Studio Unknown's Confessions of a Small Working Studio—Designing Studios to Meet Multiple FunctionsIt doesn't seem that long ago that offering CD duplication—in addition to recording—was a prime example of a diversified service. Today, it's a completely different story. With technology as acce 6/01/2010 12:46 PM Eastern
It doesn't seem that long ago that offering CD duplication—in addition to recording—was a prime example of a diversified service. Today, it's a completely different story. With technology as accessible as it is, many studios are going way outside the box and developing much more intricate add-on niches. In many cases, these additional services require additional space. At the very least, they demand a thoughtfully designed space that can effectively accommodate multiple functions, whether the services take place at the recording facility or in a second location. This month, we take a look at three studios that are managing multiple recording-centered businesses and reveal how they are transforming what could be chaos into success.
THE SPACE RACE
Jim Callahan, owner of busy St. Louis recording facility Jupiter Studios, is knee-deep in the development of a new live music venue. The Jupiter Club is being designed as a House of Blues–esque establishment that can accommodate up to 1,000 people. Located in a historic church building, the multipurpose complex will feature a restaurant and bar, and will serve as a dual-purpose private event space and live entertainment venue that will host national recording artists and shows. “The project has been a ‘ginormous’ undertaking so far,” admits Callahan. “In addition to the 20 hours per week that are devoted to running the studio, another 30 are spent in meetings about the club, but most of the pieces are in place and we’re looking forward to the launch next March.” Callahan says that beyond merely serving as a place where touring acts can perform, the Jupiter Club will also offer Web broadcast, live recording and video recording capabilities, which will be an added draw.
For Durham, N.C.'s Sound Pure Studios, a guitar shop and pro audio sales business have been great at drawing in an additional client base. Now, the company has taken its efforts one step further by adding a video production wing. In a short amount of time, this companion service has grown considerably. “Video has really become the face of the pro audio business in many ways, and so far it’s been a productive use of our time and energy,” says studio owner Todd Atlas. Of course, it wasn’t even as easy as buying a few cameras, shooting, editing and delivering a project. Atlas wound up converting office space into video editing suites and hiring additional staff. “Over the next few years, I wouldn’t be surprised if our video billable hours exceed our audio billable hours, so making the investment and reconfiguring the space will have been well worth it,” says Atlas.
Eric Yoder’s journey has been marked by a series of investments and risks since he founded his Chicago studio Horse Drawn Productions in 1998. The facility used to be situated in an 850-square-foot space that was primarily used for producing commercials, jingles and other recording projects; Yoder purchased a 7,000-square-foot building in 2009 that can accommodate not only his recording studio, but his ever-expanding array of add-on businesses. These services include a music/audio instruction program offering classes on music, vocals and production, as well as Pro Tools, Logic and other computer-based applications and techniques; a repair facility for musical instruments, amplifiers and other electronic devices; a separate mastering studio; a live room that is used for artist showcases, performances and CD-release parties; and an artist-marketing division. “From the time I began as a freelance engineer, I was offering instruction on some level,” says Yoder. “I learned pretty quickly that lessons that focused on Pro Tools, mixing and production were in high demand, so it made sense for me to expand lessons to classes, and to do that I needed more space to do it in.”
However, having a larger space is only one part of the equation. It’s how the space is organized that can make or break a business. The 3,000-square-foot facility in which Jupiter operates its recording studio is, according to Callahan, a space in which every square foot counts. Everything on the first floor of the tall, thin building where the studio resides centers around a hallway that is flanked by active rooms. The first section is dedicated to corporate, voice-over and singer/songwriter work, and contains the studio’s media department, with a video production area, as well as Studio B, which contains a small vocal booth.
Farther down the hall is Studio A, which was designed for bands, hip-hop artists—clients who need multiple inputs. This section of the facility also contains an amp room and a live room. “We've set up our space in much the same way as our Website has been designed,” says Callahan. “The different divisions of the studio occupy different areas within the space, and that seems to flow and work really well.”
