This morning I attended a networking breakfast organised by the Federation of Small Business. As well as an opportunity to have a nice coffee and a tasty bagel at North West Londons finest Cafe, it is also an opportunity to meet people in other lines of business. Perhaps the best part of the experience is I always find myself pleased to work in music. It has its issues but I’ve yet to meet anyone with a job I’d swap with.
Today I was chatting with a guy who dabbles in music as a hobby. He asked whether there was “any future for recording studios with home recording studio technology”. This is a question we get asked all of the time. Is there actually a market for people who want to record their music in a commercial studio. Strangely for us, last year was the best for a long time in our recording studio. The answer to the question lies in what sort of people want to actually record music in a studio. There are probably millions of people making music with samples and home setups that will never ever set foot in a studio. They have everything they need to make the music they want at home. Whilst maybe fifteen years ago a good proportion of the studio customers were people who weren’t in a band setup, now this sector of the market has disappeared. Whilst there was a period where this was a sizeable chunk of studio business, it has gone and it won’t be coming back any time soon.
So who will still want to use an independent recording studio? Whilst there are many musicians making music in their bedrooms, there are still bands who want their music recorded and do not simply want a whole set of loops and samples editing. If you have a drum kit or a rock guitar, then you need to record it somewhere that you can crank up the volume. To get a good sound on drums, you need a selection of decent microphones and a sonically balanced room. Many bedroom sudios perform small miracles with limited resources, but to get a really good quality vocal track requires large diaphragm microphones and valve preamps. These factors can make the logistics of getting a good recording beyond the financial and technical limits of the bedroom studio. As a studio we’ve seen dozens of sessions where bands now simply record backline and drums at the studio, with the intention of mixing and doing overdubs at home.
What often happens is that the band find that in the studio they can be more productive and economical with their time and have been doing the whole session in the studio. We also see many artists coming through who are not interested in the bedroom studio scene and want to work with professionals. Writing songs on a home setup is all well and good, but often the recordings end up having a very “demo” sound. Musicians are always keen to hear their music sounding as good as possible and given the choice between having and OK sounding demo recorded in the keyboard players bedroom or a spending a couple of hundred pounds to have a day in studio and a better product, most will go for the second option. The part of the market which has taken the biggest hit is the semi pro bedroom studio, where people were earning beer money recording their mates bands. Now the mates bands have their own setups. We have seen quite a few bands using the rehearsal rooms to record drums etc on laptops, then adding vocal takes etc later. One band played me a demo they recorded in this way and asked what I thought. As a reasonably ok rough demo, it would suffice. They asked if it compared with the quality they could have acheived in our studio. I said that I didn’t believe it did and explained the technical reasons why. The keyboard player (who engineered the home recording) in the band said that he disagreed and suggested that his recording would sound the same as one recorded in our studio. The guitarist, suggested that if I was truly confident, they could do a recording and if they felt it wasn’t significantly better than their home recording effort, I would refund them the session fee. I said I’d take the deal, if they paid for the price of a meal at the Mill Hill Tandoori for our engineer and his girlfriend if he did a great job, on top of the session fee. The guitarist then asked the keyboard player if he really was confident. He said yes and the deal was done. The band booked an eight hour session and came in to record three tracks. As soon as the backline was recorded, the drummer said they would be paying up. When the vocal tracks were laid (using a Neuman U87 and TLA Valve preamp), the vocalist also agreed. The guitarist loved the fact that he could drive his amp at full pelt and we got a really raunchy and punchy sound.
The keyboard, as it came in on a line input was the one instrument that did not significantly benefit from the use of our system. At the end of the session, the band listened to the two versions back to back. The band all agreed that the whole sound was better, fuller and had a good balance. The “demo” sound had gone and the tracks sounded great. As I’d done the deal without our engineer being around, the Indian meal was renegotiated to a few beers in the Bridge Tavern. At the end of the session, our engineer asked the keyboard player if he was fed up to have lost the bet. He replied that it was the best money he’d spent and he was now going to buy a TLA audio valve premap and a U87 at the first possible opportunity. So in answer to the question posed in the title of this blog, “what is the future for independent recording studios?”, the answer is that so long as a studio can continue to turn out a quality product and musicians care enough about their music to pay for it, there will be a future for independent recording studios. To be successful though, we need to be able to prove that we are still relevant and we can still deliver.