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The Home Recording Studio Business

Discussion in 'Music Business' started by Ben Godin, Jul 22, 2004.

  1. The trend is definitely toward home studios. My humble studio in Tulsa, OK is a good local example of a successful home studio and i think i know why.
    1. lack of competition. In Tulsa, there are a handful of home studios operating at our level. there are 2 large facilities that do commercial work 1 SSL in town that usually has car adds piped through it and 1 ancient NEVE in an old church that gets a lot of drums from Nashville and about 5 or 6 med-large facilities that mostly do church stuff. There are really only about 3 other studios in town that do what we do and IMHO we're the best of them.
    2. We keep a realistic gear list for our customers. We're not competing with the big studios so we don't try. We have a Mackie 32/8, ProTools Core 3 on a Mac 7600, 2 888/16s, 3 external scusi drives, 2 MOTIFs, 2 KURZ K2600s, WAVES Gold, a Rode NT1000, 2 AT 4033, 8 Oktava 012, Senn 602, 8 Shure 57s and 2 Shure 81s, oh, and a big beautiful Grand Piano that sets us apart form our competition.
    3. We price commiserate with our costumers' expectations and we keep the church gigs to a minimum. i don't want to get into a religious debate here, but we get ripped off from churches all the time. We do tons of rap...rap always pays...cash. We do Karaoke tracks for extra income, and we never turn down little old ladies that want to sing for 1/2 an hour. easy money. We also say yes 90% of the time. Even though we have no capability to do video, 24 bit, surround, duplication, or any of that fun stuff, we say we can get them started and then hand them off to friends who can finish. The friends appreciate the referral and the customers appreciate saving a little money along the way.

    If you're interested in starting a home studio, keep in mind that cool bands wanting a full album will be diamonds in the rough. In the last 3 years, we've done 5 full band albums. Of course this number depends on your area, but the ratio, I bet, remains the same. For every album, expect 100 little old ladies. It doesn't hurt to offer voice, guitar, piano, whatever lessons...anything that keeps people in the studio.

    Also, don't worry too much about gear. I'm sure I will receive 30 hate mails for this one, but anyway, if you're any good at all, you'll be able to record a pretty good demo on just about anything. Granted, better gear gives you lots of tools, but I know pro dudes who pull off very decent sounding recordings with a mackie, SM57 and a rack of Bheringer comps and reverbs and are able to charge almost as much as we can per hour...and get it. On the other hand, I know far more people who went deep in debt, accumulated great stuff, ProTools HD, Manely, Nuemann, Eventide...etc etc.. and sold everything within a year cuz they sucked at it. And don't let any of these guys tell you that any of your gear sucks...I have found a use for almost every peice of crap box I have...even if it is to inject a crappy sound just for fun. Most of all! Have fun with it.. If it becomes work...then quit and go work at Home Depot. You'll make better money and have benefits there...and the only little old ladies you'll meet will probably not be singing "onward Christian Soldier"!!!
  2. Ben Godin

    Ben Godin Active Member

    Jun 5, 2004
    Charlotte, NC, USA
    Home Page:
    OMG, this post went from 0 to 20, ...ill post some info about myself... I worked at a large pro facility in Baltimore, MD, for a good chunk of time, amazingly i am very young, i own a home studio in Charlotte, NC, we charge 65 an hour at the moment, and i do part time mastering, madminute, im sorry about your expiriences, but i don't think tell Kurt what to do will help at all, so cheer up :wink: , anyways, i used to work with very nice gear, manley, etc., but now im working with mostly Avalons and Focusrite stuff and im very happy, i have very good mixing work but my mastering work is still in improvement, i do work for underground bands free of charge, so if you qualify contact me and ill do your work free (based on how much time i have), thanks everyone for posting. :cool: :cool:
  3. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Well-Known Member

    Jul 2, 2002
    77 Sunset Lane.
    I don't feel my comments were contradictory at all. I wouldn't go so far as to call "The White Stripes" turds ... or working on their projects as "turd polishing". I question their (and others) omission of bass guitar and I don't like their music but that's only a subjective observation... In my experience as a recording engineer and producer, I have come across much worse. Would I take on a project from them? Most likely not, at least not if they weren't famous. I would probably record them now as it would be a fat contract ... but I doubt Jack would want to use me, if only because I am not on board with his music and the way he does things.

    My take is this tendency is driven by home recording and internet downloading, not remedied by it. In times past, most of this crap wouldn't get by the A&R label guys, much less a reputable producer or engineer... Studio musicians played all the dates ... great players like the "Wrecking Crew", all fine musicians who could tackle anything, not just some noise laden 3 chord de-tuned crunch guitar crap with vocals that sound like a dog barfing ... It's home recording and the internet that has propagated this junk ...

