TOP 10 home recording studio owner mistakes and how to avoid them.
In recent millennium recording studio business has degraded into the point where gear became much more important as well as something to be proud of than the recording, editing, mixing and mastering craft itself. And this is where literally ALL project or home recording studio owner mistakes originate from sooner or later.
Overwhelming amount of software and hardware gear, that is being constantly marketed towards us, is leading all of us towards starting or keeping our businesses on the wrong foot or path accordingly.
One of the biggest home recording studio owner mistakes one can make is concentrating on things, that don’t matter and ignoring or postponing the ones, that make the difference. Actually it also applies to our entire lives and not only recording studio lives, doesn’t it?
Because things that matter are usually considered boring and have less (usually none) of an instant “wow” factor, than things we are trying to convince ourselves do. Yet things that seem to have no immediate zap are the ones that will help you as a home or project recording studio owner to survive, rise above all the competitors and make your living out of doing something you thought you’ll just do for fun.
Why am I eligible of giving recording studio advice?
I’m no different. I proudly performed all the home recording studio owner mistakes I’m going to name in this article myself. Lucky for me at some point I managed to get everything under control and made my hobby provide 100% of my income. If you’re ready to learn from my mistakes, I’m ready to let you know what you’re doing wrong (or will eventually be doing wrong) so far.
Yes, this will be one of those “what would I say to myself [insert number here] years ago if I knew everything I know now and had all the experience and money I’m in possession off today”. And just so you know – I did my first multi-track recordings in my basement studio in 2004. So I have 14 years of experience and knowledge right now.
This post is targeted at people who have very limited budget dedicated to an idea of having their own space and gear, where they could do something they are passionate about – record their music, or better help others record, edit, mix and master theirs – and get paid for doing what they love. Let’s go!
TOP 10 HOME RECORDING STUDIO OWNER MISTAKES
1. Not having single channel / multi-channel (electronic / live) recording studio strategy.
Most likely after being a more or less successful musician you finally decided you might just give audio recording a try. First thing you must do in order to spend you budget efficiently and not get lost sooner or later is decide whether you’ll be going for one-man-band electronic / acoustic music producer, or you’ll want to work with multi-channel recordings of live bands. If you won’t decide early on, you’ll end up buying expensive and useless things, that will be used 1% of your studio time.
Say if you’re a producer / songwriter / singer – you’ll be better of with a single vocal microphone that suites your own voice, while if you’re after live bands – you should buy several cheaper yet less specifically colored mics.
Simple. But if you’re not sure what profile you want your future studio to take, you’ll end up with shitload of expensive things, that have no crucial influence on your finished product.
Also if you’re going to be a producer, you’ll need lot’s of costly VST instruments, which are almost unnecessary in live multi-track recording situations.
Decide what is it you want to do in your studio, then start shopping accordingly and don’t loose yourself on your way.
2. Ignoring or underestimating studio acoustics.
As I already discussed it once in my post on top 10 odd tips to improve your mixing skills, studio acoustics is the only thing in pro audio that have inversely proportional ratio between its importance and scale of implementation in home and project recording studios.
Mixing room’s acoustic treatment has the biggest impact on the final mix compared to everything you can think of (except your mixing skills of course).
Yet only few home recording studio owners at a budget start building up their facilities based on proper acoustic treatment (eliminating main X-Y-Z room modes, reducing reverberation times, early reflections, further evening out frequency response at least at the sweet spot).
From the first look, proper or at least decent acoustic treatment of you mixing or recording space might seem too much of an investment considering you’ll need microphones, cables, d.i. boxes, an audio interface, mixer, God forbid other outboard gear, a DAW, plug-ins, audio editing software, monitors, a computer and related devices, headphones etc. But this is the worst assumption you can make starting a home recording studio business. And major part of us make it or already have made it anyway. Which leads us to all the following home recording studio owner mistakes we’ll be talking about next.
You know why there are thousands of audio processing plug-ins out there and why developers still keep on “inventing” new and superior ones? Because of our stupidity, ignorance and refusal to invest into acoustic treatment of our home recording studios.
Yes, Dave Pensado, Chris Lord-Alge and many other industry stars use plug-ins as well. Funny thing is that many of us have probably 100 times more plug-in’s on our machines than all of them combined. How many of those do we use daily?
You know why there are thousands of studio monitors and all of them are flatter than the other ones, yet with crispy or crystal clear highs and tight or powerful low end? Yes, you guessed it right – because we do not invest in our studio acoustics in the first place.
