Income-Generating Ideas for Studio Owners and Musicians

This post comes as a response to a question from Robin, in a thread that started a while back, regarding a commenter that has a friend with a studio, but the friend is struggling to generate income from the studio.

Generating income from a recording studio is, no doubt, a difficult thing to do. There was a time (I’m told, at least), when a studio could exist, essentially, on its own merits. The space existed, and independent musicians, record labels, music publishers, radio stations, advertising companies, and others that needed something recorded would call the studio, reserve the space, and the owner got paid for the use of the space.

What’s happened is that producers, engineers, and others that provide the services for the studio figured out that they were paying the owners of the studio for use of the space, but, if they had their own space, they could generate more income by charging for the use of their own space, as well as charging for their time as a producer or engineer.

The next generation of producers and engineers came along and, trying to compete in the open market, lowered their prices, seeking to compete with established producer and engineers, which is a tried-and-true technique in competition-based pricing. This lowered the prices people were willing to pay for studio time, and between the  advent of digital recording and the shrinking of record label budgets, things only got worse.

When digital recording became affordable, at least one of the most common barriers to entry – cost of entry- was negated. This, along with a decrease in budgets record labels gave for recording albums (due to any number of factors, not limited to piracy and general market malaise) , turned the recording studio industry into and oligopsony,where there  are many sellers of a similar product, but few buyers.

All this to say, we now find ourselves in a place where, by and large, the recording that happens in the industry is done by people who are also musicians, producers, songwriters, engineers, DJs, and others that not just own the equipment and the space, but also use it creatively to accomplish their tasks.

To that end, we, as those who have paid for this equipment, hardware, and software, need to find ways of getting the most revenue we can out of this situation. And, in many cases, this requires a particularly astute studio owner to find the niches where there’s money to be made.

The obvious choices for generating revenue are fleeting. You don’t just create a website, list your credits, give people a listen to your work, and expect to get any phone calls. If that’s all you do, expect an empty inbox and no voice mails.

ONE of many, many options, is creating library tracks for sale. A lot of the music used in the world doesn’t have to be a specific artist, a specific recording, or even a specific song. Sometimes, people need music for a special purpose, but aren’t really looking for a specific track.

For instance, in my studio, I produce tracks of carillon bell music, and sell those tracks on iTunes and Amazon, and have those tracks available for streaming on Rdio, Spotify, Deezer, and other places. These tracks are not “popular music”, but they apply to a very specific market, looking for music for a specific purpose. These tracks, individually, do not produce a lot of income, but, all the tracks I produce are public domain christian hymns, Christmas tunes, or similar, so there’s no songwriter/publisher with which I need to work. All I need to do is upload the tracks to the online distributor I use, and wait for the payments to come in. And, since these are public domain hymns, Christmas songs, and similar, means that there are huge possibilities for this catalog.

This is something I can produce in the studio’s down time, and there’s no rush to complete any of these tunes, so it’s a perfect studio-time filler.

Things I think are an almost total waste of time include the tracks “beat makers” create and try to sell to people to rap over. There are, literally, hundreds of Twitter accounts that do nothing but promote the selling and leasing of these tracks. I have no clue how you’d police the “lease” of a track to begin with. In either case, there are already a LOT of people doing this, so why be one more in a series of people, trying to convince others your beats are the best? If you ARE a “beat maker”, I’d suggest working with a specific rapper (if you’re not one yourself) to create tracks for, and share in any of the revenue generated from concerts or similar revenue-generating activities.

As far as resources for learning how to do this, those are hard to come by, but I’ll list a few places that may help explain more about what library tracks are:

Sound on Sound – All About Library Music

We All Make Music – How to Write Library Music That Sells

Hope this helps, Robin!

To Save a Studio

If you follow the recording studio industry much, you know that there are lots of ways for studios to fail (competition from home recording, decease in recording budgets for artists, online piracy making music less valuable). Automobile traffic is not one of the typical risks, until now.

