Studio Unknown’s Confessions of a Small Working Studio: Should Your Studio Go Mobile?

Feb 2, 2010 4:13 PM, By Lisa Horan and Kevin Hill

The Sheffield remote truck

The Sheffield remote truck

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment in our new online series written by and for mid-level studio owners. On a monthly basis, Studio Unknown owner Kevin Hill and creative director Lisa Horan will be calling around the country and bringing their own expertise to the issues that matter most to a successful studio life. Let’s face it, the middle has been hit hard in the economic downturn, but it’s also the middle that is most likely to come roaring back. As Mix’s February 2010 issue looks at the changing market in remote recording from the perspective of well-established mobile studio businesses in the feature "Shifting Gears,” Horan and Hill turn to mid-sized studio owners who are also engaged in remote recording for their perspectives.

With all the talk about diversification this year, it would seem like venturing into the parallel world of remote recording would be a logical move for studio owners, right? The answer, unfortunately, is not a simple yes or no. While there are certainly advantages to branching out into this potentially lucrative business, studio owners must consider a lot of prerequisites before taking the leap. This month, we talk to studio owners for whom remote recording is a significant percentage of their businesses, and they get down and dirty about the realities, the financial implications and the possibilities for those entertaining the idea of going mobile.

Kevin Clock of Colorado Sound Studios

Kevin Clock of Colorado Sound Studios

Money Talks
You’ve done some live sound for local venues with success and you’re ready to take a step up. Getting your hands on a nicely outfitted truck to cover acts at major venues seems like a natural progression, and it is, just as long as you understand what you’re getting yourself into. “The reality of today is that you’re talking probably $500,000 to a million dollars-plus to build and outfit a good remote truck,” says Vance Van Horn, the president of Phoenix, Maryland’s Sheffield Audio Visual Productions. The company’s 48-foot audio remote truck, which was purchased roughly 10 years ago, is one of the most highly sought mobile studios on the East Coast and has been involved with major shows from the MTV Music Awards to the Super Bowl. Even for an upper-mid-sized company like Sheffield, which has been in the business for 35 years, this kind of purchase is no drop in the bucket.

And the outfitting is only part of the equation. With crimps in many companies’ pocketbooks, just about everyone is cutting back, which means that many clients are less likely than ever to be able or willing to pay top dollar for remote services. “The remote side of the business did drop off a lot this winter, but the good news is, it looks like we have some great gigs coming up in the spring and summer,” says Kevin Clock, the owner of Colorado Sound Studios and co-owner of its partner company, toybox remote recording, both based in Denver. Toybox operates a 24-foot truck that costs $3,000 per day with a crew of four. “We get a lot of calls, but either potential clients want extreme discounts, or the call is from another part of the country and it would cost too much in travel expenses, so we have to turn the jobs down.”

“A lot of owners have the mentality that if you build it, they will come,” adds Van Horn, “but 75 percent of the time, that doesn’t happen, so you have to carefully consider that possibility.”

On top of that, every studio owner finds himself or herself in the position of having to upgrade, upgrade, upgrade—and remote equipment is no exception. “The more gear you have, the more maintenance you have, and the more computer updates you have to take care of,” explains Clock. “And with remote equipment, you tend to have even more maintenance than studios because the gear gets bounced around and can face more extreme temperature variations,” adds Clock, who says the company will soon be updating its computers by adding the Snow Leopard OS. “Our console will be 10 years old soon, and we’ll have to look at updating it with newer technology,” says Van Horn. “The truth is, if you want in, you’d better be willing to afford it, and you’d better love the idea of being in the business rather than the notion that you’re going to be making a million dollars.”

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