In the late ’90, while living in Austin, TX and working for SXSW, I co-built a home recording studio in a friends garage. How did that go?

Finding the perfect partner

Well, it all started at a $5 gig on 6th Street. I am watching some band. Next to me is a guy with a beer in hand. We strike up a conversation. He tells me how he is a sound engineer. How he has a two car garage. I tell him how I have gear, but no garage. We both want to build a recording studio…  I have a Digidesign Session 8, he has the manual for it… A match made in heaven 🙂

Building

A handshake later, here we are meeting every week-day @ 7AM (yes!). After a $1 taco and a quart of chocolate milk, we arm ourselves with courage, 2x4s, nails, dry-wall, more dry-wall, tubes of sealant and more sealant… and build. When 9:30AM comes along, off we were to our respective jobs. And this for about a year and a half!

We did not have GoPros back then, but this video will give you a good sense of the process:

Let it be said: it is very hard and long work to build ‘a room within a room’, a control room, a two pane control room window, an iso-booth, etc… Being in a flightpath doesn’t help either!

Here is a (very rough) floor plan of Sardine Studio:

Sardine Studio Floorplan

Luckily our collaboration was a dream. Ethan and I became very good friends and building become the opportunity for hours of good conversation. We also split the building costs 50/50 and once the studio was built, we were lucky to both be willing to put $500 a month each into ever more gear.

And after that…

So we now had our recording studio. What next?

This is where the disappointment started. We were both busy professionnals, each with other projects. Once the studio finished, neither of us saw himself running it as a business.

We both produced small projects there, sure. But my recurring feeling in the following two years was “damn, I have a beautiful recording studio and I rarely use it!”

Eventually, I met my wife and decided to move back to France. Here again, Ethan was great. We split the gear, he bought some of my gear, and we parted ways (remaining friends).

A couple of years later, probably coming to the same concludion as I, Ethan tore down the studio and the space went back to being a garage.

Morale of the story

Is there a morale to the story?
I am not sure. This is a story among many others.
For my part, I do not regret having gone through with the experience.
And I have not gone it again. My current home studio occupies two untreated square bedrooms in my basement.

To anyone interested, I would say:

  • As with everything, are you clear on the “why?”, on the long-term vision?
  • Building a studio is not a lean project. I would have liked to validate / invalidate the “I have a use for a full-fledged recording studio” at less cost. I recommend you spend some time in an existing recording studio @ $20-40 per hour before you commit to building your own.
  • It is difficult to run a small professional recording studio. Musicians don’t have any money… It is even more difficult to run such a studio out of a garage. You are not entirely professional…
  • Choosing and collaborating with a sane, reasonable, amiable partner is invaluable. The team is crucial! Agree from the get-go on the vision, the results you each expect from the adventure… And how we will split ways… We all eventually do…

You live to learn 🙂