Plugins Are Putting “Pro Studios” Out Of Business (Thank God)

Why “Pro Studios” Are Dying Off In Droves

I was browsing a Facebook group related to pro studios, and I saw an argument break out that actually seriously absolutely literally blew my mind…literally.

This is a quote from the owner of a “Pro Studio” owner based out of New England.

We’ll call him Richard, because he sounds like a bit of a dick :tim-and-eric-mind-blown

“Plug-ins put pro studios out of business. They are the reason why most people think they can do their recordings at home.”

-Richard The Dick

This is such a shitty mindset on so many levels, that I had to write an entire article about it. Thanks for the ammo, bro.

I will be using the term “Pro Studio” as a proper noun and in quotation marks for a very specific reason – “Pro Studios” (as this guy is referring) are their own entity.

I don’t want the term to be confused with the real professional studios that are out there dominating today’s world of pro audio. There is a huge difference between a “Pro Studio” and a pro studio.

Let me define what I believe a “Pro Studio” is.

“Pro Studio”: A studio that is owned and operated by a gearslut who thinks a “real studio” is one that invests large sums of money into gear and facilities before he has the clientele to back it up. The owner’s self worth is directly tied to his facilities and gear. Debt is his best friend. 

Bottom line: Don’t be a “Pro Studio”. It is not very effective. Read on if you want to know why.

Adapt or Die: The Modern Reality

Flat Studio 1 facebook_life is hard
Good or bad, the internet has changed things in the music industry forever.  Talk to anyone in the studio world that has been around for more than 15 years, and they will tell you that things will never go back to the way they were.

You have a simple choice: adapt or die.

This is not something exclusive to the music industry. Just look at how much Uber has devastated the taxi industry, or how much Airbnb and other short-term-rental websites are affecting the $500-billion hotel industry.

Technology has disrupted (and completely destroyed, in some cases) TONS of industries in the past. This is nothing new.

Blockbuster bankruptAnyone remember Blockbuster Video? They once had a chance to buy Netflix for $50 million. Now Blockbuster is bankrupt, and Netflix is worth $56 BILLION.

The only people that survive these massive disruptions are the ones that adapt to (and take advantage of) the rapid changes.

So let’s go back and look at our friend Richard’s quote.

Plug-ins put pro studios out of business. They are the reason why most people think they can do their recordings at home.”

This is partially correct. Yes, plugins are putting “Pro Studios” out of business. The change from expensive hardware to cheap software plugins is the reason why people CAN do their recordings at home (not just “think” they can).

In many cases, home studios are to putting out higher quality work than these “Pro Studios” that are stuck in their old ways. Adapt or die.

The Lean Home Studio: Profit First

Which would you rather be?

A.) A lean, mean, profitable home studio machine that makes smart use of your money (buying plugins instead of hardware, wherever it makes sense).

B.) A fat, bloated, struggling “Pro Studio” with tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars worth of pretty gear and facilities, and nothing but debt to show for it.

I’m not sure about you, but I’ll choose plugins over hardware any day of the week if it means I get to do what I love for a living. The old-school “build it and they will come” method is risky, ineffective, and dead.

[Tweet “I’ll choose plugins over hardware if it means I get to do what I love for a living”]

Disclaimer: If you are a real pro studio with pretty gear and facilities and the income to back it, then I’m not referring to you. Keep doing what you’re doing. 

But Wait, There’s More!

Let’s go back to our boy, Richard. He had more to say…

If you all want to know how to get a get an actual good tone…. Stop using plug-ins.

Mic a class A amp with a 57 or royer r121, use a great preamp for that mic, use a great hardware compressor, then record into your daw with great converters. If you have to eq like crazy you’ve recorded a bad source….You really can’t skip any steps or cut any corners.”

-Richard The Dick

Virtual BitchslapFirst, let me just give him a virtual bitchslap for implying that you can’t get a good tone using plugins (some of the biggest pros mix in the box now).

Second, let’s break down the cost of what it takes to “get an actual good tone,” according to Richard the Dick.

class A amp – Vox AC30* – $1200

Microphone – Royer r121 – $1300

“Great” preamp for that mic – Chandler Limited TG2 – $2300

A “great” hardware compressor – Tube-Tech CL 1B – $3100

“Great” converters – Apogee Symphony I/O 16×16 – $4000

Grand Total: $11,900

*Note: Vox AC30 amps are technically AB class, but I’m going to assume that our friend Richard doesn’t know this.

Oh is that all it takes for a good tone?

This gearslut mindset is what’s putting “Pro Studio” out of business.

