Business: Running a Non-Profit Studio w/ Matt McArthur

Written by Mike Harmon Posted in: Business on December 06, 2011

Today's record-making industry is not a cheap one. With studio fees skyrocketing, it can be hard to produce a record in a commercial studio and not break the bank. The solution: Record your next album at a Non-Profit studio. Many of you are probably scratching your heads about how this business model works, but Matt McArthur of The Record Company, Inc. explains the challenges and rewards of setting up a non-profit in our interview below. Created to benefit both the bank accounts of local artists and the local community through Youth Programs and work opportunities for aspiring industry professionals, this idea is so sound it just might start becoming more common.

Indie Ambassador: Tell us a little about your studio. We hear the facility has a cool story behind it.

Matt McArthur: The Record Company is the first non-profit recording studio of its kind. (that we know of!) We combined a traditional commercial recording studio and an after school program for teens. As a result we can offer independent artists/producers/ engineers some of the most affordable studio time in the region and local teens a unique and engaging after school opportunity in a professional studio.

IA: Where did you get the idea for setting up a non-profit recording studio business model?

MM: In 2009 as I prepared to graduate from Berklee, it became clear that I would need resources post-grad in order to continue developing my career as an independent artist and producer; namely a recording studio. I wasnʼt the only person with this need. It was clear from the start that it wasnʼt about ownership, it was about access. The non- profit model is perfect for this. Weʼre a community studio for musicians by musicians. With this seed planted, the after school teen program was a natural fit. With the community subsidizing local musiciansʼ need for space and recording equipment it follows that musicians and other budding professionals could return the favor in the form of free after school programs for the communityʼs youth.

IA: What were some of the biggest struggles with setting up the organization that differ from setting up a commercial, “for-profit” studio?

MM: Well, I would say we had a lot of the same problems for-profit startups have. Cash is a big one. We didnʼt have a track record that made us a responsible investment or grantee and we couldnʼt afford large loans so we had to do everything on the cheap. From imagining less expensive implementations of acoustical construction techniques to buying used fixtures and furnishings, everything at TRC has a “bargain-basement” tag on it. Real estate was another huge concern. We needed to be close to Boston, but real estate in the city is prohibitively expensive. When you take into account how picky we had to be about the buildingʼs construction, our neighbors and neighborhood disturbance, zoning, etc. we were in for quite a challenge. Ultimately we managed to find suitable affordable space in the southernmost part of Boston on Massachusetts Ave. Donʼt get me wrong, it was a dump, but with a little elbow grease sheʼs looking a lot better now.

IA: What do you have to do to qualify as a non-profit? Advantages of such?

MM: A non-profit is very much like a for-profit company. You have to make a profit in order to survive. This is a common misconception. The difference is that a non-profit doesnʼt have any private interests and that most of them center around a social or charitable mission. There arenʼt any shareholders, usually no investors seeking a return, so no one person owns the company or any part of the company. Non-profits donʼt pay most taxes, they can accept cash and in-kind tax deductible contributions (in- kind equipment donations being our bread and butter) and theyʼre eligible to apply for hundreds of grant opportunities each year to support their missions.

IA: In terms of your youth programs, what kind of curriculum is being taught to the students and what do they walk away from the experience with?

MM: Our 9 week program gives students an overview of the record making process. They learn basic electronics concepts, basic DAW functions, acoustic recording techniques, basic MIDI, industry roles, and a few other key concepts. They walk away with a unique project they can share with friends and family: usually a song or a short instrumental.

IA: Who teaches the youth programs, and what are the advantages for the teachers?

MM: Most of our volunteers and volunteer instructors come from Berklee and a few of the other music/tech schools in the area. Volunteering with The Record Co. is a relevant resume booster, improves the teacherʼs own aptitude in audio technology, and of course there are a few inside perks to being a part of the TRC family.

IA: Can you tell us about the affiliate programs associated with The Record Company, Inc.?

MM: Weʼre actually in developmental stages with most of our affiliate programs. Many of them are still in pilot. Among others, weʼre working with Boston Center for Youth and Families and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston to develop partnerships that enrich the services already being offered by both organizations. In all of these developing relationships our affiliate has an existing music or audio program and The Record Company simply acts as a subcontractor providing the organizational, educational, and technical resources that the partner needs to increase capacity and improve outcomes.

IA: Were there any notable grants or donations received by the organization that really helped get things off the ground? Do you have any advice for other non-profit entrepreneurs on writing / getting grants?

MM: We are pleased to report that we were recently awarded our first grant, a 2011 Berklee Alumni Grant. The awarded funds will support a portion of our after school programs for the Spring and Summer of 2012. We also rely heavily on corporate sponsorship to maintain a commercially viable facility. AVID was one of the first sponsors on board with a sizable contribution of industry standard audio hardware and software worth more than $40,000. Adam Audio and Redco Audio are examples of other local audio companies that stepped in to help early on. We couldnʼt provide the experience we do, for clients and youth alike, without the support of our generous sponsors. Please see our website for a complete list. Iʼm absolutely no expert in writing grants so I wouldnʼt come to me for advice, but I do pride myself on my ability to negotiate sponsorships. Sponsors offer us something that we couldnʼt afford on our own and we have something to offer them to. Itʼs important to realistically assess and emphasize the value you add for a potential sponsor. If I had to offer one tip for approaching cash or in-kind donors for support: practice your pitch. Youʼve got to be so concise. 3 sentences max, and then let them ask you questions.

IA: Any exciting future plans you can tell us about?

MM: Well, there are definitely many exciting new things in the works. New gear on the way, new youth programs starting in the Spring. Not too much more I can share but I will say with the mounting success of TRCʼs studio and youth program, the board of directors and our sponsors are starting to look beyond Boston city limits. Weʼll have to see where that takes us...

IA: Thanks Matt!


Matthew McArthur earned a Bachelor of Music degree from Berklee College of Music, majoring in Music Production and Engineering. Following 3 years with Apple, Inc., he is now a self-employed entrepreneur in the software and nonprofit sectors. In 2009 Matt founded The Record Company - a Non-Profit recording studio committed to the revival of Youth Music Education and the Advancement of Independent Record-Making. For more info, visit their website here.

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