Sound engineer working at mixing panel in the boutique recording studio.

How to Open a Professional Recording Studio

We’ve been talking a lot these past few months about the process of building a home recording studio in posts about getting pro-level acoustics at home and how to choose the best mics, speakers, and digital audio workstation for your needs. If you’ve been following this conversation, perhaps you’ve been considering the idea of opening your home studio to clients or even building a bigger and better professional recording studio. Obviously this is a huge undertaking and it’s not for everyone. Opening a recording studio requires a daunting investment of time and money, plus solid business acumen and a firm belief in your own technical skills and abilities.

However, if you’re an audio pro doing work out of your own home studio and looking to expand your capabilities or a long-time Recording Engineer or Record Producer dreaming of your own space, becoming a Recording Studio Owner could be a logical next step in the growth of your business and your career. Even if you’re someone who has just graduated from a production school or is a few years into the workforce, if you have the connections and the access to capital, opening your own studio is a prime example of one of the biggest elements of music industry success: entrepreneurship and making your own opportunities.

Time to Get Real

If you’re driven to take on the challenge of opening a recording studio (and it’s definitely a huge challenge), you’ll need to be equipped with more skills than your in-studio prowess. For your clients, your technical knowledge and ability to create a signature sound for artists is a given. Are you similarly gifted with budgeting, marketing and leadership skills? These traits can make or break your ability to turn a profit, land (and keep) a customer base and be an effective boss. Therefore, it’s important to do some serious soul-searching as to what you can offer your customers, how you’re expecting things to go, how much you’re willing to invest in opening a studio and why you want to own one.

Once you’ve decided that this is it — your dream, your passion, your life’s calling — there are a few other key considerations for aspiring Studio Owners to explore before seeking investors or meeting with the bank to take out a small business loan. How can you make your studio truly viable?

Bringing the Dream Closer to Reality

  1. Take a look at location. Unless you want to spend even more money doing some serious soundproofing, a location in the country or in a non-residential area is the best bet. You also want a space with enough room for bands to be comfortable, including (ideally) a room where they can take a break and get a change of scenery.
  2. Consider second-hand everything—not just gear. If you’re constructing your own studio (versus buying a pre-existing studio or moving into a location that previously housed a studio), check out pricing on second-hand building materials like doors and windows as well as on furniture.
  3. Assemble your team. If you don’t have a head for numbers or you hate self-promotion, find the friends or associates who can get the job done. Make sure they’re aware of the time and budget constraints you might be working within, too.

Opening your own studio is a prime example of one of the biggest elements of music industry success: entrepreneurship and making your own opportunities.

While this all makes sense on paper (or in this case, your computer screen), it’s difficult to imagine what an undertaking and what the rewards of opening and running a studio are unless you’ve done it yourself. To get some perspective, we talked to Tim G., the owner/operator behind BigTone Studios in Manchester, England. A Producer/Engineer with a decade’s worth of experience, Tim has worked with heavyweights like John Pennington (Happy Mondays, Joy Division, The Smiths) and ‘Big’ Mick Hughes (Metallica), as well as with bands/artists like Peter Hook (New Order), Sonic Boom Six and British Sea Power. Read on for Tim’s thoughts on how to succeed in what can be a difficult business.

Advice from a Pro

It seems opening a studio is a rather complex endeavor. What are some of the main considerations when opening a studio?
“Indeed it can be. It’s a good idea to check out a few other studios and see if you can find out more about how they were set up. Decide how much you are going to be charging [and] what end of the market you are going to target and put together a reasonable plan. If you plan to target specific types of music as a Producer, you may be able to design a setup which fits your needs without costing the earth. Good mics, preamps, monitoring and room treatment should always be the first things to think about.”

“I was always too proud to let bigger, more successful Engineers and Producers know I wasn’t as clued up as them. I wish I had asked more questions from those above me early on! Don’t be worried about what others might think about you.” – Tim G., Recording Engineer, Producer & Owner of BigTone Studios

Who should open a recording studio? Where should a person be in their career to get into this business?
“Really depends on where your customers are going to come from. If you plan to record a lot of bands then it’s essential to have some experience as a Producer beforehand, with a couple of stand out tracks that get you noticed within local scenes. Alternatively, you could aim your business at solo Singers and artists (who may often be recording covers to backing tracks), in which case good advertising and a professional studio image is going to be as important as your musical output.”

Often, people who are technicians (such as those good with recording) think starting a business using their skill is a good idea, only to find out running a business and being a technician are not the same thing. Do you have any reflection about this as it pertains to owning and operating a studio?
“Of course both technical ability and business skills are equally important. You should enjoy being technically accomplished but never stop putting yourself in your customer’s shoes. Everything you do should be from this perspective. Also try and charge more money when you can and do deals for larger projects which may be enjoyable and lead to more business.”

What do you wish you had known before opening your recording studio?
“More about mixing, really. Advanced techniques, which are based around keeping an overall perspective on a track as a whole rather than nitpicking over individual sounds within it. I was always too proud to let bigger, more successful Engineers and Producers know I wasn’t as clued up as them. I wish I had asked more questions from those above me early on! Don’t be worried about what others might think about you.”

How do you suggest Recording Studio Owners find and reach out to their target market (i.e. rock bands vs. rappers, established artists vs. up-and-comers)?
“[To] decide your target market and look at where those people are recording and how much they are paying is your best start. Find people who are struggling to afford more expensive studio rates and aim to provide a comparable service at a cheaper price. Be friendly and get to know people and what they want from their recordings.”

How can Recording Studio Owners differentiate their space from the competition?
“All sorts of ways. Use your imagination. Make your space comfortable and creative. Look at your competition and give your place a different feel. Most importantly, do this while making your setup super efficient for your customers. Have a drum kit always set up with mics on it. Guitar head and can always set up. [Use] software templates which get you to third base from the get-go. Kill your setup time and get results quicker and smarter than your competitors. People will always come back to you.”

Now that home studios are becoming more prevalent, what can Recording Studio Owners do to convince artists that time at a professional studio is worth their money?
“People are doing great stuff at home now. You can simply try and do better by buying better gear and you can focus on making your system super efficient. Producers working from home studios often take a long time to get a mix working as their space isn’t acoustically treated properly. Get your control room super tight. Do proper bass trapping and design your room using programs like ModeCalc to get things as flat as possible. Also try and have a unique sound of your own. Get in with a band you think are popular or will be popular, who you can use as a showpiece for this sound.”

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