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A Guide to Setting Rates for Your Studio Business

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You have a studio. Great! But now it’s time to make money. Yikes. So how do we determine our rates? Do we set an hourly fee, a day rate, a per-project fee? What kind of incentives and discounts should we offer?

Understand that no matter how you answer these questions the studio business is exceptionally competitive. You are inherently competing with people buying $1,000 setups they attach to their computer for recording purposes. And while you might say,  “yeah, but that’s not even close to the quality of my facility”, the fact is, that’s a huge percentage of your potential base.

Home recordings have been in full effect since the 70s — and really earlier than that — so this type of competition is nothing new. What is new is that the quality of home studios and mid-sized studios now can compete with the top of the line facilities. The playing field is remarkably leveled. This is a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is that if you happen to be running a home-studio or mid-sized studio you can actually price up because while you’re competing with very inexpensive home setups, you’re also competing against very expensive high-end facilities.


Ok, so in order to set your rates, you’re going to need to figure out the clientele you’re attracting. Are you pulling in kids from the neighborhood? Are you pulling in major touring acts? Are you pulling in ADR and post-production clients? Different clientele have distinctly different markets, so much so that you almost never see music acts recording in post-production facilities, even though there’s no reason why it couldn’t be done. Why is this? Because of the client’s expectations.

We market to our client by addressing what they want from a studio. Your band doesn’t care that you have HDMI connected monitoring for overdubs just like your voice talent doesn’t care about your guitar collection. In order to figure out your rates, you need to figure out your market and in order to figure out your market, you need to figure out who you’re appealing to.


Who you appeal to is a mix of your reputation/skill-set (your brand), and what your studio can facilitate (your studio’s brand). The way to maximize the potential for your rates is for your brand and your studio’s brand to coincide. This means if you’re known as a rock guy but your studio doesn’t have a drum set because you decided to buy an MPC — you might have messed up.

Likewise, if you’re pop producer, a couple of keyboards and a really nice vocal mic might be more important than a ton of electric guitars (maybe one or two is good). My personal suggestion is to figure out your brand first and then customize your space to that.


This idea translates to the style of facility you have as well. If you have big-name credits but my (err… your) studio is in your living room, you’re going to have a hard time placing a market for your studio. Am I marketing my living room to big-budget artists? Am I marketing my accredited services to my neighbors? In my case, I actually don’t even bother … I don’t want people in my home like that and we can go to a commercial facility for tracking. Meanwhile, if I had a studio in an annexed building I could probably charge a pretty significant sum. The biggest issue in setting rates is not understanding who you are setting rates for.

My best advice is to own your market. If you have a home studio, you’re not going to get a lot of touring bands coming through. They’re just not looking to go to the crib and record. There won’t be room for the entourage. But the local scene might be accessible. They can be more interested in you than in the facility and know that there’s only so much room for so many people.

If your facility is a stand-alone property, that can put you in the market for bands on tour. If the facility is just you, it may have to be the regional touring acts. If the facility has a staff, then you can market to acts that are going to have a higher personnel demand.


Market Rates

Once we know our target client we have to assess that market. The rates that your competition have set is your beacon for how you want to charge. You’re always competing on price point and quality. But here’s the hitch: your studio and you are two different brands. Just because your quality goes up does not mean your studio brand has changed. Even if you are a major player in the game, your facility will still dictate what studio range you are in. Which means you have to decide if you are charging for you, or for your studio. 

Charging for You vs Your Studio

My suggestion is to have separate rates. Keep your studio competitive for the size and demographic. Your personal rate can exist separately and if there’s a huge division between the two, take on a freelancer who matches your studio clientele’s budget better.

For example, I sub-contract out of Mercenary Muzik in Van Nuys. Some clients want to book me specifically, other clients have tighter budgets so they can get a tracking engineer that suits them.

Set your rates within the bounds of the market, and adjust based on how far your name has spread. If you’re just getting started (which you may be if you are reading about setting rates), start at the lower end of the bracket and get people in the door. Your goal should be maximizing the clientele, because in addition to the monetary value, having your name known allows you to elevate your studio’s brand. If you’re running a studio from home, don’t make the goal maximizing the name brand of your clientele or even maximizing your rate, make the goal to have everyone from your local area coming through.

Now, How Do We Charge?

Hourly? Day rate? Project basis? My opinion is this: the more the time is dependent on you, the flatter the fee, the more the time is dependent on the client, the more time-based it should be. In other words, if I’m being hired to work alone, I can charge a flat fee because I’m entirely dependent on myself to manage the time the project should take to complete. On the other hand, if the band wants to complete six songs, that’s largely dependent on how well-rehearsed the band is. In that case, it’s important to charge a day rate or hourly rate so that if the band is four hours late, that’s on them, not on you. I find it’s helpful to recommend a time frame to book but leave it in the client’s hands for how much time they want.

Let’s take a hypothetical. Let’s say you have a room in your house. You’ve thrown up some treatment, you have a computer, some cheap powered monitors, the mic is in a closet (which is probably not the best place for it), and the room comfortably sits 3-4 people. The biggest studio in town charges $100/hr. There are also some smaller studios that charge $50 to $75.

Then there’s you. How do you price? Well, you’re not gonna get bands because you can’t fit more than four people and don’t have a tracking room. Your equipment isn’t glamorous. Your studio is in your spare room. You’re not in the same league as even the cheapest of the commercial studios. So don’t focus on those clients. Think about high school and college students who want to sing and rap. Try to own this demographic. How much can they afford? Maybe $20/hr is something they can work with. Since a lot of your demographic is experimenting with music, maybe it’s better to focus on hourly and not have a day rate incentivizer, and try to double book your day by pushing four hour segments. Mind you, what you’re really charging for here is your time, the studio itself isn’t going to attract clients.

Now, let’s say you move out of the spare room and deck out a garage. People know who you are a bit, you’ve improved your setup, and you can now fit 6-8 people comfortably. You’re still on your home property, but now you’re in the upper echelon of home studios. With the cheapest commercial facility at $50/hr, you can probably price $40 or $45/hr and stay working, and you can offer a day rate with a slight discount to incentivize larger projects. You’re still charging for your time here, but the facility reflects your level of professionalism, making your time effectively more valuable.


With all that said … ultimately, how much you can charge comes down to how much people are willing to pay. I can go to Mercenary, which is a small commercial facility, and charge comparable to what you would pay for a major commercial space because the client is paying for me, more than the studio. The studio itself, however, has a separate rate and that’s entirely based on the demand for the facility and reflects that of a small commercial space. In this case, the studio itself is bringing intrinsic value regardless of who is engineering, and the personnel simply increase the value from there.

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch:

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