Then we buy something at about 50% fancier than we can actually afford as our first studio monitors pair.
After some time we realize, that these are not that flat at all, but our friend has a much flatter pair back there. So we buy similar pair, just not 5″, but 7″ option. Again – much exceeding our budget. Just so we can brag about it to our friend and of course put a photo of it on FB. Oh, or maybe you’re one of those who want to “impress” your client? Proceed to reason 8 for further elaboration on our clientele.
Everlasting search for better or flatter stuff goes on and on until buying new gear becomes more important than making music happen. If we’re lucky we should meet some one who’s opinion we respect, who will say: “you know what? Investing into my home recording studio’s acoustic treatment was my best decision ever. Now everything sounds good and TRUE in there. Thus I can use basic plug-ins to fix even major issues…”
Because music is what and how you hear it and not how expensive piece of code it was you processed it with.
3. Making several mediocre rooms instead of single good one.
When I talked my father into helping me build my first recording studio in our basement, I decided to build three small rooms instead of single large one, which turns out is still one of the major home recording studio owner mistakes to this day.
Instead of sound proofing and acoustically treating (the right way) just one space, where I could fit a band and once they’re gone – mix their shit, I went for three spaces: mixing room (more of a box), tracking room (I mix in larger rooms now) and a “lounge” (total waste of space and materials). As a consequence I needed more cardboard, fancy multi-layer window to separate mixing and tracking rooms, three doors, double the amount of rock-wool etc. This one decision cut my budget more than 2/3.
You know why I did that? Because well – every mixing engineer need’s to mix in a separate room so you have the isolation from the band playing. Inversely the band needs to feel professional and have their privacy (it doesn’t matter that they can not play all together at once, because there’s not enough space in the live room). And of course I need a lounge for the band members who are not recording to hang out…
As my experience later proved, the band members liked to hang out outside in the yard, and 99% of the time I worked in my studio, I was alone. Not because I didn’t have clients, but because time spent tracking as opposed to mixing/editing/mastering/learning new stuff – had a ratio 1 to 99 or something like that.
I don’t even want to start counting how many mics, headphones, cables, or even a 24in/12aux mixer (!!!) could I have bought for all the money spent on building materials and people who did all the hard work. Of all the home recording studio owner mistakes this one has cost me the largest amount of money at once and didn’t pay off at all. Because recording in small rooms is uncomfortable and inconvenient, mixing and mastering in small boxes is the worst thing you can do to your hard work, and having an empty lounge equal to 1/2 of your live room is just plain stupid.
One more thing that will follow up naturally if you decide to go one-room-way is heating/cooling and fresh air. Because if you’ll sit in the room without air while mixing, you’ll soon be willing to do the changes so fresh air can reach you.
While if you’ll be spending major part of the studio time out of your live recording room, you’ll be more than happy to leave things “as is” and let your musicians drown in their own sweat with their heads exploding from headaches caused by lack of oxygen. A bit more about the subject in statement #6.
4. Investing into “quality” over quantity gearwise.
We now have reached such level of stupidity in home recording studio realm, that people are more proud of how much money they’ve spent on studio gear (which they don’t use to full potential), than with their results.
While majority of musicians prefer recording their music by playing it together (and maybe re-recording vocals or solo parts), one of the biggest novice home recording studio owner mistakes is still seeking for ONE expensive (yet still relatively cheap, thus in exclamation marks in the statement title) mic, instead of going for MORE cheaper ones in order to be able to record at least the whole drum-set.
The fact about price to quality ratio of recording gear is pretty simple – there’s significant difference in price ranges between 100 money and 500 money. But the difference between 500 money and 5000+ money devices is so minor and subjective that lots of pros can’t even hear it while comparing one to another during blind tests.
Even more – as the differences lie more in coloration and metaphysical bullshit like “edge”, “presence”, “oomph”, “sand”, “glass” etc., major part will often choose cheaper contestant as a winner. And let’s not start calculating the ROI, which will most definitely go negative if a home studio owner will buy something closer to 5000 money.
Since most often used gear is everywhere the same, you won’t impress anyone with a mic, that sits in every other studio in your area, the one thing you should strive for in your home recording studio is quantity.
Or simply said – go for as much channels you can record at a time instead of chasing a little bit more expensive option that will cut you short of say five mics you could have gotten otherwise. Same goes for cables (especially cables!), audio interfaces and other essential hardware.
