How To Reverse-Engineer Your Home Studio’s Success (or, Lack Thereof)
Do you struggle to find high-quality artists to work with in your studio?
Are you tired of recording local bands who don’t take things seriously?
Do you need to land more clients consistently?
In this article, we’ll discuss how to how to reverse engineer your journey to a full time home studio.
Spoiler alert: Marketing will not necessarily be the answer?
Don’t feel like reading this much text?
I have good news for you! There’s now an audio version of this article, well as a video version.
What Is Your Studio's Biggest Struggle?
I try to keep a pulse on what my readers want, so from time to time I send out surveys. These surveys are a great way for me to learn about the issues that many home studios are facing; allowing me to create content that you guys can get the most use out of.
In a recent survey, I asked my readers about their studio’s biggest struggle. Although 500 different people took the survey, the vast majority of answers were the same.
Take a look for yourself. Here are just a few of the anonymous answers:
“My biggest issue is landing clients more consistently with bigger budgets that compliment my experience, skill set and overhead costs. I could land a bunch of $50-$100 mix jobs but, we both know, the tracks and songs likely won't be strong and thus not sustainable enough for me to quit my day job.”
“My biggest struggle is getting clients. There's practically no music scene in my area and I can't afford to drive 2 hours, two ways every weekend on the hope that I land a job and/or network with good people.“
“I'm struggling with networking, and getting the “next level” clients. I spend a lot of time working with low quality recordings and musicians. I want to deliver the best result possible, but it takes a lot of work, and my clients can't afford to pay more for it. So I usually have to do more work for less income.“
“My biggest struggle is bringing in a steady flow of decent artists and bands that aren't just looking for a deal or cheap recordings. I don't work for free, but it always seems like people assume they can get things for free and I'm finding it hard to find bands that are actually willing and able to put some money into their record.“
“I'm confident on what I can do and I know that I can provide a really cool sounding product, but it’s proving difficult trying to find a good amount of clients.“
“I would say my biggest struggle is finding clients and building a reputation. It's hard to build a portfolio when you haven't had any clients, and so it's hard to book clients because you don't have a portfolio to show them anything.“
You're Not Alone
Most home studio owners seem to struggle with finding more (and better) artists to work with, and this should come as no surprise.
The main reason I wanted to show you these quotes is to prove that you’re not alone. No matter what your own struggle is when it comes to your studio, there are plenty of people out there sharing that struggle.
The second reason I wanted to show you these quotes is to help guide you towards a solution to this problem (and it’s not going to be what you think it is).
By the time you reach the end of this article, hopefully we’ll have found a few ways you can start to tackle your studio’s major struggles.
“Marketing” Is Not Your Problem
Before we discuss potential solutions for you, I want to come out and say that marketing, networking, and other forms of “getting the word out” is most definitely not the solution to your struggles.
Surprising? Let me explain…
First of all, marketing a turd does not make that turd any more valuable (unless you do it for charity).
If you put out terrible work, no amount of marketing is going to save you. You'll just be marketing to people who hate “your sound”.
If you don’t know how to price your services, no amount of marketing is going to save you. You'll just be marketing to people who will be laughing at your prices.
If you don’t have the motivation to succeed, no amount of marketing is going to save you. You'll just give up at the first roadblock you encounter.
If you’re terrible at managing your money, no amount of marketing is going to save you. You'll just run out of money before you ever make any real progress.
If you just plain suck to be around, no amount of marketing is going to save you. You'll just be marketing to people that will end up hating you.
I could keep going, but I think you get the point.
“If marketing isn’t the answer to my biggest struggle, then what’s the issue?”
This is where we get to the meat of this article – a framework that is going to (hopefully) help you discover where you’re falling short, and where you need to prioritize your improvement efforts.
The Home Studio Business Hierarchy
I know this may not look like much to you (yet). You probably have more questions than answers by now, but let’s dive into what this actually is.
Inspired by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, The Home Studio Business Hierarchy shows the basic fundamentals necessary to create a successful, profitable, flourishing home studio business.