    I submit there are far more crap recordings than good ones circulating due to home studios and internet distribution ... In the past most of it would never have been recorded, much less released. Most of the stuff I hear posted on the Internet is very much crap imo. It is rare that I hear anything I care for. Everyone can do what ever they please in this scenario, musicianship has fallen by the wayside, audio standards are degraded, there's no one in control ... the animals are running the zoo ...

    I agree ... it's not the studios fault though ... it's the record company reps and home studio producers that are driving this phenomenon. IMO, the "democratization of recording" has been a disaster. Digital technology has degrade audio quality and put cheap crappy tools into the hands of morons who don't have a clue about playing music, let alone recording it. There are tons of records out there that didn't even have a real a musician on them... all ripped off samples and loops with some ignorant gang bang low life that can't even speak english correctly, going "Ungh! Uh Huh!, Oh Yeah! Put yo' hands in the air" .... (all financed by criminal endeavors and dope sales btw) ....
  4. oakman

    oakman Guest

    Even if the "home studio craze" is flooding the internet with poorly produced music and getting limited exposure for musicians and singers that a big label wouldn't even look at, and even though a lot of it is "crap", I still applaud the fact that making a recording of ones band is more accessible to a larger group of people than ever. Perhaps some artists that would have been past over years ago will be discovered because of it... A gem that would have remained hidden will emerge. I dare say that it has already happened a few times.

    We each have the freedom to tune out as we please. I say let folks have their fun. Let the home studio phenomenon go through its pangs and grow and be refined. The cream will rise to the top in time.
  5. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Well-Known Member

    Jul 2, 2002
    77 Sunset Lane.
    I agree 100%! All things have 2 sides to them ... good and bad.

    More than the chance that someone may be "discovered" I applaud the fact that by recording, perhaps some of these people may actually hear how bad they really are and maybe even incite them to work harder at their craft ... or in some cases (a best case scenario), quit! ...
  6. radioliver

    radioliver Guest

    All anyone needs to know is that the amazing bands out there aren't on big labels and are "somewhat known" because of the internet. They record in their basement and make it "big" without the help of huge Corporate major label f**kers that keep sh*tting out crappy ?expensively? produced music. These days, one major label band in a 1000 are good musicians. All the $*^t bands we're recorded in major studios with NEve and ssl and whatever technical crap expensive vintage warm punchy $*^t all the old farts are nostalgic about. "Ahhhh....the 70's". Wake up, the 70's are over. It's not about stadium shows anymore. The underground scene is really important and there are great bands out there that aren't "barfing dogs". Listen to bands like Toronto's "Broken Social Scene". Pop/rock at it's finest. Original, not mainstream crap. How do they attract 3 to 4K fans at their shows? Internet. How does the CD sound? Amazing yet somewhat Lo-Fi. It really sounds good. Where was it recorded? In one of the band member's basement. The music is so well communicated yet not recorded on a punchy vintage warm console. The same old farts that are nostalgic about the gear keep complaining that the music sucks these days and that the kids are too lazy to learn how to record. Well that just shows how lazy they are to try and find good music. C'MON!!!!! The good music is out there just not backed up by those rich f**ckers that play crap on MTV. I may sound pissed off and I am. I'm usually a really calm guy but this situation really pisses me off.

    Now let's have a drink and listen to some good music!

  7. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Well-Known Member

    Jul 2, 2002
    77 Sunset Lane.
    Golly Ollie!,
    A lot of anger there! Music is very subjective. You like what I don't and I don't like what you do ... that's fine with me.

    I took a listen to a couple of the clips and I will say the noise floor of the recordings was very high ... lots of hiss (from poor gain staging or bad mixing) and thumps and clunks (from a crappy piano). These guys would do much better work with a major studio with Neve or SSL and whatever technical crap expensive vintage warm punchy $*^t all the old farts are nostalgic about.

    The songs I heard were drawn out and all but put me to sleep ... very self indulgent and boring IMO. Like any one wants to listen to all that depressing whining ... perhaps if you would listen to a Beatles record you could cheer the fu*k up a bit!

    All in all, perhaps these folks could benefit from some input from an old farts that are nostalgic about the gear keep complaining that the music sucks these days and that the kids are too lazy to learn how to record. If i had to judge from these recordings, I would have to agree.

    The fact that this band is popular and doing well only underscores my previous remarks. This is exactly the kind of thing I have been talking about.

