At first, I was going to call this post “DIY Music Studio on a Budget” but nope. I just did a quick count in my head how much all the equipment I’ve gone through over the years has cost me. And ouch. It’s well over $15,000. But that’s the life of being a musician.
My very first digital piano that I purchased in 2000, cost $1500.00. It was an early Roland model. People still relied on analog technology back then. Computer recording really wasn’t a thing unless you were in a big studio or had a lot of money. Owning a home computer was very costly. It wasn’t like today, where you can record your music on your cell phone. I mean. I’m dating myself here. We didn’t even have cell phones when I started playing the piano. Yup. I’m old.
Audio Interfaces vs. plugging into the computer.
When I first got into recording, I just hooked up the digital piano directly to my computer. I wouldn’t learn until a few years later what a mistake that was. It wasn’t until about 2008 or 2009, that I invested in a Steinberg CI Audio Interface. And then my world was changed forever.
I’m not a tech expert. I’m not going to lie to you and claim to know what’s best. I only know what I’ve experienced and what I’ve learned from other musicians, producers and studio execs. And I’ve chatted with a lot of them over the years.
You can get a good audio interface for around $150-200. There are many good brands out there and you can order them directly from Amazon. Skip the Steinberg CI2 though. I never could get it to work properly with my computer.
The image above – that was my set up in my old condo. It was a lot quieter in that building than the one I’m in now. I purchased the laptop (ASUS) for $2000, the CI2 cost about $150.00, a microphone for $100, headphones $100.00, and a Nikon P100 camera for recording videos cost me about $600.00
Home Studio 1 total costs:
- Computer: $2000
- Audiointerface: $150
- Microphone: $100
- Headphones: $100.00
- Nikon P100: $600
Total costs for first home studio: $2950.00
Things didn’t really start to pick up until I purchased the Roland KR3 Digital Intelligent Piano – in the photo above. I picked up this one up via Kiiji. Originally purchased for $5000, I managed to pick this great piano up for $1000.00 cash. Of course, I was in a soul sucking job that paid the money back then. I could afford it.
Home Studio Upgrade 1 costs:
- KR3 Model: $1000.00
- Sony Recorder: $200.00
- Cables: $50.00
- PRO Headphones: $100.00
Total costs for first home studio upgrade: $1250.00
I also picked up a nifty $200 Sony handheld recorder. What a difference this made in my music. I scrapped the CI2 and switched to using the handheld recorder. I plugged it in directly to the piano. Unfortunately, the KR3 model is no longer available. I was stupid. I sold the piano when I moved into this condo. It’s a big regret. Because after I moved in here, we hit a big recession that I’m still trying to recover from.
Here’s a video of Time After Time – it was recorded on the KR3 (no longer available).
Fast forward to 2013, when I was in a good place financially. I had some extra money and a credit card that was empty. I splurged. It felt good. I picked up a few toys. I also did some travel. Life changed. A lot. That’s when I was in really good shape.
My first purchase was a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). I settled on Cubase 7 PRO – something I still use today. I’ve held off on the upgrade because it is still working fine. Although I suspect I will have to do that soon.
Over the years, I added some VST instruments. I’ll add that a bit later in this post.
Home studio upgrade 2 cost:
- Cubase 7.0 PRO: $750
- E-licsener: $50
- VST instruments: $100
- MIDI Keys M-Audio 49: $50
- External hardrive: $100
Total costs for home studio upgrade 2: $1050.00
Are you keeping track of the costs here? I’m writing this article specifically for the guy on Youtube who told me being a musician wasn’t all “that expensive…”
Then came the promotions. I decided to invest in some marketing on Facebook, and Reverbnation. Oh yeah. I forgot about those pesky membership fees. I had also joined Songwriter’s Association of Canada. I forget how much it cost – but there was an annual fee to join. Thankfully, SOCAN is now free to join. I used Reverbnation for two years and paid about $29.95 monthly. There was also the costs associated with registering my first website: wendyjensen.ca
I invested about $1000 into Facebook promotions. I had built up my brand which was Wendy Jensen Canada. But there an issue. There was another composer with the same name that continues to cause issues with publishing online. There is also another author with the same name in NZ who owns wendyjensen.com.
