Downsides Of The Home Recording Studio Business

Brandon Drury —  February 3, 2008

If you are thinking about a “career” in the music recording industry, this article is going to ask you to think again. That’s right, while I’m usually a fairly positive guy when it comes to this music recording stuff, I can’t say that the home recording studio business is perfect or even close to what you would have hoped it would be.

Let’s Talk About Career
If you are considering a career, that means we shift our focus away from the subjective world of emotion in music and move towards the objective world of money. Bottom line: There are a lot of bills coming up in your future. House, car, wife/husband, kids, electricity, food, and doctor bills are just the start. Bottom line, most people who want a “career” want CASH! In all likelihood, it’s probably easier to make a living as a professional yard mower than it is as a home studio guy. (Don’t believe me? You should see what fast food joints and malls pay for lawn mowing!)

Home Recording Gear Is Super Cheap
Do you have an audio interface and a 57? More importantly, who doesn’t? Because everyone and their mother has the capability to capture music into their computer, the perceived value of someone who can capture audio onto a computer is drastically diminished. Back when the cheapest home recording setup was about $10k (we’ll exclude 4-track tapes here) it was a big deal for a band to record their entire band live. People simply didn’t have the equipment to do this.

I’ve been recording since 2001. For me to get my full band recording setup cost me over $10,000 after I bought mics, cables, stands and all the things that you don’t think of when you do you initial budgeting. At this point, I was more on the “cutting edge” and bands would come to me simply because they didn’t have the means to record themselves. Well, almost every band I work with has at least one member who has some kind of recording device. They usually can’t match the quality I can, but you need to understand that this completely wipes out the clients who simply wanted to get their music to a cd so they can pass it out to 10 buddies. This is a bigger market than you think.

Home Recording Gear Is Expensive
Even though home recording gear costs a fraction of what it used to, it’s still a big investment. Once a person puts that Digi 003 on their credit card along with 8 mics, 8 mics stands, 4 external pres, bla bla bla they are committed. The resell value on most recording equipment is very low. They can decide to let their new recording rig collect dust knowing they spent thousands of dollars or they can force themselves to use it. How many bands have debated whether they should record themselves or not and then chose to do it themselves because there is no point in wasting this equipment.

Your Charge Based On Your Past Work
Advertising means very little in the recording world. Very little! Word of mouth is everything. Your rates are directly effected by the last big local recording you made. In other words, the last recording that you made that all the local bands heard is what you are worth. Is the quality was outstanding, you’ll get business. If the quality wasn’t so hot, you’ll have a tougher time.

Your Past Work Is Little To Do With You
As a engineer considering a career, you know that you have little control over you destiny. Simply put, the sound quality of a bands recording has WAY more to do with that band than with you. You simply want to capture a band in the least distracting way possible. Without getting into the producing side, you are never going to make a band sound better than they are.

So, the amount of business you are going to drum up in the next month is based more on your ability to work with bands that already sound great than it is to actually make good sounding recordings. Simply put, if you don’t record great sounding bands, you don’t eat. However, if you live in an area where great sounding bands are a rarity, you are forced to record not-so-good bands. You don’t eat then, either.

Everyone Thinks That They Can Engineer / Mix
For whatever reason, when people hear a home recording, they almost automatically say “I could do better than THAT!”. Of course, it turns out being WAY more difficult and most people give up and move on to something else. This doesn’t mean they don’t try a few times taking a few potential clients with them.

Some Bands Won’t Need Much Of An Engineer
The best bands will always sound the best. I’ve seen this time and time again. The best bands usually won’t have much trouble tracking themselves after reading two web tutorials. If the band already sounds good, just about any idiot can place a mic on a snare or a cabinet. The hardest stuff is already taken care of by the good bands. Most of these kinds of bands do need a guy who can mix as that is an art to itself. So with that said the value of an engineer isn’t what it used to be. Don’t get me wrong. After doing this nearly seven years, I can usually run circles around the beginner (I HAD BETTER!) but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to do it themselves verse calling me first.

