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!

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
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

Be suspicious of any technology that requires walls

Technology in the studio is a tool, not the endgame, although some people think collecting technology is the essence of studio work (but that’s another topic).

A good craftsman knows how his tools work and works to maintain those tools, especially if those tools are expensive and hard to replace. No, you don’t need to necessarily know how to program in C+ or repair the anti-alias filter on your converters, but EVERY TOOL REQUIRES MAINTENANCE. It’s like being a guitar player and not knowing how to change the strings.

This brings us to today’s lesson:

Be suspicious of any technology that requires walls. If you can fix it, modify it or hack it yourself, that is a good sign.

We, as recording studio owners, engineers, producers, or whoever, use technology to get everything done, from recording the drums to mastering the finished product. Used to be, all engineers were able to clean & align their tape machine, remove channel strips and troubleshoot problems, and disassemble a microphone to find the problem, even if they couldn’t fix it themselves, they’d know where the problem was.

Things are drastically different today. Seems like many engineers don’t even know how their own gear is connected in their own studio. Now, this is interesting because now there’s a whole new side business of individuals who troubleshoot, fix, and un-screw-up what the last guy messed up. Not a bad gig, but it’s kind of like diet & weight-loss products today. We didn’t need those products 50 years ago. We see a need for them today.

There’s a whole offshoot of musicians and studio-types that like to tinker with their gear. I’m one of them. I’m not taking my Mbox apart and re-engineering the inputs or anything, but I like to take things apart. I like to take things apart so much I have a subscription to Make Magazine. Highly recommended for those of you who like to void warranties.

I encourage anybody to start prodding around your gear. It doesn’t take that much to get started. Wanna start with something small? Open your computer up and poke around. If you get lost, Google something like “computer insides” or “basic computer repair”. Find a video. There’s videos on how to fix ANYTHING you want to fix or poke around in. Seriously. Once you get comfortable with that, maybe you wanna try your microphone or amplifier.

We’re in a world where it’s becoming impossible for anyone to work on their own gear (as an auto mechanic). I think that’s bad news, because so many of the greatest inventions we use in the studio today came from guys tinkering around their own gear (Les Paul, The Beatles, George Massenburg). There’s always been this tendency to take something and find you own uses for it, instead of just using it for its intended purpose, and we’re losing it.


You will always be a beginner

No, this is not the last fortune cookie I received, it’s the next lesson in our series “Achieving Techno-Literacy in the Studio” series. 

The complete lesson is this:

Before you can master a device, program or invention, it will be superseded; you will always be a beginner. Get good at it. 

Guess what? Avid (B.T.W., how many people still call it “Digidesign”?) just released Pro Tools HD Native. Whut, you might say? I never even knew that was an option, you declare? Well, here it is!

It’s still a PCI-e card that you need to operate the software, but it runs off of your computer’s own processing power instead of the HD cards of old. My guess is we’ve reached that point in time where computer power has topped and surpassed the capabilities of what the HD cards can do. And why not? Pro Tools HD has been around since what, 2002? Computers are MANY times more powerful now than they were ten years ago. 12-Core Mac Pros were only a dream then.

And what about the software itself? You know, Avid doesn’t certify its users in their official program for a single version just to make more money. They do it because EVERY new version has new capabilities.

Real-time elastic audio, quick looping capabilities and decent-sounding bundled plug-ins were only a Pro Tooler’s dream a few years ago. Now they’re standard, and you can buy it for what $99 including the hardware?

New features are being added to existing software all the time, not to mention the fact that totally new software is being developed that will supersede what we know today. Another fact that I ALWAYS tell my students is:

One day Pro Tools will be superseded by some other software. Just because Pro Tools was one of the first software programs to achieve wide acceptance doesn’t mean that it’s going to be the king forever. 

Is it possible to master a software program? Sure. You can learn every keyboard shortcut & quick tip available, but next month, there’s a new version out, and you’ll need to forget all those shortcuts they don’t use and learn new shortcuts they added.

AND, if it isn’t obvious already, knowing shortcuts does NOT an engineer make. You know why some of the best-sounding mixes and most innovative music is coming out of 17-year old kid’s bedrooms? Because they sit there day after day pointing, clicking, dragging, and experimenting. Experimentation is they key to learning, because you fail so many more times than you succeed, and failing is one of the best ways to learn. They’re not just going through motions or knowing just enough to get by on the project, but really mastering the tools they use to get the exact sound they want. 

