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The leap from semi-pro to pro (overheads, and risk)
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6th December 2012
Old 6th December 2012
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The leap from semi-pro to pro (overheads, and risk)

Heya guys, in need of a bit of wise old advice from those more experienced - things for me have reached a point where I want to progress forward but the biggest wall appears to be the very studio that I use - here's a bit of a backstory:

So for about 12 years I've been building up a studio, collecting old synths, outboards and such... its a strange mix of old and new which works quite well. Up until now I've been lucky in that I've always had space to use the studio without the worry of rent/overheads etc. Although it started out as a hobby, my experience with production in general has grown to what I would describe as 'professional'.
Now, I've been looking around for space to put the studio in SW London, and the average price I could get is around £960 per month for about 500sq foot. Thats fine for my needs, but I'm hesitant to do this without getting in a small team of other producers that can jointly use all the equipment for their own needs and share out the rent costs.

Has anyone done this before? I don't want it to be a live studio, but rather a production/mixing studio which processes tracked sounds and commercialise them. My thinking is to advertise around to composers, writers, and engineers meet up for drinks and see if its something that might actually work as a collective, but wouldn't mind any thoughts other people have, or if anyone's done something similar!

The alternative, which I'm trying to not to think about is to sell everything, which would at least cover a deposit for a house.
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10th December 2012
Old 10th December 2012
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Your first task, the way I see things, is for you to find out what it is that you want to do. Then you have to look at what you are doing now and work out which bits are earning you a profit. I looked at your website and there would appear to be a distinct lack of focus. Some web design, some audio, some music production, some post, some consulting all compete for space, but no core competence.

It looks as if you (with others that you mention) might be something like an advertising agency, but then you are not really an advertising agency, as you are missing some of the bits of an agency. Perhaps (just a thought) you could think of becoming an agency by recruiting members who do the bits that you are missing right now, like corporate marketing strategy, copy writing, video, photography and so on.

When you have drilled down to where your money comes from and what it is that you want to do, you then have to bring those two things together in one activity. Then and only then, can you decide whether you need more space and what type of space that has to be and whether you can and should share that space with other like-minded souls.
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10th December 2012
Old 10th December 2012
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Originally Posted by The Byre View Post
Your first task, the way I see things, is for you to find out what it is that you want to do. Then you have to look at what you are doing now and work out which bits are earning you a profit. I looked at your website and there would appear to be a distinct lack of focus. Some web design, some audio, some music production, some post, some consulting all compete for space, but no core competence.

It looks as if you (with others that you mention) might be something like an advertising agency, but then you are not really an advertising agency, as you are missing some of the bits of an agency. Perhaps (just a thought) you could think of becoming an agency by recruiting members who do the bits that you are missing right now, like corporate marketing strategy, copy writing, video, photography and so on.

When you have drilled down to where your money comes from and what it is that you want to do, you then have to bring those two things together in one activity. Then and only then, can you decide whether you need more space and what type of space that has to be and whether you can and should share that space with other like-minded souls.
What he said... and write a business plan. That way you will be able to see if you have a viable concept.
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10th December 2012
Old 10th December 2012
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Having shared a studio with one other freelancer, it's very hard to divvy up the time so that everyone gets what they need and so that it fits in with their other commitments.
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10th December 2012
Old 10th December 2012
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Originally Posted by psycho_monkey View Post
Having shared a studio with one other freelancer, it's very hard to divvy up the time so that everyone gets what they need and so that it fits in with their other commitments.
This was a huge problem for me.
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10th December 2012
Old 10th December 2012
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Originally Posted by psycho_monkey View Post
Having shared a studio with one other freelancer, it's very hard to divvy up the time so that everyone gets what they need and so that it fits in with their other commitments.
I have found slashing their tires to be an effective way of freeing up the studio on short notice
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10th December 2012
Old 10th December 2012
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Originally Posted by joeq View Post
I have found slashing their tires to be an effective way of freeing up the studio on short notice
Bit hard to do that to a tube train! Every now and then public transport has it's advantages...less prone to sabotage by unsavoury studio partners...

The other issue is the OP states they have a very.."personal" sort of setup. This isn't going to work for others - one of the reason commercial studios are very "standard" is that they suit everyone. When you get owner/operator places, they're generally a bit more unique - small issues are worked around, some things are left set up permanently to suit the owner - this gets irritating if you're then trying to use the same space as a freelancer/visitor!
#8
10th December 2012
Old 10th December 2012
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Sounds like a pipe dream to hope to find strangers to share with - best have your own space.

People can be flakey or have life 'situations' that can mess you around..

IMHO
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11th December 2012
Old 11th December 2012
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Heya guys,

Just wanted to thank you all for the comments thus far - keep them coming as it all brings up a picture of things that might help others. I'm going to respond to a few comments in the mean time:

@The Byre:
Totally understand what you mean - its interesting that you mention the website as it represents my dilemma exactly. Leaving aside the fact it probably needs updating, my background is first and foremost in Computer Science... and programming is where pretty much all of the profit is made. What's nice in the programming world is that on a freelance basis its actually quite easy to meet other users and get working together on a project. This is how 'Obscuresounds' operates... using a collective of freelancers to complete a project with various clients. I'm surprised this isn't something that happens more often in the music industry, although is it possibly because of the physical gear rather than knowledge of the art itself?