How Less Do They Settle?
It’s very very difficult to take a band that wants to sound like the latest major label bands and get them to sound in the league of those bands. A major label recording costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, the singer isn’t rushing because he has to be at work the next day, etc etc. Now if the band has to settle for less, where do they draw the line. Let’s say a Nickelback recording is a 5, a Brandon Drury recording is a 4, and a newbie with no clue gets lucky and records a 2.9. Is it worth $1,000 for that extra 1.1 in quality? That depends on the band.

Music Recording Is Not Recession Proof
I’ve noticed that when the economy slows down, I get less phone calls and less emails. Most of the people I record are not rich. Most of them are on the lower end of the income scale for whatever reason. When they are broke, they don’t call recording studios.

Everyone Wants A Fun Job
Just about every accountant, doctor, or lawyer played it safe. They did what they were supposed to do, went to school, got good grades, and now they are well paid. Of course, besides the lawyers and accountants, they should be well paid. However, it gets complicated. Most people who have well paid, crappy jobs are bored out of their mind. This is better than the people who low paying, crappy jobs who are pissed off, but that is debatable.

Most young people need to decide on a career are totally aware of the fact that dentists have a tendency to splatter their brains all over the back wall. (If I was married to a dentist’s wife, I may have to do the same!). Most young people want a job that is FUN! Well….

Fun Jobs Are Not Fun Jobs
If you eat pizza 7 days a week, all the sudden pizza eating isn’t quite as exciting as it used to. Just ask Peter North if he is tired of his job. (Okay, that may be an exception). When you get the joy of making your own hours, that means you also get the joy of telling your family than you have to work on Christmas or Thanksgiving! (Really fun!) It’s easy to blame work scheduling on a boss. It’s much harder to blame it on yourself. When the recording gig is going well, it pays pretty good, but on a slow week there may be next to zero income. It’s tricky. One month may be a great month. The next may be terrible. It depends on a billiion things. It’s really nice to get that paycheck every two weeks. I haven’t gotten a paycheck since I quit my real job back when I was 22. I get paid here and there, but it’s not that steady, reliable income that has a way of making life a little less stressful.

Choosing A Career
Someone once said “You can choose between boredom and misery”. I don’t consider the recording gig boring, so you do the math! This is not an easy path. Then again, it appears that the dentist with the Jag isn’t exactly taking an easy path either, even if looks appear otherwise. (He’s MARRIED to dentist’s wife!!)

I Have A Backup
Because the recording gig is sometimes great and sometimes terrible, I started this site to help supplement my income. Of course, I’ve done nothing but design/run websites and record for 5 years now so that was a logical choice. I honestly don’t know what I would do if I had to rely strictly on income from recording. Then again, maybe if I focused on just that, I would make more money than ever.

Can I Feed My Kids?
Right now I don’t have kids. If I had kids, I’d be in trouble. I’d have to figure out something FAST! So in my situation, I don’t feel that recording other bands is much of a career. In all likelihood, I’ll continue to split my time recording music for money and doing the web gig. If any of them “takes off” it will more than likely be the web gig because of choices I’ve made. I could have went balls deep into recording, interned with a mega producer and be on the fast track to recording big bands. (That, like the dentist gig, isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be). See my article Professional Recording Engineers and Producers: Are they all divorced?

Boredom or Misery?


Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.

27 responses to Downsides Of The Home Recording Studio Business

  1. Super article. This is exactly what I tell myself. It’s for fun and enjoyment. It’s nice to learn things and be able to apply techniques to home recording environments. It’s another thing to do it full time

  2. hai i want to know in what budget as in small amount we can construct a studio for 8track recording and wat r the equipements need

  3. What of working in someone else’s studio and getting paid to do so? That’s my plan anyways. I play a few instruments and have vocal talent, along with mixing talents blah blah blah. My main focus is making my music, but I don’t give a shit if I get paid for it. Unless I want to be homeless (which I honestly have considered…pretty stupid), I’d have to have a job (currently, and for the past 4 years I’ve been a cook). The obvious reality, of course, is that jobs generally suck. Being a cook in a non-corporate resteraunt isn’t really all that bad, don’t get me wrong. I’ve always loved construction and more blue-collared jobs, but I’m not a big fan of losing my fingers and being exhausted).