Not plugins.

I promise you that anyone who can create “an actual good tone” using this expensive gear will be able to create a comparable tone in the box for about 3% of the cost.

Instead of being bitter about “plugins putting pro studios out of business,” learn how make better use of your finances so you can lower your operating expenses and compete with all of us bastards running lean home studios.

You don’t need to spend $12,000 to get “an actual good tone” in your mixes.

I know guys that could wipe your ass with their free amp sim tones. I’m not kidding – I actually lurked the internet to find examples of his “Pro Studio” work, and it was exactly what you would expect from someone with this sort of scarcity mindset (It was bad).

I have never met a successful pro (or home) studio owner with a mindset like this…probably because most of those have died off by now.

Free Guide: How To Start And Run A Profitable Home Studio (With Less Than $3,000)

The Lean Home Studio PDF Cover

For those of you who are just starting out, or are thinking of starting your home studio, I made a free PDF to go along with this article.

It includes the 5 keys of bootstrapping (self-funding) your home studio. It also includes the specific gear list of what I would buy if I were to start my home studio from scratch today with a $3000 budget.

Click here to get “The Lean Home Studio” PDF sent to your inbox for free.

Downsizing Everything In Your Life (For Profit)

I’ll finish things off with an update about my studio.

I recently moved (aka downsized), which cut my expenses to $1500/mo. This includes all of my operating costs for doing business as well as my personal living expenses (including food).

Despite 2016 being my highest grossing year ever, I’ve managed to cut my expenses to the lowest I’ve had since living in my parent’s basement.

Why make this move?

I simply don’t buy shit my studio doesn’t need, and I don’t spend money that I don’t need to spend. I take emotion out of my business. I don’t confuse “nice to have” gear with “need to have” gear. 

[Tweet “I don’t confuse “nice to have ” gear with “need to have” gear. “]

Now that my studio is only taking on mixing and mastering projects, a bedroom in a smaller house is all I need for a mixing space (no live room, and no wasted space for unnecessary band lodging).

I even have a roommate now because I’ve latched onto the idea of building wealth for the long haul, and I’m ok with putting off a “high roller” lifestyle today so I can focus on building wealth for tomorrow.

This isn’t just good advice for a lean home studio. This is how any single person in their 20’s should be living. Sacrificing now so you can build for your future (delayed gratification) is something the world seems to have forgotten.

Eventually I’ll start a separate blog for the other things I have going on in my life, but those ventures really have nothing to do with the studio, so I keep it off of here.

So what about you, personally. Yes, you.

What is your opinion of plugins putting “Pro Studios” out of business?

Do you think you should keep expenses low and “bootstrap” your studio?

Do you think you should take loans for your studio so you can expand quickly?

Do you buy a lot of gear?

How much did you spend getting your studio started?

Do you think I’m the dick here?

Let me know in the comments! I read and reply to pretty much everything.

Leave a Reply 48 comments

brianhood Reply

Leave a damn comment!

    Etienne Reply

    Alright 😉 Great article Brian, been following since the start. I’m currently self-producing all my music with about 4000 CAD worth of gear in part thanks to your articles 🙂 Keep it up!

    Josh Reply

    Hey brian, i agree with you completely. I have spent thousands on my studio , (mainly for tracking purposes) but i also try to be smart with my money and what i spend it on. I have invested in the “front end”, good gear and pres, but try to use plugins for mixing, because its much more affordable, flexible, and easier! The slate stuff in my favorite, and its much less gear i have to buy and house, power up, send cables to, and pray it wont get fried! I take on big projects that help me pay for thw upkeep of the studio and gear as needed, but i am not putting some of my larger buddies out of business, guys that have piano rooms and several iso booths in a super large space. But, for the guy that wants to get a kick ass record done for almost half the cost, i keep my business booming and rocking, and a big part of it is exactly what you described. I dont need eye candy, i need stuff that works, and is rock solid, and sometimes plugins are AWESOME for that! Cheers! Josh- SALANT SOUND

    Felipe Reply

    Well, the dick is guy named Richard, because no one can that douche and have sucess, some may be but not all.. Make it work with what you have! Good article Brian.

    Axel Reply

    Great Article Brian, thanks !

    I also think the same. I started to record bands this january in my living room, and i only have a Apollo Twin duo, an SM7B, 1 good mic/instrument cable, acoustic foams and a mix of free/paid plugins. And i don’t really need more for now., the few clients i have are glad with the results for now.

    Nick Wisse (www.ValhallaMusicStudios.com) Reply

    I feel like I just participated in a therapy session.