Starting from the bottom, the hierarchy shows the order of importance of these seven needs – with mindset & psychology the most important and profit the least.
‘How can psychology be more important than profit? ’ you’re probably thinking. It’s pretty simple. Without a clear grasp and understanding of the levels below the top of pyramid, profit is going to be very difficult – or impossible – to attain.
While some of these levels may include some overlap, the order of this hierarchy is significant.
If you noticed, Marketing is second from the top, and one of the last things you need to worry about.
When mastering each level of the hierarchy, it should be tackled from the bottom up. So, if you’re struggling with the Mindset & Psychology of business, mastering this area should be your main focus before you even begin to worry about Skills & Knowledge.
If your biggest struggle is Skills & Knowledge, that should be your priority before you move on to Relationships & Ethics or Positioning & Differentiation.
Let’s dive in from the bottom up, and consider how important each of the 7 levels are in order to run a successful home studio business.
Level 1: MINDSET & PSYCHOLOGY
Why does this matter?
Mindset & Psychology are the “unsexy” business topics few seem to talk about, yet these are two of the most important factors contributing to your success.
These two factors influence your drive, determination, motivation, confidence, your ability to learn, and even your outlook on life and business.
Have you ever lacked the motivation to do something you knew you should be doing?
Have you ever struggled with the thought of raising your rates? Do you doubt your self-worth?
Does the mere thought of networking or client outreach cause anxiety?
These are some of the most common issues I see, and it all goes back to Mindset & Psychology – the foundations on which everything else in your business is built.
Signs that you’ve neglected Mindset & Psychology
- You consistently give up on projects before completion.
- You lack the motivation and drive to get important things done.
- Even when you know exactly what needs to be done, you can’t make yourself do it (constant procrastination).
- You struggle with consistency and discipline.
- You lack confidence in many areas of life and business.
- Life as a “zero-sum game” to you.
- You have a “victim mentality” where you constantly blame others for your misfortunes.
- Pettiness, jealousy, and anger issues get in the way of personal and professional relationships.
- You ostracise yourself from people due to constant complaining and self-criticism.
- You view articles like this as “self-help BS” which you refuse to take seriously.
- Your attitude and outlook on life is mostly negative.
This quote sums up Mindset & Psychology well:
Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”
– Thomas Jefferson
Level 2: SKILLS & KNOWLEDGE
Why does this matter?
Skills & Knowledge make up the second level in our hierarchy, and sadly, it’s where most people seem to fall short.
Here is just a partial list of the skills and knowledge necessary to run a successful recording studio: people skills, negotiation skills, mixing, mastering, tracking, editing, time management, money management, people management, problem solving, financial skills.
Which skills do you lack?
A studio owner who is struggling financially may tend to skip this step and go straight to the Marketing level in the hierarchy.
Even though they may lack the necessary skills required to put out high-quality work from their studio, they still think marketing (or some other “silver bullet”) will save their struggling business.
Again, marketing a turd doesn’t make that turd any more valuable. There’s a certain level of skills & knowledge necessary before you can afford to focus on the next levels of the hierarchy.
Skills & Knowledge are what influence your success in relationships, business, money, the quality of people you attract into your life, your ability to manage money, your ability to solve problems, the quality of work that comes out of your studio, and many other key areas.
Signs that you’ve neglected your Skills & Knowledge
- The quality of work coming out of your studio is just plain bad.
- People don’t take you seriously – either professionally or personally.
- Your finances are in shambles (financial skills).
- You’re difficult to talk to and lack the social skills to understand and interact properly with your clients – thus killing the chances of repeat business.
- Building and maintaining relationships are a struggle – both with clients and other professionals.
- It's a major struggle to attract successful friends and mentors into your life.
- You rarely read, you don’t listen to audiobooks/podcasts, or spend time finding ways to improve your skillsets.
- Self-education simply isn’t part of your daily routine.
Level 3: RELATIONSHIPS & ETHICS
Why does this matter?
Relationships & Ethics are all about two things.
