When Mix magazine called to ask if I'd like to test-drive AlterMedia's Studio Suite Version 5 studio-management software, I jumped at the chance.
For those unfamiliar with Studio Suite, it's an “everything-and-the-kitchen-sink” software package that simplifies the management of recording studios, video post-production facilities, record labels and production companies. Built around the sturdy FileMaker Pro relational database engine, Studio Suite can slice, dice and chop its way to an organized facility. How so? Well, because it's a relational database (one piece of information relates and feeds other reports and menus), you can input and manage contacts, calendars, sessions and projects, billing, media, rooms, equipment, repair logs, samples and clips, and much more. In fact, there is so much packed into this product that it's surprising to learn that the price tag is a mere $499 for the first license. (Additional “seats” for your network are available for $199 each.) It's important to note, however, that while Studio Suite runs off of FileMaker Pro 5, that product is not included in the purchase price.
Before I even sat down with Studio Suite, I made a lunch date with a friend who uses the package to manage his studio. When I arrived at the studio, I was surprised to see the good old schedule book — a tattered-looking, denim-covered, three-ring binder — taking up prime real estate on his desk. I asked if the software wasn't working out. “Oh no,” he said. “The software is fantastic, but I can't bring myself to toss this book. I've been using it for the past 20 years!”
GETTING UP AND RUNNING
I tested Studio Suite 5 as a single user on a Macintosh G4 with a 19-inch monitor (the larger the monitor, the better). A cool thing about this software is that it's cross-platform networkable. This means that you (the studio owner or manager) can be running off of a PC and still allow networked access to your engineering and production crew who use Macs.
If you have never used FileMaker Pro (or other relational database package) before, do yourself a favor and spend a few days with the tutorial. Learn how the database operates and how information in one field “feeds” another. Without taking this first step, you may be a bit overwhelmed when you first launch Studio Suite.
Because you will be dealing with a relational database, you'll be opening up many files that relate to one another. When using Studio Suite's buttons and tabbed interface to navigate, windows for all of the separate files will open and hide automatically, showing only the window that you need at the moment. You do need to resist the temptation to “close” each window, as that actually closes that database file, requiring Studio Suite to open it again when it needs data from that file. If you use the tabs or buttons to get where you want to go, Studio Suite will manage the “windowing” for you. Because there are modules that you may use regularly, you can create an Open Preferred preference for each user so that Studio Suite will remember which files that person usually needs, and it will launch those automatically on startup.
STUDIO SUITE IN ACTION
After launching Studio Suite, you'll be greeted by an intuitive main menu with 20 buttons that correspond to modules. These 20 modules are divided into three subsets: Office, Studio and Tech. As you can imagine, the Office subset offers modules for controlling everyday activities such as Contacts, Calendars, Communications, Petty Cash, Purchase Orders, Invoices, Media Inventory and Bar Codes. The Studio section commands Sessions and Events, Library and Labels, Titles and Tracks, Recall, and Samples and Clips. And finally, the Tech modules include Rooms, Equipment, Maintenance Log, Patchbay Labels and Parts.
There are six steps that must be followed before the program can help your business. For a multiroom facility, set aside one hour per day for a week to sit down and “explain your business” to the software. Let's step through this process now, because it really gives you a sense of what can be accomplished with the software.
The first step is to tell Studio Suite about your users (individuals who will have access to this database). Security features are built-in, and there are five levels of user access. This makes it easy for you to determine who will get an all-access pass vs. those who will be frozen out of certain areas such as Layout mode or ScriptMaker, financial data and personal contact information.
A neat thing you can do at this point (or later down the road) is create start-up alerts for certain users. Does Jill handle all of your billing? Set up an automatic Overdue Invoices alert from the Invoice module that will only pop up when Jill logs on to the system. Does your intern Jeff handle media ordering and inventory? A Low Media Inventory warning can be set up for Jeff.
Once you input information about your Studio Suite users, move on to the second essential step: company information. This package can run more than one “company” at the same time, so if you have a recording studio and a music house, then you can optimize the software for both. Enter basics like your location, contact information, logos and tax information here. You can also adjust the terminology used throughout the package. For example, under Booking Status, you'll see confirmed, on hold, completed, canceled and postponed. If your studio jargon is different, change it here. You can also tell the software about your invoicing, project and library numbers so that future projects mesh with your existing standards.
Next, you can define the rooms you have available to book and the services you offer in each room. There are also fields for installed equipment in each of your rooms, but I caution you to go light here because there is another entire module devoted to equipment.
The fourth step, detailed lists of your equipment, is only absolutely necessary if you rent equipment separate from your room rate. However, this section is wonderful for insurance and inventory purposes, and I highly recommend that you devote some time to it. This will become a detailed record showing when you purchased something, how much you paid for it, which room it's currently in, the serial number, its estimated value (for vintage gear, etc.), and much more.
Step five will take the longest to complete. This is where you enter all of your contacts. You have the ability to save a lot of time here by simply importing this information. Basically, you'll want to add anyone you book, bill or pay. Once the contact information is added, designate the entry as client, vendor, employee, personal, prospect, etc. You'll also be able to add financial information such as terms, credit limit, account number, taxes, discounts and other significant data.
The final step is a breeze. Here, you'll identify your media inventory. Make sure to add any type of media that you have used in the past or may use in the future. You can always add to this list later.
Once you've climbed this mountain, you're ready to use Studio Suite. On my first try, I found the package to be fairly intuitive and I had no trouble navigating through the modules via the tabbed interface and the function bar at the top of the screen. Using sample data that comes loaded with Studio Suite, I was able to easily look up a client in the Contact module, access his payment records, refer to rates he'd been offered in the past, look up the in/out status of a reel from this client, book a room, engineer and equipment for his upcoming project, document a mix in the Recall module (which comes standard with faceplate diagrams of commonly used outboard gear), generate an invoice and export my billing records to Quick-Books.
Studio Suite's 20 modules include an amazing amount of functionality, and it takes time to discover the real power behind the software; this discussion merely scratches the surface. Visit AlterMedia's Website and download a demo to see the software in action. (You don't need FileMaker Pro.) Studio Suite is easy to use and packs a hell of a punch for just $499. Make the emotional and financial investment and install Studio Suite 5 at your facility.
Andrea Rotondo Hospidor is an engineer and freelance writer.