Confessions of a Small Working Studio—Put Up or Shut Down

Oct 5, 2010 6:13 PM, By Lisa Horan

photo of PopMark Media founders

PopMark Media founders (from left) Kevin Hill, Stephen Joseph Antonelli and Lisa Horan.

It's hard to believe that it’s been a whole year since we launched our “Confessions of a Small Working Studio” column for Mix, and what a whirlwind 12 months it has been! When Kevin Hill and I first discussed the idea of the column with Editorial Director Tom Kenny, we were excited about the opportunity to talk with studio owners around the country, take a look behind the scenes and share their creative antidotes to tough economic times. We never anticipated just what fascinating stories these entrepreneurs would have, nor did we expect to uncover the unique services they are developing and adding to their repertoires. The stories that these owners helped us bring to light have been so interesting that we’ve found ourselves wrapped up in our conversations—it’s hard to put the phone down. Beyond the articles that have resulted from my notes, we at Studio Unknown have begun putting many of these owners’ ideas to good use. So, this month, instead of interviewing other studio owners, we thought we’d “interview” ourselves and let you in on what new things this small studio is doing to stay competitive.

Practicing What We’ve Been Preaching
It seems like every month, we devote some attention to how studios are diversifying their offerings in order to keep revenue coming in. We knew it was time for us to follow suit, so we stopped the talking (well, not completely!), and got down to the business of doing. It all started last December when Kevin (Studio Unknown’s owner), our music producer Stephen Joseph Antonelli, and I were at the studio, and the conversation turned to how hard we were working, how exhausted and frustrated we all were, and if and when the big “pay off” was ever going to come. Yeah, I guess you could say we were throwing ourselves a good old-fashioned pity party. But we’re a stubborn group, and feeling sorry for ourselves only lasts for about five minutes. That’s usually long enough for us to lick our wounds and get fired up enough to figure out a way to tackle the challenge at hand.

Fortunately, in addition to our tenacity, we also have a great tool in our arsenal: our community of fellow studio owners. We began analyzing the information we had collected and discussing what steps we could take to thrive in this new industry, rather than just hang on for dear life. We considered our individual strengths and what we each brought to the table. (My background is in writing, marketing/PR and songwriting. Steve’s is in music production and music supervision. And Kevin’s is in audio post-production.) We talked about the potential benefits that could spring from combining forces. And we mulled over how we could offer these new, combined services. After months of very colorful discussions and ridiculous amounts of planning, PopMark Media was born.

PopMark logo

Simply put, PopMark is a creative partnership that we originally developed to help music industry professionals, filmmakers, and others in the entertainment community make sense of the “new” music and film industries. We began focusing on this group of professionals because we consider ourselves experts in these fields, each of us having experience in the music and film/media worlds. In conjunction with partnerships we’ve forged with graphic designers and videographers, we are able to provide clients services that include the full range of promotional, social media, and strategy consulting, along with original music composition and music supervision, and what we refer to as “sound polishing” services, in a one-stop-shop experience.

“What's great about PopMark is that it offers us a way to pull together under one roof all of the services that we had been working on separately for so long,” says Steve. “The more we looked at it, the more we realized that this setup just made sense.” For one thing, filmmakers not only need audio post-production services, but they often need music for their films, as well as help with promoting their projects when they’re completed. And it’s the same scenario for recording artists. “Not only do they need to get their project recorded, but they also need help spreading the word about it and themselves. PopMark provides us a way of offering these services in a more efficient, cohesive way.”

And for the three of us, the concept made sense because it provides us a way to cross-promote our services and offer a product that is in high demand. “The bottom line is, the fact that I can offer more services to an artist because I work with a team, rather than acting as a solo producer, makes me more competitive. This kind of set-up isn’t readily available yet, so it makes us more attractive to potential clients and gives us an advantage.”

Creating a Win-Win Takes Work and More Work
While the goal behind PopMark is to create a scenario that is mutually beneficial, and we’ve definitely begun to experience some success based on our efforts, bringing our new creation to life has been, well, a lot like nurturing a newborn baby. We’ve had to constantly feed it with new ideas, persistently meet its many demands, dedicate unrelenting attention to it, spend multiple late and sleepless nights both lulling it and worrying over it, and deal with all of the “you know what” that it produces. And that doesn’t even account for the fact that our new creation is an amalgamation of three separate small businesses, which has required each of us to let go of previously held ideas that we have become accustomed to, having done things on our own for so long. In other words, it has been a test of wits and guts.

All that said, you may be thinking, “Sounds overwhelming! Why in the world would you want to go through all the hassle? Why not just keep business as usual?” There are two simple reasons. One, we’ve assembled a special team that doesn’t develop often. We work with one another well, play off of each other's strengths, and balance one another extremely well. Secondly, we’re realistic. “The reality is, the structure of Studio Unknown—and any small recording studio/audio post facility—has limitations, and there’s only so much we can do in terms of growth,” explains Kevin, who has owned Studio Unknown for seven years. “When we look ahead at the trends, it’s pretty clear that while audio post-production and music production budgets have gotten smaller, diversification has become a necessity for generating more income. PopMark is a tool that will provide us with a revenue-generating resource because it enables us to increase our services not just for our existing client base, but to a new crop of customers that would benefit from the collective services we now are able to offer."

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