This story comes to us via United Sound Systems. Located in Detroit, Michigan, United Sound Systems (USS) has been around for, in recording studio terms, eons. Originally built in 1933, USS has been the birthplace of many great recordings by many great artists, including John Lee Hooker, Miles Davis, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, just to name a few (not to mention Berry Gordy, Jackie Wilson, Smoky Robinson and the Miracles, Issac, Hayes, and Aretha Franklin).

Outside United Sound Systems Studio
United Sound Systems (Courtesy of detroitwiki.org)

But, now, urban expansion is threatening the very building where history has been literally made. The Michigan Department of Transportation is redesigning the exchange between Interstate 94 and Highway 10, and the property where USS sits is slated for purchase and “removal” by the Michigan Department of Transportation. So, if this plan comes to fruition, Unites Sound Systems will be no more

However, don’t think that MDOT is planning on destroying a vibrant, working, integral-to-the-industry (like that exists anymore anyway) studio to begin with. The last time this property was sold (in 2009), it sold for only $20,000, and all accounts point to the studio space has been largely unused since 2008, if not before then.

Not to say that the studio is permanently dark, either. According to reports, the studio is still active, with acts such as Allee Willis and George Clinton recording there recently.

To combat this threat, the current owners of USS are starting to offer tours to showcase the history of the building. It’s possible that, if more people know about the historical significance of the building, this may generate more interest in the studio and lead to a new era of recording at USS.

Efforts to save historical studios have been met with sometimes-successful results it he past. Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, a once-great (and possible future great) studio, has had a rocky past few years. After falling into disuse,Noel Webster purchased the studio, who used it as his own personal studio and opened it up for tourists, while making it on the National Register of Historical Places. After running the studio for a few years (and having, at least, some success with it), Webster sold the studio to the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation, who is getting financial support for the studio from Jimmy Iovine at Beats. The future of MSSS is secure, in terms of preserving the building, for now.

However, Muscle Shoals isn’t in any real danger of running out of space for their cars either, like Detroit, apparently is (aren’t people moving away from there anyway?).

What do you think? Are old studios worth saving? If so, under what conditions? Are studios that aren’t actively recording really studios? What’s the measure of when a studio should be “rescued from destruction”, versus letting it slip away into a purely historical context? Should the market decide who live & who dies? Or, should we seek to preserve the history of the music industry? Should we call USS “preserving the history of the music industry” to begin with? If it’s a money-making business that pays its taxes, what difference does that make?

Native Instruments’ Maschine 2.0 Says “No” to Pro Tools Previous Versions

Native Instruments announces new Maschine software. Find the PDF of the press release here:

If you notice in the release, there is no support for Maschine as an RTAS plug-in.

Native Instruments Maschine
Native Instruments Maschine Studio Software

What does that mean? Anybody who’s using any version of Pro Tools prior to Version 10 is out of luck.

Will this have an impact on you as a music creator? If you have Pro Tools 9 or less, will you upgrade your Pro Tools rig to accommodate the new Native Instruments Maschine software?

Thinking About Setting Up a Recording Studio in Your Dorm?

Photo Courtesy Dave Cintron
Photo Courtesy Dave Cintron

Recroding music in a tiny space has never been easier.

You know what beats out a great-sounding A/D converter? A great-sounding vocalist, musician, or song.

You know what’s beter than going into a bunch of debt buying a bunch of hardware and software for your recording? Buying the minimal amount of gear and learning how to stretch that gear ot the limits, using every single feature/knob/contol/button on the gear/software.

A small space != small creativity.

Thinking About Setting Up a Recording Studio in Your Dorm?

Read more:  Thinking About Setting Up a Recording Studio in Your Dorm? · NYU Local http://nyulocal.com/on-campus/2013/09/13/thinking-about-setting-up-a-recording-studio-in-your-dorm/#ixzz2eoDHlJOD
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

Do You Hear What I Hear?

For you musicians, here’s a question: When you record your performance, do you pay attention to what you’re actually playing, or focus on the way it’s “supposed to sound” according to the performance you have set up in your mind?

