PopMark Media's October 2011 Confessions of a Small Working Studio: Lessons From Studio Owners

Oct 17, 2011 3:38 PM, By Lisa Horan

From left; Dave Kerzner, Fredric Freeman and Ken Scott

From left; Dave Kerzner, Fredric Freeman and Ken Scott

Lesson #4: Create Your Own Competitive Edge

We’ve all been through this one before, right? You know you do good-quality work. You know you are worth every penny (if not more) of what you earn. You know you’ve got the skills. But what makes you different than the other guy in town who touts the same qualities you do? It’s your job to figure it out, and it’s a must. Freeman figured out what his competitive edge was, but he was reluctant, at first, to take the risk associated with it. “Early on in my career, I had a business partner who was a super-talented engineer, and he wanted certain equipment for the studio. I, being the business man that I am, was very hesitant about the purchase because of the expense, but he was persistent, and I finally caved.”

Freeman is glad he did because now he’s one of the only guys in Miami’s indie music community who has a 2-inch tape machine. “There are a lot of clients who are looking for the sound that only analog can create, and this—along with the SSL console I also caved in and purchased—have become part of what attracts people to the studio and gives it an edge over other small studios in the area.”

Lesson #5: Take Wise Risks

In fact, risks are essential to growth, even if they cause pain. Daniel Dennis, the owner of Nashville’s Prime Cut Studio, understands this phenomenon. He knew he had outgrown his previous space and was time to expand into a larger facility. “I knew what kind of space I was going to need to record drums and bands in, but I also knew that it was going to be a risk to take on a building project. It took me over six months to finally find a property that I felt would be suitable,” recalls Dennis.

The property he ultimately chose was a single-family home that included a detached garage. The space was a blank slate for him, but he visualized the completed facility and the requirements for the workflow that would take place within it before any work started. “The challenge came in getting the project completed quickly and within my budget,” says Dennis. “I hired a contractor to handle the framing, electrical, insulation and dry wall, but then to save money, my dad, grandfather and I took on all of the finishing—and we had only one month to get it all completed before I had to begin bringing clients in.”

An important lesson: Dennis did not go into the project blindly. He spent countless hours researching studio design, soundproofing, acoustics and building techniques. The risk proved profitable.

Lesson #6: Know Your Limitations

All that said, another critical lesson to learn is recognizing and respecting your limitations. This, unfortunately, is a lesson that Freeman had to learn the hard way. “I met this wonderful, in-demand vocalist who had come to the studio to lay down background vocals on a number of tracks. She had such great connections that I thought she would be a perfect person to partner up with to bring in major clients, so I went all out,” explains Freeman.

Unfortunately, he decided to branch out a little too far. “I wound up buying a 1920s house in downtown Miami, sinking a lot of money into transforming it into a studio, and in the process I neglected the Dungeon and lost sight of what I got into this business for in the first place. As a result, I’m still carrying debt because of the expansion. The reason this wasn’t a winning deal is because I lost sight of what was important.”

In spite of the financial pinch he continues to feel, Freeman feels the experience was invaluable. In the process, he learned that he doesn’t need major-label projects for fulfillment. “The situation reminded me that I actually enjoy working with indie bands and artists because they appreciate what I do for them, and it reminded me that it’s imperative to follow your passion, not your wallet.”

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