This is post 1 of 2 that teaches you the must know business basics of your home studio.
This blog post will cover these specific topics:
- Getting your first clients
- Your studio’s geographic location
- How much you should charge
- Charging “per song” vs “per day”
- How to handle deposits
For every successful home studio out there, I’m sure there are 100 (if not 1000) studios that failed to turn any sort of profit. Let me warn you now that this post will include a lot of beginner tactics…but help me, help you, help yourself, and read this shit.
If you can grasp these basics, you’ll be miles ahead of all the failures, and several steps closer to having your own “6 figure home studio” (or at least something profitable).
If you’re already recording bands full time, skip this post, and check out my shorter article called How to Keep a Band from Destroying Their Own Mix With Bad Revisions.
Getting your first clients
It goes without saying that if you expect a band to pay you, you can’t completely suck at what you do. Go read up on how to not suck at producing\recording\mixing on one of the many blogs and youtube channels devoted to this.
One of these days I may give my two cents on that subject, but this is not one of those days. For now, it’s up to you to figure out how to not suck.
It seems like a catch-22. You need a portfolio of mixes to convince bands to record with you, and you need bands to record with you in order to get a portfolio of mixes together.
If you absolutely cannot get a band to pay you for recording, there are three things you could be doing wrong, and luckily two of these are simple to correct.
1. You’re Not Networking
This is the number 1 way to get your first batch of clients. It helps to know bands in your local music scene.
If you don’t know any bands that you could record, go to local shows…better yet, join a band and start playing local shows. The majority of successful producers I know were playing in bands long before they were trying to record them (myself included).
The main objective here is to make friends with “band dudes”. If you can build relationships with potential clients, it shouldn’t be long before you can convince them to record at least 1 song with you.
2. You’re an Introvert
If you’re antisocial, stop it. I know very few successful producers that aren’t easy to talk to and be around. You’re going to have a tough time if you can’t figure out a way to be an extrovert when you need to be.
This is unfortunately not one of the easy things to change. It involves a lot more psychology than I could possibly get into right now, but if you have the desire to be more outgoing, then you most certainly can change. Google around for some articles that could help you get over this.
One way I see you getting around this is by hiding behind the social shield known as the internet, and start looking for bands to record online. Add “band dudes” on facebook from your area and chat them up. Be active on forums associated with the type of music you want to record, and find members to talk to that are in your area.
If you want to make it super interesting (and awkward), start trying to match with other local men on Tinder and ask them if they’re in a band. Not only could you find a new client, but you could potentially find a new “life partner” in the process (please tell me if you actually do this).
3. You’re not hustling
So you don’t totally suck as a producer, you ARE playing in a band, you ARE networking at shows, and you ARE a likeable extrovert…but you still can’t find a couple of bands that will pay you to record?
This a great sign that you’re not hustling. Step it up a notch by going to more shows, meeting more people, and doing whatever you can to convince bands to record a song with you (have you tried the Tinder method yet?). If you have recordings of your own band that you can show people, this will make finding work easier (or harder, if you suck).
If you can’t get past this part, leave a comment below explaining your situation, and I’ll try my best to figure out what you’re doing wrong. Chances are, your recordings suck, and you should feel bad. Go improve your mixes!
I firmly believe your location isn’t that important. If Joey Sturgis (one of the first 6 figure home studios in heavy music) can become successful while living in the whispering eye Goosebumps city known as Connersville, Indiana, then you have no excuses.
It obviously becomes harder when there are literally no bands in your area to record, but this is where the hustler mentality prevails.
As you become more successful, your location will matter even less. I still did well in my first 4 years in Alabama, and my move to Nashville had little or nothing to do with my increase in income (I actually haven’t recorded a single Nashville band since moving here 2 years ago).
Most of the bands I record travel here from out of state, or even out of country, so which city I live in hardly matters. What matters is developing a unique sound that people are willing to come to you for.
The bottom line when you’re starting out is, you don’t have to be incredible, but you need to be worth what you’re charging. This is the perfect segway into our next subject:
“How much should I charge?”
This is entirely up to you, but as a complete beginner, I would suggest charging on a “per song” basis. I only suggest this type of pricing for beginners (more on this later), because you will be spending half your time Googling stupid shit like “how to change the tempo in Pro Tools”. This is just a fair way to learn how to record while you’re still getting paid.
The first band I ever recorded was for $50/song, and I would imagine this is a pretty fair price range to start out at when you’re still learning the basics. By my third or fourth band, I was charging $75/song, and after a couple of months, I was up to $100/song.
Charging “per song” VS “per day”
Six months into recording, I moved to a daily rate ($100/day), then $150 per day by the end of my first year.
By year two I was up to $200-$250 per day, and by the end of year four I was up to $350 per day.
You should work towards a daily rate ASAP, and here’s why:
The temptation of being lazy will be there.
