PopMark Media’s September 2011 “Confessions of a Small Working Studio”: Assessing the Power of Your Image

Sep 12, 2011 6:28 PM, By Lisa Horan

At Dubway, voice-over Mark Altman recording phone prompts for a
telecommunications company.

At Dubway, voice-over Mark Altman recording phone prompts for a telecommunications company.

Alt-rock band Pterodactyl recording at Dubway

Alt-rock band Pterodactyl recording at Dubway


A studio’s physical location and interior makeup can also play a major role in its image and how it is perceived by potential clients. While the idea of moving, assuming a heftier monthly rent responsibilitY or investing in a facelift can cause a studio owner to break out into hives, in some cases, these changes can prove worthwhile.

Dubway has two moves under its belt and three decades of success to give credence to this theory. When the studio first opened in the early 1980s, its location was a “rat hole” in Times Square. That’s when the studio’s emphasis was on bands. “The place was really funky. There was a heavy-metal band upstairs and ambulance sirens on every track, but it served its purpose for the time,” says Houghton. As the studio began to evolve and go after more industry and corporate clients, Houghton and Crehore knew they would need to upgrade the studio’s physical location to accommodate new client needs. Accordingly, they made their first move in 1997. Then, in January of 2011, Dubway acquired 2,500 square feet of space on Wall Street.

“We took what we learned from our other experiences and built a space that is not only more appealing in termsof location, but also in flexibility and comfort,” says Houghton. The new facility offers a 1,000-square-foot live room that can accommodate classical ensembles, musical casts, etc.; a large tracking room for live bands; and smaller tracking rooms for everything from VOs to sound-for-picture to overdubs. In addition, the lounge area provides clients a comfortable, hip place to hang out, and the artwork that adorns the studio’s walls sets an inviting tone. “We recognized that to stay in the game, we would have to offer clients a space that not only offered state-of-the-art capabilities, but also makes them feel at home,” Houghton adds. 

These were some of the issues that Sanders and Weir considered when they set out to build their studio in 2004. As a result, they identified a space on the outer edge of the commercial district of Chicago. While the location attracts the clientele Vagabond caters to—TV and film producers and ad agencies—the facility keeps them coming back. “We made sure that the space would accommodate the comfort requirements that can really make a difference for clients, like air-conditioned vocal booths and soundproofed rooms,” explains Weir. While this has certainly boosted Vagabond’s image with certain clients, Sanders and Weir recognize that the studio’s fees can be a definite turn-off to others. “We know we can’t compete with $100-an-hour studios; it’s just not feasible with the rent we have to pay,” says Sanders, who admits that losing jobs on price alone used to stress her out, but she’s realized that it just goes with the territory. 

“It really depends on what clients you’re aiming for," Houghton says. "Our first space was great in that it had that rock 'n' roll hippie kind of vibe to it, but there was no way we could bring in an NBC VO actor and expect him to leave raving about the studio. Houghton adds that even if a studio can’t make a physical move, at the very least it may have to spend the time and money to address certain issues. “We certainly didn’t jump right into a move. We studied the economic impacts of moving to a new space and client expectations before making any commitments.” 


Of course, it’s everyday commitments that leave studio owners struggling with the idea of adding image-boosting efforts to their already busy workloads and additional expenses to their already strapped budgets. But the question remains: Is it really worth it? How can studio owners truly justify spending more money, time and resources worrying about their studio’s image when, in many cases, they can barely deal with what they have on their overloaded plates?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to that one; it’s just something that every business owner in our industry has to deal with. “Image development is a bitch, but it’s very necessary if a studio wants to stay competitive,” says Hougton, who has survived 30 years of industry changes. “I know it can be a very intimidating process, especially if you haven’t dealt with it before, which is why I sometimes bring in outside marketers to help manage specific marketing efforts.” 

Sanders uses this analogy: “If you don’t put some type of branding efforts into place, it’s like going fishing with just a hook instead of bringing a whole box of lures. It may work, but you’re not using every tool to attract potential clients to what you’re doing. The fact that you are talented should be a given, but talent and word-of-mouth alone in today’s industry will not give you a robust business.” 

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