    One last thing, someday, (unless we are all lucky), you will be an "old fart" too. Your disdain for the knowledge and experience "old farts" have to offer is both arrogant and ignorant. Snot nosed kids don't have a lock on the cutting edge, they only think they do.
  8. radioliver

    radioliver Guest

    It's fun to see these strong opinions on this board!!!
    All I want to say to resume my previous longer post is that the mainstream music sucks these days and that the only way for the good music to be released is home studios. Because they'Re cheap. THESE DAYS, it's all about the music and not about gear if we want to keep the good bands alive. The music industry has become so greedy that looks come before the music. Kurt, you may like country and not like more experimental music. Thats fine with me. But don't come and tell me that today's mainstream country is good!!
    Anyways, the attitude was to get a response and it worked.

  9. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Well-Known Member

    Jul 2, 2002
    77 Sunset Lane.
    I like some country ... mostly the more traditional stuff like that from Alan Jackson and Brad Paisley. Paisley can really play and he writes some good stuff too. "I'm Gonna Miss Her" is a major ruk! Merle Haggard is writing and recording some of the best stuff he has done in his life. I also think that Allison Krause makes some of the best records ever made ... great songs and musicianship. You can really hear the progression of her production if you listen to the early recordings she made and her later ones.. this is a case of where great production and better recording facilities made a big difference for the better.

    I also like a lot of rock and pop music ... I am not "just" a country musician .. my biggest success's have been in the Blues genre' with guys like Kenny "Blue" Ray (who btw follows the internet sales model you outline), Jackie Payne and Brownie McGhee ...

    The internet is a wierd place. It's easy to make it look like a buzz is going on for a band if you know how to go about it. I don't pay much attention to a band that claim success just because they say so ...
  10. oakman

    oakman Guest

    I'm an old fart and I dig the new music (and old too). I am also down with the "underground" scene. I do, however, get a bit irritated when a perfectly good band suffers the injustice of horrid recording and passed over because of it. I didn't listen to the clips from Broken Social Scene because I don't have Real Player (Hate It), so I can't judge for myself. This is not about them. So, here I am doing mixing and mastering for Indy bands with a passion to try and pull the quality up a notch or two. I am limited somewhat by the lack of a "Neve or SSL and whatever technical crap expensive vintage warm punchy $*^t all the old farts are nostalgic about", but it is becoming a mission or obsession or something like that. I am determined to bring this home studio of mine to the next level and see some undiscovered talent benefit from it. All I have to rely on is mid-priced gadgets, limited knowledge and a bunch of experience. Maybe I really suck and don't know it. :)

    I guess that's why I jumped in on the home studio business thread. I kinda' have to agree with both sides of the argument. Expensive gear and super-pro studio talent doesn't make a band good, but it sure goes a long way to help folks hear it properly if it is good. The ability to hear talent through an irritating recording is an individual thing. Some can do it. Some can't. I guess there is no reason to dis folks for trying.
  11. smithly

    smithly Guest

    I am in the studio business located in the ozarks. I have a 1,700 sq. ft. facility in my home, charge 55.00 per hour, and have been in business for 13 years as a home based business. I work hard and support a family of four. I enjoyed reading the comments and thought I would post a message.
    Gary Smith http://www.nothm.com
  12. flipmedia

    flipmedia Guest

    going well

    Interesting topic, I have a studio that I've built in an outbuilding behind my house and I am doing reasonably well. I charge between $40-$50 dollars an hour, sometimes less depending on the project size and the artists budget. It is difficult to maintain constant cash flow but thats the name of the game. I think the point made earlier about offering more than just the recording facility and engineer is valid. People tend to come to me because I offer a full service, I really care about making a great product and I push, educate and go way beyond the call of duty for my clients. I am also a very versatile producer, engineer (schooled with experience) songwriter, session player and I do a decent job of mastering. Most bands/artists simply don't have the cash flow to hire someone to mix and someone else to master, so I would say if you want to run a successful home recording studio you have to be a jack of all trades and a master of them all. Don't get me wrong I'm not God's gift to audio but I'm good, and I care, my clients leave happy, and they comeback. The number one thing I should mention is that I'm in based out of a small town of 45,000 people between Toronto, and Ottawa. In large cities there are so many studios competing that price wars are in constant effect. The talent varies from excellent to poor but that still leaves many home studios there charging $20/hr and man that is hard to live on when you consider the cost of living. I know I've done it, and its the smartest thing I ever did.
  13. maintiger

    maintiger Well-Known Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Whittier, California, USA
    the small town thing might be the e-ticket here. When you have little or no competition and you are good the world is wide open... However, don't be surprised if competition eventually pops up- that's the nature of the beast- but if you offer a good product at a fair price you already have a great headstart
  14. oakman

    oakman Guest

    Multi-tasking seems to be the name of the game with home studios with a decent income. Mine is the same. Commercial Production, Mixing, Mastering, Video Post and whatever else comes along. i make a profit, partly because I haven't spent a ton of cash on the best toys. It's a pretty cheesy studio, but has good gear in key slots to get the job done. I think most home studio owners dream of success that will push them to a bigger, more extravagant facility. I know I do. :)
  15. Lachoza

    Lachoza Guest

    I think people put WAAY too much stock in equipment.