So, what’s a body to do? Spend 12 hours a day playing with software to learn every nook & cranny? No. All that’s going to get you is a continual hamster wheel of learning. What you need to do to survive the recording studio technology crunch is learn technique & theory, and combine it with an understanding of what you want the end result to be. Yes, shortcuts are helpful, but focus on

  • Process
  • Theory
  • Understanding

And I guarantee that you’ll be successful in the recording studio. The process for producing a good sound in the studio, the theory behind what should happen in the studio, and having an understanding of how to achieve what you want will never be superseded.

Get comfortable with the fact that anything you buy is already obsolete

Continuing with the series of Techno-Literacy, today’s lesson is:

• Technologies improve so fast you should postpone getting anything you need until the last second. Get comfortable with the fact that anything you buy is already obsolete. 

This is, I believe, a change that has taken place in the recording studio in the past 10 to 15 years or so.

Whereas, yes, recording technology has always progressed – 2-track to 4-track to 8-, 16-, & 24-track analog recording, for example. However, this progression from 2 tracks to 24 tracks took from the mid-1950s to what, the mid-1970’s? And all that work got us was an apex of 24 tracks for recording. In 20 years?

We know each new technology proliferates at a quicker rate as time goes on – from telegraph to telephone to fax machines to e-mail to internet to cell phone usage (and all the steps I missed in there). We’re now at a point in time where the software used to create new studio technology is literally given away (in the form of development kits and the like), and it’s up to the creators (see the previous post) to use their imagination and create. That makes for a situation where anyone whom wants (again see my previous post) to can become a studio technology creator and publish it for free (or pay) on the Internet for anyone to download and use.

Today’s lesson is part godsend and part curse for those of us (like me) whom are very cost-conscious. I’m the kind of guy that hates to buy new technology. I AM the kind of person to wait until the very last minute to buy a new piece of technology, because I know that something better is always around the corner. I remember buying my first computer in the late 1990’s. When I tell younger people about this time period, I think that they have a hard time believing me (or just think that I’m an idiot). The late 1990’s was almost a wild west show in the computer hardware world. I would pick up the Best Buy sales flyer every Sunday and sweep through the computer hardware section to see what new processor speed and memory storage their computers had. There was a time period of several years’ where, literally, almost every other week, I’d see faster speeds & more memory on their computers. Why would anyone want to purchase a computer one week at 733 megahertz and two weeks later see a computer for the same price at 867 megahertz? Or buy a computer with a 10 GB hard drive then see the same computer two weeks later with a 16 GB hard drive?

The technology you buy today is already outdated. You may not be able to buy the newest technology tomorrow, but it won’t be long.

You have two choices: you can either continually chase the technology and buy a new computer every six months, in which case a LOT of your overhead is being taken up with computer hardware and software. I’d say that’s a mistake. 

One thing I ALWAYS tell people I consult with is this: When you start attracting clients to your studio business, do NOT advertise based on your equipment. If you start that trend, you’ll ALWAYS be behind. Someone else will ALWAYS have better equipment, more equipment, more updated software, etc. If you win the equipment chase game, the only ones who really win are the equipment manufacturers. DO NOT PLAY THE EQUIPMENT CHASE GAME.

A better idea is this: Get comfortable with the hardware and software you already have, and learn to use every single feature of that software effectively. Squeeze the blood form that turnip, son! There’s still some juice left in it!

Probably, you have equipment in your studio that has functions you don’t even know about. You learned how the basic functions work for that piece of software, but when you have a need for some other function, you turn to buying another piece of software.

Pro Tools has an entire notation feature built into the software. Did you know that? That fact may mean there’s no real need to buy Finale, Sibelius, or some stand-alone music notation software program. 

When you buy a Pro Tools LE system, you get Melodyne for free. Free! No, it’s not the full-featured Melodyne Studio, but you know what, the vast majority of projects I’m working on don’t necessarily need all of those features. If i can correct some pitches, I’m good!

Learn your software. Learn your hardware. Squeeze every last feature out of your equipment you can. It will save you money in the future. If what I say here saves you some money, let’s go out for coffee later.

