Saving money can prove to be quite challenging for many people. We live in a consumer culture that’s constantly pressuring us to buy things. With so many external motivators urging us to spend our hard earned cash, how on earth are we meant to be able to afford that analog compressor we’ve been eyeing down or that new microphone?
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a professional, or a hobbyist, it’s always exciting buying new music studio gear. I’m going to provide you with some methods that will help you afford that new piece of gear you need for professional use, or that you want for just for fun. It’s no secret that music production can be a costly field to get into, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. It just means that you need to be mindful of your finances and create a rock-solid savings plan.
You may have asked yourself, "How do people afford expensive music studio gear?" The answer is simple: You need to save more money than you spend. If you’re capable of covering all your necessary monthly expenses and still have money left over at the end of the month, you’re saving money. If you don’t have money left over at the end of the month, you’ll have to identify which expenses you need to cut back on.
1. Use Financial Management Apps
An app like Mint is going to help you track your spending. It’s going to show you where you’re spending too much money, and identify potential places you could be saving money. All you have to do is connect your various bank accounts to the app, and it takes care of the rest. You could easily be spending $100+ each week that you don’t need to be spending. Throughout 2-3 months that recurring $100 could turn into a new piece of studio equipment.
Other apps like Mylo allow you to automatically save money with each purchase you make by adding on a designated amount to each purchase you make. For example, if you make a $50 purchase, it could add an extra $1 to that purchase, making the purchase total $51. That extra $1 is saved in the app, keeping it out of sight, and out of mind. I had set this app set up and forgot I was using it for a number of months. When I opened it recently, I found $500 inside waiting to be collected.
2. Rent Equipment
Unless you run a recording studio with a number of clients coming in and out the door daily, there’s a lot of equipment that you’re just better off renting. You don’t need to buy a piece of equipment just to use it once; you’ll probably end up selling it and taking a loss on the unit down the road anyways.
I don’t own a Neumann U87, but if I was to record a vocalist who wanted to use one, I could easily rent one from somewhere like Hollywood Rentals. Hollywood Rentals is somewhat unique in the quality of gear they allow you to rent; high-quality mixers, speaker systems, preamps, and outboard gear are just some of the items they allow you to rent.
What you should do is find a reliable local source that you can rent from, and ask yourself whether the equipment you want is going to be used often enough to justify buying it. Something that you use every day like a set of studio monitors or an audio interface is quite likely a purchase, whereas a guitar preamp that you want to use in one song is probably a rental.
3. Find a Dedicated Distributor
I purchase all of my studio equipment from Sweetwater. Their customer support is phenomenal, their prices are incredibly competitive, and shipping is typically free in the US. All of Sweetwater’s staff are very knowledgeable, so they’re able to point you in the right direction if you’re buying something inappropriate for your needs; this alone could save you a lot of money.
4. Wait 48 Hours
It’s easy to go online, load a shopping cart full of goods, and make a sizeable spontaneous purchase. It’s also just as easy to make many small purchases over the span of a week and wonder where your paycheque disappeared to.
A great way to avoid spending money on items that you might just want as opposed to need is by adding them to your online shopping cart and waiting 48 hours. Nothing life-threatening is going to happen in the next 48 hours if you don’t have that new piece of equipment, so giving yourself some time to think a purchase over will let you determine whether it’s a good idea or not.
5. Make A Wish List
This is a bit of a strange one, but it seems to prevent me from buying everything in sight. Put everything you want into a wish list, or load your shopping cart up and save it for later. There’s some strange psychological thing that takes place when I place a piece of gear into a wish list. It’s almost like I’ve managed to categorize it, store it away somewhere, and now I know that’s it’s in a safe spot that I can view at a later time.
6. Buy in Bulk
Sweetwater is excellent about offering deals when you buy equipment in bulk. If you’re placing an order containing a lot of gear, they’re more than happy to toss in the cables you need to connect your gear together, or even offer you a discount on your order. The more you spend at Sweetwater, the more they’re inclined to hook you up with deals; they do a great job of rewarding customer loyalty.
7. Stop Buying Stuff You Want
It’s important to make the distinction between things you want, and things you need. Things that you need to pay for include rent, utilities, food, car payments, and gas. Things that you want include movies, extra clothes, video games, Netflix, and concert tickets.
It can be quite challenging to cut back the money you’re spending on things you want. This is because these are things that you’re used to having. When they’re gone, it can sting quite a bit in the beginning. Effectively saving money sometimes requires sacrificing things that you want in the short term in exchange for more expensive items that you want or need in the long-term.
