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How has the boom of home studios plus the availability of affordable technology affected the commercial studio owner? Isn't it just fair competition or is there more to the story?

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Hey Mark,

I am with you on many accounts! As for the upgrades with Protools, I chose to go with Nuendo for that reason and have saved so much money and frustration by doing so. Thanks goes to Chuck Ainlay for pointing me right there! Now, about the studios. My home studio (on which I do pay business taxes) has grown from a small one room overdub place to a multi-room facility filled with foam partitions (Tom Roady was there a few months ago) and now a newly renovated 7 iso room area perfect for doing what I want to do. I guess my point is, you gotta start somewhere and if I hadn't caught the recording bug in that one room area to begin with, I might not be where I am now in my musical aspirations. What I do hate the most is when I go to a "home Studio" and they have cheap gear ala $69.00 MXL mic and $100.00 berringer pre that sounds like crap for me to use. They don't even know what my instrument is supposed to sound like to begin with and they think this will do the trick. Do you speak up and say something and risk never being called again or just bring in your gear and force them to use it? Now for the big studios, I was in one recently and won't disclose the name, but they had a shure 57 up for me to record a major release pop country CD when I got there. I had to drive back to my studio, get my Peluso P-28's, go back to the session, set up and record. It was just me and one other person overdubbing at the same time and they didn't have the mics to record us both at the same time? I would have done a better job here at my place. If my studio has a better mic locker than many big studios in town, things are looking grim.

Great read Mark...

As an MTSU graduate, I would have to say that analog tape was a HUGE part of my curriculum, at least in 2003.. Most of my instructors were personally avid fans of tape and we were given many opportunities of listen to differences of tape vs. digital and were required to track and mix to and from 2" tape. We also took proficiency tests on calibration and syncing 2 machines together. Actually, ProTools had it's own class altogether, which I did not even take.

The problem is, after MTSU, very little students will ever touch a reel of tape again.

I have found with our clients that there is a creative momentum happening in our studio that they can't really duplicate at home. Plus I dont know many home studios with a really great sounding live room. I have however noticed more and more pro writers taking their tracks home to do vocals. But they bring them back to us for mixing.
This is a great discussion here, with some wise words from seasoned pros. As a 27 year old and a relative noob in the business, you may discount my opinions and say that I simply don't have a handle on the "real world" of recording. You may be right. I don't have experience in million dollar studios, I have never won a grammy, I don't remember the time when there was no such thing as Pro Tools, and I am one of those engineers with no boutique gear working for pennies.

I don't want to step on any toes or burn any bridges here. Some of you may be my future employer! However.....
I feel I must make an observation. I do know a lot about consumers from the retail management career that I left to pursuit full time engineering. If no one is buying that awesome product that you have hundreds of in stock, then you liquidate your stock and sell something different that more people want to buy.
As I begin an engineering career, I am forced to examine the industry for what it is NOW, not what it used to be, and I see a large number of consumers that frankly don't care that their entire music collection is less than CD quality. Certainly I care, as do you, but when there is a HUGE market for semi-pro recordings (driven by the consumers themselves), we would be crazy to say "too bad, we only want to use esoteric gear and make super high fidelity recordings". If consumers are not demanding high end audio, we need to sell them what they will buy, at a price they will pay. If that means stocking the mic locker with nothing but sm57's, so be it. Adapting to the market we are in should be the name of the game here, just like any business. If nobody is buying what you are making, who cares how good it is? It becomes a HOBBY. If a so-called 'real' studio is to stay open, it will have to trim off the fat.
That might mean that there will only be a few studios left that can cater to large budget clients that demand only the best, but when the growing majority of artists that want to record are not big budget, these are the ones that our businesses should target. There will always be a demand for audiophile recordings, no matter how small, and I look forward to the time in my career when I will have to re-think my strategy again because consumers begin to demand higher quality again. For now, my $10k worth of gear is enough to get me work, and the response I have gotten this past year and a half in Nashville from people who have outgrown their mbox is forcing me to get a business license, kind of by accident. My recordings may not have that sheen that comes from high end gear and a seasoned mastering engineer, but when my clients tell me that they like what they hear, then I must be doing something right...

Please, challenge me on this. If I have it all wrong, set me straight. I am still a student, after all, but I am none the less making enough money to get through college with the approach that I presented here.
Still no rebuttal?
If we aren't careful, every profession in America will operate this way.

I don't think folks are as much bemoaning the fact that the general public doesn't care what things sound like, its the fact that the people who SHOULD care... don't.
Agreed Bret....Some 30-40 years ago some business types thought we should become a 'throw away' society. Don't make things to last. Make em to break or wear out so they have to be replaced. But, I guess no one ever thought about 'throw away' music. i.e MP3 with 90% of the music thrown away. I guess they thought it just did not matter. Remember back in the early digital days when they came up with those 2 frequencies to suck out of the audio band? 2 notes just below 1K. It was supposed to be a digital copy rejection scheme. Well the feces hit the fan. The RIAA was pushing for it and the rest of the industry said NO WAY.....That died. But now the world has embraced throwing 90% of the music away. No wonder we have become whatever it is we have. Maybe we deserve it for letting it happen....
You know George, I am the first to say you don't absolutely have to have expensive boutique equipment to make great records, but I can certainly tell when tracks are cut in a $25 per hour studio (engineer included). I get better sounding tracks from experienced seasoned home studio owners for that matter.

There are exceptions to everything and I don't think Mr.Hopkins is wrong to try and fill a perceived need in the market, but as in every industry, there are those who make things to last and those who make things to be thrown away.