Another question: When you listen to your recorded performance, do you actually hear what’s coming from the speakers and judge that performance, or do you “perform” the part again in your head, as the playback is rolling, and focus on that performance you have set up in your head again?

This is pretty much what I asked Robert Woody, a guy that knows how musicians’ minds work. He decided to make an entire article about it on Psychology Today’s website, as well as his personal blog.

A highly recommended, interesting read.  Here’s his personal blog too.

Taylor Swift – “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”: A Production Analysis

Taylor Swift’s song “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”, written by Taylor Swift, Max Martin & Shellback, and produced by Scott Borchetta, Max Martin & Shellback, provides some interesting production ideas that aspiring (and current) producers can learn from.

Taylor Swift - We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
Taylor Swift – We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together – Single Cover

YouTube Official Music Video

One of the most interesting production ideas in the song is the use of changing dynamics to indicate different parts of the song. Of course songs should be dynamic, and good songs push and pull the dynamics to draw the listener in & create interest in the song.

“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” does this by changing the instrumentation and what the instrumentation is doing throughout the song.  There are no less than eighteen different parts to this song, broken down by instrumentation and dynamics.

  1. Intro – The tune starts with a single acoustic guitar, digitally warped with a few notes reversed & an interesting stereo knock on the guitar’s body to catch the listener’s attention.
  2. Verse 1 – Adds a kick drum. Still simplistic instrumentation to highlight the vocals that are telling the story.
  3. Verse 1, Part 2 – Halfway through the verse, some additional sound is added to the kick. No new instrumentation, but the kick simply has a different sound. Probably by adding another sound to what was originally triggered, or maybe a change in the EQ of the kick drum.
  4. Pre-Chorus – The part with the “Oooohs”. Add a bass playing straight 1/8th notes and hi-hat rhythm, that swells into
  5. Chorus 1 – Add background vocals, a huge snare, and additional guitar parts. The bass part changes from 1/8th notes to longer notes, with lots of space in between, basically the opposite of what you heard in the verse, which slightly swells to
  6. Chorus, Part 2 – Similar to the previous verse, the chorus gets added to in the second half, with additional melodic instrumentation.  This part of the chorus also includes a two-bar change in the rhythm of the song for “You go talk to your friends..”. Back to the original rhythm when you get to “But we are never…”. Probably my favorite part of the song.
  7. Turn Around – After the chorus, there’s a short turn-around of two measures that serves to take the song back to a lower dynamic level for verse 2.
  8. Verse 2 – Starts at the level the second half of verse one started, so it’s not just a repeat of verse 1, by adding the bass (again playing 1/8th notes). This verse is only half the length of the first, so we continue on the the
  9. Pre-Chorus 2 – The “Ooooh” part again, where there’s a hi-hat again, with some addition of delay on some of the vocal tracks, along with additional background vocals, which rises to
  10. Chorus 2 – Similar to chorus 1, but adds additional lead vocal ad libs, which swells (larger than last time) to the interesting
  11. Chorus 2, Part 2 – Two-bar rhythm change, plus some additional lead vocal ab libs. See Chorus 1, Part 2 above.
  12. Turn Around 2 – Actually the pre-chorus in dynamics and instrumentation, but there’s no downturn in  intensity until it swells to the
  13. Bridge – Takes out everything but the vocals, bass, and kick to start with. The acoustic guitar riff comes in with the high frequencies rolled off & phased/filtered, and gets louder/less equalized, and less phasey, until it gets to the
  14. Fall Off – Not really a “part” of a song, but the entire instrumentation falls off so it’s just the spoken “like, ever”. To put a fine point on the concept, which reverse cymbal rises into the climax
  15. Chorus 3 – All instrumentation, additional BGVs, lead vocal ad libs. The climax of the song
  16. Chorus 3/Outro – Adds more instrumentation, but nothing heavy-handed. Adds an almost club/dance snare track leading in tot his final chorus, along with a rhythmic keyboard part.
  17. Last line in Chorus – Climax is over, intensity decreases to just kick, vocals, BGVs, bass, and guitars, which ends the song with
  18. The Very Last Line – “Getting back together”, with no instrumentation.