While it’s important to invest in your craft, spending money on studio time and buying equipment can be an expensive process. You might not always have the money you need at your disposal, particularly if you’re in the early days of trying to survive by being a musician full time. The good news is that it’s cheaper than ever to be able to make music yourself, but sometimes things might still be just outside of your financial grasp.
We’ve put together this guide with a few tips on how you can record in the most cost-effective way possible when “money’s too tight to mention”. Cue music…
Share the costs of studio time
If you’re going to hire a studio for a day, you obviously want to be as productive as possible and line up a number of tracks to record. But maybe you only need to record one track, or you don’t have enough money for a full day yet. Finding another artist or band to share the cost of a day in the studio can help you get in there without the full financial commitment. Of course, some studios offer half-day bookings, but if the ones near you don’t, this option is worth considering.
If you’re an electronic producer looking for a studio to work in that offers more than your home setup, consider approaching other producers who rent a studio on a monthly basis about taking some hours off their hands. They are unlikely to use it 24/7 and may be willing to let you pay them a little money for a day or evening when they aren’t there. This will depend on how much they trust you with their equipment, so don’t be surprised if they aren’t into the idea. If you happen to have other skills like graphic design, marketing or copywriting, or could offer a free remix or backing vocals, you could also suggest payment in kind for use of their studio.
Make sure you’re prepared for your studio time
If you’re paying for studio time, it’s essential to be well prepared. Make sure you have a clear plan of what you want to record and in what order. Maybe even print a couple of copies out for reference, along with lyric sheets. If your bandmates have a tendency to be late – tell them that the session starts 30 minutes earlier than it does!
Not all recording has to be done in a studio
Got a garage? Got a friend who owns a garage? Or someone with access to a rehearsal space? Don’t feel that all of your recording has to be done in a professional studio. Recording in different spaces with different acoustics and clever micing can give some interesting results and can be worth trying out if you are strapped for cash. If you’re looking to get your setup at home on point, read our guide to setting up a home studio.
Borrow and swap equipment
If you have amassed some nice gear but you’re looking to spice things up, ask other musician friends if they would consider swapping with you for a while. This can be a great way for both of you to get some fresh input into your music. If you don’t have much to offer, just ask if you could borrow their gear for a while. If they’re a good friend, they might help you out!
Get second-hand bargains on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree & Craigslist
It’s not uncommon to find music-making equipment going for a good 50% of its original price on second-hand websites. If you’re bidding on an auction, make sure you have a reminder set for just before the auction ends so you can be ready to put in those crucial last-minute bids. There’s little point in putting in a bid any earlier than the final minute as it’s only likely to drive the price up.
At the cheaper end of the scale, you should be able to pick up a perfectly acceptable setup for recording home demos and performances for relatively little. Likewise, second-hand laptops and sound cards and monitors for home production can be had for a very good deal if you put some time and effort into searching and bidding.
Remember that vintage equipment retains its value
Say you want a really tasty vintage synth or drum machine for a new project or EP. They can be pricey, but it’s worth remembering that if you buy something that’s always in hot demand, you should be able to resell it for a similar price. Sought-after pieces of vintage gear retain their value or even increase it over time. So if you feel like it’s a bit outlay, just remember that any time you need to get the money back or change to a new bit of kit, you will likely be able to get the majority of what you spent on it back.
Take advantage of free trials, free samples, and plugins
There are lots of freebies out there for music producers to take advantage of.
Royalty-free sample platform Sounds.com offers a free 14-day trial.
Native Instruments always have instruments and plugins you can download for free (and use forever).
Musicradar’s library of royalty-free samples has nearly 70,000 to choose from.
And there’s plenty more out there.
Ultimately, you need to ‘speculate to accumulate’ when it comes to a creative pursuit, but hopefully, these ideas give you some food for thought on how to make the most of what you’ve got financially.