The Business Side of Building a Home Studio
It's all well and good to set up a home studio in your spare bedroom just for fun. But if you are thinking about doing it for profit, you are essentially opening up a business, which requires a whole new way of thinking. You might be fine with your girlfriend's stuff scattered around the room from time to time, her shoes getting in the way of your microphone stands but your clients might not be so receptive. A home recording studio, like any small business, needs a plan to succeed. If you don't put at least something down resembling a game plan for your “for-profit” home studio, you plan to fail. And we don't want that.
You need a marketing/business plan of sorts. And before you think, “Oh, I'm not going to be using any advertising, this is just a studio,” let me just tell you that marketing is a much broader industry than just super-bowl commercial and Google ads. Marketing revolves around you and the service or product you offer and enables you to see the ways that you can sell yourself to others for the mutual benefit of both parties. In this case it would be a recording studio, where you sell the benefit of an awesome recording for the artist at a profit for yourself.
So, in the spirit of marketing there are a few things to think about when constructing a home studio that you are ultimately going to use as your main income generator. And as a main income generator, it needs to generate a substantial amount of income in order to sustain you, your significant other and/or your six kids.
Before you start spending a ludicrous amount of money on pre-amps, acoustic treatment, microphones and the like, you should probably spend a little time figuring out what you need. Instead of having a fit of “throwing money at every problem,” try figuring out what the problems are and which are more important than others.
Before you start marketing, think about how you will be marketing. Think about yourself as an engineer and your studio (or the potential of a studio) as an appealing package. What do you think can be done in the immediate area? What skills do you have that you know most engineers do not? Analyzing your skills and studio potential before actually spending any money is a good way to save money.
Action Exercise: What are the biggest obstacles you might face when starting a professional home studio? What could you do to overcome them?
The Four P's of Studio Production
Actually, the four P's of studio production are just the same four P's of marketing. The four P's of marketing is what most marketing is about. It's a good way of putting your business into perspective and giving yourself convenient four corners from which to analyze your business.
The Four P's of Marketing are:
Product – The general service or product that you are offering to a customer or client, to which you (hopefully) earn a profit from.
Place – Your place of business, in this case your studio. For most business this is the actual location of a business, i.e. a fast food restaurant has a great “place” if it happens to be located on a busy street where many cars and people pass that might happen to be hungry. In the more studio-oriented sense, place might actually mean more along the lines of “your place”. What can you do to make your studio more inviting and accessible to clients? What do you need to do to make your studio sound great, so that an artist that comes in can not only feel the vibe but hear it as well.
Promotion – What kind of promotion/advertising are you going to use to reach clients and potential musicians to record at your studio. Are you an active musician already that has access to many potential clients through word-of-mouth? Maybe a well SEOed website might help you promote your services, or even just posting your services on Craigslist. There are all sorts of advertising opportunities out there to promote your business. The challenge is to find the one that works right for you.
Price – What can you get away with charging for your services? Are you inexperienced and trying to break into the community? Or are you a seasoned engineer trying to cut the commute and work from home? Those two examples would require two different prices, since a novice might need to start selling his services at the bottom, while the experienced engineer is fine with continuing his high rate and letting his reputation justify his price.
Conduct a SWOT Analysis of Your Home Studio
A SWOT analysis is marketing jargon meaning Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. You would do well to analyze your strength and weaknesses to see what you have to offer in your home recording studio.
Do you have any specific strengths you can harness and advertise as a part of your tricks of the trade? Are you a really good guitar player that can not only record and mix other people's music but can also play a crazy solo as well? Maybe you are really good at constructing beats for rap musicians. Take a good hard look at what you can add to your strength category, since it can be very advantageous to offer additional services alongside regular studio recording.
Can you only record certain instruments? Would you rather not master the tracks you mix, since you don't think your gear is good enough for mastering? Maybe your studio only lends itself to small ensembles or just voice overs. By figuring out your weaknesses you can either try turning them into strengths or just plain focusing your efforts on something you know you are good at.
What kind of opportunities can opening up a home studio offer you? Do you have friends or acquaintances that you know need to record somewhere? Are you able to bridge a certain budget gap between expensive recording studios and shitty bedroom studios? This category could be thought of similarly to your strengths, but in a different way. For instance, maybe you know a lot of rap and hip-hop artists that need beats and you've always wanted to explore that a little more. You can market yourself accordingly by taking the opportunity to construct beats for rap artists you already know.
Are there a lot of similarly priced home studios in your area? Think about the competition you mights have in this regard. Additionally, is there easy access to your services online, where people can get the same thing you are offering but cheaper? Threats come in many shapes and sizes and it's always a good idea to keep an alert eye out for the next one.
