The Absolute Beginner’s Roadmap to a Successful Home Studio (Part II)
How to Rise Up in a World of Daft Bedroom Producers
“Why the hell should I read this article?”
You might see this big block of text below and be asking yourself that question.
Well, to put it bluntly, there are a lot of stupid people running home studios. Those people give everyone else a bad name. This is also why the term “bedroom producer” is generally meant to be a derogatory term, when it really shouldn’t be.
It all boils down to your reputation.
Nobody wants to be “that guy.”
If you’re “that guy,” you may not even realize it.
Most friends will rarely let you know if you’re “that guy,” and if you’re concerned that you may be “that guy,” or worse, you don’t even know what I mean by “that guy,” then you are probably…that guy.
I’m here to help make sure you’re never “that guy” with part two of The Absolute Beginner’s Roadmap to a Successful Home Studio
This article is going to mainly deal with reputation, but I also will include a few other things that you can immediately implement into how you run your studio. If you haven’t already, go read Part 1.
- Your reputation
- How to increase word of mouth business
- Raising your prices
- Negotiating with clients (or not)
- Finding your niche
- Managing your schedule
Reputation: The Most Important Part of your Business
Reputation is the single most important part of your business. I can’t even stress this enough.
YOUR REPUTATION IS LITERALLY EVERYTHING.
It directly affects the amount of bands that record with you, as well as the quality of those bands. It affects the amount of respect that other producers have for you. It determines which record labels will work with you (if any). It determines whether or not bands will come back to you more than once.
The bottom line (for this blog at least), is that your reputation directly affects your income.
Most home studios are a one man operation, which can make it very difficult to recover from setbacks concerning your reputation. There is no “now under new management” sign that you can put outside to lure people back in.
The best thing to do is to never set yourself back. If you’ve already done this, then it sucks to suck. I’m not here to help you fix your damaged reputation, but I can help people from ever screwing up in the first place.
How to Build a Solid Reputation
This part is common sense for some, and surprisingly hard to do for others. These are the basics:
- Do what you say you’re going to do
- Don’t be lazy
- Learn to manage your anger
- Communicate: don’t keep bands in the dark
- Always have the band’s best interests at heart
This is part of the reason I’ve managed to keep a full schedule for the past 5 years, and it’s how I stay booked a solid 2 to 5 months ahead of time (without a single penny of advertising).
If you treat your bands right, more often than not, they’ll come back to record again. Occasionally, they’ll even send other bands your way. I still have bands coming back to me that I recorded in 2009 (talk about job security).
I grew my business to where it’s at now by doing two things; constantly improving my ability as a producer/mixer and making sure the bands are ultimately happy in the end. I definitely have not reached “max level” yet, but I do OK. I know I still have a ways to go.
Manage your anger
I don’t mean “be the nicest guy ever.” That is a great way to get walked over by “band dudes.” If you ask any band that has ever recorded with me what they think of me, they will say any number of things, but the common theme is that I am mean. The key is to keep it humorous and lighthearted. I am a very blunt person, and I say what’s on my mind, but I generally make a joke of it. This usually softens my blunt personality just enough to stay likeable (or at least enough to put up with me).
Sometimes I do really have to come down hard on some of the disrespectful band members, but that is rare. Just find a balance that works for you. When new bands admit that they are intimidated of you based off your reputation, but old bands laugh at the thought of you being “intimidating,” then you’ve probably found a pretty good balance.
What you don’t want to do is truly lose your temper. Even worse, you obviously don’t want to physically fight a band that is paying you to record (I have heard of this happening). Good luck finding other bands to record when you’re known as a violent producer.
When things get extremely stressful, just take a 5 minute break and grab a snack. Most of the time, I am just “hangry’, which is easily fixed. If you really have to, tell the band you need to edit something, and give yourself a break from the band. Do some pitch correction or guitar editing to let the anger pass. Once you get over it, you usually feel stupid about getting mad in the first place.
Keep the band in the loop once they’ve left the studio. If you say you’ll get them a mix of their songs this week, make sure you get the mix to them this week. If you can’t, just shoot them an email explaining why you can’t get the mixes to them, and when they should actually be expecting to get them.
