James Pew gives us the scoop on Studio 2.0.
At GigHive, we’re always interested in those folks out there who are taking an active roll in building alternatives to the mainstream music industry. In Toronto, James Pew is an musician/technician well worth watching. Over the last decade, Pew has created Euphonic Sound, a vibrant and diverse community of artists who are currently hard at work building models for the future of the music industry. And psst, guess what? It’s totally indie.
Recently, we had the opportunity to speak to Pew about what he does and why he does it. Here’s what he had to say:
GH: Clearly, you’re a busy guy. You run Euphonic Sound Studio in Toronto, you’ve got the Broken Window label, you run the Studio Manifesto blog, you’re involved with Origin Audio Electronics, and you’re a musician. How did this whole indie empire get started?
JP: Roughly ten years ago I researched recording studios in the GTA that I could potentially record some of my music at. At this point I had already been through an audio engineering course at Humber College and had done hundreds of demo recordings on 4 and 8-track – all of which sounded awful, hence the need for a professional studio with qualified engineers. The best price I found for a pro studio was $900 per day back then.
So I decided to invest in recording equipment, but instead of buying off-the-shelf pro audio gear, myself and the team at Origin Audio, lead by the brilliant audio engineer and analog audio electronics technician, Freddy Gabrsek, decided to improve upon the vintage analog circuits of some of the classic recording devices of the 1950s and 1960s – the golden age of analog audio.
Right, on the Studio Manifesto blog, you emphasize the importance of understanding the equipment that you’re working with. Often, indie recordings suffer from a lack of quality gear, and lack of engineering knowledge.
I learned engineering from Freddy, who made it clear right away that it was the details of the audio circuits engaged in the signal chain that are most misunderstood by DIY indie producers/musicians. This was why my early recordings always sounded murky – the mic preamps built in to the old console I used were very cheap and trashy sounding.
During this time I did a lot of recording. What started as guerilla recordings mostly, of indie artists – usually on location, requiring Freddy and I to bring two cars full of recording gear and wire together a makeshift studio – grew into a small apartment studio, where I recorded a ton of indie hip hop, and then into the bigger commercial space we have at Euphonic Sound.
From the early dissatisfaction I felt just over ten years ago when confronted with a $900 per day price tag for recording indie music, came the idea of Studio 2.0 – which has become the banner of our movement. The simplest definition of Studio 2.0 is to take everything that sucked about the situation I was confronted with a decade ago, and create some sort of parallel universe where the polar opposite situation exists.
More details! What is Studio 2.0?
A few years ago we decided to shift to the unlimited studio time model and really focus on improving every artists’ experience at Euphonic Sound. That model proved to be very successful so we stuck with it. From there, working through various crowd sourcing collaborative initiatives with talented designers, we started offering creative design and web services, than later business development services, and more recently video production services.
Inspired by Kevin Kelley’s indie economic model, 1000 True Fans, the Studio 2.0 business development aspects are designed to help indies develop a direct-to-fan business model. Musician/engineer/producer Shawn Daley and myself are building a strong community of artists and collaborators of all kinds at Euphonic Sound, around our core Studio 2.0 values. We currently have just under 20 interns working in audio, design, web, video, and business development, which are the Studio 2.0 departments.
So you offer artists unlimited studio time, and then they pay for these extra 2.0 services? Doesn’t that start to get expensive for an indie band?
As we added all the extra services to Studio 2.0, like singles and album art design and business plans, we didn’t raise the price. The fee is for unlimited studio time for six months, everything else is free, to add value to the service, and to help you get your music career on track so we can keep on collaborating with you. It’s no surprise that we have artists who sign up for back-to-back Studio 2.0 programs – in that sense it’s more like they pay a monthly membership fee for unlimited access to the studio and our creative design and business development team. This makes sense when you consider that an indie artist should be recording and playing live all the time anyway.
You have a unique production philosophy, in terms of your approach to recording. What kind of benefits do artists get working with you and Euphonic Sound, as opposed to a more commercial studio or label?
Studio 2.0 is really what makes us different on the recording studio side. When you’re working with an artist with unlimited studio time, and your goal is to identify performance or technical problems early in the bed tracking stages, and you have the time and inclination to fix, adjust or refines things, and of course, you are striving for a high level of artistry – than you are working in an ideal environment for a developing artist.
It sounds like a very different process compared to the usual scenario, which tends to involve artists trying to record an album in a single weekend, or even a single day.
The problem with many DIY funded indie bands who pay studio time by the hour, is that they never get to fully explore the possibilities of the studio. A studio experience, especially when working with a talented, compatible producer, should not be a race against the clock – but an artistic process that results in an accurate snap shot or historical reference point for your art. Any meaningful process must leave room for adjustment, for pause and reflection, for self-criticism, deconstruction, and feedback.
There is not one band that we have worked with under Studio 2.0 that wouldn’t gladly admit that our “under the microscope” approach in the studio made them a better band when they hit the stage. Its not uncommon for us to spend a night recording drum tracks, listen back, point out timing errors, clumsy transitions, arrangement issues – scrap all the tracks and start again. Its no sweat to us – we want to get great results just as much as the band or artist does. It’s a no brainier really…but its what makes us different!
One of the most important things to us at Gighive is building a community of indie artists who can work together to provide an alternative to the mainstream music industry. Can you share a great story about how building community has helped you to grow your business/career?
I don’t have any one great story related to the community building aspects of our work. That is probably because building community is a slow-moving, sometimes un-romantic process (at least in the beginning). Many indies get frustrated well before they reach 100 fans on their facebook page.
But when the networking you do begins to pay off, and you start to see interest in your brand (music, live events, videos), you realize that the connections you’re making with what seem like only a few are authentic and intimate. If you continue on this path you may be able to convert their casual fandom into true fandom, if you nurture their true fandom and remain sensitive to what it is you provide that feeds that fandom, you will have a fan for life.
The Euphonic Community includes over 500 people who make up past clients, Studio artists, local musicians of all types, and euphonic interns. The most satisfying aspect of my work that began with Euphonic Sound Recording Studio is the community that has built up around it. The environment of excitement and creativity at euphonic sound today stands as a total opposite of the $900 per day empty, lonely, expensive studio I visited a decade ago.
Interested in getting involved with the Euphonic Sound community? Sign up for the online community, create your own profile, join an open artist development group, and interact with all of the other community members.
If you’re an artist and think Studio 2.0 might be right for you, email James Pew & co. at firstname.lastname@example.org and set up a meeting to see the studio.
They also offer internships for audio engineers, graphic designers, videographers, music industry arts graduates, etc.
What do you think of the Euphonic Sound Studio 2.0 model? Is it the future of indie recording?