    THANK YOU.

    Really resonated with your point on “delayed gratification”.

    Kenn Melksham Reply

    Its the same with any trade, a poor tradesman blames his tools. I personally do love the feel of tube preamps but the sim stuff is getting better and better and there are also much cheaper outboard options if you absolutly must go down that route.

    And anyone who tries to tell me an ac30 is class a looses my attention immediately because they just dont understand the kit they have (for the record its cathode biased output stage as opposed to cv bias makes people think its class a but an oscilloscope reveals the dirty ab truth). Any guitarist worth his salt is going to turn up with their own rig to record with anyway, and tell you to piss off if you try and force them through a different rig.

    I work more with live and people constantly comment about the quality of mixes i produce despite crap room, old chinese made kit etc. All the gear and no idea… meet them everyday.

Mat Reply

Nice read. Consider proofreading or getting a proofreader. There are a fair bit of written hiccups in this. It’s obvious that you already know the benefits of adding perceived value by quality of presentation. Keep on writing these great articles!

    brianhood Reply

    I’ll paste the same thing I have at the intro of “The Lean Home Studio” PDF.
    “This PDF will contain typos and other nonsense, because I practice the 80/20 principle in my life. Tipos rilly dewnot mattur, becus u steel git tha point of wut im tring to teechew.
    I talk fast and I type fast, because this is how I like to live. Enjoy:)
    -Brian”

Corey Pettit Reply

HERE’S MY DAMN COMMENT!
But in all seriousness, ever since I started learning about people with home studios I thought it was the way to go. Just like most things nowadays that you referenced, the world is becoming convenience driven, but not only that – the world (or, the people in it) have used ingenuity, creativity and their own laziness to create ideas which bridge gaps and make things that were once out of reach become much, much more attainable. You CAN out-mix “Pro Studios” with cheap plugins now with the know-how, you CAN save money by staying at an AirBNB instead of at a hotel, you can do more with less and I think it’s awesome. Adapt or die is the best way to put it. Anyways, I’m starting to ramble, but good read!

    brianhood Reply

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Corey! I love Airbnb, and I love mixing with cheap (and sometimes free) plugins. These are both things than did not really exists not too long ago.

Mike Froedge Reply

A very misleading article, in my opinion.

Of course you are able to lower your gear needs and overhead to that level, since you have moved to a “mixing and mastering-only” model, which you failed to point out until the END of your anti-big studio rant…

Live tracking is a whole different animal, and DOES INDEED require the proper gear of a certain (meaning high-end and expensive) quality level to truly achieve world-class results. Not to mention the critically-important acoustics of the room itself. If you want to track live instruments with mediocre results, then yes, mediocre gear in a mediocre room will do.

And yes, who is driving is also of utmost importance. But even Jack Joseph Puig can’t make a $200 channel strip sound like a $3,000 channel strip. Gear DOES matter, and even with impressive advances like UAD’s Apollo, etc… there is still no substitute for tracking with great hardware, in a great room.

    brianhood Reply

    I address this argument inside The Lean Home Studio PDF. Despite the clear confidence in your definitive statement that “Live tracking is a whole different animal, and DOES INDEED require the proper gear of a certain (meaning high-end and expensive) quality level to truly achieve world-class results”, you are both correct and incorrect.

    Yes, you do need gear of a “certain quality” to achieve pro results, but that threshold is neither “high-end” nor is it “expensive.” I know people that can put out world class recordings with less $$$ worth of gear than the $12k setup I mentioned in this article. There are workarounds for nearly every single negative of working out of a home studio, and your bottom line (profit) doesn’t need to be affected by any of those limitations.

    The misconception that people seem to have about what it takes to make incredible recordings is the exact reason I started this blog. I’m tired of seeing people going into massive debt because they fell into the “elitist gear trap.”

    We can agree to disagree if you want, but I’ll keep spouting the same message on my blog as long as it exists.

      Trevor Hinesley Reply

      Brian nailed it, have to disagree with pretty much everything you just said Mike. Adapt or die.

      Joseph Herald Reply

      Just wanted to chime in and say I think the message in this post (and the whole blog itself, really) is more about having business sense than achieving tone. I think we can all agree that superior gear helps, but there are ways to obtain gear without breaking the bank.

      You can buy mid-grade gear on the used market and have it modified (mics, preamps, etc.) and you can also “flip” gear that you find on the used market and use your profits to invest in NEEDED gear. I describe how to do this in detail over at my blog: audioentrepreneur.co.uk

      Being capable of achieving great tone in and of itself is not enough. You also have to be lean when you’re starting out and hustle to survive in this business. I think Brian really drills it home. Thanks for the great post!