What has also worked well for Callahan is the space on the second floor, which is where his apartment is located. But he won't be there for too much longer. Once Club Jupiter opens, his top-floor living space will be transformed into a marketing center. An architectural feast for the eyes, Jupiter Studios was once occupied by a motorcycle repair shop. It’s the space’s urban style that Callahan believes makes up for its size. “We don't have huge studio space or mega video suites for our corporate clients, which made me a bit paranoid at first, but I'd like to think we have one of the coolest spaces in town. It’s comfortable and cozy, and it’s a place that clients like coming to.”
Yoder has gone to great lengths to make sure his space is not only a place where clients like to work, but also a place that clients—and anyone walking through it, for that matter—can fully experience. The 7,000-square-foot facility is designed so that visitors, whether they're students there to take a lesson or clients who are there to record, get a glimpse into all of the activity taking place. “Everyone who comes in for a lesson has to walk by the control room or, as we like to call it, the candy store, in addition to the live room that contains a grand piano, mics and other instruments,” says Yoder. “It's a promotional thing." And it doesn't stop there. The section in which bands record is separated by glass walls that enable musicians to see each other, as well as anyone walking down the hall that splits these spaces. According to Yoder, this setup creates an indescribable energy that is contagious. “It’s a showcase atmosphere that really seems to work well,” says Yoder.
Yoder’s eye for design hasn't been limited to his own endeavors. He has been called upon to design studios for celebrities like R Kelly, Last Laugh Productions and other midrange studios in Chicago.
As the industry has fluctuated and demands have changed, so too has the configuration of SoundPure Studios. “The video division of SoundPure has actually begun to get busier than the recording side of things,” says Atlas. As a result, he had to create a viable space to accommodate the two full-time video editors he hired. Ultimately, he transformed an office space into two editing suites. “Having video capabilities to complement our recording expertise is an edge that most studios don’t have yet, but it’s becoming more and more of a necessity as the industry continues to change. “Those clients who are still willing to pay what we refer to as ‘medium-sized studio dollars’—aka, real money for audio production—are usually open to the idea of paying additional money for video, and we expect that this will only increase over the next few years as YouTube continues to be a major marketing tool.”
Of course, no amount of money can compensate for disorganization, no matter how sophisticated or accommodating an interior space may be. Callahan's secret weapon is a staff member: studio manager/receptionist Jodie Whitworth. It’s Whitworth’s strong organizational skills that help keep Callahan and other staff on track. “She coordinates and assigns all of the sessions that go on within the studio and lets staff and myself know where we need to be and what we need to do, which, in turn, makes us look good to our clients,” says Callahan.
Much the same, Atlas recognizes that he can't be the expert on everything his studio does now that it has several spin-offs, so he has surrounded himself with specialists. “The editors that are now on staff full time are doing things that I know I never could have done myself,” he admits. “The bottom line is that to do something well requires specialization, so I rely on other people who are great at what they do and that keeps things running efficiently.”
In addition, Jupiter Studios operates off of a strict billing policy that requires clients to pay 50 percent at the start of a project and provide 48 hours’ notice to cancel a session. “There was a time when it was taking nine months and then some for some of our clients to pay, and that just led to wasted time spent on following up,” says Callahan. The stricter policy has enabled them not only to keep costs down, but also to increase productivity. “When a client makes a financial investment upfront, they're much more apt to take things seriously, show up and be prepared, and then everyone benefits.”
Just as studio owners can no longer afford to be complacent when it comes to the services they offer, neither can they afford to be complacent about the space that their facilities occupy or how that space is used. “One-trick ponies just don’t pay anymore in our business,” says Atlas. “As studio owners, we've got to come to grips with the fact that we have to expand our portfolios and our offerings if we're going to compete, and that often means we have to get creative with the space we have to make that happen."
Studio Unknown is full-service audio post production facility and recording studio that specializes in helping clients discover creative sound for film, video, web, gaming, and artist projects. For more information, visit www.studiounknown.com.