The music recording industry exists to support the wider music industry, so when large social and economic changes affect it, those working in it have to adapt. However there is one constant and that is people’s creative vision and drive to make it work. Around twenty years ago, digital technology started a turbulent time within the music industry resulting in economic decline. It wasn’t until recently that we have finally seen modest growth again.
We live in a world where it’s easy to make music. You can make a record on your laptop in your bedroom so you only really need go to a studio for mixing or recording what you can’t do at home. With multiple week studio stays now largely a thing of the past, ever shrinking budgets and an ever changing market there is an onus on studios to be competitive and explore other sources of work that can help keep the industry healthy. “It’s tough out there” said Barry Bayliss, owner of Gospel Oak Studios. “Having been in business in other industries this is absolutely the hardest to make a living from. The business trend is upwards, slow, but steadily growing year on year.”
Budgets have been decreasing since the late ‘80’s and it doesn’t look like anything will change soon. Many city based studios have high outgoings due to location which leaves them in a position where they can’t reduce rates. However it’s not all doom and gloom. “We are full pretty much all of the time” added Jasmine Lee, owner of Dean Street Studios. “It’s the budgets we have to try and combat. There is good demand for studio time which is a good thing, but it seems studios can’t make much money anymore from just running sessions and businesses have had to diversify to stay afloat. It’s still tough!!”
Due to the budget restraints artists are now becoming more aware of how to maximise their time in the studio. “I find that budgets seem to have bottomed out and artists are trying to do more in the time they have whilst retaining a high quality of performance and therefore product” said Stuart Jones, owner of Woodworm Studios. “Ultimately, artists are still happy to pay for quality but they are more prepared before they come into the studio in order to maximise the time. They are also able to pick and choose studios for different aspects of the recording process, whether it’s a studio with a good live room for tracking the band, overdubs or mixing. Keeping competitive can be a fairly easy process however, it is important to understand your value and not enter into a race to the bottom.”
With a continual steady growth in the music industry it’s even more important for studios to keep a finger on the pulse of changes, trends and the ever changing market. “At Dean St, we like to try and keep up to date by making sure we stay in contact and have regular meetings with labels, managers, and PR and Tech companies to see what’s going on” added Lee. “We take on board market trends, watching the releases and current genre movements.”
“Its important to listen to clients” added Trisha Wegg, Manager of RAK. “We need to be aware of the general zeitgeist surrounding the audio industry. The best marketing tool is happy clients and word of mouth. However, we do utilize all available media platforms.”
“Its important to have a mix of regular promotion via social media and recommendations via word of mouth from artists” added Bayliss. “Images taken from sessions very much excite both current and future clients, and Instagram is a great way forward for that. There have been studio’s offering studio time for a pittance; I can’t see how they survive and have seen a lot of these businesses’ vanish quite quickly. I’m of the mind set that the combination of customer service, skilled and approachable engineers and high quality audio output wins the day.”
Creative vision and drive for success has also led to studios diversifying. “We are now hosting certain music related events” added Wegg. “We hire the facility for filming, TV, film and promo shoots. Photographic shoots fashion and music. We have also been involved with Communion Records and Spotify in recording and filming content for them as collaboration. We have held music audio master classes for music industry personnel that are involved in music creation but not necessarily in the studio. This gives them a greater understanding of the whole recording process. We have also collaborated with Warner Music on their project entitled The Eye – providing filmed and recorded product for their online use.”
For the smaller studios, they are diversifying in other ways. “We offer as many recording, mixing and editing services as possible. From voice over reels, to solo singers recording to backing tracks, audio books up to full band recording “added Bayliss. “We also offer a mobile recording service mainly for choirs which has worked out great. There are avenues opening up within the education system, so I am currently looking at where Gospel Oak might be of help to local Universities.”
When money is tight studios still need to ensure that they provide artists with a functional and up to date environment. “Equipment upgrades on the digital side are very important” added Jonny Solway, Head Engineer at Dean Street. “As a new version of pro tools comes out every year we like to keep up to date with the most current version possible. We get to work on a real range of projects here, from jazz to reggae to film score, so our talents always have to adapt. Also being in the room with different clients week in week out allows you as engineer to constantly get better and want to do better.”
“Studios shopping list is never ending, we always have a wish list of vintage and new equipment” added Wegg. “Maintenance of equipment and the building itself is of course another ongoing project. We have a very talented pool of engineers and assistants but still keep an eye out for upcoming talent. The personnel within a studio is as important as the equipment.”
Although the landscape appears to have settled somewhat the pressure is still on studios to ensure that they survive. With people being open to diversifying more opportunities are being found and utilised to make the studio industry a more profitable and even more creative environment. It is the people’s creative drive and passion for what they do that helps to keep the ship steady and support sector growth so ensuring the longevity of the recording industry.