Monday, May 19, 2014

To Become A Master, Study A Master

Very few (if any) people can claim that they reached the pinnacle of their careers without having learned something from someone. Sometimes we set out to learn from a leader who has already done what we intend to do with our lives or careers, and other times we “accidentally” learn by observing someone who has had an impact on us.

As my first three months of Mastery school comes to a close, I’ve already purposely studied Yanni, David Foster, and Randy Jackson (I would have rather studied Korn, The Foo Fighters, and Lady Gaga, but it was hard to justify considering them as “masters” of composition).

Each of those that I actually did study had several common traits, but the three that I think are most important are these:

1.     They all knew at an early age that music / entertainment was their given passion.
2.     They believe that creating something is the very essence of human existence.
3.     They work tirelessly at their efforts.

These are great lessons to learn, for sure.  But what do we learn from those around us that also help shape our lives and careers? Sometimes we unknowingly gather tidbits of information from people and tuck them away, and they are recalled only because of our current circumstance. 

In an interview that I conducted on April 18th, 2014, entitled “Interview and Insight: A Senior Executive's View On Leadership”, I was reminded that we can learn from everyone around us, not just those in positions of authority over us. There are “masters” all around us if we pay attention.

Here is my simple example.  A younger relative of mine was assumed to be going nowhere.  A scrawny, shaggy guy that didn’t seem to care an ounce about what people thought of him. That was exactly the mastery trait that he brought to the table, but no one, including myself, understood it.  He went from the nerd who sold his lunches in high school (while creating quite the savings account for himself) into a master mechanic who can build a car from the ground up, graduated college with honors, and is well on his way to owning his own business in his mid-twenties. In the mean time, he also managed to outpace the rest of our musically talented family by becoming the greatest guitar player on either side!

To become a master, you should study one (or several). However, don’t limit your search for a master in the traditional way.  They are all around us, and with just a bit of attention and less judgment, you can find them.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Initial Industry Research Related to Music Recording and Production in Florida

Long gone are the days when only a person with a ton of capital to invest could start a recording studio and produce quality works of music.  Would-be studio owners now compete not only with other studios, but also with every DIY musician out there who has a bit of technological savvy, a few thousand dollars to invest, and an online partner like CDBaby.

Yet some commercial studios still survive.  The question is why?  What do they possess or do that still draws serious musicians through their doors?  In my initial industry research, I intend to begin to delve into that question.  The first three topics to be discussed (see below) relate directly to that issue.

The fourth topic, while seemingly somewhat unrelated, is designed to help me decide which (or both) paths I will follow when creating my final business plan.  For the time being, my goal is to make my recording and publishing studio more successful while at the same time continuing to create my own compositions.  However, that could lead to significant conflicts of time and the ability to effectively manage both options.

Four topics:

1.     General Market Research Related to Music Recording, Production, and Publishing Studios in Florida
2.     Trends in the Shift to DIY Home Recordings
3.     Emerging Recording Technology
4.     Potential Career Paths for Composers

Market Research and Census Data

Through the U.S. Census Bureau, I discovered that there are two NAICS codes related to my company.  The first for recording and production, and the second for publishing and marketing my clients’ recorded works: 512240 and 512210.  This will be beneficial in a more in depth census review to make sure that I am making the correct comparisons.

One source (BARNES Reports, 2013, p.99) estimates that there will be 1,456 recording studios in operation in the United States in 2014 with 1-4 employees.  That’s an average of approximately twenty-nine studios per state, but does not take into account the geographical disbursement of those companies (states like California, New York, Florida, and Tennessee would obviously out way Idaho, Montana, and Alaska).

Returning to my Census Bureau search, I found the following data related directly to Florida (data as of 2007):

·      Number of recording studios totals 114, with the bulk of them not surprisingly located in Orlando and Miami.
·      Total number of employees in these studios is 231 people (two per studio), with an average salary of $43 thousand per year.
·      Each studio averages $300 thousand per year in revenue, or $148 thousand per employee.

To prove my earlier point, Idaho had six recording studios in 2007 and zero in 2002.  Montana had four studios in 2007 and two in 2002. Alaska: two and one in the same respective years.

This is invaluable starter information for my company.  First, it shows that I am the average Florida recording studio.  Second, it shows that I live in a relatively competitive state for the industry, which is a good thing.  I would not want to attempt to start a studio in Idaho! Most importantly, it shows that I am part of a thirty four million dollar market (according to seven year old data), so there is plenty of room for competition and growth.

Trends in the Shift to DIY Home Recordings

It takes little research to understand that the home recording capabilities of the average DIY musician has exploded over the last decade.  Anyone who owns a Mac, for example, has access to relatively decent recording software (Garage Band). All one must do is plug in a microphone or instrument, and poof!  You have an instant home studio.  So what are the latest trends in home recording versus traditional studios, and why do commercial studios still survive?

