Community-Based Recording Studios: A Look into the Future

by Tom Poe

This article provides a description of what would be needed to create a recording studio and provide free recording services to residents in a community. In return, we ask that those produced in this studio be placed in the Public Domain, thereby broadening the base of our precious Public Domain. This article also introduces, an open-source project in a community setting. Aside from the equipment, all software will be open source and available to everyone. Future articles will chronicle the development of a "typical" recording studio, from start to finish.

To assist the reader, here's the breakdown of what are the important pieces of equipment to be included in a community-based recording studio. Cost runs somewhere between $2,000 and $8,000, depending on the quality of the particular items purchased:

  1. 12- to 24-channel powered mixer: ~$600-$2000

  2. Stereo compressor: ~$200

  3. Other stereo effects:

    • Stereo graphic EQ

    • Noise Gate

    • Aural Exciter

    • Digital Reverb

    • Digital Delay

    • Digital multi-effect processor

    • Patch bay

    • Total cost: ~$200-$1500

  4. Professional monitor speakers, single or multispeaker with crossover: ~$300-$1500

  5. Professional power amp, 200-1000 watts: ~$200-$600

  6. Microphones (1 to as many as you want), Shure or EV: ~$100-$2000

  7. Assorted cables: ~$100-$300

Add your PCs, cheap, middle and high-end, as provided by donors, and you're up and running. Still interested? Well, let's get to it.

Up until recently, the cost of putting a studio together ran way too high to be considered as a potential community-based project. Further, the idea of providing free recording services to musicians and artists was not a widespread ideal for most. Today, though, the need to consider what steps can be taken to mitigate the damage and harm caused by our legislators in Congress and by activities taking place in the United Nations, countries and governments around the world, makes it important that we all think about what the future might hold for us.

Some Concepts to Mull Over

Over the last forty-some years, there has been a shift in how our copyright concept, i.e., works of authorship, are handled. Economic theory developed in the 1960s (see Resources) led to a kind of thinking that placed great emphasis on allocating resources to maximize profits for owners of copyrights/patents. The term "efficiency" was a favorite. What we have witnessed is a blurring of the line between a copyright and a patent. In fact, as Neil Weinstock Netanel explains, in his law review article , the Neoclassicist (variation on the term Neoclassic theorists) merges the copyright and patent terms into one term: intellectual property.

The activities of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) exemplifies this "new" thinking. Extending copyright into perpetuity, consolidating ownership rights and maximizing the market opportunities through as few doors as possible can only benefit society, so they say. It costs money, time, effort and is wasteful and inefficient in a world economy to insist that many authors and copyright holders engage in negotiations with customers, suppliers and manufacturers. Better we leave everything in the hands of the fewest number possible, in order to efficiently grow the market place, (you'll recognize this as a description of a monopoly). It's even better if the rights of copyright owners be expressed in terms of physical property characteristics. Now, such a transformation will certainly enhance everyone's ability to grasp the economics of efficiency. Yes, we now can legislate technology and economies and market places with clarity. You're either in compliance or you're illegal. What's left out of the equation, so far, is that Neoclassicists run into trouble when issues such as personal freedoms, free speech and fair use are raised. There's no place for a Public Domain in such a scheme. And, that's where the community-based recording studios come in.

The Model
  • A community-based recording studio is a facility that will provide free recording services for musicians and artists to record their works.

  • The facility will be created and developed using federal, state and local grant funding opportunities, private-public partnerships and local donors and volunteers.

  • Residents of a community and surrounding communities will be able to use the facility without charge, in return for placing their works in the Public Domain (sounds a lot like our public libraries).

  • Collaboration with Lawrence Lessig's Creative Commons Project will enable the musicians and artists to access legal assistance at no cost, limited primarily to licensing and contract issues.

  • Collaboration with the University of North Carolina's Project will establish a central repository of all works placed in the Public Domain.

  • Within each community, there will be local control over the community-based recording studio. Programs that meet the needs of the local communities will be developed and coordinated with the facility. Such programs might include music-related programs such as music history, music genres and recording basics, but they also could include programs addressing internet and web site development for marketing, as well as distribution strategies used by the musicians and artists.