Nobody likes being in the dark, especially when they’re waiting on something they paid good money for. Band guys can be surprisingly forgiving about deadlines, as long as they know you’re not being lazy, and you’re updating them whenever plans change.
Don’t be lazy
This one is easy to understand, so I’ll keep it short:
Don’t be a lazy fuck.
When you have work to do, just do it. That’s all I have to say about that.
At the end of the day, if you can follow what I’ve outlined here, and you always have the band’s best interest at heart, then you can keep a squeaky clean reputation (which will hopefully help keep your schedule full). Word of mouth advertising is the best thing ever:)
How and when to raise your prices (the right way)
There are a couple of different ways to do this, and they are determined by where you are in your career. Keep in mind that it will almost always boil down to what the market determines you are worth in the long run. You may be able to overcharge an occasional band or two, but there is no way to sustain this and keep your schedule full.
Something to keep in mind: If you offer nothing unique, then your recordings are little more than a commodity.
In these situations, it really helps to be a likeable person. This is actually something that sets you apart from others, even if your recording quality is plain-ass-vanilla. If every producer in your area has the same basic sound quality, then a band is much more likely to record with someone they like.
Raising Prices (for Beginners)
When you’re first learning the ropes, charge a fair rate based on a combination of the sound you provide, and the amount of competition in your area. When my assistant, Kevin, was transitioning from his full time job (as a Walmart photographer) to recording bands full time, he made a pretty bold leap from $150 per song to $400 per song.
What happened after he raised his prices? He booked his schedule solid for the next 3 months (with deposits) and quit his job. This is all while supporting his wife and kid (so some of you have no excuses there).
Why did this work?
He was smart about it. He had just recorded a single for a good local band and he knew he had killed it.
He knew he was going to get an influx of local bands wanting to record with him once this band released their single, so he researched other producers in the area to compare his quality and pricing to theirs. He found out quickly that he was selling himself short.
The only other producer in the area that could compete with his sound quality was charging $325 per day, which made his decision to ramp up prices an easy one.
He also asked that local band for a small favor: That if any band asked them what his pricing was, say he charged them $400 for the single.
It’s important for bands to feel like you’re not price gouging. Even if your recording quality is clearly worth $400 per song, but bands know you charged their friends $150, they’ll feel entitled to the lower price.
If you don’t want to ask a band to lie for you, just have them say that “they got a good deal because they know the producer,” and to “just email him for pricing.”
This is a great story for how you can determine your pricing, and price according to what your true market value is as a beginner. I actually didn’t even plan to write about this, but thankfully Kevin was sitting right next to me as I was typing up this article, and I asked him to give me his input.
Side note: Don’t charge “per song” once you have a few bands under your belt. If you read part 1, you should know this already. Instead of $400 per song, charge the band $200 per day.
Intermediate and Advance Producers
The basic method is actually quite similar to beginners. You should be comparing your pricing to similar producers in your region. If you’re the best option within a 100-200 mile radius, then charge accordingly. If there is a high amount of competition in your region, you may have to be a bit more flexible with pricing.
Once you get to the point where the majority of your bands are coming from out of state, this typically means that your schedule is fairly booked up. When this happens, it’s pretty easy to experiment with pricing.
This is how I’ve raised pricing over the past 4 or 5 years:
Once my schedule is booked up 3 months (or more) in advance, I start quoting bands higher pricing to see if they bite. If they do, great. This is a good sign that you are worth more than what you’re charging, and you can start trying to get these prices from other bands. If they don’t, it’s fine. Assess the situation and see if you’re overcharging. Try the higher price with a few more bands and see what happens.
If no one is biting, then you may want to way until your mixes are better before you try raising prices again. Feel free to email those bands you missed out on and see if you can get them to book at the “lower” price (your normal rate).
If your schedule is starting to thin out for no obvious reason, it may be time to lower pricing. I’ve had several stretches in my schedule like this over the years, and honestly I just enjoyed the time off. It doesn’t always mean your demand has dropped. If you have more than a couple weeks off here and there, then you should definitely consider lowering your pricing. Even the longest gap in my schedule that I could just not book up was only about 2 weeks (this was back in 2012).
How to Negotiate with Bands (or not)
I have to admit that I have a bit of a short fuse when It comes to negotiating with bands, under certain circumstances.