I can tell you from personal experience that there is one obvious reason: regardless of your talent level, performing and recording yourself at the same time with any kind of decent quality is a pain in the neck!  In 2012, I released my second EP entitled "The Real World".  I composed, performed, recorded, mixed, and published the entire thing myself.  While there are only six tracks on the EP, it took me three months – it should have taken a week.  And because the process was so tedious, there are flaws in the music that I was forced to accept if I didn’t want the process to go on for a year. So the obvious gains for an artist in going to a commercial studio is help and expertise.

Consider this quote from Chad Kroeger, lead singer for the band Nickelback, songwriter, and producer: “There is no excuse for bad home recordings… people get lazy and want to hear what the song sounds like when it’s finished.” (Young, 2005, p. 50). A professional, commercial studio provides the artist or band with a dedicated producer / engineer.  If that person is worth their weight in salt, they will not let an artist skimp or accept flaws (as I was forced to do) in their recordings.

Lets face it. Home recording is relatively cheap.  That is one of several reasons that DIY artists are attracted to it.  The technology has become easier and more accessible over the years, artists love the independence of it, and there are companies that are making a killing by enticing artists to “go it alone” (Theberge, 2003). But musicians should be careful of convincing themselves that because they are proficient at performing music they are also proficient at recording it to the standards that they would desire.

This is all relevant to my situation because it provides insightful sales and marketing tips.  Yes, virtually any musician can record at home, but emphasis must be placed on the quality of the recordings.  If a musician is just a hobbyist, they don’t need my company’s services. If the are serious about making a go of it in the music business, they will benefit from my superior equipment, years of experience, and most importantly my ability to “hold their feet to the fire.”  If something is out of tune or off of time, it will be done again. I know from experience that some artists don’t like that attitude, but they should.  It is essentially what they are paying me for.

Emerging Recording Technology

As someone who wants to continue to build a successful music recording and publishing business, it is essential that I keep up-to-date with the latest recording technology.  It changes fast, and there are so many available options that it can make your head spin. Every engineer is different, but what should always be kept in mind are the needs of the client and what tool best suits a need.

My studio has three computers and five different recording applications.  They all get used depending on the nature of the project.  Eric Price (2011) points out how quickly things change.  In 2011, if your computers were not 64 bit with multi-core processors, you were about to become obsolete. Now it’s a standard in the industry (and amongst computer owners in general for that matter). You’d be hard-pressed, whether a Mac or PC user, to find any updated recording software that runs on a 32-bit platform. I felt this pain as I shelled out almost $10 thousand on new computers alone to keep up with industry standards.

Eric also discusses the numerous advances and upgrades in software like Pro Tools, Cakewalk, Logic Pro, and Cubase.  Again, there are a plethora of tools that an engineer can use, but ultimately it comes down to the project (and client) at hand.  One thing is for certain, if you’re going to be in the music recording business, you must stay on top of the related technology.

A somewhat recent “advancement” in technology came in the form of the Auto Tuner (Frere-Jones, 2008) – a tool that helps correct minor flats or sharps in a vocalist’s performance.  From a technology standpoint, I appreciate the tool and it’s use in saving valuable time.  Being somewhat of a perfectionist and traditionalist, however, it annoys me. If you can’t sing, you can’t sing.  I have no interest in producing robot sounding vocalists, some of whom, even when auto-tuned, still don’t sound right.  But, did I buy the technology?  Yes, because an engineer / producer / studio owner has got to stay up with the times and be able to accommodate a client’s request.

Potential Career Paths for Composers

In my search for potential careers as a composer, I ran across this simple quote by David Robidoux (director of original music at NFL Films): "My job is to [evoke] the right emotion." (Gagne, 2012, p.1).

While I’ve always rather known that to be true, hearing it from a person who has done exactly that for years makes it seem so clear and simplistic.  Whether writing a score for a film, a video game, or a jingle for a commercial, it is all about creating the right emotion.  Picture a commercial for a not-for-profit organization that is soliciting your donations to help starving children in Africa, and what do you hear? I’d bet it’s not a cheerful teenage love song performed by One Direction.

In an interview with Mike Figgis, one of Britain’s most recent notable film-makers (Figgis, 2008, p.1), the lead quote is: “The thing that attracted me to film in the first place was sound.” That is a profound statement from someone who is not necessarily known for his compositions, but who doesn’t underestimate the importance of music in his films. In fact, he has composed several soundtracks for his own movies.

The takeaway is that there is indeed a need for composers of music.  But the two examples given portray how hard it might be to find the perfect niche’ to become successful. These are few and far between.