This recording studio entrepreneur is integrating Zoom lessons, mixing services and plenty of PPE to help survive the COVID-19 economic crisis.
In 1997, Samori Coles left Omaha on a Greyhound bus bound for Philadelphia after being accepted into the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
While Coles found a home in Philadelphia, he never took classes at Wharton. Instead, he saw an opportunity to pursue his passion and start a small business in the process.
“I’ve always loved the arts and music, but I didn’t see a path for that career for me,” says Coles. “I went to work as a financial analyst right out of college and started recording with some of my friends on tape recorders. We ended up getting a few songs on local radio. It transformed me and that I wanted to do in life. I just came here and continued to pursue music.
In the process, Coles found a career in the music industry.
Over the past two decades, Coles has built Lil’ Drummaboy Recordings, a full-service recording studio and audio engineering and music production school located in Philadelphia. The music production business is fiercely competitive in the City of Brotherly Love, but it has thrived. Yet when COVID-19 hit, he encountered challenges he never imagined.
Diversify to survive
To survive in Philadelphia, music studios must diversify. Coles has helped produce audiobooks for Penguin and Random House with authors like Villanova’s two-time national champion basketball coach Jay Wright.
Lil’ Drummaboy specializes in working with independent artists trying to transition from nine-to-five jobs into full-time careers in the industry. “We record bands and artists of all genres, but we also offer a training program where we teach audio engineering and music production to home studios who just want to improve their skills,” says Coles. “This diversity has helped us thrive and grow.”
Coles built Lil’ Drummaboy through his website. Like many small business owners, he relied on search engine optimization (SEO) to build his brand. The SEO helped him get in front of people looking for recording studios or audio schools in the city of brotherly love.
“We get to that first page of Google and often towards the top of that first page,” says Coles. Coles also finds that digital advertising is effective, paying for Google search, YouTube and social media advertising. “We’re very active with advertising,” he says. “We post once or twice a day on Instagram and Twitter. We always try to show what is happening in the studio and who is recording. We always try to create that enthusiasm and curiosity for our brand. »
Adjustment for COVID-19
By mid-March, advertising and branding strategies took precedence over mere survival for Lil’ Drummaboy, as with many small businesses across the country.
When local shutdown orders were put in place, Coles had to get creative. Lessons in audio production and studio engineering had become a big part of his business. He had considered offering online courses for years. With COVID-19, it has gone from something that might be nice to do one day to a necessity the next.
“After about a week of getting my bearings because this was new to everyone, I had a meeting with my staff, and we decided to use Zoom and continue teaching students who still want to continue to learn,” says Coles. “It was a slow process because not everyone was familiar with using Zoom.”
“So Zoom was the perfect tool to teach our students online.”
About a third of Coles students eventually transitioned to online learning. Since Lil’ Drummaboy provided individual instructions, the prices remained the same.
“The great thing about Zoom is that if we’re teaching a lesson in audio engineering or music production, especially for MacBook users, we can get along,” Coles says. “So I can play something myself and the students can hear it in real time and vice versa. Zoom was therefore the perfect tool to teach our students online.
As people were stuck at home during the pandemic, they started looking for outlets. Budding musicians started recording at home. Coles saw an opportunity there. “We started marketing our mixing and mastering projects service,” says Coles. “If people were recording at home, we told them to send us their files, and we would give them a high-quality mix of the master.”
After experimenting with prices, Lil’ Drummaboy settled on $95 for his mixing services, which is about half the normal price.
“A lot of people started biting on that,” Coles says. “The cool thing is that we have continued these services now that we are back up and running. [at the studio].” Zoom classes and mixing services helped, but Lil’ Drummaboy still lost a big chunk of his spring income. To bridge that gap, Coles tapped into funding from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
“We were lucky because we were able to get a PPP loan so that I could continue to pay my staff,” says Coles. “It really helped us. But it was a difficult time. »
After closing their studio in mid-March, Lil’ Drummaboy finally reopened on June 8. But things look different. When people are in class, they wear masks. If customers enter the check-in booth, they are allowed to remove their mask. Coles staff are also putting on hand sanitizers and sanitizing everything.
“We keep the numbers very small, which is easy to do,” says Coles. “Before, people would come for a recording session, and maybe they wanted to bring a bunch of people with them, but now we’re like, ‘Look, unless you’re essential to this recording, we’ve really need you. yours or just with the people recording.’ »
While Coles is thrilled that customers are once again at Lil’ Drummaboy studios, he now knows the realities of operating during a pandemic. If COVID-19 cases increase, it could be forced to close again. But at least he will be prepared.
“We’ll be ready to move to online classes right away,” Coles says. “Before, we took a week or two to get up to speed. Now, it will be almost like a first switch that we will hit, and we will start marketing, especially mixing and mastering online. We will do live classes much faster.
But at least for now, business has reached pre-pandemic levels. “Over the past month, we’ve grown and we’ve all been surprised by it,” Coles says. “Our books are quite solid and we reserve three or four days. So we’re doing pretty well right now.
3 Ways Lil’ Drummaboy Pivoted Into Crisis
By keeping a cool head, finding a video conferencing platform that suited his needs, and researching services he could offer outside of his studio, Samori Coles kept his business afloat during the pandemic.
Takeaway #1: Adding Zoom Opened Up Opportunities
Samori Coles had long thought of adding virtual audio production and studio engineering through video conferencing. The COVID-19 forcing him to close his studio, he takes the plunge. Luckily, Zoom made it easy for him to transfer his services online.
Takeaway #2: Don’t make rash decisions
When the COVID-19 shutdowns forced Lil’ Drummaboy out of business, Coles didn’t panic. He and his team took a step back for a week and reconsidered their options. After that, they decided to offer virtual lessons and mixing services for home recordings.
Takeaway #3: Consider how you can offer your services outside of your physical location
Even though Lil’ Drummaboy had to close his studios, Coles found a way to produce music. Knowing that people were recording at home, Coles announced that he would be mixing the recordings at home. This opened up a new line of business in a tough market.
When people can’t visit your physical location, find a way to bring your business to them. When COVID-19 shut down Samori Coles’ recording studio, he looked for ways to bring his services to people in their homes. He embraced Zoom, using a tool that allows him and users to get along. With more people recording at home, it also added a service where users could send their recordings home and it would provide mixing services.