    Anyways…my plan is to work in a studio for whomever (although, I could do some small projects of my own as well, not as a job but as a nugget of extra income, maybe enough to buy cigarettes from moldova). Hell, if you don’t have that job it’s not the end of the world. You have to work and you have to do what you love to do, and still love to do it. When combining the two, it can be dangerous. Great musicians have been ruined by turning their hobbies into careers…but I digress. Now I have no clue why i wrote this comment…

  4. Great article, has me thinking a little more on what I should do. I’m kind of balls deep in my studio, or about to be at least. Orlando is a very competitive area and everyone thinks they can record. Little do they know theres a difference between a recording engineer and just throwing some tracks through your mbox. Oh well..I’m up for the journey.

  5. I have to agree on so much you said. It seems we have walked the same path. But I have always said some people just have to learn the hard way,and it goes the same for musicians and know it all band members. home recording is not as easy as they think,and definately not for the novice.

    check out my blog I will post article and quote from your article and I would like to link exchange with you if you will have me.

  6. Very true article.I have been in the recording biz for over 43 years.My only income period for the last 23 years.Whats really surprising is I am not a musician,but have racked up over 1,000 albums and thousands of professional sounding demos.What really bothers me is all of these recording schools teaching would be recording engineers for jobs that do not exist.How many studios can the Twin Cities support?I have seen 1,000 of studios come and go.The main thing that has kept me in business is my huge collection of Neumann microphones and probably one of the best Yamaha grand pianos around.If it wasn’t for the grand piano I am sure I would not be in business.But hey it has to be tuned at least once a month or more ($100.00) and has to be maintained.Very few studios have a grand piano to offer or Hammond B-3.Also the most impotant thing is experience,experience, experience.The other thing that bothers me is all of these studio owners do it as a part time business or hobby which really takes away the business of those of us that make are living by recording.Enough said.

    Jim Reynolds(Eng.)
    Custom Recording Studios (since 1965)

  7. “The other thing that bothers me is all of these studio owners do it as a part time business or hobby which really takes away the business of those of us that make are living by recording.Enough said.”

    We all have to start somewhere. It’s awsome that you have a succesfull studio, but some of us are ‘hobbyists’ turned serious, starting from the ground up.

  8. The big problem that I see is everyone wants to become a recording engineer.Most of these home studios are operated by people that do not have any kind of electronics training of any kind so they all buy the same equipment that their musician friends have.So when a recording doesn’t sound good its shipped to the mastering guy for fixing.All of these home studios have really low rates to entice the musician performer to record at there place.Or they will invest in the so called studio in the box and save hundreds of dollars by doing it themselves.After hundreds of hours are spent in time and frustration and the results are disapointing to say the least.They are hit with the realization that to get a great sounding recording you need to spend at least $200.00 or more per hour at a commercial studio.So they give up,or live with the poor recording.I feel that the recordings made over 40 years ago are vastly superior to whats being put out today by these so called studios.Years ago all of the magic was in the microphone.If I was a musician I would not even consider recording at a studio without Neumann U-87′s or U-67′s.Also put in a few RCA 77DX ribbons for flavor.Please dont get me wrong.My studio is in my home but because I use the very same microphones that are used at Capitol Records the 1,000 or more albums that I have recorded and produced sound as good as the most expensive commercial studios.

  9. O.k. I’m not trying to start a flame here but I’ve heard good records songs with Neumann’s and crappy songs recorded with Neumann’s. Good songs recorded with shure’s and samsons and crappy one’s too.
    I’ve heard good albums come out of multi million dollar studio’s and crap albums too. Same deal with 10000 dollar studios. As much as gear is important (trust me I love gear , infact I have a slight case of G.A.S) Experiance and skill are just as,if not more so important.
    Also there are quite afew successfull engineers have no ‘formal’ training, just hard work, dedication to the craft and cuttin teeth in the little boy home studio.

  10. Sorry if I ruffled any feathers with my comments.I receive close to 10 to 15 recording publications every month. I dump most of them in the trash.They all assume that all recording studios are computer based.I for one do not even own a computer or use one for recording heaven forbid.I loathe the sound of computers and all the crap that goes with it.What ever happeded to the way great recordings were done years ago? I am not talking about 2 track live but how about multi tracking with analog or Hi 8 digital tape.Most musicians prefere the sound of analog tape.When I switched 10 years ago from analog to Hi 8 digital it turned out to be the warmest digital medium that I could find.Sure beats the harsh digital sound of computers and hard disk.

