Building a Recording Studio Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank
How much it costs to build a studio depends on what you want to get out of it.
With the advent of digital music, recording studios are sometimes thought of as being industry dinosaurs. The entry-level home recording studio has become far less expensive than it was just a decade ago. As the cost of computers came down, the number of solid digital audio workstations on the market went up, making it much easier to record music.
So, how much does a home recording studio cost? It can be anywhere from $500 to $20,000, depending on how technologically sound your studio currently is. You can use a new laptop with a few microphones as your recording studio, or you can go all out and buy soundboards and synthesizers.
Building a Recording Studio
The first step towards building your own home music studio is examining the room and deciding what can be done with it. If you’re setting up the recording studio in your room or in your basement, it’s important to remember, the room you use must be acoustically sound. Some rooms are a death trap for vocals and sound.
The environment you record in makes a huge difference on the final track or record. Acoustic foam is available. You can stick it on the walls to achieve proper acoustics. Acoustic treatment foam can cost anywhere between $70 and $100 for a crate and depending on the size of the room, you may need about seven crates.
Home Recording Studio Gear
Technological equipment is what most people worry about when they ask “how much does a music studio cost?” When it comes to buying recording gear i.e., technological equipment, you will need a powerful computer, music recording and processing software, an interface, and a good microphone system set up with a stand or microphone cable. A soundboard is optional.
The microphone technology or “mic” alone will cost around $500 for a decent one. The digital software you need to edit music on your computer might also cost anywhere from $100-$900, although most of the major brands now offer either trials of their full DAWs or slimmed-down versions that are free! Optionally, you can get a MIDI keyboard to help produce beats and melodies, which can cost from $100-$200.
Other Considerations When Building a Studio for Recording Music
Will you be giving the room a makeover before moving equipment in there? If this is your own personal studio, doing so might not be necessary. But if you will be renting out your studio, re-designing it can help bring in clientele, who will be looking to check if the studio looks professional or not.
You can also keep instruments handy for yourself or your clients to use. You may skip out on this particular section but sometimes musicians will forget their instruments and have to borrow them from the studio. There are also times when artists may want to tinker around on an acoustic guitar or something during the recording process.
No matter how much a music studio costs, it is easy to make a profit off of the studio. As long as you have the right technology and skills you need to make artists sound the way they want to sound, they will keep coming around. The amount of money you charge per session will also help with some of these costs, but you can’t count on that until you have clients.
How to Make a Home Studio
A home studio is a great way for new artists to document songs they have written, and share them with others. Let’s explore the necessary items for a beginner home studio.
- Microphones – You’ll need a few good microphones. Each mic should be used for unique recording situations. Good dynamic mics start at $70 (Shure SM57). Condenser microphones start at $100 (MXL 90).
- Audio Interface – An audio interface allows you to plug in your instruments and convert the analog signal into digital information for your computer to read. Good audio interfaces start at $200.
- Digital Audio Workstations – Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) allow you to edit, add effects, and mix your recordings, then export your project to specific file types for sharing. A good DAW is Logic Pro X ($199). Ableton Live ($99-$749), Pro Tools ($299-$599).
- MIDI Keyboard – Although a MIDI keyboard is optional, it is a good investment. They allow you to explore a range of digital software instruments. A good MIDI keyboard starts at around $300.
- Studio Monitors – Not all speakers are right for critical listening. Studio monitors have a flat, balanced response which allows you to mold your frequencies to perfection. A good pair starts at around $300.
- Studios in a Box – Another option for having a basic home studio is the “all-in-one” studio in a box solution. These are usually much more affordable, but give you fewer options for quality. The price for an all-in-one solution ranges from $200 to $400 and up.
How Much to Build a Professional Recording Studio?
If your home just doesn’t have what it takes to house your studio space, it’s time to look elsewhere to set up shop. Unless you’re taking over a location that was already a recording studio, you’ll need to consider any remodeling that needs to be done, electrical work, soundproofing, and more.
