48 Volts: Starting a cooperative recording & rehearsal studio

In this 48 Volts, Soapbox gets interviewed! We’ve gotten a couple emails from people interested in trying to start cooperative music studios like ours. Here are some of our answers to a few email questions we’ve received. We welcome folks asking questions and trying to learn from what we’ve done.

First of all, what challenges have you had in establishing your place of business and what have you learned from these challenges?

When we started Soapbox, we didn’t have any prior business experience. Having spoken with friends who ran non-profits, they seemed to face many hurdles and we thought going the business route would be easier. Initially it seemed easier but we faced many unexpected challenges. Navigating local city politics, researching commercial law and ordinances, and understanding how commercial real estate works were all daunting challenges. Sometimes we wish there was a manual we could’ve followed, but we just try to learn as we go and not beat ourselves too much if we make a mistake. It seems like the only way to really learn is to stumble a lot and gain experience, and to try and focus on long term goals.

The other challenge we faced was staying motivated. Everything goes much, much slower than you want. Combined with the regular business challenges, it can feel like you are moving backwards sometimes. What has helped us is recognizing when we are losing interest or motivation and trying to change our strategy so that we can move forward. One example of this is that we changed our model from an automated service model (online booking, hourly rehearsals, impersonal, few repeat clients, etc) to a much more personal and cooperative one (a few regular clients who we get to know well). We realized it was more interesting and fun for us to foster closer relationships with a few people instead of trying to provide services for as many people as possible. Additionally, this approach was more in line with our overall mission to create a supportive community of musicians. But we are still learning and face new challenges everyday.

What is expected from members?

Members are expected to be respectful of the space and other members. Basically things only work if we trust one another. We want members to feel comfortable communicating with one another, and we want them to feel like they have shared ownership and say in the space. This doesn’t mean there are no conflicts, however. Conflicts are inevitable but hopefully by keeping lines of communication open many problems can be prevented. Monthly co-op meetings help with this.

Who maintains the resources? (gear, security, utilities, rent, facilities)

Soapbox manages repairs, rent and utilities, and a lot of shared gear. We keep the lights on. Members can also share their gear but they maintain it themselves. Not all gear is shared, however. There is sort of an ongoing discussion about what gear is shared and a constant negotiation of space.

Do you have a designated cleaning/maintenance crew or are members expected to clean up after each other?

No, members are expected to try and clean up after themselves. Soapbox will sometimes go the extra mile, however. We also try and organize a more intense “spring cleaning” type thing where all members meet up at once and we do a full cleaning.

How are costs split among members?

Costs are split equally among members via a flat monthly rent per band. This rent covers monthly utilities, maintenance, and Soapbox fees & expenses.

What resources are shared?

We try and share large items that take up space. PA system, drumkit, a few amps. Computer system and much of the recording equipment. It would be impractical / impossible to have two drumkits or two computer systems in place. But these shared resources can change depending on the members.

Would you say your location has helped you or maybe not hurt, but limited you? How? Why?

Both, probably. There are advantages to being off the beaten path (lower costs) as well as disadvantages (zero foot traffic). At first we thought it would be better to be in a foot traffic type area, but there is a huge downside to that which is that parking is more difficult. I think we are sort of in the middle of those two extremes - we are not really located near any commercial centers but we are close to where people live. Advertising the space can sometimes be difficult because of this, for some it seems close to them but for others they feel like we are in the boonies.

What would you say are the best selling points to your studio?

Community oriented cooperative, shared resource model. Trying to foster supportive and helpful relationships between members so that everyone can achieve their goals.

Finally do the organizers consider it a successful business venture? What would you define as success?

Yes! Our goal was to find a way to share resources in a sustainable and supportive way. Success for us is to keep the doors open and maximize the usage of time and resources of the space. We want people to be in the space playing, rehearsing and recording music everyday. That is already happening and we just want to keep that going as we slowly improve.