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Independent Recording Studio Do’s And Don’ts

(Editor’s Note: This is a repost of an article from our previous web server on running an independent recording studio. It has been re-edited and added back as it’s contents are still very relevant.)

Your recording studio business is made or killed in first impressions. Even the first few seconds of a phone call can mean the difference between a busy session, or a weekend watching re-runs. I hope to shed some light on a few things you can do to keep the potential client interested in visiting, and eventually booking time.

Most large studios have the advantage in the booking game. Reputation, equipment, and marketing are all on their side. However, pricing is to your advantage. You can overcome these handicaps, beat their price, and compete in the small studio world. Just use your head and stay on your toes!

Your Recording Studio- Be Prepared

We are going to look at a few things that will help book your studio and build a client base. I assume you’ve done all the preparation needed to actually get the phone call. Do you have a website, MySpace, Facebook? Have you visited clubs, printed business cards, placed local advertising, etc? You haven’t done these things? Then get on it. If no one knows who you are, they aren’t going to come looking for you.

First Contact

Make sure you have a professional sounding phone system. I don’t mean to run out and buy a $50,000 phone routing system. You need to have one information number. The voice mail should be set up with your studio name and a timeline for the return call. Don’t put your latest beat or a downloaded song as your greeting. Make it short, sweet, and to the point. This will also help future follow up return calls. Nothing will turn someone off quicker than a five-minute wait before the message.

It doesn’t really matter if it’s a cell phone or a land-line. Make sure that if you can’t take the initial call, you will be getting right back to the caller. Remember that your new client is probably calling around to other studios for pricing and/or a tour of the facility. The first one to answer is usually the winner.

Sell Yourself

Call back quickly and have all your information ready for any questions. A calendar, equipment list, rate schedule, and reference numbers should all be at hand. Be ready for any questions. If you have to call back a second time with more information, you will lose that client to someone who’s ready with an answer. Often, the potential client doesn’t know what to ask. So make notes on what you want to say about your studio. You don’t want it to be scripted, but if you have an idea about what your studio is all about, that helps break the ice.

independent_studio_tips_3 Many years ago I opened my first studio. I was a fan of Cakewalk, then moved on to Sonar. Clients who didn’t know anything about recording knew the term “Pro Tools”. So the first question would be, “Do you have Pro Tools?” I would say no and the next thing I heard from the call was a dial tone. Be ready for those kinds of questions and have a quick answer.

Don’t assume your client knows about gear or what’s the latest in audio. They are often reacting to marketing. A question like, “I heard that XYZ makes a great mic”, for instance. Your answer might be, “Yes, that is a good mic. But I have an ABC mic and it sounds very similar to the XYZ. You should come try it out and hear how amazing the voice sounds on this thing.”

Face to Face

It’s time for the in-person visit. Set a time for your potential client to talk about their project. But keep a few things in mind. Arrive for the appointment early. Nothing turns a person off more than having to wait for someone. Even if they are on musician’s time, it shows a lack of respect and may give the impression that you don’t care. Additionally, if you show up right on time or a little late, it sends the signal that you are not very busy. Therefore you must not be very good.

Arrive early and do a little housekeeping. Make sure things are put away, cords are wrapped and hung, the fridge is stocked, and amps and guitars are against the wall or displayed in an orderly way. Your new client is probably going to make their decision in that first minute or two, so don’t give them any trivial excuse to move on to the next studio.

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Greet your visitor at the door with a handshake. This isn’t the time to get fancy about your high fives and back slaps. Just a regular handshake and simple greeting will suffice. Call them by name often during these first few minutes so they have the feeling that you are on top of things. Be ready to give your undivided attention. Speaking of undivided attention, don’t answer cell calls or get caught up in something else during this meeting. Your visitor is surveying your studio and your personality. Don’t give them any negative impressions.

The Studio

Talk about your studio with pride. Don’t point out any problems or work- a-rounds. People tend to believe you when you say something is broken. Don’t focus on the negative. Walk them around the studio. Spend a little time in each part and initially keep them moving. You want them to soak in your vibe, so show your place off.

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Never, ever talk bad about other studios. That’s bad karma, and it shows that you’re insecure. Know your competition. Make your client aware of that knowledge. Even if the other studios talk bad about you, your positive attitude shows your visitor that you are honest and confident.

After the greetings, tour, and small talk, you will now get down to the nitty-gritty. Be prepared to play something that is in or close to the genre of music that the client is going to record. Play mixes that are up to snuff and not some hack job. Make sure your monitors, board, and connections are good. This is not the time for studio maintenance. If you don’t have any genre specific recording, then play the best mix you have. Keep reminding the client during this process that you can do anything, and whatever they ask for is possible.

Negotiate the Price

There is an old saying in business that goes something like this; whomever says the first price loses. Hopefully you’ve given your standard pricing in the phone contact, but everything is negotiable. This is where the real art of the deal comes in. Ask for a budget and the amount of time that they have for the project. Give them an idea of how much you expect per hour and try to work with them.

Let’s say they have $500 for the project and they want to do 15 songs. Explain to them you can do that if they want, but it will be hurried and something might suffer (like the mix). Don’t be negative. Let them know the process and how long things take. Many new artists think that if a song takes 5 minutes, then the recording process must be about 5 minutes.

Go through the process and tell them how it works. Not in an “are you crazy?” sort of way, but as a teaching moment. If they still don’t understand, tell them to break it down to 2 or 3 songs and budget accordingly, then see how it goes. This helps establish trust in the relationship.

Before the Booking

At this point you are talking about booking and negotiating the price, so you’ve got your client booked! Discuss all the details with the artist. Either meet in person, or talk on the phone before the session. Make sure there are no surprises. This is pre-production and is the most ignored, yet important step of recording. Do you think they sound like the Carpenters, but they think they are the next Jay-Z? Get that clear before you start.

Ask lots of questions. Are they bringing files to use as a base? What format? Do they understand that you can’t alter individual instruments in bounced stereo Reason files? Who is the Producer? Who makes final decisions? How many people in the band? Are they bringing in a Djembe? Is someone coming to video record? How many family members, dogs and cats, boyfriends, girlfriends, and other characters are coming? What about food? Are they buying? Do they know you need a break every now and then to eat or clear your head? Do they know they have to pay for you to set up mics, or are you going to throw that in?

You should also have some sort of legal document ready and agreed to before the session that states non-refundable deposits, breakage of equipment, and liabilities should someone have an accident. What is your studio policy on smoking, drinking, and illegal substance abuses? If any of these things are violated or come up during the session, it’s your job to keep everyone calm. Nothing destroys a session or a future business relationship quicker that a session meltdown.

I hope this helps some of you new studio owners out there. Maybe this is also a reminder for some of you veterans as well. Owning a studio and making a living at it is tough, but it can be done. Always remember that it is a business, and even though it’s in a creative field, you still have to follow certain time proven rules.  Now go record.

Jeffrey Tackett

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