  11. No ruffled feathers my friend, just different i said i’m not trying to start a flame either. I think that tape and analouge are becoming a lost art because, for better or worse the computer age is taking over. I think its great that you are able to stay true to your sound. I also think that part of the problem is the $200 or more/hr fee. As a musician and a father of soon to be 3 I know I sure don’t have that kind of dough to doll out. maybe thats what drives people to go to home studio’s (or build their own) and not the other way around.
    I know its tough for studio owners because they have to earn a living too. Wich brings up another interesting point / question. May I ask if thats an exaggerated fee?
    I know where I live there are some top knotch studios and the most they charge is about $100/hr. One big studio even offers $40/ hr (too low for a large well equipt studio I figure). Maybe things ar different where you are? I’m not asking for your exact fee just a ballpark figure for you and the studio’s on your area.

  12. Hi Shane & Others
    My rate has basically stayed the same for the last 20 years.With the Yamha Grand piano the rate is still only $50.00 per hour.If you do not use the piano the rate drops to only $40.00 per hour after the first 2 hours.I do not know of any other studio in Minnesota that offers a finely tuned Yamaha Conservatory grand piano & mint Hammond B-3 for that low rate. I also have a large collection of over 25 classic mint Neumann,AKG, & RCA 77DX microphones.

  13. Many good points. However, I am a musician(60-70 gigs/yr) , AND I have a full-time 50 hour a week job and I am considering getting into the recording business. While I respect the drawbacks, and acknowledge them, I believe my particular case would be unique. Recently, my mother passed away, and I am left with a large inheritance. Large enough that I will have no mortgage, and I will be able to invest in the studio to around $10k. I have no experience in “Engineering” music (However, I am no dummy- having a B.S. in Engineering and worked in surgery as a surgical technologist) I am sure that I can dicepher what is needed- especially with my fiancee and myself being musicians ourselves. AS a musician, we already have the “mics, cables, speakers, etc. so this would not be any issue. Utilizing the 20′x30′ addition that is attached to the proposed house we will be buying as a studio will give us the tax incentives, as will all other investments which are considered tax-deductable. INCLUDING: phone, car, computers, equipment, that portion of the home, furniture, etc. etc. Bottom line is: There is STILL a profit to be made, especially if you keep your day job and do this work at night or weekends. BTW, we do have a grand piano and a drum set as well as guitars, fiddles, etc.

  14. Well Jamie the best to you and your new business.Most musicians dont realize how important microphones and acoustics are.They hear all this music in there head and think that a couple of cheap dynamic microphones is all thats required to get a professional sounding recording.When I started out in the recording biz 45 years ago I would read the back of all the album covers and several names kept coming up like Telefunken,RCA,Neumann,AKG. etc.I asked around and the really good engineers said that the microphones you use are the most important investment you will ever make.You say you have 10K to invest.That amount will buy you 1 new or vintage Telefunken 251.A choir producer that I recorded a album for back in 1984 still keeps emailing me and trying to find out the secret to the great recording I did back then for him. I used a pair of Telefunken ELAM 251′s He is trying to get the same sound of choirs using of all things CAD microphones with computers LOL.Back then I used a Crown CX822 full track stereo tape recorder with a freq. response past 30K !.I listen to some of those old masters today and am blown away by the sound.

  15. I agree that there is still a profit to be made. It’s awesome you are an engineer! (A REAL engineer…not an “audio engineer”.) That profit is probably 1/10th of what it was 5 years ago, but there are still great possibilities.

    I wouldn’t be planning my super studio (the studio I’ve always wanted) if I thought it would be a losing venture. However, a big reason I’m working so hard planning this thing is I absolutely MUST stand out from the guy recording in his living room (sonically, visually, etc). Of course, I’ve been that guy for nearly 10 years now and my experience usually allows me slaughter what most local bands do on self recordings. Regardless, I do think there is a future, at least in the short term, of guys who are cranking out robo recordings.

    If your recordings aren’t a major improvement over what they are doing in their bedrooms, you’ll have your work cut out for you obviously. Technical ability is a start, but my experience shows that a mega understanding of aerospace, quantum physics, and Faraday is a totally irrelevant in a control room…just as it is when painting or cooking.

