The music industry has completely changed in the last 20 years. We’ve gone from artists recording in million-dollar studios to artists being able to record platinum-selling records in their bedrooms. Nonetheless, the role of a music production studio is still extremely important because the right producer can make that bedroom-recorded album sound like it was cut at Abbey Road.
With today’s technology, opening and managing a recording studio is easier than ever. You have to make an initial investment on gear, but it’s a flexible enough business endeavor that you can expand with your client base.
Find the Location
Location is extremely important when you’re starting a music production company. Unlike other businesses (think: bars, retail shops and even barbers), you don’t actually need to be in a location with a lot of foot traffic. In fact, most production spaces actively avoid being in busy areas because they, well, make noise. Even with the best soundproofing, you can’t open a studio in a place where the music will bleed through the walls and bother your neighbors.
You have a choice to make when it comes to location: are you renting or buying? Renting is a cheaper option, but finding a commercial space with the proper soundproofing and distance from other businesses can be tough. Some studios can find that in the back of strip malls, solo businesses off highways and commercial spaces in more rural areas. Your best bet if you’re going down this route is renting a room in an already existing building that houses studios.
Lots of studio owners opt to build their own studio from scratch in a place that they own. Since you can pretty much turn any space into a studio as long as it’s quiet enough and won’t bother your neighbors, things like basements, garages, country homes and barns can work. Do you want a peaceful, quiet retreat for your artists or something that inspires with the hustle and bustle of a city?
Get the Equipment
Opening a recording studio isn’t cheap, if only for the equipment. Thankfully, this is one business you can scale. With today’s technology, you really can start in your bedroom. After you have enough experience, you can start renting a small studio space and eventually own your own music production studio altogether.
At a minimum, professional-grade studio equipment will cost around $4,000, and that’s before you factor an inventory of gear, which most large studios have. To get started you’ll need:
- A computer: The more RAM the better since recording software takes a lot of it.
- Recording software: Protools is the professional standard, but Logic Pro is becoming more popular and is way cheaper. Also add pitch-correcting software like Melodyne or Autotune as all records on the radio use this to get a high-quality sound.
- Good microphones: You’ll need a couple. Condenser mics start at $100 for an MXL 90. Also get a pop filter for tracking vocals.
- Audio interface: This transforms analog sound into digital sound that your computer can read. These start at $200 for a good one.
- Studio monitors: You need good speakers to play back your music.
- Headphones: So you can listen while recording.
- Midi keyboard: This is optional, but it will allow you to have virtually any instrument at your fingertips as long as you have a good collection of audio samples and plugins.
- Soundproofing: You'll need to soundproof your studio because you don't want too much sound bouncing off the walls during the recording process.
Thankfully, we’re at the point with technology that these bare minimums can make a record that comes out just as good as something recorded in a $3 million studio, you just need the production chops and the artist just needs the talent. To manage this equipment moving forward, you may want to learn how to solder. Some basic guitar tech skills will do wonders.
Handle the Legal Stuff
You don’t need any specific permits to open a music production studio, but you do need to become a legal business entity. Choose a business structure (LLC, S-Corp, etc.) and get an EIN from the IRS. You’ll also need a business license from your local municipality, which may require some insurance like general liability insurance or worker’s compensation if you plan to have employees. Make sure you insure all of your gear!
Market Your Music Production Studio
Most music production studios get their clients through word of mouth, so marketing can be a bit tricky. Of course, you can advertise online, but it’d be wise to build up a wealth of connections before you open your studio. A lot of producers do this by touring in their own bands and frequenting gigs to chat up the talent. This also helps producers understand what a musician needs in a studio. For example, many studios that cater to indie artists have bunk beds or places the band can sleep, which cut down on the band’s expenses.
A simple way to get more clients is to offer deals on mixing and mastering packages. This helps musicians make a connection with you that isn’t as committal as dropping thousands of dollars recording and spending weeks of their life at a studio. Your best bet is to find a niche — be it punk, pop, rap or country — because scenes tend to roll in separate circles and word of mouth is even more powerful.
Mariel Loveland is a small business owner, content strategist and writer from New Jersey. Throughout her career, she's worked with numerous startups creating content to help small business owners bridge the gap between technology and sales. Her work has been featured in publications like Business Insider and Vice.