Now don't get me wrong, I love what I do, but music production has always been my true passion. I feel I want to do 'more' with the studio - and its worked okay up until now, but space has become the issue. Then there's overheads and risk - Commercial studios pose such a high risk now days and that is my main hesitation (part of the reason for this thread)... but as someone already mentioned, how can you take what is effectively a 'large' personal studio and upgrade it to a viable standardised business unless individuals already know how to use the gear (some of which are fairly distinctive)?

Regarding the marketing agency principle, my intention has always been to split the company up in to two entities - one for computer programming, the other for sound production. If the studio does find a new location, I wouldn't be too concerned to use the studio myself (due to the programming side of things), but if it can be used by others then for me that's a win situation. Its a simple case of not wanting the studio to 'pause' or stagnate.

@psycho_monkey:
Hear you on the time-share thing. Thankfully I wouldn't be too concerned about using the studio myself other than to manage it. Its a case of getting it used in a proper business environment. Actually been digging around the internet for studio real-estate agencies and looking at that for potential (find studio space, then rent it back out), although again, no idea how good these sites/agencies really are. There should be an airbnb for studio owners!

ps: smiled when you wrote 'commercial studios are very "standard"'. It's true though... I tend to be more interested in quirky bits of gear to generate a certain vibe but alas its pretty niche (if cool)!

@Jules:
Hah, yeah the strangers thing is probably a bit of wishful thinking on my behalf - but saying that I do this with programmers all the time. So for instance if a client needs x amount done within a certain time I can pretty much get a group together within a few days and head for coffee shops to plan and implement everything... but studios pose a physical problem I've never really had to think about until now.

Interesting that you mention flakey/personal situations... surely this is the case in any workplace?



Thanks again guys, and keep the thoughts (good or bad) coming - love thoughtful threads like this... will try and respond with any info where possible.
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11th December 2012
Old 11th December 2012
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The thing that Jules points up is that when you've got competing priorities (everyone on their own schedule and attending to various commitments) then *sharing* becomes a word that looks different depending on each person's point of view.

That's why collectives of all sorts tend to exist in a freeform sort of anarchy-- as long as it works for most of the people most of the time, cool, but inevitably eventually you and all the partners need to arrive at some kind of structure-- a big boss man, who either will or will not hear you when you call.
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11th December 2012
Old 11th December 2012
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Are you getting paid work for music production at the moment?

If so, next time you have a job call up a friend and see if they want to help you. ( that's how most collectives start) then slowly over time introduce more friend, if you think a piece needs a killer trumpet solo hire a pro, if he seems like a cool guy invite him in for the next project.
Then when you are earning a steady income and have a good amount of work booked open up a studio for you guys to all work out of.

I did a session over Halloween where a group wrote and recorded an entire album in 36 hours. This was their 12th album. Nothing was written before hand, there was a core 5 or 6 and then about 50 musicians in total dropping by to play on a song or two. It was great fun. We had one song being recorded and then at least two more being written a any one time. Everything was live, with a maximum of two takes per song. It really showed how productive collaborations could be when everyone was on the the same page.
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11th December 2012
Old 11th December 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Grimbog View Post
my background is first and foremost in Computer Science... and programming is where pretty much all of the profit is made. What's nice in the programming world is that on a freelance basis its actually quite easy to meet other users and get working together on a project.
Without knowing your precise circumstances, it is impossible for me to judge, but this sounds very much as if programming is what pays the bills and music is just a hobby.

By all means, we can all bring our hobbies to the table, when appropriate, but I would definitely warn against diluting your core business and confusing potential programming customers, by giving them the impression that you are not really a programmer, but a musician.

Remember what Benjamin Franklin wrote - "Beware the hobby that eats!"
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11th December 2012
Old 11th December 2012
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@Arthurelletson:
Yep, but most of the work with the production side of things is ad hoc, whereas the programming side is full-time. The issue if I try to dedicate time to the studio side of things is that programming would have to move in to a part-time process until the studio is generating on its own. Unfortunately most of my friends are musicians without any knowledge on the processing side of things. In fact none of my friends have any experience of mixing etc. but come to me to do all of their processing!

@The Byre:
That's how it stands at the moment. I agree with what you say about diluting the core business, although in my mind it would seem such a waste to throw away all that been learnt with production up until now. I'm not talking just ITB experience... but actual hands-on experience with outboard gear and what I would describe as an 'ear for mixing'. If I thought it was just for all a bit of fun then I wouldn't have an issue trying to get the studio commercialised... but its a real bother.

