Bobby Owsinski – The Studio Builder’s Handbook

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My latest book is The Studio Builder’s Handbook. Every musician has a home studio these days, but most of them just drop some gear in a corner of room, then wonder why things don’t sound like the Record Plant. The problem is that the acoustics of a room have a huge bearing on the sound, yet they’ve paid not a single bit of attention to it.

Unfortunately, most musicians think that studio acoustics is rocket science and really expensive to boot, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The Studio Builder’s Handbook shows how you can take any room, from bedroom to basement to garage, and make it sound substantially better starting at about $150.

Now granted, there are times when the science can get deep and the cost skyrockets, and we cover these as well, but a host of possible options are presented to the reader.

Tell us something about yourself.

I grew up in a small town in Northeastern Pennsylvania as a working musician gigging literally seven nights a week, eventually signing my first major record deal when I was 21. A few years later, wanting to expand my knowledge so I could become a record producer, I enrolled at Berklee College of Music, and after a year I became an instructor in the recording department, thanks to my prior studio experience (a degree in electronics didn’t hurt either).

Overhearing a comment in the Berklee teacher’s lounge literally changed my life. “This place is for rookies or has-beens,” I heard someone say. Not wanting to be either, shortly thereafter I moved to Los Angeles where I worked as a musician, producer, engineer, arranger and composer on everything from television commercials to motion pictures to records by major and minor artists over the years. Eventually I began to consult with recording and musical instrument manufacturers, where I began writing their instruction manuals. From that grew an unexpected second career as a writer, where I now have 13 books published and I’m signed for five more.

What inspired you to write this book?

I wrote this book because there was a need in the marketplace. There have been other books on studio design and construction before, and many of them are excellent. They were always aimed at the higher end of the market though, at people that had tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend. The Studio Builder’s Handbook (which I co-authored with engineer Dennis Moody) is aimed at the guy who hardly has anything to spend on room acoustics, yet really wants and needs an improvement.

How did you choose the title?

The title was relatively easy because it’s another in a series of “handbooks” that I’ve written, including The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook, The Recording Engineer’s Handbook, The Audio Mastering Handbook, The Studio Musician’s Handbook, The Touring Musician’s Handbook, The Drum Recording Handbook, The Music Producer’s Handbook, The Musician’s Video Handbook, and The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook.

That being said, many times the publisher will have a better idea for a title, based on what they feel might be stronger in the marketplace. I’m only too happy to follow their advice.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

I’m lucky in that I no longer have much of a problem getting a book published. I’m currently on a 6 book deal with Alfred Music Publishing, and the only thing that might stop a proposal is if the publisher has already published a similar book.

How did you get started?

I was always a pretty good writer, and somewhere along the way I began to write instruction manuals for electronic gear, which blossomed into writing ad copy. Kind of on a dare with a friend, I wrote an article for a popular industry magazine in 1988 and discovered that I liked doing it. Thus begun a part of my writing career where I wrote hundreds of of articles for a dozen of the leading music industry magazines over a ten year period.

In 1998 I decided to write a book based on what I believed was a hole in the market. I wrote the entire book, then presented it to five publishers and they all offered me a deal. I chose the one that I felt would be the most aggressive in the marketplace. That book was The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook and it’s still my best seller. It’s now used in recording courses in over 200 colleges and universities around the world, and sells better and better each year.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I have a method that works well for me. Almost everything I write, be it a blog post, a magazine article or chapter of a book, I write in three separate passes on three different days. The first pass is totally stream of consciousness where I don’t worry about errors, spelling or grammar. I also do my research during this period. The second pass is for clean-up and organization, in which I mold the text of the first pass into a form where it make sense to a reader. The third pass is all about refinement, where I tweak the grammar and make sure that the thoughts on paper are coherent. I might take a fourth pass as well, but rarely more than that.

If I’m writing a book, I’ll take one final pass at the entire book to do any final little tweaks and make sure that everything flows in context (this is a long day for sure).

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

I always learn a lot from every book that I write. That’s why I do it. One of the traits of my books are that I include the full texts of interviews that I do with experts far smarter than I. I learn so much from them, and always things I never expected, and sometimes even make some new friends. That’s one of the joys of writing for me.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

I tend to read mostly non-fiction except for John Grisham, who I can’t get enough of. I especially love Michael Lewis because he has the ability to take a complex subject and make it into an easy to grasp, enjoyable story. Malcolm Gladwell and Seth Godin are favorites too.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

My next book is a bit of a departure for me in that I’m co-writing the memoir of Ken Scott, who was one of the four engineers for The Beatles, and producer for British mega stars like David Bowie, Elton John, Supertramp and many more. I’m flexing some writing muscles that I didn’t know I had since there’s very much a story to be told, but I’ve enjoyed the process very, very much so far.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

In terms of writing, there are two things. 1) Your table of contents is your most important tool. It’s your roadmap and should be thought through and written with care before attempting to write anything else. It will change and evolve over time for sure, but it’s surprising how a well-written TOC really helps the writing process.

2) You don’t have to be perfect. Many new writers think that the first thing they put down on paper has to be a masterpiece, and when it’s not, they give up. Just let it flow out of you, then refine it later.

In terms of publishers, I’ve been with three of them now and they’ve all done a pretty good job. That being said, don’t be complacent in terms of marketing yourself or your book. Be as proactive as you can, then bring them into the picture later. Do videos, blogs, tweets and Facebook posts. It all helps.

Who is the perfect reader for your books?

I always write my books for the neophyte musician or recording engineer, but I’m always surprised to find out that some of the heavy hitters of the music business (like multiple Grammy winners) have my books in their library and tell me they refer to them frequently. Regardless of who reads them, if they feel it helps them even a little bit, I feel both humbled and blessed that I could contribute in some small way.

Where can readers learn more about you and your books?

You can learn more about my books on my personal website at http://bobbyowsinski.com, which has a rundown of each book including table of contents and multiple excerpts.

I also post frequent excerpts on both of my blogs – http://bobbyowsinski.blogspot.com (my production blog) and http://music3point0.blogspot.com (a blog based around my Music 3.0 book).