Action Exercise: Brainstorm a simple SWOT analysis of your home studio situation. Where are your strengths and weaknesses; and what opportunities can you use to counter potential threats.
Money Saving Tips for the Home Recording Studio
Setting up a home recording studio involves a whole lot of money. You need to buy recording equipment such as microphones, interfaces and reference monitors. You also need acoustic treatment that most certainly doesn't come cheap. And lastly, you need some furniture and areas to place your equipment and record your music. But if you are on a strict budget it's hard to splurge on that fancy acoustic treatment or that $1500 microphone. Rather, by being budget conscious and wary of spending too much in one place you can get by with similar gear at a much lesser cost.
Buy second-hand gear
People don't usually sell stuff that is broken. They sell it because they've replaced it with something else. By buying second-hand gear you can often get perfectly functioning recording equipment at a much better price. And it sounds and acts just the same as a new one would. Try Ebay or your local Craigslist for equipment that won't break your budget.
Create your own acoustic treatment
Acoustic packages from companies such as Auralex and Primacoustics don't come cheap. They are very effective at acoustic treatment and they are definitely a great choice if you have the money to spend. But if you are trying to budget, creating your own DIY acoustic panels from mineral fiber or rock-wool is a prime alternative.
Try to get by with less
I know we all want more gear. But sometimes we need to settle and get by with less stuff. By trying to use all the stuff you have to the best of your abilities you might discover some new uses for some of your gear. Don't buy an extra pair of monitors or that fifth microphone if your old one can do the job just as well.
Buy swiss army knife gear
Buy gear that has multiple uses. If you are just starting off you are better off buying a microphone that can be applied to a wide variety of instruments and applications instead of the one that's only good for overheads or kick drum. The C1000 microphone from AKG has been named the swiss army knife of microphones since it works on almost everything. It works as a drum overhead, it can do wonders for acoustic guitar, and even Maynard James Keenan of Tool used it on vocals when recording Undertow.
Use your surroundings
Do you have any great sounding rooms or hallways in your general vicinity? Use them to spice up your recordings. If you have a great sounding natural reverb in your bathroom then use that instead of splurging on an expensive reverb unit. I have this weird sounding entryway to my house that sounds really great, and I wouldn't be surprised if it would work wonders on a track or two.
Get your furniture at the yard sale
I got my studio desk at a yard sale for $20. It has two levels that work perfectly for monitor placement while still leaving a lot of room for my computer, notebook and interface. By implementing things that otherwise weren't designed for a home recording studio I've saved money but still gotten what I need for the studio.
Make your own cables
Cables are expensive. If you have the DIY savviness then making your own cables might be a small, but enjoyable money saving experience. Just be sure that you will be making cables stand up to the standard of quality cables. You don't want to create shoddy cables just to save money. Your music will suffer because of it.
Learn new tricks online
The amount of universities and schools that offer audio engineering programs are staggering. It's a great way to learn the craft, with hands on projects and quality gear from the start. However, you can also learn most of the theory, the tips and techniques that are taught in these school on-line. Audio production websites such as this one, Audiotuts+, HomeStudioCorner and Audio Issues have an increasing pool of tips and tricks to learn from.
Use free VST plug-ins
Sure, Waves plug-ins might be the absolute pinnacle of audio plug-ins, but that doesn't mean there aren't alternative (and free) VST plug-ins out there. Check out Audiotuts+ 90 Free VST Plug-ins if you are looking for great sounding and free VST plug-ins.
Don't buy the most expensive audio program
If you don't need the excessive features and capabilities of expensive audio recording programs such as Pro Tools, Cubase and Logic then don't buy them. At least not yet. Use the free alternatives like Audacity, Ardour or GarageBand until you've exhausted all of their features and are hungry for more.
Action Exercise: What type of gear will save you the most money? Can you think of equipment that serve a multitude of purposes that you could buy instead of a very specialized type of gear you wouldn't use as often?
Be budget conscious. Don't just buy gear to buy gear. Purchase equipment if you absolutely need it or are ready to upgrade from something else. Purchases for home recording studios follow the same pattern as anything else; you need certain gear that is required with a limited budget.
So budget appropriately, and that means taking all of your gear into account. If you have $1000 to spend then don't think you only need a microphone, an interface and monitors. Take everything else into account; the cables, the acoustic treatment, the furniture and even the decorations! Similarly, plan ahead before you embark on any huge purchases and make a quick and dirty marketing plan of your bedroom business. Even just a little brainstorming session about the potential strengths, opportunities and obstacles will give you a better idea of your priorities and tasks.