Hmm, this conundrum gets deeper, and your Benjamin Franklin quote seems apt!
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11th December 2012
Old 11th December 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Grimbog View Post
@Arthurelletson:
Yep, but most of the work with the production side of things is ad hoc, whereas the programming side is full-time. The issue if I try to dedicate time to the studio side of things is that programming would have to move in to a part-time process until the studio is generating on its own. Unfortunately most of my friends are musicians without any knowledge on the processing side of things. In fact none of my friends have any experience of mixing etc. but come to me to do all of their processing!
Why don't you speak to a local studio owner and see if you can use his studio and work out a discount if you let him use your gear. That way you don't have the fixed overheads. If you can't make it to all the sessions get one of the engineers at the studio to cover for you.

You should separate your two businesses and have dedicated websites for the programming and the music. If you are the one with the contacts you can send out work to your friends, get them to write and then you mix it.
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11th December 2012
Old 11th December 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Grimbog View Post
@Arthurelletson:
Yep, but most of the work with the production side of things is ad hoc, whereas the programming side is full-time. The issue if I try to dedicate time to the studio side of things is that programming would have to move in to a part-time process until the studio is generating on its own. Unfortunately most of my friends are musicians without any knowledge on the processing side of things. In fact none of my friends have any experience of mixing etc. but come to me to do all of their processing!

@The Byre:
That's how it stands at the moment. I agree with what you say about diluting the core business, although in my mind it would seem such a waste to throw away all that been learnt with production up until now. I'm not talking just ITB experience... but actual hands-on experience with outboard gear and what I would describe as an 'ear for mixing'. If I thought it was just for all a bit of fun then I wouldn't have an issue trying to get the studio commercialised... but its a real bother.

Hmm, this conundrum gets deeper, and your Benjamin Franklin quote seems apt!
I just don't see what combining the businesses has to gain for you.

It's not like anyone coming to you for computer programming skills will get you to mix their new single (most won't have an interest in music) and no-one coming to you for music will want you to code them a finance app (or whatever you do). The 2 businesses aren't related. Why try to combine them? What do you have to gain over keeping them completely separate? Behind the scenes you can join them up of course, in terms of accounting etc...but to the public, why link?
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12th December 2012
Old 12th December 2012
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I just don't see what combining the businesses has to gain for you.
Neither do I!

I have all sorts of hobbies, such as riding, sailing and I even enjoy building my own buildings. But these are hobbies. Just for fun. Nothing more. Just as the professional horse trainer or equestrian is a very, very different beast to me taking a nice ride over the hills with a flask of whisky (and some beers for the horse) so the professional recording engineer is very different to a hobby musician who knows his way around Reaper and ProTools and enjoys getting together with others to make some noise on weekends.

My 30 Cents worth would be to keep the gear, enjoy the hobby, don't rent the room and concentrate on business.
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12th December 2012
Old 12th December 2012
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Morning guys,

Think I mentioned it somewhere in my second reply... the intention is not to combine them both together - ignore the website, as its just like that to pool hosting resources when it started up, but my plan was always to split the sections up in to two separate entities. Regardless of its hobbiest beginnings and all that it entails, surely to be able to grow something from a passionate hobby has the potential to be just as rewarding as a fully fledged business?

This is essentially why I started this thread, as its at a point where I have the opportunity to divide them, but not without an element of risk on the studio side. I actually have two domains (obscuresounds.com,and obscureweb.com), so at some point when I have time to update the site they will represent their respective services properly. But... ignore that they're both on one site at the moment.
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12th December 2012
Old 12th December 2012
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Regardless of its hobbiest beginnings and all that it entails, surely to be able to grow something from a passionate hobby has the potential to be just as rewarding as a fully fledged business?
Hobbies seldom make good businesses.

Competition The biggest problem for all start-up businesses is all the other start-up businesses. At the budget end of the market, there is a great crush of other, similar enterprises, all competing for the same small market.

Know-how The hobbyist seldom has enough knowledge of the practicalities of the business and the market in general. Someone coming from inside the business will know a great deal more about how to make a fist of things as a business, than a keen amateur. For example, a professional cook knows where to buy his food, which equipment gives the best results and how to organise a restaurant in a way that no housewife preparing the Sunday roast ever could. He will have all kinds of inside information about where to buy equipment and as a jobbing cook, will already have learnt from his or her mistakes and from the mistakes of others, lessons that the hobbyist still has to learn.

Capital There is also the simple fact that the hobbyist is very often seriously underfunded and therefore does not have the ability to survive the start up period, which may run into several years of low turnover and does not have the funds to get the business off to a good start, with better equipment, advertising, good location, or whatever it is that the chosen industry requires, for a new-boy to succeed.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Grimbog View Post
. . . . but not without an element of risk on the studio side.
And that risk (caused by additional fixed costs!) will endanger your core business.

By all means find a symbiotic relationship between music and programming now and again, but I would not try to 'feed' a business in a market that is so completely and utterly on its uppers!

BTW, you have not told us what it is that you will be doing in this projected studio.

Here are some questions for you - when I look at a business plan these are the points I always insist are covered.

1. What are your projected earnings?

2. What are your projected costs?

3. What is your unique selling point?

4. What is your plan B when the customers stay away in droves?

5. What market research have you done into demand for your services?
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