Someone hacked into my Twitter account and stole my username. I’m convinced he also hacked into my Linkedin account and created a fake profile on Facebook. I just connected those dots together. I’m sure it was the same guy. I decided to say to hell with it with wendyjensenca and got rid of ALL those accounts. Including my Youtube account that had 20K views. My legacy channel. What a mistake.
Marketing, promos, and membership fees for three years:
- Facebook campaigns: $1000
- Reverbnation fees: $1100
- Other memberships: $500.00
- Website & publishing costs: estimate about $600
Total cost for marketing, promos, membership fees: $3200
The facebook campaigns had marginal success. I gained about 10,000 followers on Facebook. But I recently shut that down. I got tired of posting to 10K people, and only about 50 people would see the actual post. Facebook is a great way to keep in touch with family. But there is so much spam and reminders about posting that I just got frustrated with it and walked away. Again. I’ve contacted Facebook to see if I can get it back but I don’t have high hopes.
In 2014, after my mom died, I decided to leave my soul sucking job and go for the arts full time. Not without a major battle from my family though. I just needed a break. A reboot. So, I traveled.
A new friend offered his home studio in Vancouver. I hopped on a plane and stayed in the beautiful city for three days. I got to play on a 1975 vintage piano overlooking the south mountain side for free. Well, nothing comes for free. I paid for flight, accommodation and food. But I got the experience of meeting a talented producer, playing in a home studio and recording music.
Networking and recording session in Vancouver costs:
- Flight: $450
- Food: $300
- Cabs: $250
Total cost for Vancouver session: about $1000
Music was put on hold for a while. Work was slow. I was contracting again. There was a recession. My dad got sick. There were a lot of things that got in the way. My health became an issue too. Money was tight. I didn’t have extra funds for upgrades or travel. And despite every effort to market and network – people just weren’t interested in instrumental music. Everyone wanted, happy, upbeat tunes.
I stopped recording for a while. I deleted my reverbnation account. And everything associated with it. Something I truly regret now. If only I could go back in time. Who knows where my YouTube channel would be now. Back then, YouTube was just two guys who programmed the site in their garage. Google wasn’t even really a thing yet. Not like it is today.
Fast forward to 2018-2019. I have steady work. I have more time now. My health is meh. Money? Well, money is always an issue. There’s always going to be debt. But if I want to finally get serious about this career – sometimes you have to make sacrifices along the way. And so, here are the costs for another upgrade (and hopefully the final). I had a digital piano on loan from the church. But sadly. It would not work with my new computer. Even with an audio interface.
- New computer: $1300
- Dual monitors: $500
- Blue snowball mic: $65
- VST instruments: $200 (Native Instruments)
Total cost for studio replacement 1: $1865.00
Fast forward to today. I just ordered some new equipment from Amazon. I’ve been hemming and hawing on what to buy. Making excuses. But I finally had enough. I outgrew my 49 keys and need a full sized keyboard. I also needed a music stand. And picked up a few other things. There’s more on my list I want -but I also have a move in the spring that I’m saving up for. This is why I rarely travel.
Home studio upgrade 3 costs:
- M-Audio 88 Keys Hammer: $300
- Sennheiser HD 200 Pro headphones: $60
- Music stand: $40
- Sustain pedal: $35
- Replacement external harddrive: $80
- Corel Painter (artwork): $250
- Nikon P900 (videos): $600
Total cost for home studio upgrade 3: $1365.00
Are you keeping track of how much this has cost me over the years? People who produce music – they do it for the love of it. It’s very difficult to make it “big” in the music world today. Yes, promotion is far easier than ever as is music production. However. It’s that much more difficult to make it big. Even some big names in the industry aren’t making as much money as in the past.
Websites like Spotify have made it difficult to earn any money – you’d need millions and millions of streams to see any kind of revenue.
Being successful in music takes serious dedication. It’s a crazy competitive business. And in order to make money – you need to spend money and invest it in yourself.
I think I’ll stop now. Just seeing these numbers has made my head explode for real. I’m pretty sure I forgot things I picked up over the years. This doesn’t even touch the amount of time put into concert prep, rehearsals, printing materials, business cards, etc. It makes me kind of sick.
Question: How much have you spent upgrading your studio over time?
Thanks for reading.
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Wendy Jensen is a Canadian composer, artist & author from Canada. Music has been a part of Wendy’s life since she was 2 years old and sat at her granny’s organ for the first time. Learn more about Wendy’s professional career at http://www.wendyjensenmusic.com