PopMark Media's October 2011 Confessions of a Small Working Studio: Lessons From Studio Owners

Oct 17, 2011 3:38 PM, By Lisa Horan

Josh Woodhouse

Josh Woodhouse

Every studio owner has a different story to tell and a unique journey that led him to where he is now. No matter the road that’s been traveled, each has been peppered with a variety of lessons. In this edition of “Confessions of a Small Working Studio,” the professionals we talked to share some of the most important lessons they’ve learned along the way and how they’ve applied these lessons to their careers.

Lesson #1: Get a Grip on Fundamentals

“My instructor in school would say to me, 'Listen, I know that you have this thought that the music industry is cool and all about rock 'n' roll, but before you can enjoy any of that, you’ve got to get the fundamentals down. You’ve got to take the time to get the core elements nailed,’” says Josh Woodhouse, the owner of Austin’s Droplink Studios. “I can’t tell you how right he was. Taking the time to get outside the ‘glamour’ and focus on the technical side of engineering and producing was an extremely important lesson to learn in the beginning of my career.”

In fact, that was one of the reasons Woodhouse was able to learn, early in the game, how to effectively but gracefully handle problems that arise during sessions. “By having the fundamentals down, I learned how to break down where a problem is in the signal path and how to troubleshoot it without the artist ever really knowing there was an issue,” says Woodhouse, who adds that confidence has a direct effect on how a session runs. “There could be a complete meltdown going on in the control room, but as long as you have the confidence that you’ll be able to figure out how to fix things, the artist will never know, and that’s the way it should be, because if you show stress, the artist is going to be stressed, too.”

Lesson #2: Learn the Art of Honest Diplomacy

Producers and engineers are sometimes incorrectly labeled as mere button-pushers. Yes, they’ve got to know how to manipulate the controls, but they also have to know how to finesse something else: The clients they work with. “I don’t know what’s more stressful: working with art or working with money,” says Dungeon Recording Studio (Miami) owner Fredric Freeman with a laugh. “If you’re in this business, you have to know how to work with people. At the end of a session or a project, I want to see a smile on the faces of the artists who are in my studio.”

But Freeman isn’t interested in creating smiles based on empty flattery. In fact, he maintains that he’s extremely picky about what leaves his facility, and he’s not afraid to tell his clients the truth; he just does it with tact and in a way that brings out the best in them. “Recently, I was working with this young band that is just starting out. I recorded their album, which includes several really catchy tunes, but I knew they could have been better if the singing had been more up to par,” says Freeman. “I brought the bandmembers all together and told them what I thought in a direct but diplomatic way. They appreciated my honest approach and are now on the hunt for a new lead singer that will better showcase their music.”

Lesson #3: Give 100 Percent, Every Time

Because success in the music business is largely based on word of mouth, it’s important that everything that leaves your studio represent you and represent you well. “I’m a firm believer in allowing my product to speak for itself, which is why I don’t let subpar work leave my facility,” says Woodhouse. “It’s Murphy’s Law that the one album that you hurried on or half-assed will be the album that gets the most attention, and for some it will be the one record that you’re remembered by.” Woodhouse cautions that if you slack or rest on your laurels, you’re heading down a dangerous slope. “There’s always a younger guy out there who is hungrier and who will capitalize on your mistakes, so you’ve got to constantly remind yourself that doing your almost best isn’t going to cut it.”

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