intangibles; we have done lots of trade-deals with seasonal brochures with clients where our ad will run for an entire season, in every program. It's debateable whether these things really bring in any revenue (I can't prove it one way or the other) but then again - at least it's putting our name out there, in front of everyone who thumbs through a program book before a concert starts.

IMHO, Yellow-Page ads and flyers will only get you nuisance tire-kickers and pesty inquiries - usually from your competition. Ditto for overly techie-websites. The only people who care about your mics and preamps and cable colors are OTHER TECHIES. Candor and clarity wins the day, any day. Put up a simple, easy to navigate website, and put it on all of you biz cards; you can tell new/prospective clients to visit you website and email you for more info. Trust me; as the world progresses further into cyberspace, these are the ONLY kinds of clients you'll want anyway: People with email, education, ability to read/send email, and disposable income to spend on YOU, recording their stuff. (You can email them their bill, as well!)

Finding a niche market is a double-edged sword; you may not be able to move, either, once you're successfully set up and in biz. I'm doing well here, but I wouldn't want to start over again in another market, no matter how tempting it might be to move. I'm certain that my counterpart exists in every other market out there. (Heck, many of them are posting right HERE already! ;-)

If you're willing to go the distance and invest your time, energies and lifeblood into this, you'll do ok. Some of the particulars may vary for YOUR market, but the basics still apply, and you've certainly found the right group of brains to pick here.

Don't be depressed that you've got to have a separate day job (for now.) play that as your strength: you're not (yet) needing your recording biz for eating and keeping a roof over your head. This is a good thing right now; you can skip the whore-gigs and don't have to act out of desperation. (That's called "Scared-money" - when you have NO money, and every decision is life or death. You don't need that right now, so relax.)

Feel free to contact me privately, there's a few things I may be able to pass on to you that way as well.