How much does a studio cost?
This is a question we receive daily. I believe that this is also the wrong question to begin with. Asking, “how much does a studio cost?” is like asking, “how much does a car cost?” Do you want a Ford Focus or do you want an F-350?
One would not walk into a Mercedes dealership and say, “I want a car with four doors” and not tell the salesperson what price range one was looking at. They have everything from vans to Maybach’s; we would get laughed out of the showroom.
There is a common motto in business negotiations that says you should never expose your budget to the salesman or supplier for fear that they will simply never go under that price. This is the first thing we must know in order to best allocate the budget. Usually a client will tell us exactly what they want and need out of the space and we can tell them how much that will cost, or they can tell me their exact budget, and I can tell them what’s the best thing they can do for that amount of money.
We have had clients who have spent months refusing to expose their budgets in the planning phase to in the end, be wanting a $200,000 project, but they only had a $50,000 budget. Everything up to that point was a total and complete waste of everybody’s time and expectations.
As professionals, our job is to get the best result for the budget in the project. There is often no room to negotiate pricing for a project as complex as a recording studio. We’re not building or designing high profit margin mass-produced products like cars or refrigerators. Every project we do is highly customized to the client.
Cost Determining Factors
First is obviously the budget. This will dictate what can and can’t be done.
The second factor would be the space. This can massively affect the cost and the limitations of what can be done. We can’t put 16 tons of isolation walls on the second or fifth floor of a lightweight wood framed commercial structure.
The design has to fit the limitations of the space. Bringing all the materials up 4 flights of stairs is going to massively eat into a tight budget, as is being in a location where only a few materials can be loaded in every day. We highly recommend if on a budget to look for an industrial or commercial space on a ground floor with slab on grade foundation.
Studio location is also critical in the budget. If the studio is next door to a library or hospital then there is going to need to be a massive investment in sound isolation, sometimes as much as 50% of the overall budget will go on sound isolation alone before we begin to build the studio itself. If the studio is in the middle of a city where there is limited parking (especially for construction vehicles) then that will also factor into the cost.
Technical and creative requirements of the studio will also play a big role in the budget. Some of our clients are just producing beats on laptop and some of them want to be able to track a loud rock band live and not disturb the neighbors. Some of them need a completely acoustically neutral mix environment but don’t care what it looks like, and some clients do writing sessions with celebrity artists so they care a lot more about how it looks than how the room sounds. This brings us to the next cost factor; cosmetics.
A floor can cost anything from $1,000 vinyl to above $20,000 for a luxury wood plank for the same size room. It is not beyond the realms of reality for a standard control room to have a $100,000 difference in final cost based on decorative choices alone.