    Give a GREAT artist a Speak and Spell, Casio keyboard and a Tascam 4 track and they can sometimes create a more interesting product than some hack in a $100/hr. studio.

    Equipment doesn't mean as much these days as the artists themselves.

    You can't BUY a good artist. You can in some ways BUY a good record, but it's completely obvious when a band has their record overproduced.

    I think that the industry is starving for TRUE talent these days. A great artists and a great engineer can make a better record in a low budget studio than a shitty artist and average engineer in a $million dollar SSL / Studer equipped studio.

    Obviously, putting a GREAT artist and a GREAT engineer in a GREAT high end studio is ideal, but I don't think that the studios themselves make AS much of a difference nowadays as they did a few years ago.

    It's all about talent on the artistic end and the technical end.

    Who's working the equipment and who's making the music. That's all that counts.
  16. oakman

    oakman Guest


    I also think a lot of great talent is getting passed over because the record machine is too locked into formulas to see what's going on around them. Maybe the home studios and Indy labels can change that some day.
  17. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Dec 12, 2001
    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:
    Interesting topic.

    However we are getting somewhat away from the original posters question.

    A couple of random observations.... and some thoughts to further cloud the subject.

    1. It is much better to have an experienced engineer with minimal equipment than a lot of fancy equipment in the hands of someone who does not know what he or she is doing.

    2. A lot of the music recorded today is recorded in someone's bedroom or basement, which can either be a good or bad thing. Good because the musician(s) can take as much time as they need to polish the song without the need for large amounts of commercial studio time, bad because they maybe doing this without collaboration from anyone who knows how to really do a recording in the first place.

    (If someone simply take a credit card down to the local GC and buys a bunch of random equipment that they read about in Mix or EQ magazine and then take it home with the idea that they will be doing a recording tonight...it AIN'T going to happen)

    If they do somehow produce a recording they want to go on to the next step.

    3. When the mixdown is finished (possibly recorded, mixed and mastered all in one week or less) they may assume they have a Grammy winning hit on their hands and spend more of the credit card on producing 1000 CDs complete with "really neat graphics" that the drummer's girl friend did on her computer as a class project in graphic design.

    They will then take these albums to the local CD retailer who says "we don't accept non label records without UPCs" or something to that effect so they try and put up the tunes on the internet but don't get the sales they thought they would so they take them to their next gig and try and sell them for $15.00 each but don't get a lot of takers. Moral of the story....

    4. Good material, well played and well sung plus a good recording and a good mastering job = Good music that will sell in stores, online and at the gig. The better the overall musicianship the better the results will be. Good musicianship will shine though even a lousy recording. Poor musicianship will not be made any better by going though top notch equipment.

    5. There are a lot of really good studios around, there are also a some really bad studios around. If you check around with friends and other musicians you will be able to find out which are the good ones and which are the not so good ones. Good does not necessarily mean expensive but they will be charging a rate commensurate with the experience and the equipment they are using to record you. No one that I know is making tons of money running a recording studio. Many studio owners are working more for the pleasure of working with fellow musicians and for the love of music than they are trying to make a lot of money ripping off clients. Once in a while, like in any profession, you will get a bad apple but hopefully they will soon be found out and hopefully go out of business.

    6. If you want to record yourself LEARN HOW TO USE THE EQUIPMENT BEFORE DOING YOUR RECORDING. Doing a good recording is not rocket science but there are things that you can do and things that you cannot do and you have to learn them before you can attempt to do a recording. If you have a friend who is good in audio hire him or give him a case of beer to come over and set up your studio properly so there is no hum or buzzes and that everything is properly interfaced. It is money well spent.

    7. When you start on the recording project give yourself enough time. Don't plan the CD release party date before you start recording. Any delays in the recording process will cause you all kind of problems at the other end as the date for the CD release party looms large. Do the recording in easy chunks of time and don't try to record and mix the whole project in a weekend. Listen to the mix in lots of different environments before committing to a final mix.

    Get your stuff mastered by someone who knows what they are doing or at the very least go somewhere else to master it and don't use the same speakers and same equipment to master it as you did to record it.