Not all communities will have the resources to develop a successful community-based recording studio. With that in mind, this model provides a central resource, where funding, training and education, along with legal and professional services, can be provided. Such an approach removes some of the obstacles that otherwise would hinder the success of many community-based recording studios. For example, if a community in the Appalachians wanted to set up a community-based recording studio, but they just didn't have access to the funding resources necessary, Studio For Recording, Inc. would handle that aspect. If, after operations were begun, the community wished to expand its educational programs to include web-site development, but there were no computers available, Studio For Recording, Inc. would assist in locating, preparing and shipping computers donated by companies and individuals, to the community. Most importantly, however, is the establishment of a centralized help support team that can remotely access and support all community-based recording studios, lifting a critical burden on each community to secure competent technical expertise.


No finer work has been done in this area than what you'll find by visiting and reading Robert Dennis' description of how to build a low-cost studio. By renovating a "standard" garage, installing sound-proofing materials and installing the equipment of choice, you can expect to construct a recording studio for somewhere in the range of $25,000 to $35,000. There's nothing extraordinary about a recording studio that requires hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even the millions of dollars that some recording studios tout, to build. Many studios out there today have variations on this community, DIY theme and are referred to as basement studios.

Our model utilizes an approach that incorporates most of what Robert Dennis envisions in his remarkable article. We also emphasize the location of the studio to reflect the community and encourage placement within the depressed centers, or HUB zones, if they are present, in order to attract federal, state and local funding opportunities. More importantly, however, is the need to place the facility nearest to those who truly need it.

Volunteer contractors are the primary source of labor and equipment, expertise and assistance. We also recommend corporate sponsorship and donations for accomplishing the facility restoration, as there is ample room for such sponsorship and participation. For those communities that are not able to round up sufficient local resources, the central resource will assist and, in some cases, provide the facility for the community.


As mentioned above, the community-based recording studio doesn't just sit there once it's built. It is staffed by volunteers, populated by all age groups and running a mixture of programs, from educational music history classes to marketing classes for musicians and artists starting out, to community events, to HowTos surrounding the operation of a recording studio.

By providing free recording services, musicians and artists will be able to create demos, record works and develop skills that will carry them through if they choose to pursue careers in the recording arts and sciences. In return, the musicians and artists must place their works in the Public Domain. After all, the primary purpose of this model is to broaden the base of our precious Public Domain. It also positions the musicians and artists to participate in an exciting service, found only through these community-based recording studios, that relates to marketing their works.

As you may or may not be aware, the music industry is pursuing legislation that will give exclusive control over the development of technology, literally, to Hollywood. On the other side is the recording merchandisers, who want to work more closely with customers to provide creative and innovative technology that benefits them (increased sales of recordings) and their customers (increased variety of products to choose from). For example, one idea that is tossed around is technology capable of placing recordings in attractive and creative containers. Think about a necklace with a heart on it, capable of playing one or two of someone's favorite songs. I'll leave the rest of this thought to your imaginations. Bottom line, though, is there's a multibillion dollar industry just waiting for the RIAA to negotiate licensing and contractual agreements with the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM). And it isn't happening. Why? The answer depends on who you ask, but I place my money on the idea that unless the RIAA can control the merchandisers, they're not going to play nice.

The community-based recording studio provides support services for musicians and artists that will enable them to create web sites, introduce their works to international audiences, place their works on the sites for downloading, offer merchandise, share information about themselves and build a following. This then leads to work, tours, possibly record deals and careers with the producers and managers they choose, not the other way around. The Public Domain works, but the potential for earnings is a real and workable alternative to what is now offered by the music industry in Hollywood.


We have described, in the most general terms, a community-based recording studio model that doesn't require communities to have all the resources in place at the same moment in time. A central organization provides the missing pieces and supports those communities that need additional help. The model also provides free recording services to the residents of the community and surrounding communities in return for placing their works in the Public Domain. This broadens the base of our precious Public Domain and, at the same time, offers musicians and artists an alternative professional track to the monopolized track offered by the RIAA.


Pam Horovitz, president of the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM)

Professor Jaszi's Chart of Our Timeline of the Public Domain

Professor Neil Weinstock Netanel on Intellectual Property

Robert Dennis' Description of a Garage Studio

Tom Poe is currently working on the Studio For Recording, Inc. Project to create a 501(c)(3) organization that will provide central funding and services to communities interested in building and operating their own recording studios. More information is available at

Load Disqus comments