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Retaining Clients

Success may depend on clarifying just how much a recording we make can be worth.

While retaining clients has usually been a rather simple function of “good business” practices, obtaining new clients historically meant some tricky business. That said, I’m not sure that this tendency remains the case in 2011.

Historically, retaining clients has typically boiled down to basics, assuming you could achieve the expected level of creative comfort and audio quality at your price point; this has required promptness, a positive attitude, treating people right and maintaining reasonable competitiveness, both gear and price-wise.

A view from inside Tavaglione’s Catalyst Recording in Charlotte. An average metropolitan market that once only had a handful of mid- to upper-level studio competitors now has literally hundreds, with all the various price/quality combinations to completely fill the continuum with every imaginable option. More significantly, our clients are now making music (and/or sound synched to video, for that matter) in markets turned so upside down by technological revolution that it’s hard to determine the source(s) of their revenue stream(s).

Thus, today’s recording studio client has so many options to explore. These trends are evidenced at all levels of the recording studio business, as technology’s voracious appetite eats up all things in her path, with reckless disregard for hourly rate, tradition or discography.

Competing Against New Vistas

Sometimes even the best practices can’t keep up with the marketplace. Example: I had a young band at Catalyst who knocked out a reasonable debut EP with no real difficulties of any kind. Everybody was pleased and had fun, but the client told me that the guys were going to do some recording at a few different places in the near future, as they were newbies and wanted to see what it was like at other studios with other methods. He explained that these other studios — “artist studios” — were either free or nearly free, so they didn’t really have anything to lose. I really can’t blame them; who wouldn’t want to try out new vistas and get some perspective?

They may just come up with recordings that offer as much “utility” (if not as much fidelity) within their rapidly changing music market, one that finds most young bands giving away their wares anyway. If I cannot make my recordings and their associated budget work in this band’s complicated business plan, then I cannot expect to have their business, period.

Some of my clients are virtually hunted. Example: A moderately successful client of mine with a mainstream sound has had suspicious offers from all over the country. “Come up here for a free spec deal recording,” “Use our expensive, big-label mastering and then use our logo, too … It’ll look like you’re signed,” “Use our online mix service for that ‘radio-ready sound.’” It’s daunting and indicative how aggressive some competitors are getting for what used to be under-the-radar, fairly small-time work.

Many clients are experimenting with DIY. Example: Another client did some pre-production here, and we put together a plan with a modest EP budget, a budget that they frankly cringed at. Instead, the band has opted to record drums at a place even cheaper than mine and do all the overdubs on their personal DAW setups. I’m in there lobbying for the mix work, but it’s no sure thing. Will they tire of the frustration and pull me in for some completion? Will the product be as compelling as a normal studio production would have been? You may be a top-shelf producer, you may be a mid-level trench fighter like me, or you may be a novice with merely a laptop, a work ethic and a dream: Chances are your clients are experimenting with self-production even if they’re satisfied with your performance.

Competing Upstream

Some clients respond to change very quickly. Example: A satisfied mastering client of mine sincerely asks me why mastering studios are so much more expensive, and I respectfully explain that with proper construction, acoustics and gear that they can do a better job with greater accuracy and a bit louder to boot, and all that precision demands a price. He asks me if it’s worth it, and I stammered, “Definitely, yes; well, probably; maybe, it all depends; hell — I don’t know anymore!”

Close to a year later he’s back with another small mastering job. He explains that they tried a “true mastering studio,” loved the environment, liked the engineer and loved his work, too. However, they were back here because my work was as good, maybe even a little more to their taste, and they liked that low price. I’m glad that they’ve shopped around and will still work with me in these turbulent times.

Fact is, with the music biz essentially adrift in strange waters, and the recording biz offering more options than can be considered, our clients are facing difficult choices with a lack of clarity on just how much impact they can expect out of their budget. Our success may depend on clarifying just how much a recording we make can be worth.

Rob Tavaglione owns and operates Charlotte, NC’s Catalyst Recording.