Those costs can vary dramatically depending on where you live. It’s a hard reality that commercial space for pro studios costs much more in L.A., San Francisco, and New York than it does in Atlanta, Salt Lake City, or Dallas. And this is before outfitting the space with all the gear you’ll need to look the part of a recording pro.
Cameell Hanna of Serenity West Recording in Los Angeles has worked with Justin Timberlake, Adele, Florence & the Machine, Eva Simons, Wiz Khalifa, and Snoop Dogg. He says to be mindful of studio space costs of just the real estate alone.
“So, if you’re going to be building a commercial studio in a popular city, you got to understand that you’re going to probably be paying $4 a square foot for an attractive location…. You’re also going to be improving that space per square foot to professional acoustical standards, at anywhere from $100 a square foot to $150 a square foot.
“You’re going to need to hire an architect, and designs for basic production room at say, 700 square feet, could run you $10,000 designing a room. Then you have to execute it. You could spend another $15K to $20K, just getting it built, and then you now have to equip it. You’re talking another… well you get the idea.”
The following are the necessary costs to create a professional studio space:
- The Console – A small, used console can start around $5000 and a new midsized console can start at $10,000. Large boutique consoles can run from $20,000 to $100,000 or more!
- Dynamics Processors & Effects Modules – Brand preference can affect the amount spent on dynamics processors & effects modules, but expect to spend around $40,000 for high quality and to stay competitive with other professional studios.
- Sound Management – Every room has problem spots, and every room is unique, so setting a room up for optimum listening conditions can get expensive. Costs vary from a few hundred to thousands plus.
- Studio Monitors – Professional-grade studio monitors can cost tens of thousands of dollars, but a good pair will start at around $3000.
- Microphones – Artists won’t pay a studio $200 per hour to record their work on lesser-grade mics. Expect to pay at least $1500 each for high sound quality condenser mics. You’ll need more than one. Also, consider investing in pop filters to reduce unwanted sounds during vocals.
- Recording Booths aka Isolation Booths – A recording booth can be built for less than $1000, but if you want it built by experienced professionals using pro-grade materials, it will cost at least $4,000.
- Additional Equipment – Most professional studios have a large inventory of gear readily available. This includes instruments, computers, software, headphones, cables & more.
- General Upkeep – Upkeep includes electricity, insurance, internet, phone, office supplies, and amenities for clients (bottled water, food, etc). Costs are undetermined here, but we assure you, it’s not free.
Thoughts Before Building a Recording Music Studio
Do you need a professional recording studio right now?
Before jumping in with both feet, you should really ask yourself if building a professional recording studio makes sense at this point in your career. Zach Phillips, a Recording Connection mentor working out of Freq Lab Recording in San Francisco, who’s worked with The Kooks, Talib Kweli, The Game, and Comedy Central, recommends honing your craft before taking the plunge.
“The cost of a good home studio is in the $5000-$50,000 range,” Phillips says. “A professional studio, well, it costs a lot! Hundreds of thousands if not millions. It is endless–don’t do it. Find a studio you like, build a relationship with them, and the more projects you bring in the more flexible the rates will be.”
At the end of the day, what you put into your basement studio or commercial space with all the creature comforts only goes so far. You need to have the talent to secure paying clients and keep them coming back. For Donny Baker of ES Audio Services in Glendale, CA, it’s the experience you bring to each session.
“A ‘real’ studio is not just about the gear,” Baker says. “It has a lot to do with the room in which you record and the experience of the engineer. If your artist has the talent, it’s your gig to capture that talent in a way that translates. A pro studio can be put together with just an MBox and a laptop.
“There is nothing wrong with being able to produce great music or work on film and TV shows at home with a simple setup. With that said, if you want to have a facility to bring an artist into and have them be creative and comfortable, having a world-class facility can be very expensive. The point here is that you could do it for $300 or $3 million and still get the same results.”