New Technology Bites Back

A few days ago I read an article in the New York Times by Kevin Kelly about achieving techno-literacy and lessons he’s passed on to his home-schooled child regarding uses of technology. I want to look at each of these lessons in regards to the use of studio technology and how we can maybe use these lessons to our advantage.

The first lesson is this:

Every new technology will bite back. The more powerful its gifts, the more powerfully it can be abused. Look for its costs.

There is a lot of powerful technology used in the modern recording studio, and always has been one of the hallmarks of the recording industry. Back in the bleeding-edge days of studio technology, Les Paul added another record head to his Apex tape machine and gave us sound-on-sound technology. Those were the days when the same people that worked on nuclear weapons also worked on advancements in audio recording (see Tom Dowd’s documentary, The Language of Music).

However, over time, the producers of technological advancements and the users of those advancements began to separate. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because there became many more users of the technology than creators. Maybe it’s because the technology grew to be more complicated than most users could wrap their brain around. Either way we’re at a point now where there seem to be very few creators of technology but many, many users, and most of those users don’t seem to understand what’s going on that actually makes the technology work (which is a strong point of contention for many seasoned veterans out there).

Which brings me to the lesson: Every new technology will bite back. The more powerful its gifts, the more powerfully it can be abused. Look for its costs. 

The bite comes in many forms: bad music that can be recorded and propagated to the masses, giving a glimmer of hope to an untalented and unmusical by begin able to pitch-correct, time stretch, or otherwise fix bad notes, or relying on that technology in a performance and the technology not coming through for you (see Kanye West’s Saturday Night Live performance form December 2008 – he actually got booed while on stage). 

Now I’m not saying we need to forgo the technology, or shun its use in our studios, but know that technology bites back. Even beyond the musical and creative bites that technology will take, music technology makers have figured out that one way to create a sustainable business is to come out with a product that either breaks after a few years’ usage or needs to be updated (at $75 per .X update) to stay “current”. Reminds me of a great article written by a friend and former co-worker of mine, Tom Day, for TapeOp Magaizne a year or so ago (if you subscribe to TapeOp, look for it and read/re-read it). So, there’s an added bite of continual costs that keep biting us over and over as well.

Does Kanye  abuse Auto-Tune? I don’t know. What I DO know is that I saw his performance from SNL when he sang “Love Lockdown” with no Auto-Tune. He’s a good musician and not an idiot. He should be able to hear that the technology was biting him squarely in the butt by not actually doing what it was supposed to do. He could have fixed it by actually singing the correct notes, but he didn’t.

We now have the power to do more with less in the recording studio than ever before, and that paradigm isn’t going to change anytime soon. What technology we choose to use and how we use that technology is up to us. You know this technology will come back to bite you. You have been warned. Choose and use wisely.

Powerful gifts get abused powerfully, like a super-villain in a comic book. Choose to be a hero and save our music and our future!

Achieving Techno-Literacy in the Studio

The recording studio is an intrinsically technological environment. To survive and thrive, the participants need to comprehend how technology works in order to ensure continued success. Notice I say “comprehend how technology works”, not understand how specific technologies work.

This past week, New York Times writer Kevin Kelly wrote an article about this very subject. He describes how he spent this past year home-schooling his child and the technological literacy that came with the schooling.

He included this list of “technological smartness” lessons in his curriculum:

• Every new technology will bite back. The more powerful its gifts, the more powerfully it can be abused. Look for its costs.

• Technologies improve so fast you should postpone getting anything you need until the last second. Get comfortable with the fact that anything you buy is already obsolete.

• Before you can master a device, program or invention, it will be superseded; you will always be a beginner. Get good at it.

• Be suspicious of any technology that requires walls. If you can fix it, modify it or hack it yourself, that is a good sign.

• The proper response to a stupid technology is to make a better one, just as the proper response to a stupid idea is not to outlaw it but to replace it with a better idea.

• Every technology is biased by its embedded defaults: what does it assume?

• Nobody has any idea of what a new invention will really be good for. The crucial question is, what happens when everyone has one?

• The older the technology, the more likely it will continue to be useful.

• Find the minimum amount of technology that will maximize your options.

What I’m going to do is take the next few weeks and explore each of these lessons in the context of the recording studio so that maybe we can learn a few things about the use of technology in the recording studio and maybe even become smarter engineer, producers, and studio owners.