The rule here is – if your goal is to build a multi-channel live recording studio, go for as much OK quality stuff as you can afford and don’t surrender for less but of “a bit higher quality”, that costs significantly more.
5. Looking for the best DAW and plug-ins.
Another biggie talking about home recording studio owner mistakes is getting caught into the marketing vertex of software market overload. If your goal is to be effective – look for cheapest or even free DAW and plug-ins. If there’s one thing where you can save huge – it’s software.
Today you can literally execute your ITB editing, mixing and mastering processes for free without loosing quality at all.
I’m biased here, but get Reaper (or Ardour) for mixing and mastering, Audacity for waveform editing and forget everything else. Because all DAWs (even ProTools!!!) and all plug-ins do same things.
No software will do miracles if you don’t have skills. And if you do – there’s no difference what DAW or plug-ins you use.
If you want to be ahead of your potential competitors – choose free software (not pirated!) and spend the money to expand your channel count you can record at once. Or do the 6th thing below instead!
I promise you, if you’ll choose you first DAW without being able to logically justify your decision for yourself, you’ll end up chasing “new” stuff your whole career… That is if you’ll be able to pursue one, because you’ll need money to live, and spending something you earn on something you absolutely don’t need will do you no good.
Also don’t buy fancy plugins because they sound “better”. They don’t. They’re just new. And eventually they will get “old”. And the developers will release something “newer”, that will sound “better”. Do yourself a favor and don’t get tangled into this web of buying new things instead of learning ones.
6. Not investing in monitoring and fresh air for musicians / clients.
Since I did lots of things wrong when I was starting my home studio business, not having proper and comfortable monitoring system for my musicians was one of them. After every new session I promised myself I will buy a mixer for discrete cue mixes as well as more cans and longer headphone extension cables. And every time did I end up buying some useless “tube” pre-amp, fancy outboard compressor or “better” mic instead.
Later on, while doing F.O.H. and monitors for all kinds of bands in live shows I learned what a huge effect good and comfortable monitoring had on performance and mood of the musicians.
So if you’re just starting out – be sure to be able to provide as many band members as you can afford with a discrete cue mix and some comfortable yet reasonably priced headphones with long cables so they can feel free-ish during the session.
If you do that, you’ll become much loved among your clients. Of course monitoring needs depend on music genres a lot and some don’t even need it. But I’m trying to cover as much ground here as possible, so I’m talking usual ingredients here – loud drums, electric guitars etc.
Oh, and you just MUST figure out a plan how fresh air will be provided during the recording sessions, because there’s nothing more demotivating than recording your creation all sweaty with a headache because of the lack of oxygen. It will make your musicians sleepy and they won’t be able to concentrate. So the guitar solo will go on and on forever with a hick-up at the very same spot every time.
7. Getting into monitor wars and looking for “the best ones”.
As lack of skills or will to learn things forces and tricks you into searching for new pieces of software – lack of studio acoustics leads you to never-ending search for best sounding pair of studio monitors.
As a surprise comes a fact – such thing does not exist. Cheap or fancy, they’ll all sound bad and different in poorly acoustically treated rooms and vice versa – they’ll all sound good and right in rooms, that have acoustic treatment taken care of.
If you want to save money – get a pair of 5” or 7” you can easily afford, put them in a right spot, calibrate for right levels and use them until one of them fails.
If you will decide to sell them before they get broken, you’ll only once again prove the fact, that you’re buying new stuff not because you need it, but because you’re bored with older things, that used to work perfectly in the past.
A discrete low frequency speaker? If you have invested into acoustic treatment of your mixing room, you should be fine without it. Because if you’ll get one, you’ll also get a free crossover frequency dip, which you won’t be able to get rid of because your room doesn’t have acoustic properties it need to have.
A second pair of monitors for “control”? This phenomenon is very hard to understand as most of the mixing engineers who decide to buy a second “cheap” pair of monitors end up using them 99% of their mixing time.
And they still feel the urge to brag about the more fancy pair for several thousand money and how they don’t use it, because if you get the mix sound good on a cheap pair, it’ll sound good everywhere.
And this only proves that one of the biggest project or home recording studio owner mistakes is buying stuff we absolutely don’t need.
So once again: invest bit more into studio acoustics and buy a pair of studio monitors you like the least, because they’re the cheapest and Dave Pensado doesn’t mention them in SOS. You’ll be so happy in a long run! I promise you.