If I sense that a band is just straight up haggling with me, 9 times out of 10, I won’t even reply to them. This is not what I recommend you do.
If the band isn’t just haggling, and they’re simply letting me know their maximum budget is under what I’m charging, then I’ll happily discuss whether I’m the right choice for them. If I really like the band, I may even book them at a lower rate.
Stay firm in your pricing, but don’t be a snob (which I’m guilty of). If you’re in dire need of filling your schedule, it’s going to be much harder to do this. You may even have to come down on your pricing a bit.
If, however, your schedule is booked solid over the coming months, and some band emails you looking for a “special deal”, here is how I recently started handling it.
“I would love to work with you guys on this project, but my pricing is firm. I do occasionally run specials on pricing when cancellations occur or if there is a gap in my schedule that I need to fill, but that is honestly pretty rare. If you guys would like to wait and see if something comes up, I can add you to my contact list for this. If something opens up, I can get you in here for [whatever pricing they’re trying to get, or something close to it]. Otherwise, I am more than happy to fit you guys on any of my open dates at my normal pricing.”
This is just a polite and long winded way of saying no.
When Negotiating is OK
I know not everyone has a schedule that is booked solid, so I’ll try to be more realistic here for everyone else.
If there is a good band that you know will improve your reputation and bring more bands in, do whatever you have to do to record that band. This can be the difference between “making it” and not “making it.”
If you have to pay the bills, again, this is a time where you have no other option than to play the negotiation game.
Things to Consider When Negotiating
Are there 5 different studios in your area that you compete with? Chances are your negotiation power is weak here. You’ll need to find ways to set yourself apart from the competition and offer something unique.
Are you the only decent studio within 100 miles?
Stand firm in your pricing, and enjoy this while it lasts.
Can this band simply not afford your pricing?
This is where it’s your call. You run a studio, not a charity.
How much do you want/need this band on your client list?
This should be a pretty big determining factor of whether you come down on pricing or not.
Have you eaten recently?
No Joke! I have a zero tolerance for BS when I’m “hangry” (hungry, thus angry). I could never negotiate with a clear head if I was hungry. A good rule of thumb is to never make an important decisions with an empty stomach. This goes for anything in life.
Finding Your Niche
“Niching down” is the easiest way to start out any business. There is less competition, more loyalty, and the clients generally talk to and help each other out more often (more word of mouth business potential). The best part is that it’s generally easier to be noticed in a small niche than it is in a large mainstream crowd.
Most of my readers are already in the metal niche, so you guys should have no problem with this, but a few of my readers are still trying to make it as a pop or rock producer. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, except that those are two heavily competitive genres that are very very very hard to get into. Unless you’re just the the shit, you may be better off going after a smaller niche market.
I couldn’t possibly sit here and go over every little niche in music, but I can guarantee you will be better off as a beginner if you can find a niche and specialize in it.
This is infinitely harder to do if you’re not a fan of anything remotely considered “niche.” If all you listen to is top 40 radio hits, stop it. Stop it now. Download Spotify, and start looking for obscure bands that are part of a tight nit niche. Find the bands whose recordings you enjoy, and start reading into those recording techniques. Maybe you’ll have a natural knack for it.
Let me clarify that I find nothing necessarily wrong with top 40 radio songs. The recording and production quality with that is usually top notch. I just want anyone that is unaware of niche genres to broaden their musical tastes.
Managing Your Schedule
I’ll keep this section short, because I’ve written somewhere around 2500 words so far, and I’m sick of typing.
I use Google Calendar to manage my schedule, and it’s awesome.
- It syncs with my phone, so I can always check or change my schedule, no matter where I am
- I can add other people to it, so my assistant can constantly have an up-to-date schedule
- I can color code projects, so I know at a glance whether it’s a band coming in for tracking, or if I’m only mixing/mastering the band
- It sends me text alerts the day before a project starts so that I never forget about it (you’d be surprised how often this can happen when you do this full time)
If you use something that you think is better, leave it in the comments below and I’ll check it out!
How to be Profitable, Even if You Suck at Mixing
This will be a fun topic to cover next time. There are plenty of successful producers and tracking engineers that struggle with mixing. This will probably be an article with more technical information and some screenshots. Looking forward to doing it!
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