      Mike Froedge Reply

      I’ve been doing this for my entire adult life, which means 28 years and counting. And I’ve recorded at every possible level, from being on MCA Records and Roadrunner and making music at places like Ocean Way, Longview Farms, Southern Tracks, NRG, Avatar, etc., with access to simply pornographic gear lists…. all the way down to local productions in a moldy basement rehearsal room with ADATs…. and every possible variation in between.
      And I’ve owned a busy commercial studio in Atlanta, GA for over 10 years.
      And while I’m sure you don’t know my name or care to… my extensive experience tells me that the gear and the room does indeed matter, and it matters a GREAT deal.

      If gear doesn’t really matter, then why isn’t every A-list, “name” producer in the game saving themselves a hell of a lot of money, and tracking at home with racks of Presonus and ART and MXL and Oktava mics?…

      There’s a reason the BIG records, with the BIG artists and producers, still get made in the big studios, with big consoles and big gear lists.
      Can I get the job done and get very good, sometimes even great sounds and performances, in under less-than-optimal circumstances?… Sure.
      But if one can do better, and make that job easier, and take the project that extra mile, and make it a STELLAR, sonically-superior work of art, then why wouldn’t I?… Yes, I’m trying to make a living, but I’m also trying to make art. The best art that I can manage to make. And that means using the best tools at my disposal.
      Professional mechanics don’t use tools they bought at Walmart. Hair stylists don’t use scissors they bought at the hardware store. Surgeons don’t perform surgery with pocket knives. And they don’t usually do it at HOME either.
      I’m sure most of them probably COULD… but when better is available, then they wisely DON’T.
      And why would their customers ever want them to?…

      I’ve used it all. If you can think of a popular piece of gear at ANY price range, I’ve probably plugged into it at some point. And for tracking, NOTHING else sounds like the uber-high-end stuff. Nothing. There’s a reason that all the industry-standard gear has BECOME the industry standard. Nothing sounds like a Neve. Or an API. Or a Telefunken. Or a Manley. Or a Urei/Universal compressor. Or a GML EQ. Or a Burl or Symphony converter.
      If you want that last 5% of “amazing” that is the inherent sonic signature of gear that is built to such high technical standards, then you must use that gear.
      You can argue with the physics and science of audio all day long. But you’ll lose.
      And the same is true of acoustically-phenomenal rooms. No substitute.
      And I haven’t even delved into the vibe and psychological component of being in such a professional, sonically-superior environment, as opposed to trying to work “guerilla-style” in someone’s living room or whatever.

      Yes, you can “adapt” to today’s climate and “survive”. But a lot of that “adapting” WILL inherently compromise the quality of your work. And I don’t want to merely “survive”. I want to THRIVE. I want to go the extra mile, and make my art the BEST art I can possibly produce. Always.

        Joseph Herald Reply

        I agree with you Mike and have a ton of respect for your opinion, but I think the point Brian is trying to make (correct me if I’m wrong) isn’t as much “gear doesn’t matter” as it is “bad move to invest in a bunch of uber high end gear right off the bat when first starting a home studio business.”

        If using great gear for tracking (which we all agree is when it is most crucial) in treated rooms is the only way to achieve your artistic vision, another way is to build relationships with established studio owners and negotiate low rates to their acoustically treated, high end gear filled rooms for tracking at night when they are empty, then mix in the box on an affordable home setup.

        Thank you for the input, always great to hear perspective from seasoned vets. Advice is always welcome!

        Furd Tergissun Reply

        Great comment, Mike. But this blog is obviously aimed at amateurs, not actually professionals.

        This blog is like a chef at Olive Garden writing a blog aimed at hopeful-Qdoba employees about how you don’t need top of the line ingredients/ovens/utensils/spices to make a good dish. True. But if you’re a serious chef who is only interested in creating the best dishes (instead of looking at ways to make the most out of your Olive Garden paycheck), then you will seek out the things that will improve your work, even if there are diminishing returns. Passionate about the art vs passionate about the profit. Big difference.

        On the other hand, if you believe Olive Garden cuisine is the end-all-be-all of culinary achievements, I suppose it’s wise advise not to waste money on tools and ingredients that will ultimately be wasted on the infantile palettes of you and your peers. Ignorance is bliss, in this case, and also comes with unlimited bread sticks.

        It’s amateurs advising hopeful-amateurs up in here, Mike. Nothing to get too upset about.