8. Projecting your future or everyday studio life towards professional bands and artists…
… and hoping to impress a “star” in case one ever will find you. This sort of thinking is very vicious, dangerous and widely spread. It causes more unnecessary expenses than probably every mistake mentioned before.
You must not assemble your home studio setup based on an idea to someday impress someone, who’s way out of your league. Reality in recording studio industry is this: someone who’s out of your league won’t ever use your services until you’re in their league.
And the leagues grow up depending on one another. Meaning that your clientele will grow as fast as you. If someone you think is out of your league will want YOU to record their music – it will mean only one thing – they’re no longer out of your league. And it will be you, your experience, your works and your know-how they’ll want to hire and not your equipment. Remember that and DON’T build your studio based on an unreal assumption “what if someone like really really PRO want’s to work with me and they won’t be able to, because I don’t have this or that”.
To illustrate what I’m talking about. You have a budget for your start. And instead of dividing it rationally you start on the “what if…”. You build several small rooms instead of one big just so your studio meets the “standards”. Yes you’ll have more “professional” look and feel, but you’ll also end up with several tiny boxes, that won’t be fully suitable for jobs they were intended to perform (live room, mixing room, lounge, vocal booth etc.).
Then you start assembling you microphone locker and start buying items you can’t really afford, but since they’re called AKG and not Behringer – they will impress your clients way more.
Then you pop a question of DAW. Pfff… Of course you choose Pro Tools (feel free to take a glance on my highly popular post about the need of Pro Tools for an home recording studio). Because you know – this is what real pros work inside of, so without even having tested it you decide that it’s the best. Not to mention the VERY REALISTIC assumption, that in two or three years tops you’ll be collaborating with world class studios who demand Pro Tools. Oh and the most important one – what if a pro studio will want to hire you??? You just need to know Pro Tools in and out.
We’ll guess what. No one is going to hire you, and if they will it’s not because you know Pro Tools. And if you’ll need to know it – every person who’s ever touched a DAW in a more intimate way will learn every other DAW in a week.
And as far as collaboration goes – it is only Avid’s marketing videos that show people using PT for collaboration. In real world people use everything BUT Pro Tools, because it’s outdated, expensive, overrated, living it’s last days out of “good old days” momentum etc.
OK, you get the idea. Don’t buy stuff only because it might do something good to you in the future, because PROs have something similar or because you expect it to impress you clients. It won’t do any of these things and will cost you a lot of money, that can be spent much more effective.
9. Comparing yourself to “studio stars” and learning on high quality material.
This one is kind of a sequel to the previous mistake. When I was young and beautiful I used to read lot’s of audio recording related books as well as order all sorts of magazines like SOS, Mix Magazine, Electronic Musician and others. I learned a lot from all the interviews with the “legends” of the industry.
But I also got very confused. Because every one of them were talking stuff like: “so to solve this big problem with [put a top 40 name here] vocals I needed to go crazy on my Pultec EQ and made about 2dB cut at 2k. Then I compressed the heck out of it with and I also added some harmonic saturation (like 0.3dB using a Fatso).”
It was very interesting to read, but all those tricks never worked for me and I felt like a looser. What worked for me, were 12+ dB boosts or cuts in several frequency ranges, weird compression settings, lots of handmade micro-automation etc. And only after many years I realized that I was trying to replicate actions of guys who worked with top notch musicians, who had their music written by top notch songwriters and producers, then edited by no-name superhero editing rats (in fact these are the real secret weapons in the studios – not the mixing engineers, not the gear), and finally mixed and mastered by the legends.
And who was it I was working with? Bands who were playing together for few months and learned to play their instruments all by themselves. Guys who didn’t even know how to tune their instruments, singers who couldn’t stay in tune, bass players who were asked to leave the band during recording session because they couldn’t play their part on their “Jolana” bass equipped with 20 years old waxed practice strings, guitar players who took their place so that the song could at least have some sort of bass line, drummers who not only never have tried to play to a click, but they didn’t even know how to tune their drums, which were bought for few bottles of beer from a band of a friend of theirs, who had a rock band 20 years ago…
I know that lots of home recording studio owners have faced or are now facing the same thing. And no one teaches how to mix a band I just described above, that was recorded using decent yet far from “industry standard” equipment.
To this day I haven’t found online or live editing / mixing course that focuses on making something out of nothing.
