PopMark Media/Studio Unknown’s Confessions of a Small Working Studio: Spend a Little, Save a Lot. Why It Can Pay to Hire a Studio Consultant

Jun 6, 2011 5:12 PM, By Lisa Horan

Ronan Murphy

Ronan Murphy

You’re right in the heart of a mix one afternoon when, out of the blue, Pro Tools crashes. You figure your system is just having one of those finicky moments and you re-boot. All your plug-ins load up fine, but then a minute later it happens again— and again, and again! “Just great!” you think. “I guess I’m finally going to have to bite the bullet and make yet another purchase and go get that new software.” Not so fast. Before you invest in even more technology, wouldn’t you rather learn how to make the best use of what you already have? There are professionals who can help you do just that, and their services just may wind up saving you in more ways than one. 



I Don’t Need a Studio Consultant. Do I?

On the few occasions I’ve brought up the term “studio consultant” to my engineer buddies, the reaction has been the same: “He’s probably going to tell me about all of the equipment I need to buy, and I just can’t do that right now.” But the truth is, oftentimes a studio consultant doesn’t recommend additional purchases, but advises you on what you need to do differently with your existing setup. 



“I work with clients to maximize what they already have but may be using incorrectly or just need to tweak a bit,” explains Ronan Chris Murphy, owner of Los Angeles' Home Recording Boot Camp. “At the core of what engineers do is making music and records that sound good. To be honest, that core doesn’t change as dramatically or as fast as people think it does as a result of new technology. What affects it is how technology is used. I help my clients focus on what their end goals are, what sweat equity can get them, and I show them how to direct their financial investments into what will help them to be more creative, efficient and best serve their client base.”



In many cases, the strategy doesn’t involve new technology at all. Rather, it involves analyzing the room to figure out what changes will make the biggest differences. “I’ve had a number of clients who are building a new space and they’ve allocated huge amounts of money for floating floors, for instance, but then they don’t have enough for good mics, preamps or monitors, and they’re going to wind up finding themselves right back in the same situation, which is the reason they entertained the idea of building the new space to begin with,” says Murphy. “What I can and often do is take a look at their budget and help them simplify their plans and focus on the elements that are going to benefit the space the most.” 



Studio consultant Scott Harlan was able make the most of an existing setup for a church in Washington, D.C., that had called him in to help fix several audio problems. “They needed help with how things were wired, how things were functioning, and how to fix the awful sound of the current configuration,” explains Harlan, the owner of Golden Sound Studios (Kensington, Md.) “These guys were just about to purchase an entirely new P.A., which was going to cost them a minimum of $20,000, but after analyzing the space, I was able to determine that all they really needed were some tweaks that I could take care of (like tuning the room) and some good graphic equalizers, which ran for around $2,000, and they’d be set.” They took Harlan’s advice, and it turned out to be the right choice. “Now the pastor can perform at a much higher volume without having to worry about getting feedback and everything sounds great.” And on top of that, they saved themselves more than $10,000. 



A composer client of Murphy’s who owned a home studio in which he primarily worked alone had to gear up for a major film project. He was going to do the entire production from the space, which, among other things, would mean lots of people coming, going and hanging around. “When I stepped into the space, it was a crazy claustrophobic mess, mostly made up of a bunch of equipment that served him no purpose whatsoever, you could barely walk, and the sound was just terrible,” says Murphy with a laugh. “My goal was to help my client streamline the equipment he had, focus on the core pieces that would help him do what he does and get the room acoustically balanced.”

The first step was getting rid of some equipment that had become detriments because they were taking up too much precious space. Craigslist to the rescue. “Just about half of the equipment he had in his studio, including his old analog console that was doing him absolutely no good, went up on Craigslist and the money that he received from their sales helped us to purchase the right pieces. Even though in my own professional work I mix on analog consoles, I replaced his analog console with an in-the-box solution that better suited his needs and workflow, replaced external sound modules with virtual instruments, acoustically treated the room.” Now, not only does the space feel two times larger and provide a much more comfortable space for his clients to hang out in, but it sounds exponentially better. 








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