The proliferation of home studios has not only caused a downturn in the commercial-studio business, but it has affected those personal-studio owners who rely on outside clients for income. If, however, you have a quality setup, strong engineering chops, and a willingness to promote your business, there are clients out there who can use your services.
Fig. 1 Gerardi transformed Lenox Sound from a small basement setup into a -well-appointed project studio through hard work, clever marketing, and interaction with his community.
One approach is to reach beyond the traditional client base and find nonmusicians who have audio needs. With many commercial studios closing their doors forever, this particular group of music users, who need technical skills and quality output, is steadily growing. To locate those users and to make sure you get your share of the diminished pool of musicians who need studio services, you must market your facility creatively.
Getting the Word Out
A case in point is John “Ratso” Gerardi, a hometown guitar hero who owns Lenox Sound Recording (www.lenoxsound.com) in Stamford, Connecticut. Gerardi started in a cozy basement studio and has now moved to an impressive space in a former two-car garage that boasts an isolation booth and a cathedral ceiling (see Fig.1). He has in-vested years of heart, soul, networking, and business savvy into recouping his investment.
His hard work has resulted in the transformation of his personal studio into a revenue-generating machine. “I built the studio to do my own stuff, and now I find it hard to block time for myself,” he says. “That's not a bad place to be!”
“Between 60 and 70 percent of my business comes from word of mouth,” he says. “But advertising is also very important.” He advertises on his Web site and runs a full-color ad in the local Yellow Pages each year. Of all the studio ads, his is the only one with a photo, and it gets a good response. “It's expensive, but one gig will pay for the year,” Gerardi points out.
Look in New Places
Like Gerardi, you can fill out your calendar by finding nonmusicians, mainly organizations and local businesses, that need audio services. For example, figure-skating clubs often require time-cued music edits for training and competitions. Coaches are eager to find someone to handle their students' needs, and relative to the cost of enrolling a child in a skating program, charging a couple of hundred dollars for a few edits provides great value and convenience to parents.
Psychotherapists also have recording needs. Many of them like to provide patients with meditation and relaxation tapes. Those sessions can also lead to duplication work in manageable quantities.
Freelance language translators with voice-over contracts are another business type that can generate significant income for a studio. A single track of narration can result in several days of studio time. Those projects are often corporate accounts that are outsourced to freelancers who charge back studio costs.
While many of these jobs may seem pedestrian, the benefits are tangible. The money is generally good, and the work is pretty easy compared with recording a band's CD project.
How do you find such work? At businesses or organizations such as language schools and skating clubs, try direct contact and advertising through flyers put on bulletin boards. Networking is always the best route to work, so if you know somebody associated with one of these businesses, use that person to put the word out for you.
Making the Most
Maximizing the potential of your equipment is crucial to your turning a profit and carving a niche. Thoroughly learn your gear and software to get the most value and efficiency from it. A capable engineer who keeps a session running smoothly with good results will make a positive impression on clients, which can often lead to word-of-mouth referrals.
A studio with vintage gear can attract clients, but antiquated equipment piling up in basements and garages can also yield great value — especially when used along with their modern day replacements. For example, many baby boomers inheriting their parents' record collections are preserving this fragile media by having it archived to CD. An old turntable capable of playing 78s, paired up with a CD burner, could help you corner the local “transfer” market.
“We do transfers that other studios don't do, such as ¼-inch to CD, cassette to CD, Micro cassette to CD, etc.,” says Gerardi. “It's pretty straightforward — sometimes we sweeten the track — and it's a nice way to make a few extra bucks.”
Businesses may have training tapes and presentation materials that need to be transferred to CD, and plenty of individuals have memories stored away in yesteryear's preferred formats. Whether it's a recording of an old high-school band or a mix tape from a Sweet 16 party, an upgrade to CD could be very attractive. These potential customers might not even recognize this opportunity until it is presented to them. The challenge for you as the studio owner is to find such prospective nonmusical clients and make them aware of how they could benefit from your facilities and skills.
What's in Store
Building a bond with your local music retailer is a smart strategic move that can lead to more business for your studio. When people outside the music business seek recording services, the first action they often take is to look up the local music store in the phone book. The key is to be on top of that retailer's referral list.
Another benefit of developing a close relationship with the local music store is that music teachers are often associated with it. Although some teachers doubtlessly have their own studio setups, others, and their students, sometimes need a place to record.
Provide the music store with a professionally printed brochure or a printed or photocopied list of your services. The more professional your presentation the better. If you do not already know the owners and managers, build a personal rapport and a serious business relationship.
Consider offering a small commission to the store for new-client referrals. That will create added incentive and put things on a professional level. As a good customer and business partner, you might even get professional-courtesy discounts on additional gear purchases. The commissions you shell out will quickly pay for themselves. Regardless of the deal you strike, remember where your clients come from and always refer them back to the source for future work.
Smart packaging of the finished product that you give to your clients will also help grow your network. Computer-printed labels with detailed program information, proper invoices, and the archiving of your client's master copies add greatly to the service you provide. Make sure that your studio's name, phone number, and Web URL is on all masters and accompanying notes. That will enable your clients and their associates to easily find you again.
Schmoozing It Up
Think of other ways to raise your studio's profile within the local music community. At Lenox Sound, Gerardi hosts occasional clinics with touring artists in his “live room.” The clinics provide the artists with a little extra income on the road, while giving Gerardi's music community intimate access to world-renowned players. Gerardi can charge a relatively high attendance fee because the event typically includes “dinner with the artist,” in which the attendees are fed a meal while they hang out with the guest of honor.
Scott Henderson, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, and John Patitucci are among the artists that Gerardi has featured. Such events bring in revenue, provide reasons for a studio advertising campaign, and generate local media coverage.
If you have a suitable space and don't mind having a small crowd of people in your facility (always take into account the security of your gear), you might consider a similar event. A good place to start when setting one up is an artist's Web site, which often will have touring and contact information on it.
Field of Dreams
Even if recording your music is your primary interest, outside projects can help finance your long-term dreams. As the Rolling Stones say in “Ruby Tuesday,” however, “Lose your dreams, and you will lose your mind.” Never forget why you invested in your own personal studio, and bring that passion and pride into every project you do. As long as you block out time to complete your own music, opening your doors to the community is a win-win opportunity.
Ravi (www.ArtisticIntegrity.org) tours the country playing original music and lecturing on ethics and marketing in the music industry. Formerly the guitarist with Hanson, he has released two independent CDs and an autobiography called Dancin' with Hanson (Simon & Schuster, 1999).