Yes, I know the saying “shit in – shit out”. It was true maybe 20 or 10 years ago, but is it true now? Now when millions of dollars are earned by people who can’t even sing, yet in their recordings they sound like angels.
Why on earth would someone still hang on “shit in – shit out” in this digital age of miracles? Probably because of the same reason Pro Tools is still being tried to consider (I meant that) the industry standard. Because people who never heard tape or vinyl argue with 24/7 underground metal mixing engineers trying to convince them, that ITB is for pussies and analog is the way to go. Because musicians themselves believe that mastering is something that can turn a bad mix into a musical marvel and fancy name outboard device can make their poor arrangements suddenly become hits…
Back to the online courses – there are thousands of ‘em teaching you to mix multi-tracks recorded using gear, you might never be able to afford and performed by musicians, you might never be able to level with.
Every starting home recording studio owner’s daily bread is crappy bands, with crappy instruments, playing poorly arranged music and bringing a multi-billion money reference track for their mixing engineer to have something to compare his/hers mix to.
So why and how can mixing a pro level band (with “+0.4dB at 10k for some air” crap) help those guys deal with their problems? The answer is they can’t. Because when facing poor music, editing skills is what is much more important. And you can only learn this by editing your eyes and shoulders out, until the crappy band sounds nothing compared to how it sounded in the live room.
Because everyone wants to sound great, and with our editing and mixing skills only we can help them achieve that. And once you do such a miracle – you can be sure people will talk about you.
So if you want to earn money from your home recording studio don’t compare yourself to industry’s pros and take their advice with a grain of salt. What they had and what you have can not be compared.
Even the best-selling-navy-seals-mixing-secret-revealing “now I tell you all I know, so you can be the best mixer in the world” book or online course won’t help a starting home recording studio owner, because those PROS can not even imagine the shit we’re dealing with daily.
10. Investing in outboard gear.
Don’t ever dare to buy outboard gear. No home studio needs that. It’s expensive, and if it’s not it will do more harm than good. It is highly uncomfortable and inefficient to use outboard gear in modern ITB studios.
If you seek for the best result you need to be able to work with data at it’s RAW-est form and if you will gate something too much or over-compress it – you won’t be able to go back instantly. It’s like chopping off your left hand, because you don’t use it as much as your right one and it adds unnecessary kilograms to your overall weight, which has negative effect on your running speed.
Also outboard gear requires more cables, patch-bays, audio interfaces with higher I/O counts, CPUs of higher frequency to be able to run at lower latencies.
Bottom line – outboard gear is expensive and has no recall. You think you don’t need recall? Just try to count how many phone numbers on your smartphone can you tell from your memory. You need recall.
Everything I learned during all those years spent recording, editing, mixing, mastering and doing all other kinds of audio related work can be shortened up into one simple statement:
One of the most important steps when starting a hopefully successful home recording studio is to constantly remind yourself to buy things you really need that complement your vision as opposed to buying things because you like them, because they might make a better impression on your clients or because it is how pros do it.
1. If you’re going for multi-track recording studio – quantity of OK level gear is your god. If becoming full time recording / mixing engineer is your goal – stay away from New Gear Acquisition Syndrome and don’t even start to search for “the best” piece of gear. It does not exist. Yet wallet shrinkage for necessary gear does.
2. One acoustically treated room with free editing (like Audacity) and mixing software (like Reaper) and plug-ins, OK level secondhand mics, no-name cables, maybe a mixing desk and of course audio interface corresponding your budget is the best way to start a multi-channel recording studio and still have something to eat.
3. And don’t ever ask people of what is the best [insert whatever you want here]? Because everything’s relative and “the best” does not exist as opposed to a sickness of constantly acquiring new gear which seems to be one of the fundamental home recording studio owner mistakes of this millennium. Probably because buying something doesn’t require any skills, and fancy names can easily impress other people without skills who trick themselves into thinking that those fancy names will compensate for skills they lack.
4. Stay focused on your goal, work on your skills and eventually your lift off will start. If not because you’re the best at what you do, then because you were the only one who took my advise seriously.
Thanks for reading. This time I really hope I got into that brain of yours and made you change your wrong or encouraged you keep your right way by helping you avoid those major home recording studio owner mistakes, I wish I was able to withstand back in the day.
Comments, thoughts and your experience on the subject are highly appreciated in the comment section below. Cheers!