Most big-room owners already have studio security measures down by necessity, but my concern these days is for small and mid-size studios that may have pushed non-profitable concerns to the back burner.
Desperation is the mother of criminal invention, and the fact is, some of our potential clients are facing rather hard times these days and don’t need undue temptation from our lax habits or preventable vulnerabilities.
It’s always a good idea to have security measures like alarm systems, lockable inner doors, locked mic closets and video surveillance obviously visible to clients and visitors to your studio. Such visibility not only helps honest customers feel safe and comfortable, but discourages “wise guys” from casing your studio as an easy mark. The key here is visibility, but not showing so much as to be giving away shop secrets. Case in point: At an open house for a competitor’s studio in Charlotte, the owner left his alarm system on and running while a clever “client” slowly walked the facility’s perimeter, finding the motion sensor’s “dead zones.” Two days later, apparently he and an accomplice got away scot-free with a car full of audio and office goods from the studio — and the alarm never went off. After the fact, the owner and I, both in attendance, compared notes; we realized that we had noticed the thief’s strange behavior and didn’t think to get verbal about it. The lesson here? Get verbal.
Sometimes actual clients are threats, but such situations seldom come as a surprise. Usually, there are warning signs before a client becomes a problem; I’ve found that past due bills may point out the vast majority of such potential problem clients. The obvious answer is to not extend credit or accept the myriad of problems that go with it. (Just ask our modern banking industry, right?) With that example, I’m reminded of an engineer in a neighboring town who, I’m told, was murdered while actually sitting in the sweet spot by unsavory clients he knew were trouble and he was having payment issues with. Do not think that anyone else, especially a criminal, finds this nearly as repulsive as we engineers must. There is no particular sanctity to our position, or our environment, even if it feels otherwise.
A more common studio security problem lies with dishonest contacts of our clients or employees. My studio was once hit by such opportunists, who surely got the tip from “an insider” — or a client — with their minds and eyes on the monetary value of pro audio gear. This was prior to my security-systems addition, and got away with only minimal gear but all of my innocence. Fact is, a recording studio, regardless of size and/or scope, sounds pretty enticing to a smalltime criminal with a quick “smash/grab/pawn” mentality. A private studio sounds more bountiful than a home, so pick employees and prospective clients carefully and don’t let short-term profit or the occasional missed job deter your diligence.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to accept only prospective clients that you have a good feeling about. I’ve had calls that were obviously fishing for criminal opportunity, and it was easily apparent. Most studios today have a specialty, or at least a “typical” client profile, so be wary of callers who don’t care at all about your resumé, genre or specialty. Be wary of those who want to “just take a quick tour” (especially at odd hours). Watch out for customers who don’t talk about artistic concerns or budget, but instead ask arcane, personal or unusual questions.
Don’t allow wackos into your room if they give you the creeps, even a little; I turned away (in this last week alone) a slow-talking nose breather who wanted to record 20 or 30 songs in three hours, a screaming radio “minister” who swore like an angry sailor, and finally a picky shopper who grilled me like a steak over gear and rates, only to reveal his disgust over my one-hour minimum.
As ridiculous as it seems, somebody must be making a buck doing the “pre-payment, money order thing,” but it’s easy to detect (just like the same dim-witted ploy on Craigslist). First, a prospective client’s agent contacts you via e-mail, offering a pretty interesting recording job in the near future (Tibetan monks, Russian folk singers, etc.), inquiring about rates and availability. Agent says your rate is great and offers to send pre-payment via money orders, for more than the job’s total and offers you an extra fee for your trouble to cash the money orders, get him the cash and save him some headache. Of course, after disbursement, if it turns out the money orders are fraudulent, you’re stuck with the bill and shame-faced.
Be on the lookout for creative criminals with incentive for innovative new ways to rip us off via the web, via the mail or right in our studios. With many of us working with no or reduced staff these days, we need to exercise greater care than ever in client selection and due diligence to make sure that they are not total strangers, but indeed apart by only a few degrees (persons) of separation. Regardless of the sizes of our businesses, we must all remember that there aren’t many other pocket-sized objects like a Neumann U87 that are worth $3k, so don’t take your security for granted when a little attention may save more than your wealth.
Rob Tavaglione owns and operates Catalyst Recording in Charlotte NC.