          Joseph Herald Reply

          I’d love to open up a 5 star restaurant Furd but you have to start somewhere, bills are real, and debt is scary. If money weren’t an object of course we’d all get the high end gear. Doesn’t make us any less serious about the craft.

          Besides, I’d rather be a chef who can be resourceful with the tools he has and make a good dish in spite of it.

        Richard Neibauer Reply

        Dude… We aren’t talking about producing the next Bruno Mars record here. Obviously if you have the means of using great gear in your recordings, that is awesome, but not everybody does. I would also argue that absolutely none of that high end gear matters if you’re working with garbage songs. For the guy who is starting out, there are more important things to worry about than putting yourself in the hole financially. Writing and producing great songs is what it’s about. Learn how to really utilize the tools you have before you spend 10k on a special edition Shadow Hills mastering comp. That’s what we’re talking about Mike. That awesome gear will be there if you want it if you are resourceful and can produce great stuff on a multitude of setups; higher or lower end.

Dave Reply

Always a pleasure learning more about your process. I agree completely with you. More affordable software can match if not surpass analog gear. The key to that are the ears behind the drivers seat. I’d take a $3,000 budget for equipment over a $100K studio if the right producer is the one making the decisions. I myself have recorded two records with under $2,000 worth of equipment that sound almost as good as records recorded with $10K worth of equipment friends of mine have had done at studios. While someone on your level would probably say my mixes “lack clarity” there is an endless list of mixes that are worse and were recorded through a fortune’s worth of gear. It’s about the experience, taste and skills of the engineer in my opinion. And more than anything else, how well the engineer knows the gear, however limited quality wise, that they are working with.

Kelly Cook Reply

I remember stopping and thinking that there should be absolutely no excuse that I shouldn’t be able to get top notch results from quality plugins even in a home studio situation. I’ve prevented myself from falling into this trap and spending stupid amounts of money on outboard gear. I’m just working really hard to get quality sounds from what I have and it seems to be working pretty well so far. Thanks duder.

John Stewart Reply

Loved the article, and sorry if stuff has already been covered in the above comments. People don’t like change, myself included but it is a fact of life. I read an excellent comment years ago that has always stuck with me. Expensive gear does not make better mixes (sorry but it doesn’t) it just makes the mixing experience more pleasurable if you know what you are doing. I have official plugins (no crack copies) and the fact of the matter is that now the technology is available to make studio life way more accessible…thank God because if this was not the case I would be facing a life long 9-5 with no possibility of having a crack at this for a career. I am a product of the digital revolution. In the early days digital was an infant going up agaist tried and tested analog…now it has come into its own. It’s not that one is better than the other, they are different and most modern high end studios these days are hybrids. If you can mix, you can mix, end of, and it doesn’t matter if its a PC or a Mac, Logic or Pro Tools, out the box or in (insert cliche here) its a means to an end. Its more important to perfect the execution and be business savy. Build a reputation on solid mixes and build a client base…Pro Studio have nothing to do with gear, but soul, heart and hard graft delivering the goods.

Andy Reply

You say it like it is. No bullshit. Not even “fanboy”ing here, but I agree with darn near everything I’ve heard you say or write. You are a smart dude. Smarter than a lot of people out there. I’m stoked that you provide this resource to all of us. Thank you.

Steven Brindisi Reply

I agree with this article. I started my studio with $1500, and I use plugins exclusively, not because I want to, but I have to…and I don’t see a problem with that 7 years later. I’ve found some great plugins that were free or almost free and came out with better results than using waves plugins or other expensive types. Can’t comment on physical hardware vs plugin, but to me the price isn’t worth it for a very slight (if any) boost in the quality of my mixes. To top it off, my clientele likes my mixes and are willing to travel just to do business with me, and returning clients are a great sign of quality mixes. I’m for being profitable and using common sense, there’s no sense in going into debt or spending tons of money on unnecessary things just to never make it back or go under.

It’s like a guitarist who wants to learn to play guitar and buys a high dollar PRS guitar with a Soldano full stack before his first guitar lesson. Sometimes people with less know more about what they’re doing than the people with the fancy shit. That’s a fact.

James Reply

I totally agree with this approach. The only hardware I own is a decent Interface, one dynamic mic, one condenser mic and everything else other than musical instruments is digital. I only use amp sims and plug ins and decided to go this route from the start when I began taking recording and mixing more seriously. I can now produce mixes and songs that wipe the floor with my previous band work, which was all recorded in Pro Studios. Plug ins are a godsend. I can create and process sounds in any conceivable way, all 100% in the box and I feel lucky that it’s now possible to do so much from a home studio. It really is awesome.

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