Studios are like any business, They want to provide a service at a reasonable cost and make a profit so they can stay in business. Keeping this in mind when you meet with the studio manager or owner it would not hurt to ask if there are some ways to bring the costs down. If the studio is booked until next year the likely answer will be no. But, if the studio is having trouble booking time, then they might be willing to negotiate. Whatever the case, don’t press for a yes and begin on a bad foot. Just move on or move out.
- Ask for discount “bulk hours”.
This is the COSTCO approach to recording: buying in bulk! If you know you’re going to use 10 or more hours, ask for a 15% discount if you pay up front.
- Ask for a Time of Day Discount.
Studios want their space to be used. If it is sitting there unused and quiet then no money is being made. Ask the studio manage if there is a time of day when the studio is dead and can you come in at that time for a discount? I’ve recorded with bands at 3 AM in large studios because the studio didn’t mind and they could get money for the space.
- Negotiate a “Package Price” for the whole project.
I recently read Daniel Lanois’ memoir (“Soul Mining: A Musical Life”) where he said that when he is asked to produce a new project he will quote the record company a set price for which he feels he can complete the project. He then calls the artist and they get to work. No one is looking at a clock, the record company isn’t worried about going over budget, Lanois and his crew can focus on making music.
I feel that this is the best way to work on a large, long-term project: set a fair price and then get to work. I’ve been in so many studio situations both as a performer and a producer where the artist wants to get one last take in, but the clock says time is up. It’s either stop or pay another $100 for the studio and the engineer. Agreeing on a price for the whole project works for everyone: Win-Win!
How do you go about agreeing on a set price?
- First off, agree to the concept of a set price. Some studios won’t even entertain the idea of working with out a clock.
- Second, sit down with your producer or your band mates or some one close to the project and figure out how long you think it will take you to record each song. Doing this exercise with a person who has had experience with the recording process is key. A person new to the process really has no idea how many time it might take to lay down the best guitar track. When you, as the performer, are confronted with playing under a microscope, every little mistake gets blown up 100X and you start to think – Hey I thought I could play this thing!
Once you’ve estimated how long each song might take to record find out what the studio’s hourly rate is for basic tracking. Then multiply that by how hours you estimate and divide by 15%. This should give you a starting “number” to put on the table when you start a negotiation. Again, it’s a number to start at. That’s what negotiation is: give and take.
Here’s the concept in a simple formula for you math-minded people:
[(est. rec. time per song X # of songs) X (studio rate)] X .15 = Fair Negotiating Price
- Make a list of expectations and desired outcomes.
When entering into a contract with a studio, know what you want and what you want to get out of your time spent in that space. Make a list of needs and issues and make sure that the studio will meet them and whether they charge for some of your needs.
Whatever the case – It Never Hurts to Ask!