AES Section Meeting Reports

Toronto - October 29, 2019

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This event paid tribute to the professionals running home studios. A well attended and engaging meeting, it began with an industry overview which was then followed by two panel discussions. The panelists offered insights on financial, technical, and creative concerns relevant to both novices and veterans.

Alan Clayton introduced executive member Raphael Capon, the moderator and organizer of tonight's event.

Kristen T. Clarke of Long and McQuade Pro was introduced to give perspectives and directions on the home studio industry. Some highlights from her talk include the following:

There's more affordability, quality, and opportunity available than ever before. The lines between pro and home setups are becoming blurred. Setups are accessible and expandable, and easy to start due to less requirement for deep financial resources.
The use of non-traditional spaces is on the rise; high quality results are quite available in small spaces. Renting is easier, which in turn requires less overhead to run a personal studio. Current home studios are more compact and modular. Headphones are more usable with the advent room modelling software. Software, itself, plays a big part with emulation and modelling apps. Sample libraries are now easier to access via cloud services. Licensing for software is more easy, with subscription based fees affording easier access. Overall, there's simply a lower entry barrier.

As far as change: high end recording continues pushing new boundaries. More people now are setting up their first studio. Professional freelancers are getting into this trend, though with high end but compact solutions. Pro gear is becoming the "home standard".

Ultimately, it's not equipment but talent behind it using the gear, and the support offered it by interested listeners.

Networking plays a major role in the industry. Recording world-wide remotely is possible via the Internet. Phones may become more practical in future with better battery life and software.

Quality mics aren't changing: people still want standard classics. Home studios are becoming the future and becoming more connected.

Finally, quality results depend on what you know.

Raph thanked Kristen for her presentation.

The first panel looked at "Running A Professional Home Studio - How To Make It A Business". Raph introduced the panelists and they were invited each to give a brief background about themselves while a photo of their studio was displayed behind them on a large screen. The panelists were: Hill Kourkoutis, Dajaun Martineau, and Lisa Patterson.

The first of four questions examined what the panelists liked best, what was most challenging running a home studio; and what advice to offer aspirants.

Some 'bests' included mic modelling software ("a game changer"); freer time for clients; it was a personal choice if one wanted to tweak or not into 'overtime'; boundary lines between pro and personal time were blurred.

This 'blurring' was also a challenge. It was difficult to actually set hard personal boundaries. Self care was also a big challenge.

This last point led to the pretty much unanimous advice to new participants in the field: well-being has to come first. Getting exercise, sleep, fresh air, and movement the most important. Create boundaries for a healthy work life balance.

The second question looked first pieces of gear for their studio, along with thoughts about anything they wished they hadn't bought.

Generally what came out of this was that everything was a stepping stone. With each new piece there was more refinement, more possibility. There were no regrets, only progress. Regarding emulation and modelling, the modern experience was that the right software, if done, well was quite acceptable and becoming the norm. You don't need a ton of gear. You need time to get to know your stuff/gear/software to do it right.

"It's not the equipment. It's the attitude!"

Question three peered into advice on pricing structure and best billing practices.

Main points: set clear rules; 50 per cent up front and no delivery until the final payment. If working hourly keep detailed notes, stay on top (ie: in control) and offer no "wiggle room". Having a manager helps, especially when negotiating deals.

Other thoughts: Branding is/can be created via professional invoicing. Honour your talent and time. Always be compensated. Offer payment plans where feasible. Talk upfront at the start of taking on new clients, and projects, about rates. Know basic accounting; have accounting software (Wave Apps. Com was mentioned). Allocate time for accounting and invoicing because "this is how we make money". One owner created a PDF of studio policies.

"You have no power until you're ready to walk away". In other words be ready and willing to delete the entire project if they don't pay. "If they put you in that position, they're the a-holes".

The fourth and final question for the first half addressed noise and its impact, as well as DIY approaches.

A current theme here was to build relationships with your neighbor's. "Blanketry!", blanket forts, and other temporary isolation techniques get the job done. One panelist noted "the myth" about treatment referencing his previous gig in a big commercial studio pointing out it still had problems with outside noise, and bass issues with the room itself.

Do what you can to kill initial reflections. One interesting statement was to keep the speakers from interacting with the room to avoid nodes, best done by mixing at low volumes.

A Q&A followed with the audience.

Some topics: dealing with finances, and "tire kickers" - where is the line drawn?

Advice given was to walk away after the follow up meeting if no purpose emerges. All the owners offered free first sessions whether it involved songwriting to detect the vibe, or just a simple thirty minute meet and greet. It's definitely a boundary balancing act and one needs to get transparency.

Managers: Never look for a manager; have them look for you. Most of the work comes from referrals; it's 95% relationships. You don't need a manager unless you have something to manage. Agents get you work. You need a manager if you don't know your own schedule anymore. Build value first and management offers will come, and you get the luxury to choose.

How to get referrals? Collaborate.

How to ask for payment? Get deposits. Put everything in writing.

Time Management; Doing Everything? Get an Intern. There is no formula for success. One needs to precisely and definitively mark personal time and interaction time.

After a break, the second topic looked at Varied Applications of The Home Studio. Here again, Raph introduced the new panelists and each provided their own background. They were: Cass Beau; Blair Francey; Genevieve Jones; and Ron Searles.

The first question here looked at projects types taken on and challenges or interests toward choosing those?

Project types included music production, recording, editing, writing, and working with self-producing people. Ms. Jones, a voice-over artist, looks if the hiring company is organized and the writing is great. Interests included potential repeat business, and people where relationships can be developed.

The second question discussed first priorities when putting a studio together, and how it reflect the types of projects they worked on?

These included: living within ones means; quality over quantity; building a space to develop a reference to; sound isolation via layers; space (room) treatment; ergonomics; building a separate repurposed facility; windows!

The final question examined the use of unorthodox methods to get desired results.

The panelists stated this happens many times. The unorthodox methods "meet you!" In the voice-over field, this is limited, though iZotope's RX Noise Restoration software is used to remove mouth clicks. Finally Ron Searles talked about recording in the mix room.

In the final audience Q&A the need for mentorship and sharing was discussed. One panelist created an independent coaching program because of time constraints when dealing on a individual basis. Sharing and mentorship was unanimously accepted: it was "good to get out and talk to people".

Desert island gear: acoustic nylon string guitar; AKG C414XLS; rechargeable batteries and a Zoom H6; good mics and monitors.

Alan Clayton closed the evening by thanking the sponsors again and giving another reminder about the next meeting. He asked the panelists to assemble on stage for a photo and to hand out certificates of appreciation, and complimentary notebooks.

Lisa Patterson thanked Raphael for creating the inclusive panels.

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