Very few producers will admit this, but when you’re charging “per song”, there is a risk you run of damaging your final product through rushing. You have less of an incentive to record and edit everything properly, because wasted time is wasted money for you. When you have a band that eats up more time than you expected, you start telling yourself “fuck it, it’s fine,” and the end product will not be as good as if you charge “per day”. Period.
Not all bands are created equally
This one is easy to understand….
Band 1 (let’s call them The Mormon Oreo) :
The Mormon Oreo comes into the studio well prepared. They have everything written, all of their parts figured out, and they can record their parts quickly and cleanly. They’re all good people, and you even develop a nice little bromance with the vocalist (no homo, bro).
Band 2 (we’ll call them Breeding Hut):
Breeding Hut comes into the studio with skeletons of half written songs. Most of the members don’t know their parts, no guitar leads are written, and the dumpy fat bass player doesn’t even know how to play the bass. To top it off, the “pretty boy” vocalist with meticulous hair, bad tattoos, waxed eyebrows (HAHAHA), and bad breath has about…zero lyrics written. You wouldn’t shed a tear at their funerals if they were to die next week, and the vocalist literally smells like a walking corpse.
It should be obvious that these two bands don’t deserve to pay the exact same price for a 5 song EP.
The Mormon Oreo could be in and out in 5 days, and you’ll probably be recording them multiple times over the next 5 years, while they blow up and send you a million different bands to record (shout out to Gideon and Erra, the 4th and 6th band I ever recorded).
While The Mormon Oreo may have been fantastic to work with at $100/song, Breeding Hut could take twice the amount of time, if not longer.
Not only does it take you twice as long, but the mental strain of having to “cheat edit” every single guitar part on the record, while listening to them argue over basic song structure, and having to smell their vocalist’s musty breath…let’s just assume that you will probably despise your very own existence at this point.
It should be obvious that you just don’t record bands like Breeding Hut, but unfortunately when you’re just starting out, you don’t know how to spot those type of bands beforehand. Not only that, but you pretty much have to take whatever work you can get in the early days.
“How do I make my life easier when dealing with shitty bands?”
This is a tough question with a lot of possible answers, but one simple thing you can do is charge a flat rate “per 8 hour day”.
Breeding Hut will always suck to record. The only thing you can do about it is to stay away from those types of bands. One thing that does make it easier if (God forbid) you have to record a band like this, is by charging them on a “per day” basis.
Let me elaborate:
The entire time you’re sitting in your producer chair, listening to the band argue over whether the guitar lead is supposed to go “squildly dee dum do” or “squidly dum do do de dum” , you at least have the comfort of knowing, in the back of your mind, that you are being paid for listening to this band argue…as long as you’re charging the band for each day they're in the studio. If you’re getting paid “per song”, then every hour wasted from this band’s lack of preparation will further dilute your hourly pay.
Charging “per day” is the best way to reward the bands that come in well prepared, and punish the bands that don’t.
How to handle deposits
This is something I didn’t do from day 1, but you should if you can. It only took 1 band “sketching out” on me to realize that this was necessary.
Here is the deposit policy I’ve had for the past 5 years:
“Most bands need to book around 2-3 days per song to complete all tracking, editing, mixing, and mastering. A 40% non refundable deposit is required to book dates. The remainder is due on the first day of tracking.”
In my 8+ years, with this policy, I’ve had maybe 4-5 bands fail to show up (and lose their deposits).
The entire point of the deposit is for the band to commit to recording with you, and for little bullshit excuses not to pop up that keep them from showing up.
If a band does happen to cancel, their deposit should be enough to at least cover your bills during the chunk of time on your calendar that is now open.
The deposit percentage can be anything between 20%-50%( I haven’t seen anything higher than that). The reason I ask for the remaining balance on the first day of tracking is because I never work for time I haven’t been paid for.
This is for my own protection, because I do not work with contracts (personal preference), and I do not work for promises. The only exception with any of these rules is for label work (which I’ll go over later).
There are several ways you can collect deposits, but most bands pay via PayPal, and most labels pay via check. Bank transfers are also awesome for oversea transfers (provided that your bank has a SWIFT number). If you’re working with a local band, cash works better than any of these other methods.
You can also accept credit card payments by sending PayPal invoices, so that's typically the best option for most situations where cash is not an option.
If you don't have a few bands under your belt yet, you’ll probably have to work on your reputation before you can start asking for deposits. Experiment and see what works for you.
Just please make sure you are ethical with all payments. If bands pay you in advance, make sure you deliver the final product in a timely manner; as promised. If you can’t do that, good luck ever succeeding in this business.
If this stuff is too basic for your needs, I promise I’ll get into more advanced topics later on. This blog is a marathon, not a race.
I’ve already flown past the 2500 word count, and still have plenty to add to this “beginner's roadmap”, so I will have to cover these topics on the next post:
- How to raise your prices (the right way)
- How to build your reputation
- How to increase word of mouth business
- Negotiating with clients (or not)
- Finding your niche
- Working with labels and band managers
- Managing your schedule
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P.S. What are your goals with your studio? Full time, part time, or hobby? Leave a comment below and let me know!