The years before the first three years of business

This week’s readings bought up more questions than answers, which isn’t a bad thing. Discussing money and putting a dollar value on my ‘work’ (and by ‘work’ we’re talking about my ability to organise and run a session, followed my ability to manage artists, equipment and a ProTools session, process the session and deliver a product) is not something I’d done before, as at this point in my career, I don’t believe my ‘work’ is worth a dollar to an artist. Not to say I’m useless, but recording sessions with artists have involved more steep learning curves than I care to admit. The readings discussed understanding your own expenses before thinking about the dollar value of your input to a project. How much are your overheads? Can I afford any luxuries? It’s important to charge professionally and ethically, with expenses in mind but also how to ensure customers agree their getting their moneys worth. We need to ensure my own costs are covered + profit to live. Overheads and luxuries aside, how much do we cost to live? How much am I worth? What are my expenses? How do I decide who my ‘market’ is? Should I invest wholeheartedly in my market or keep my eggs in a few baskets? How do I decide what a luxury is? What’s my business plan? The week’s reading discussed sales and ‘selling’ your product and worth.
To start, what are my expenses as a human being? I was  asked ‘How much do I cost to exist? Water? Food? A roof over my head? This can quickly accumulate (excluding profits and/or paying yourself) to become a fee that I would say is unreasonable for a student or non-professional, and by that token, when do you become ‘professional’? Once your human rights are covered, how much does it cost to rent a space? How much will you initially invest to fit-out said space and have it acoustically treated? These costs will need to be recovered but won’t need to paid off indefinitely, so do you lower your prices once this is paid off? It’s also difficult to decide what expenses are necessary and which are luxuries. I contend that a great studio can’t function without a great sounding live room, accurate control room, and that console is the heart of a studio and therefore is not a luxury; but how you decide between $5,000 on a Tascam or $100,000 + on a Neve? A Tascam will do the job, but will the investment in a Neve or SSL ‘pay for itself’ by helping you produce better quality recordings and in turn expanding your fan base? If I decide to invest in a Neve, do I cut costs for the rest of the studio? Master Bus compressors are important, as are great monitors. Can I/we ever really justify Fairchild 670 while the $299USD plugin does a great job? Ryan Hewitt (2013) recalls hearing an emulated Fairchild and thinking “Oh, yes. That’s a Fairchild.”
$2-300k for a small business loan isn’t uncommon, which covers building expenses and a great console. This option is obvious to me because of experience working in finance and understanding assets, lending and securities. However – to take out a loan you’ll need proof of income and to justify the expenses. We need to start small, with minimal but necessary equipment that 1) get the job done but also 2) do a good enough job to build our fan base (assuming I’m a phenomenal engineer and producer that bands love to work with). Jumping in the deep end and taking experience as payment is the approach I’m currently taking, as “artists are the ones who will spread your name around. And in the absolute best case scenario, the music you worked on gets spread around as well.” (Weiss, 2013)
Before you can start talking about running a successful business, how do you get work? It’s important to have a 1) loyal clientele, but also a 2) wide clientele, as bands don’t last forever and it’s important to ensure you’re constantly bringing in enough work to keep yourself busy. Album cycles are 2-3 years long and even if you’re working with a big client, they can’t sustain you. Friends who play music, or your own bands, may be loyal, but it’s also not unreasonable for friends to expect a discount or some work for free. How do we gain a clientele in 2016? Every needs recordings, why what makes paying you $200 a day a better option than a band running MIDI notes through EzDrummer and an AxeFx at home? If you think you can do better than the band recording themselves – how do you let them know? Facebook and Instagram are great for getting your name out and encouraging people to check out your work. Right – a band who wants to record saw your Instagram photo on the #YamahaNS10 page, they now know you exist and want to check out your work. Where can they find it? 1) This blog, 2) a Soundcloud or band camp page, 3) listening to recording you’ve already done. It’s important to have a website that’s easy to access and easy to navigate, e.g. don’t call yourself ’Sunshine’ Recordings or ‘Recording’ Studios, because artists actively seeking out your services will never find you. It’s important to be accessible, and also sell your services and make yourself an asset to a band; e.g. your name on the CD or a better quality recording than the band could do themselves. I’ve played in bands who have recorded with engineers because their names were an investment. Having a big artist or engineer post online about tracking/mixing/mastering your album can be part of the package.
How do we build a clientele in 2016? The music industry is changing so fast, home recording is becoming better and better, and therefore professional engineers aren’t a requirement OR asset as they were. How can we encourage artists to record with us? The readings discussed the ‘Power of 9’ (selling products for 99c instead of $1.00) as a sales and marketing strategy. This is interesting because it works on every day on me, e.g. the thought process is “priced at $199 = product is worth at LEAST $200, you feel like you’re saving money or getting a bargain. I did question if it is common for audio engineers to charge e.g. $199 a day? $99 a song? Maybe if it’s not being done now, I should be the first one.
Professionally and ethically I need to ensure my own costs are covered + profit BUT where do I draw the line? When is my time (e.g. once costs are covered) worth something? Benoliel states that you need to decide your prices according to “what the market will bear and your profit margins.” (Benoliel, 2002) When is expensive equipment worth more than a little extra profit or income? Pete Townshend gets a ‘big’ desk sound from an Audient ASP4816, so why invest an extra $80,000 in a bigger console? It’s important to know how much A) the client is willing to spend, but also B) how your time, expertise and product will assist their own personal gains (e.g. band with a good recording, company with a good ad). I could, however, argue that a big console’s value won’t de-value, so it’s easier to sell on if your business fails in the fist three years (also discussed in the readings). E.g. a Focsurite worth $100k will still be worth a $100k if your business fails, as long as you’ve done upkeep (another cost, but a cost you would have incurred whether the business succeeds or fails).
As an end overall goal, I’d like a studio to be responsible for my entire income and not rely on grants, crowdfunding for projects or a day-job BUT this may include being involved with companies for discounts, product reviews in exchange for goods etc., which does reduce overheads. It’s difficult to reconstruct or reflect on the learnings because I’ve never charged for a recording or service. I’ve started thinking about the worth of my own time, as well as the overheads and expenses in running a business and recording.
In conclusion, I’ve started thinking about my expenses but find it hard to relate because 1) my work isn’t worth an artists’ money and 2) my work in recording isn’t an income, as well as being more a learning experience for myself than an asset to clients.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Weiss, M. (2013). How to Succeed as a Freelance Audio EngineerThe Pro Audio Files. Retrieved 29 February 2016, from http://theproaudiofiles.com/freelance-audio-engineering-career/
Benoliel, I. (2002). Pricing Your ProductEntrepreneur. Retrieved 29 February 2016, from http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/53786
Audient,. (2015). Pete Townshend in the Studio with Audient. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjcCSngLS4M
Universal Audio,. (2013). UAD Fairchild Tube Limiter Plug-In Collection Trailer. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5kBCuNPEa0
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