    Good luck!


  16. Hi Brandon
    Granted a 251 is only good on choirs and alto voices.The 2 that I had for almost 20 years were exceptional.I could have easily sold them for 15 K each but decided to sell them for $12k each about 12 years ago.(sold the pair in 5 minutes)Since I have recorded and produced well over 1,000 albums and thousands of demos I consider my 3 Neumann U-87′s and U-67 the best microphones to use.My ears can usually pick out by listening to a recording if a Neumann U-87 was used or not.As far a mic preamps go I think they are very over rated.If you go to my website and take a listen to some of the music samples that I have done over the years I think you will be blown away.The sample with the 25 priests was done in my studio 15′ by 30′ and everyone that has heard it thinks it was done in a huge monastery.It was recorded over 20 years ago on a Fostex E-16.The samples of course are in the sub standard format (I hate MP3′s) But I think you will agree that those samples are some of the best you have ever heard.

  17. Well, I’m not sure a real deal Telefunken 251 is absolutely required to make music that excites people….which is ultimately what is the product your services are supposed to help create. (Although I wouldn’t complain if one showed up in my mic locker!)

    An SM7 with a good pre is used all the time in big boy rock/pop records. It can be a hell of a sound.

    The 251 flat out doesn’t work on all voices and all instruments. The 47 sound is just a popular (although totally different). It, too, doesn’t work all the time.

    I’d rather have an SM57 and an awesome monitoring system which I trust than a 251 and a bedroom with poor monitoring. It’s similar to asking a pro hunter if he’d rather be blind and have the best gun or have the best vision and a normal gun. (Ideally, you’d have the best vision AND the best gun!)

    In regard to instruments, nice mics definitely don’t hurt, but nothing beats a great room. I’ve grown quite found of my Gefell M930s as overheads, acoustic guitars, percussion, and vocals sometimes. At $1,000 a pop they aren’t budget either, but I’ll take them and a killer signal chain over just a more expensive mic.

    The real trick is identifying the type of music you are recording and obtaining the tools necessary to make that kind of music out. I usually do rock music, so I do not have the same needs as a typical jazz engineer would. Singers get loud and even scream and holler sometimes. An SM7b through a Neve-type preamp through a Distressor is THE sound usually. Distortion is a good thing in my land and if I had to choose between that Distressor and a more expensive mic, you’d have to pull the Distressor out of my cold, dead hands. A jazz guy may be the exact opposite and may not use compression at all.

    Note: I have a Soundelux U99, Peluso 47, Peluso 251, etc. On my last project my AKG 414 (paid $450 for it 10 years ago) won out. It happens.

    Good luck!


  18. Hi Jamie & Others
    Over the last 40 years I have seen hundreds and hundreds of so called recording studios come and go.The first thing you should ask yourself?Will the recordings that I do sound as good as or better then Capitol Records?Serious recordings that are released to the public have to sound the best.The only way that I really feel you can achieve that sound is with microphones that cost well over $3,000.00 each.I do not use any kind of computers here for recording.I have had many studios here my sampler and they say WOW ! I dont stand a chance sounding like your studio does.Many,many studios fail because the ones that are operating it are muscians and not real audio engineers.They do not have any electronics training and they go out and buy what eveyone else is using(popular) at the current time.

  19. Well, now we’re getting a bit techy for my Since I still have my head up my ass when it comes to this field. Not for long though! I tend to immerse myself into things, and this is not exception- especially when I’m dropping $10,000 into a “start-up”. We’ve already got $6,000 in speakers/PA/stands/etc. and I’m also assuming moms’ 1932 Chickering grand piano. I have a complete drum set, 2 monitors and the house we are looking at buying even has a small stage and disco ball in the 20′x30′ rec The owners are musicians and like to throw parties I guess. I’m planning on adding a hot tub out the side, and when I go “into business” I will have food available (sandwiches,etc) and cater to my artists. It won’t be long before people come, believe me. I’ve owned a small landscaping business in my 20s (10 years) and I know taxes, etc. so that will help alot. Much thanks to you all for helping with the info!

