The costs of opening a recording studio depend on whether computerized or non-computerized methods are used. Traditional studio operators can spend anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 because of the need for more equipment to capture quality sound. By the 2000s, aspiring producers were achieving those goals by recording through their home computers for as little as $1,500. Other advances have allowed '60s icons such as Roger McGuinn (formerly of The Byrds) to work off their laptops for little more than the software costs.
Recording gear prices are a major variable in determining how much the setup will cost, according to "The Musician's Guide to Home Recording." Major studios spend $2,000 apiece for high-end microphones like the Neumann U87. However, there are equally versatile, smaller budget alternatives -- ranging from $80 to $300 -- that can do the job, the guide says. The type of project also dictates how much equipment is needed. Recording acoustic guitar sounds, for example, is less challenging than mixing live performances.
Answering an August 2002 challenge by "Electronic Musician," producer Brian Knave set $29,997 as the minimum requirement to outfit a traditional recording studio that did not use computers. In Knave's scenario, about half that figure went toward core equipment items -- such as the $6,000 that he proposed for spending on microphones. Other significant items included the mixer and reference monitors, items he considered essential to capturing bands in full performance mode, according to "Electronic Musician."
Not every studio entrepreneur can buy any piece of equipment he likes, according to "Electronic Musician" senior editor Gino Robair. Robair outlined a $9,980 baseline figure for a budget studio that its owner-operators would expand over an extended time period, according to his own analysis for the magazine. Robair's choices were influenced by squeezing the most value out of a limited setup, which accounted for his choice of a digital mixer with compression and equalization effects.
Digitized Home Studio
Tired of paying studio time and equipment rental fees, Phillippine engineer, mixer and producer Emerson R. Maningo built a fully digitized 24-track home studio about six years ago. The project cost about $1,549, says Maningo in an online posting. The lion's share, or $1,000, went for a Windows personal computer and studio monitors. Had Maningo continued renting commercial studios, he estimated that his startup costs would lhave tripled to $4,744 U.S.
The increased portability of computers enabled laptops to become the next recording frontier, according to Kevin Maney, "USA Today"'s technology columnist. As an example, Maney pointed to Roger McGuinn, who used a $299 editing program and Dell laptop computer to record his "Limited Edition" album. Such conveniences allowed McGuinn to complete his work for a fraction of the $75,000 he would have spent working in a conventional studio, according to Maney.
Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.