If Indie Motor Company started giving away cars or selling them for 2/3 off other cars, would GM, Toyota and Honda conclude that what they were making was not good enough to be purchased anymore and just follow suit?

Additionally, would all their suppliers suddenly rush to make substandard parts just so they could keep growing their businesses?

Would we all just acquiesce to driving junk cars?

If the Indie car fell apart or didn't last but a year, or couldn't stand up to the rigors of the road, I bet there would still be a market for GMs, Hondas and Toyotas. That market would look different and it would be up to GM, Honda and Toyota to figure out how to supply those that care with what they want. But just because a mass of consumers take a free disposable car doesn't mean the major automakers should stop focusing on quality. However, we may be left with fewer quality automakers, and that's OK with me.

There are much deeper paradigm shifts going on here rather than someone buying 10K worth of gear to undercut (or capture a market from) someone who invests 100K.

Perhaps our constant drive to find faster and cheaper ways of doing things has been a great disservice to the younger generation and we have done a poor job of teaching lasting values and things that really matter.
wow, it would seem that I have touched on a sore topic here. First, let me say that it is not my true intent to undercut anyone with the services I provide. A professor once told me to expect to work for far less than I am worth until I am able to build a reputation worthy of higher pay. I would be flattered if Music Mix Mobile, Remote Recording, Le Mobile, or some of the other big location companies thought for one second that I was taking business from them, but that is simply not the case. I am not even taking business from the companies with 100k of gear. For now, I provide more of an archive service than anything. The companies that charge and collect more than I do justify their fees with the quality of service they provide and the years of experience they have. When I book a new client, my mantra is always "We are students, so you get a great deal and we get experience."

When I advertise low cost remote recording, I am enticing local artists (with little money to spend in the first place) to give me a chance. The most they have to lose is a few hundred dollars out of their cut of the venue's cover charge. I myself DO strive to provide the best quality I can with the equipment I have. It's a matter of principle. I am trying to improve my skills and develop the reputation I need to justify higher prices, and in turn, higher quality gear.

I have never owned a studio before, and I don't yet claim to know the dynamics of studio business. My previous comments were just an attempt to further the dialog going here. Obviously the answer is not to just use a bunch of 57's to record through cassette decks, but if it's your studio and your investment, would you just let it go under because your clients are fewer? I would think not. So how are you cutting your overhead? Perhaps that is a good question for a new thread.

In my mind, we are faced with two choices to stay afloat: drastically cut costs and possibly affect the quality of work being produced, or embark on a campaign to re-educate consumers about the joy of truly quality audio and risk default on those loans you took out for that new half-million dollar analog desk. I would think it needs to be somewhere in between.

I am learning here, and I feel privileged to be a part of this community. If any of you should feel the calling to teach those lasting values that Bret spoke of, I would love to work for you! Teach me.
What I was saying Greg, is there are many who claim to provide just as good of service and quality of professionals with substantially less quality gear and experience for a fraction of the cost. They justify those claims by thinking consumers don't care or know the difference.

I wasn't trying to single you out but you asked for rebuttal... :)

Consumers know the difference when we have an opportunity to show them or let them hear. I run into it all the time.

This thread is about the effects of the recording process moving to home based studios.

This is actually how many in our industry are cutting overhead.

Fortunately, a large majority try to uphold the same quality standards that they would have if they were running a commercial studio.

I don't fault you for working for less. Most everyone is.

I do get concerned when working for less is attached to "consumers don't care how it sounds" and "sacrifice quality." But that's just me.

As long as you are clear with your clients and don't misrepresent yourself, I don't think anyone would have a complaint or wish you ill will at all. But if you were going around trying to convince people that you could give them the same product for many times less than they would get by hiring experienced professionals (regardless of the gear) then yes, it would be a sore topic for many people in this town.

The reality is - seasoned professionals are not all that more expensive - in the long run. But yes, there are those who do not see the wisdom in investing more for better. If that has become the larger market, then you are in the right place at the right time.

I think working as an engineer for less wages to gain experience is a good thing and something we all have done, but, when you enter the ring as a recording services company and drag prices down, you run the risk of cutting your nose off to spite your face. You set yourself up to be taken advantage of as well.

This is a lesson we could take from the oil industry. You never see gas prices, even across the country, vary by more than a few cents from station to station. Why do you think that happens? I believe it is because the industry knows that price wars do nothing but hurt everyone. That doesn't mean that prices always have to go up but it does mean that wild fluctuations or big gaps for similar products cause a loss situation for all involved. It's a delicate balance and one that deserves study.

Of course there are going to be bigger price gaps in our industry because we are not just dealing with a commodity and we grade on experience and creativity. But even oil companies strive for better quality gasoline than the guy down the street, but their prices stay in step.

Nashville has always prided itself in the level of quality in recording it has been able to provide. I think the same is true for LA and NYC.

It takes a lot of money and time to get to the point of providing the quality of product we all strive for. I don't want to see that decline.
Bret: I was addressing the quality portion of the conversation not the business side, but the two are obviously connected in our case. I do agree with you for the most part.

That said, I want state as I always have that I as a commercial studio owner I am not and never have been against the 'home or project studio'. I am against the 'illegal' home or project studio. If they want to play by the same rules then fine. I think there is s HUGE denial in the industry as to the cause/effect of the demise of what was a great professional industry.
yes, they are very connected.

I think two things should happen...

1) People should play by the same rules

2) The rules should be changed where it becomes less burdensome to operate a commercial facility but not tougher to operate a home based business. Level the playing field.


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