There are certain consumable items that you have to buy to survive like food, etc. However, instead of spending $30 ordering takeout through Postmates every day, you could opt to heat up a can of soup or make a sandwich. Smoking (vaping included) is another habit that will burn a hole in your pocket. I know fat vape clouds are cool and all that, but trust me, a massive rack of analog gear is much cooler. My point is that you should cut back on your expenses as much as possible, and trimming consumable costs is a great place to start.
8. Buy Used Gear
Buying used gear is great because even if an item is in excellent condition, you won’t be paying full price for it because you’re not buying it from a certified store. You should be careful before buying second-hand gear because there’s a good chance the product won’t still be under warranty. That being said, buying second-hand gear allows you to haggle the price of equipment. Depending on how skilled you are at bartering, you could create quite a good deal for yourself.
9. Ask For a Cheaper Price
This one seems so obvious that it’s ridiculous, but I’m shocked by how many people pay full price for studio equipment. The single best piece of business advice I can give you is to ask for what you want. Even if 99/100 times the answer to your question is “no,” 1/100 times the answer may be “yes.” That’s one more “yes” than people who never ask for what they want. Asking for a better price can often result in hundreds of dollars in savings.
A common haggling technique is to low-ball the person you’re buying from. Offer a price that’s significantly lower than what they’ve posted the unit for. Best case scenario, they accept the deal. Second best case scenario, they offer you a price that’s lower than their published price, but higher than your offer. If they don’t budge on the price, you’ll need to make a judgment call and decide whether the original price they had the item posted for is worth it.
10. Sell Old Gear
How much gear do you have that you’ve used once, realized it didn’t fit into your workflow, and then never used again? Probably a lot. If you’re not using a piece of equipment, toss it up onto a site like Reverb, and clear it out of your studio. You could potentially have hundreds, if not thousands of dollars sitting around. This money could be much better spent on new gear that you’re actually going to use.
11. Boost Your Income
There are two avenues you can take in regards to making more money. You either need to get a job that pays you a better rate than your current job, or you need to work more hours. Sometimes finding a job that pays more can be challenging if you don’t have the right training or required certifications. Picking up more hours or a second job will provide you with more work, but the downside to this is that you won’t have as much time to work on music.
12. Take Out a Loan
There are very few situations in which I would recommend you take out a loan for studio equipment. The only time I believe that taking out a loan is acceptable is if the gear it provides you is going to pay off the loan. This changes the dynamic of the relationship you have with the equipment you’re buying. You go from taking out a loan to pay for an expense to taking out a loan to pay for an asset; which is something that’s going to make you money.
People take out loans for med school because it will allow them to become a doctor and pay off their schooling. They may not have $100k+ sitting around for med school tuition, but by completing med school, they’ll be able to pay it off. If taking out a $20k+ loan for studio gear is going to provide you with a means to pay that loan off in the next couple years, it could very well be worth the investment. If music is just a hobby for you (which is great, and formany people it is) I absolutely do not recommend taking out a loan.
Taking out a loan can also mean that you end up paying substantially more for equipment than if you were to just save up for it and pay for it upfront. This is due to the interest that you end up paying when you take out a loan or place an order on your credit card.
Sweetwater offers a particularly enticing deal when you buy certain items through their site using the Sweetwater Credit Card; it allows you to make purchases with 0% interest for a varying number of months on select gear.
How I Paid for School, a Studio, and Started a Business
What I did for the past two years was work 50-60+ hours a week after finding a job that paid decently well. The job I was working had nothing to do with music, put it was paying my bills. I cut my expenses down to a bare minimum so I could save rapidly, and pinched pennies wherever I could. Ramen and Mac and Cheese are things I don’t think I can ever bring myself to eat again, and living solely to work is an absolutely soul-crushing experience.
The upside to the hell I put myself through was that it allowed me to pay off all my school debt, purchase all the studio equipment I required, and pay for all my business’ startup costs. I currently work full-time in the music industry as a writer, and audio engineer, so I believe that the investment of both my time and my money was worth it.
I encourage you to select a saving plan that works for you, whether that be a gradual or expedited process. The plan that will work for you will be the one that you're comfortable following through with regularly. If you can save $50/month great. If you can save $500+/month, even better. Regardless of which combination of saving methods you use, just remember that as long as you’re saving more than you spend, you’re well on your way to affording that new piece of studio gear. Just be patient.
I want to invite you to join me in the Black Ghost Audio group on Facebook; it's full of producers currently working in the music industry who are more than happy to help you improve your productions. Leave a comment below if you have any questions regarding this article. Your feedback is always appreciated and we'll take it into account when we publish future articles.