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MEMORANDuM: There’s No Business Like Show Business

Over the last two years, the "Mix Business Quarterly" has concentrated heavily on the mechanisms of studio economics, from getting paid by record companies

Over the last two years, the “Mix Business Quarterly” has concentrated heavily on the mechanisms of studio economics, from getting paid by record companies to hiring studio managers. Yes, running a facility is complicated, and as busy as you are with day-to-day operations, stepping back and looking at the landscape in which it exists is critical. Tunnel vision is a common pitfall in any business, and it’s often fatal. See, it’s all in how you look at things.

The recording studio is one cog in what has become a huge and surprisingly well-oiled machine called the media industry, a somewhat lofty euphemism for what is essentially show business. In a few weeks, the Super Bowl will provide the perfect illustration of the merger of art and commerce. Millions of dollars’ worth of technology and creativity will be poured into 30-second spots to sell Diet Coke and motor oil. Some ear-catching music will have been brilliantly recorded to sell Corn Flakes. Now there’s an equation for the new millennium: CF=Ox (Corn Flake equals Opportunity exponential). Not quite E=MC2, but it encapsulates the reality-it’s no longer about the music, if it ever was to begin with.

It’s about providing media services, and to become a media service provider you have to start regarding yourself as such. So stop describing your business as a recording studio or post-production facility or mastering house, et cetera. Those monikers will linger and will always be useful code words within the industry. But by reinventing yourself and your business perceptually, you open up to an increasingly diverse media business.

The shock of the new comes in many forms, but confronts us each and every day. I’m reminded of a story I did last year in which the manager for a Manhattan music studio was confounded by what to charge for the use of the studio for a Webcast. “It’s not something that we had on the rate card,” she told me. Well, the future’s not on most people’s rate cards.

In the Information Age, the possibilities are truly endless. Webcasts are a growing niche, but there are a million new media applications for audio. Archiving and retrieval. MP3 mastering (someone’s going to make some serious money on this one). Audio for kiosks. The list is endless, but the goal is to change the way you think about what you and your facility do. To do that you have to find another context for yourself in the bigger picture of what media is all about. Say it out loud a few times; chant it like a mantra: This is not a recording studio; it is a media facility. I am not a recording engineer; I am a media specialist. I am not a record producer; I am a media director.

As a media facility, your potential range of clients increases exponentially. Banks need audio for Web sites and training programs. The meeting and convention business is booming right now, and as it becomes more competitive it will need better sound. As theme parks move closer to virtual reality experiences, they’ll need multichannel audio to replace the sound of roller coaster wheels. Go see any museum exhibit, where “immersion experiences” now rule the day, and they all need audio. Sometimes all it takes is someone to point it out to them. That someone could be you.

Granted, not everyone can do this. There are many people and facilities who, for whatever reasons, need to stay on the traditional course. That’s fine; there’s so much business around that it will leave fewer facilities to service the traditional music dates and will-in theory, at least-allow those that stay in the game to raise their rates.

There are plenty of articles in Mix that tell you where to put which microphone in the kick drum. For the past two years, the “Mix Business Quarterly” has tried to help you hold on to the place where you keep the kick drum. I want to help you beat a new drum.