1. Surrounding yourself with amazing people who are going to help you achieve your goals.
2. Building and maintaining a reputation of fairness, high-quality, hard work and integrity.
Relationships play a crucial role in every successful business (or life, for that matter).
Professional relationships lead to new opportunities. Mentors give you knowledge and insight you could never otherwise discover, and personal relationships give you a sense of belonging, support, and fulfillment — as well as a much needed break from the hustle and bustle of running a successful business.
Having the right people in your life can give you the freedom to pursue both personal and professional goals without fear of losing your support network.
Having the wrong people in your life can end up dragging your down before you’ve even gotten a fair chance.
Ever heard of the term, ‘guilty by association?’
Whether it’s consciously or subconsciously, people will judge you based on who you associate yourself with.
Ethics are the glue that holds these relationships together, and is essential for any sort of long-term success with your business.
It’s up to you to set the precedent for every single future interaction with your home studio.
Will people give you the benefit of the doubt if there is ever any question about an issue? Will people trust that you’ll do what you say?
Or will people constantly doubt your every word – never giving you the benefit of the doubt?
A solid reputation can take an entire lifetime to build, and can be completely destroyed in about 2 minutes.
Signs that you’ve neglected your Relationships & Ethics
- You may not have a mentor in your life to guide you through the hurdles of business, success, and failure.
- You constantly find yourself in toxic relationships professionally, personally, and/or romantically.
- People constantly talk negatively about you or your business (no, this is not a “haters gonna hate” situation).
- You don’t have a support system in place to get you through the tough times.
- People flat out refuse to work with you, even if you’re considered ‘talented’ at what you do.
- You’ve burned bridges that continue to hold you back from professional success.
- People constantly doubt your honesty, and you may get blamed for things you didn’t do.
Level 4: POSITIONING & DIFFERENTIATION
Why does this matter?
Positioning & Differentiation affect your overall appeal to potential clients. These are all the things you do to set yourself apart from all the competition. I go into this fairly extensively in my free ebook Keys To A Six Figure Home Studio.
Your Positioning & Differentiation will ultimately affect the quality of the artists you work with, and how much you can charge for the services you offer.
If you’re tired of working with lackluster artists who pay next to nothing, this is the area you need to work on (but not before mastering the areas below it, of course!).
Signs that you’ve neglected Positioning & Differentiation
- You only attract low-quality artists to your studio.
- “I can’t afford you” is something you constantly hear from bands.
- You’re unable to raise prices.
- The only way you can compete with local competition is by lowering your prices.
- You become a commodity (which means your price is always a race to the bottom).
- No one seems to care that your studio exists.
If you’re interested in digging into this subject a little further, here’s a video I made on the topic:
Level 5: SYSTEMS & MANAGEMENT
Why does this matter?
This is where rubber meets the road. Every single thing you do to grow your studio will be magnified by your Systems & Management (or ‘de-magnified’ by your lack thereof).
Simple examples of systems would be how you respond to quote requests, how you set up your studio for recording sessions, and how you approach repetitive tasks like editing.
‘Management’ would be the in which you handle your employees, interns, contractors, and even customers.
Think it’s time to hire an assistant or start marketing your studio? Think again. Until you get Systems & Management down, you’ll end up squandering away most of your new leads and throwing your assistant into inefficient tasks (thus wasting time and money on both).
Systems & Management determine the efficiency of your entire business. Until you have this part down, you’ll be stuck working 80 hours/week, with never enough money to show for your hard work.
If you’re not careful, you can get sucked into a black hole of endless “catch-up work” in your business while making zero progress on your business.
Signs that you’ve neglected Systems & Management
- Money seems to ‘disappear’ without a trace.
- Artists seem to constantly cancel their bookings.
- You have lots of awkward ‘talks’ about money with artists.
- You're constantly chasing down artists who owe you money.
- Potential work slips through the cracks (unbeknownst to you).
- Your computer becomes a wasteland of files and folders with no organizational structure.
- Recording/mixing/mastering/writing sessions take twice as long as they should.
