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 RecordingReview.com 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?