Chris Hughes from Oscillate Studio takes us through what’s needed to set up a successful recording studio and sound engineering business. Chris set up his own recording and production studio in Manchester 18 months ago but has been a self-employed sound engineer and producer for eight years.
Why do it?
Many people would like to make music their career but there’s a lot of competition out there. It can be unpredictable and difficult to make a living. However, people who set up their own studio will have an endless passion for music and an unlimited amount of energy to spend writing and producing their own work and helping others. Here’s the main reasons people set up their own studios:
Creating your own job
With many universities and colleges offering sound engineering and recording courses, there are not always enough jobs for all the graduates. By setting up on your own you are creating your own career, exactly how you want it.
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If you want full control over your career and full creative licence, starting up on your own is a good way to do it. As manager and studio owner you can be your own creative director, steering the company to suit your own interests and talents.
Additionally, by running your own commercial studio you have somewhere to write your own tunes, in-between paying sessions.
If sitting in an office all day is not for you, then you have to find a job that suits your personality. If music and sound is your passion, then it’s an ideal job for you. Running a recording studio is incredibly varied and you could be recording a gospel choir one day, teaching someone how to DJ and take a booking for mixing and mastering a hip-hop tune for another day.
Being self-employed brings its own job satisfaction, because you know all the business successes are down to you. Additionally the job incorporates marketing, networking, promoting and doing all your own administration and invoicing, so there’s never time to get bored!
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What skills will I need?
Experience and Qualifications
Having as much experience as possible is the main factor here. However, many people go to college or university and gain qualifications in sound technology, audio engineering or a similar related subject.
But getting a good grade doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up with a job at the end or be a great studio manager. In this business, hardly anyone asks you what qualifications you have. Essentially people are interested in the last release you’ve had, your latest production/recording or who you’ve been working with.
In order to get this experience you need to get writing and get your productions finished. This will mean doing a lot of your own work for free initially, perfecting your own sound and possibly recording and engineering bands in order to develop your showreel.
Promotion and PR
You won’t get any business until you know how to promote yourself and your business. Ensure you understand how to market and promote yourself and your recording studio. You can use methods such as leaving flyers in the local area or putting adverts on Gumtree, for example.
Social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook are ideal to showcase what you’re working on and to build new contacts.
Good business sense
Like starting any company, you will need to have a good business head. Work out what equipment you need and how much work you need to do before you start turning a profit. Just because you’re in a creative job, doesn’t mean you don’t have to understand profit and loss and making sensible business decisions.
To make the most out of your studio, you need to be able to offer as many services as possible. You need to develop as many skills as possible, which will help your career move forward quickly.
These can include:
- Sound engineering
- Commercial music and voiceovers
- Mixing and mastering
Start-up costs and equipment
The main monthly outgoing for a studio is the space. This is essential unless you’ve got a fully soundproofed garage or a spare room, far away from neighbours.
If the studio is a small with a control desk and a vocal booth then you are probably looking at an 5sqm place. These can cost around £150-£250 a month depending on location. Rents tend to more expensive in city centre, less if it’s an old converted mill in the suburbs. If you are wanting to record bands you’ll need more space and possibly two rooms: one control and one for the band space.
The ideal studio location must be easy to find, have good parking (essential for bands with drum kits) and good transport links. I’ve turned down studio space because it was in a bad neighbourhood so would have put off potential clients.
There is no limit to what you can spend on a studio. The best ones can be a half a million pounds plus. Fortunately because of the influx of cheap digital gear from overseas building a studio doesn’t have to cost you a minimum of £30,000 like it used to in the old analogue tape days.
Realistically though the cheapest you can start up with is around £3,000. This will provide a suite to record vocals, mix and record to a professional standard for most clients. To record bands you need more equipment. I would say spend between £6-8,000 as a start. Most of this equipment would be secondhand with Ebay a great place to pick up studio gear.
A basic studio would need a decent computer to run all the recording software without crashing and losing data. Ideally spend at £700 plus on this. You would need a soundcard for converting audio into digital. The more inputs the more expensive it will be, but you’re looking at £100 upwards.
You will also need to buy recording software such as Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Cubase, Nuendo or Ableton, which can cost between £400 to £700.
Additionally, you’ll need a mixing desk to monitor recordings from. Second hand is always a good start, such as the little Mackie mixer I have which cost £60 from Ebay and works a treat. To keep costs down mix using the software on your computer, but if you have more money it can cost £1,500 to get a cheap digital desk and software controller.
Lastly, you then need a good microphone. For vocals, nothing less than £250 is any good, but you can spend up to £2,500. For drum kits probably spend about £1000 on mics, but you can always buy good secondhand equipment.
Finally always leave 10 percent of your budget on cabling and accessories such as XLR mic leads, guitar leads, headphones and mic stands.
You will need a website to promote your studio, and for potential customers to be able to find you on search engines. Costs vary massively for websites, but you should be able to find someone to custom-build a website for under £1000.
If you are fairly technical, you can build your own website using a template such as Wordpress. You could also pay someone to set up a Wordpress template website for you for around £500. Then get your studio noticed online with good SEO and if you have the budget, use Adwords to boost up your Google rankings.