- Responding to emails becomes a chore that you constantly fall behind on.
- You waste money on gear that makes zero difference to your bottom line.
- You have no idea where the weak points are in your sales funnel
- Your business is stuck in a rut that seems inescapable
- You've failed to effectively reinvest your profits into things that will help grow your income.
Level 6: MARKETING & AWARENESS
Why does this matter?
This is what I would consider one of the final stages of a full-time home studio, yet it seems to be one of the first areas people place their focus.
Yes, this is an important part of a successful studio, but it’s typically something that falls into place once you get everything else right.
There is no silver bullet that will launch your studio into the limelight overnight. Your studio’s rise to the top will be slow and methodical.
That being said, it’s important to stay top-of-mind in certain circles within your niche. Clearly, if no one knows who you are — or fails to think of you when a project comes up — you will never win the job.
Awareness is the key to getting the big wins further down the road, and this is how to put yourself on the road to success. Don’t waste time or money on advertising and marketing without nailing the other five areas first. Otherwise, you run the risk of doing more harm to your business than good.
Signs that you’ve neglected Marketing & Awareness
- No one knows who you are or what you do, which means you get little to no business coming through your doors.
- Your studio’s year to year growth is little to none.
- You’ve failed to progress from small-time local artists to bigger and better projects.
- Bands rarely return to your studio for a second and third project.
Note: There are plenty of people who focus all of their efforts on Marketing & Awareness with nothing to show for it. Even if your studio shows signs that you’ve “neglected” Marketing & Awareness, DO NOT worry about this level until you’ve gotten the first 5 levels down.
Level 7: PROFIT & MAXIMIZATION
Why does this matter?
This is where we start polishing your home studio business machine to maximize both your businesses income and your personal income through leveraging employees and/or contractors.
By graduating from the ‘solopreneur’ to a team, you’ll be able to focus more ON your business instead of IN your business. This means you’ll spend your time only doing the things you do best, ultimately making the most out of your own skillset.
Once you’ve built a team to support your business, you’ll discover new ways to grow your studio.
This is the final level, and arguably the most enjoyable. Once you’ve made it this far, many of the ‘problems’ you’ll face are actually good ‘problems’ to have.
Signs that you’ve neglected Profit & Maximization
- You’re stuck doing every single thing in your business, regardless of how much you enjoy it or how effective you are.
- Your studio’s income is stagnant, and possibly even shrinking year to year.
- You’re unable to make any large upgrades to your gear or facilities without taking on debt.
- You are the bottleneck in your business.
- Your inability to say no to people has caused you to constantly be bogged down by nightmare projects that never seem to end.
Where Do You Fall Short?
Now that you’re aware of The Home Studio Business Hierarchy, what areas do you need to improve?
If your goal is transitioning to a full-time home studio, the key to success is knowing where you fall short then knowing what to do about it.
The problem is this: You don’t know what you don’t know.
If you’re not quite sure where to begin, I have something that may help.
I put in a lot of work with a team of developers to create some assessment software that goes along with this framework. Don’t worry, everything is free, per usual.
This is will take you quite a while to go through (30+ minutes), but this will score you on each of the 7 levels, and provide you a custom action plan based on your results.
This is WAY more than a simple “which Disney princess are you?” quiz. The results and action plans you’ll get from this assessment actually matter, because who really cares whether you’re Snow White or Cinderella?
For the record, I’m apparently Tiana…
All jokes aside, I realize how frustrating it can be if you’ve been spinning your wheels and getting nowhere.
This assessment is your chance to shed some light on why things aren’t going the way they should. As a result, you'll be able to start planning out what you can do about it.
Just a word of warning before you begin… There is no ‘silver bullet’ to your studio’s success, and this is no different.
This framework is the approach I’ve taken over the last eight years. It worked for me — it might not work for you.
There are clearly other ways to think about this issue. My only hope is that it might open up your eyes to a new way of thinking and give you a fresh perspective on how to approach your journey to a full-time career in recording.