By T. Perry Bowers
This is huge for me. I’ve been in the recording business for more than twenty years. It has always been a huge passion of mine. It’s been such a huge passion that I’ve been willing to lose money doing it. More on that later because it’s not exactly what you might think.
The main reason I’m shutting down my recording studio is time. I just don’t have the time to dedicate to it any more. My engineering skills are somewhat outdated. I consider myself a good tracking engineer, but I can’t mix and edit like some of these new whippersnappers. These young guys are bonded with this software like I’ve never seen. I’ve been in sessions with guys that have the whole song mixed before they’re done tracking. It’s crazy. (By the way, some of these “young guys” are old men and young women. Anyone who has dedicated the last ten years to audio engineering in the modern world is light years ahead of me).
Because I’m not a cutting edge audio engineer, my job has been to hire a couple of engineers to run the sessions in my studio. That’s a big task in and of itself. Managing people to do highly technical things with a high level of social skills is, to be honest, something I never really figured out. I’ve been lucky a few times in the twenty years in the recording business where I’ve found incredible people who have stuck with me for long periods of time. I’ve also had periods of time where I’ve struggled to find the right people for the job. Letting a less than stellar product out the door or having a less than stellar service is not and has never been acceptable to me.
I’ve spent a lot of time and money making sure everything that left the studio was worthy of a high standard. Sometimes that meant paying other independent freelance engineers to correct things. I feel proud of almost everything that has come out of our studio, but sometimes it has cost me more money than I would like to admit. Quality is often expensive.
A couple of years ago I met Matt Grosso. He was running a studio called Cloverleaf Audio in St. Paul. He came to (spy on me) do an internship for me. I was so impressed with his skill and work ethic that I asked him if he felt like creating a partnership in the recording studio. He had some great ideas, including membership packages, where freelance engineers could be members of the recording studio for a monthly fee. This was very successful, but there was one reason why it wasn’t sustainable (more on that later, too).
Matt’s the perfect studio proprietor. He’s efficient and organized. He’s a very talented recording engineer. He can do everything I can do in the recording realm, better and with more passion. Why not let him take over? I can refer all my recording clients to him. He can handle all the phone calls and client consultations. And, he can pay all the bills and reap all the rewards, too. I can focus on rehearsal space and video studio rentals.
So why do I say that I’ve lost money on the recording studio? My measure has always been what I can get for the spaces as rehearsal spaces. In other words, I can charge X amount of dollars per month for each room of my recording studio if it were a rehearsal space. That means, in order to break even, I have to clear that amount every month or I am losing money. The rooms I have used for my recording studio are really premium rehearsal spaces and they are going to be easy to lease. They have windows, they are treated acoustically. They have a great vibe.
By the time I pay my engineers, the heat, the electricity, the repairs and upkeep, I’m lucky to clear the same amount I would get if the rooms were just standard monthly rehearsal spaces. Some months I did great, some months were skinny. All in all I think I just about broke even monetarily, but in terms of time, it’s not even close.
Renting a rehearsal space is less time consuming than landing a recording client, but it still takes a huge amount of effort to maintain a constant flow of tenants and customers. I need all my time to focus on being a top-notch rehearsal facility.
When it comes to bringing in a recording session, it’s much more time-consuming. I typically talk to folks on the phone two or three times before we schedule a tour. The tour involves talking about their project for about an hour sometimes much longer if it’s a full band. Then, somewhere down the road, they schedule a session. The session happens. Everyone’s schedules need to be coordinated, the studio needs to be prepped. Coffee needs to be made.
Then, there are the personal issues. The drummer is late. The bass player doesn’t like his tone. The engineer is hungover. The hard drive failed. The this, the that. It can take up a lot of headspace.
Don’t get me wrong, I love helping people with their music. I really really do. But, I want to provide really awesome rehearsal space. That’s my focus. Which leads me to the reason why my recording studio memberships were not sustainable. Bleed.
Sound bleed. Because my recording studio is housed next door to my rehearsal spaces, I have always battled sound bleed. I have been in four different buildings since I started recording. If I would have built out each of my locations properly to isolate the rehearsal spaces from the recording studio, I would have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars.
I think this is the biggest reason my studio was never able to get to an extremely prosperous state. We have handled it on a case by case basis. We’ve scheduled rehearsals around recording sessions. We’ve worked with people as things popped up, but inevitably there have been instances where the stars don’t align and my customers (rehearsal and recording) have bad experiences. Well, no more.
Matt can handle all the recording in a completely separate recording studio and I can focus on jam spaces where you can be as loud as you want, whenever you want.
As I was contemplating this move, I found myself getting frustrated. My frustration was not about changing my course now, it was about all the mistakes that I have made in the past. If I had just bit the bullet and spent the money for sound isolation. If I had just moved my recording studio to another location much sooner, maybe my studio would have been booked solid.
But then, all that frustration turned to gratitude. I am grateful that I was able to make it work for so long. I am grateful for all of the beautiful music we were able to create despite our circumstances. I am grateful for all the rehearsing musicians who took a break while I cut some vocals in the booth. I am grateful for the recording clients who took lunch while a band practiced for an important gig. I am grateful that we didn’t let it stop us from making the world a more beautiful place.
This willingness to work with people has been my reward. I have been able to feel like we are all a part of the same thing. Even though now, I’ll never have to ask a rehearsal client how long he will be jamming on his drums, so that we can record a wind instrument in the studio, I’ll always hold those interactions fondly in my heart. Almost every time, I have ever asked one musician to accommodate another musician I have been witness to true selflessness.
Musicians just want other musicians to thrive. We really are all for one, one for all. Once in a while, it has not gone well, but I’m not going to dwell on that. I am going to remember the camaraderie and channel that into my future rehearsal space business. There will always be challenges, but I know that when things get tough, I can count on musicians to be kind, understanding and flexible. And, isn’t that a quality we could all use in all aspects of our lives?