  20. Creativity is where the problem lyes.I agree with a lot of what you said but you can have all of the creativity there is in the world but that doesn’t make a good recording.Many of the bands and groups I record prefer to track “live” and many of the albums are recorded in less then 3 hours.I still remember Paisley Park calling me up to see if they could borrow some of my microphones.It felt good to say No.Everyone thinks Pro Tools & digital computers is some kind of magic.I remember a Cd that I saw a few years ago it said and I quote”This album was recorded analog,the way God intended it to be” LOL.I still remember some famous engineers in the Twin Cities telling me “Buy the best and most expensive microphones that you can possibly buy and you will never by sorry that you did’.They told me that over 45 years ago and guess what? Its all so very true even in todays complex world.”Our Microphones Make The Difference”

  21. Thanks Jim- While I respect your opinion of 40 years in the audio business, conversely, studion Engineers/sound guys in my opinion often have their head so far up their ass that they can’t see daylight, and spend too much time farting around with acoustics rather than listening to what the musicians wish to hear from their recording. Please know that I am not refering to you personally. Case in point. My band was approached by a student (older, mid-40s) who was attending Seattle Art Institute. He wanted to use us for his pet project. We’re game, and we went with it. He had at his fingertips over $2M worth of electronics, mics, rooms, stands, etc. etc. and he couldn’t make our sound do justice. WHY? Becasue he didn’t know SHIT. All he could do was talk a lot of crap. Now, bear in mind, our sound is easy to mic. 4-piece group, all acoustic. Fiddle, mandolin, banjo, djembe, Irish Flute, guitar, vocals- pretty much it. And we’re good! We’re one of the most sought-after Irish-Celtic groups in the Puget Sound region! We do over 70 performances a year (We all have full-time jobs) Compare what I just told you to that of my friends’ band who perform in the same circles…Done in their living room with ProTools…with very little recording experience, and they made it sound F’ing AWESOME! Bottom line is this: You can give someone the most $$$$ equipment, and if they have their head up their ass, we’ll…FAIL. Or, you can give someone a decent set-up of about $10k and they will be able to put out some nice sound. It’s not ALL about the money- It’s about the CREATIVITY.

  22. Me and a buddy of mine were in a band for 8 years and started recording bands. Now it looks like we’re going to get a location in downtown Toronto Ontario Canada and do an official studio. Things are gonna be tough but we’ve made some good clients along the way already and will be competing with the big boys.

  23. Give it hell, dude! I always come out sounding way more pessimistic than I intend to mostly to be realistic about how tough it can be. With that said, I think anyone with a few brains and a high tolerance for bullshit can kick ass at this!


  24. Jim, I need to understand how a Hi8 digital recorder comes out warmer than a computer. This recorder does nothing else than A/D conversion, digital storage, D/A conversion. It must be the converters and circuits, but certainly not the storage media. If so, than the same results should be achievable with computer (as storage machine) and an analogue console. Please explain, I’m getting confused here.
    Thanks and Cheers.

  25. Hi 8 versus computer.Must be the converters in the Hi8 machines.Every engineer that I meet agrees with me that the Hi 8 tape sounds much better then using computers for recording.Every good computer recording so far that I have heard has to go to analog tape for it to sound good LOL.Also could be the analog console, Neumann U-87 and RCA 77DX ribbon microphones and probably good engineering practice .And dont forget the acoustic sound of the studio itself.My room has no standing waves of any kind and sounds awesome for music or voice.

  26. This website should be called, “the life of a failed recording engineer”.

  27. Ha! That’s a good one. The only problem is I haven’t failed at all. I had a lucrative summer. I’m not sure why the gear we buy establishes our credibility as engineers, but it definite does. Just this week I’ve bought the following gear:

    Toft ATB32 Console
    API 3124
    Wunder PaFour
    Focusrite ISA 428
    Neumann KM184

    I’m sure I have failed at something. (I did have a girl choke me at a party for being an asshole last week.) However, the engineering gig has been very good to be lately.

    The good news is a person who is going to succeed at this gig MUST have “fuck you” attitude when someone tells them they can’t do it. As I say in my upcoming book about thriving in the studio business, you’ve also go to be willing to bleed. If you are smart, creative, and tough (and read books) the sky is the limit. If you are looking to make $60k a year being a mindless employee somewhere (like 99% of the population), this gig is NOT for you. You won’t hack it.