    8. A friend of mine who is a financial wiz once told me two things that have lasted in my memory. 1) It takes money to make money and 2) nothing good ever comes cheap except love and I don't even want to go there.

    9. For all of you that "can't afford a studio" or "can't afford a mastering engineer" I truly feel your pain but when you say in the next sentence that "so I went to GC and spent $6,000 for some equipment so I could do it myself" my feelings change and I start to wonder how you can justify NOT having the money to do the project "professionally" but can spend a large sum of money to do it the hard way?????

    10. If you are really serious about doing a good job on a project then seek professional help. In today's market there are lots of studios that will be willing to do part of a project say just the mixdown or the mastering and don't have to do it all. Be aware that if you seek out professional services they will cost some money and that they can only do so much and that the quality of the incoming material is what will determine the quality of the final project.

    11. Recording or mixing or mastering when you are tired is not a good thing so try and do your recording, mixdowns and mastering when you are fresh. Also try not to schedule a mastering session right after a gig or recording session since you will be suffering from ear fatigue and that can have a detrimental effect on the listening you are having to do.

    12. If you are serious about music get a business plan together and seek someone with business experience to help you write up that plan. Figure out how much you want to spend on equipment, production, publicity and for other expenses. At the same time try and figure out how much you and other members of the band can contribute to the growth of your group. You will also have to estimate what you can expect in revenue from your concerts and the sale of your CDs and other merchandise. When all if this is put down on paper you can start to figure out what you can and cannot due based on your needs and your budget. It is the only way I know to get a clearer picture of what will be taking place in the future by know what you can expect to spend and to receive from various endeavors.

    Just some random thoughts. Hope they help!

    MTCW and FWIW
  18. maestro7879

    maestro7879 Guest

    Off topic - but important.

    To me this is the most important part of the post by Thomas W. Bethel.

    "If you want to record yourself LEARN HOW TO USE THE EQUIPMENT BEFORE DOING YOUR RECORDING. Doing a good recording is not rocket science but there are things that you can do and things that you cannot do and you have to learn them before you can attempt to do a recording. If you have a friend who is good in audio hire him or give him a case of beer to come over and set up your studio properly so there is no hum or buzzes and that everything is properly interfaced. It is money and/or beer well spent. "

    I started out in my basement and eventually built a studio in my garage. I spend hours recording myself playing various instruments. What I am doing is playing with every microphone combination that I can. Doing this an hour or two after work has made my recordings 100 times better. Many people have great equipment but do not know what to do with it.
  19. oakman

    oakman Guest

    Great posts in this topic! Lots of smart folks on this forum.

    I have a delema that loosly relates. I have the know-how and experience. I just have crappy gear. I am making it do much more than it was ever intended. The desire to upgrade is almost unbearable. That's where the problem comes in. I must justify any purchase with recipricating income, so I am stuck at a certain level. I don't really have the time in my days to generate any more income. therin lies the problem with the studio business. For some of us, it's a lot of money to be taking chances with. I am unsure how much farther my technical knowledge can take it without breaking the technological glass-ceiling I am stuck under.

    It's like buying stock in yourself. Then I am beholding to myself and I am a heinous task master. That sucks. :shock:
  20. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Dec 12, 2001
    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:
    Have you thought about partnering up with someone so you can share the expenses? There seem to be a lot of people with more money than experience so if you could find someone who has the money and offer them your experience you maybe better off.

    If you do decide to go into business with someone just make sure you go into it with your eyes open and have a good lawyer draw up a contract that both of you will sign. This contract should, at the minimum, outline who owns what going into the partnership and details what will happen to equipment that is purchased by the partnership and/or any profits from the partnership if the partnership dissolves.

    Having had one or two partners in the past I can say from personal experience that things can get a bit rocky if the breakup of the partnership finally comes and that if it is all not WELL documented it can be problematic and can involve lots of lawyers and lots of expenses.

    Having a business partner may allow you do what you do best and have the fiscal resources to grow your business and if you find the right business partner things may really take off for you.

    Just be sure to do your homework and find out as much as you can about your potential business partner including personal recommendations from others he or she has had business dealings with in the past. You may also want to find out what his or her history has been with business partnerships in the past, if any. Some unscrupulous people make a habit of going into business with others and then proceed to dissolve the business partnership and try to make a huge profit from doing so. This is especially true if the partnership is not well documented and/or no contract has been signed by both parties.

    Most business partnership are mutually agreeable and proceed without problems so my words of warning are just to protect you in the unlikely scenario that this does not work out.

    Best of luck.
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