PopMark Media’s September 2011 “Confessions of a Small Working Studio”: Assessing the Power of Your Image

Sep 12, 2011 6:28 PM, By Lisa Horan

Vagabond Audio's Rise Sanders (left) and Drew Weir. Above: The studio's branded postage-stage logo.

Vagabond Audio's Rise Sanders (left) and Drew Weir. Above: The studio's branded postage-stage logo.

They say image is everything. Understandably, image is crucial to “talent,” but does it play a part in the facilities that are behind the scenes? Is it really worthwhile for a recording facility to spend valuable time and money on branding and image development? We talked with the owners of two studios who say, like it or not, image does matter.


When it comes to certain products—from soft drinks to automobiles—branding plays an obvious critical role. A product’s brand is how consumers identify it and what gives it instant recognizability. That’s one of the main reasons companies put so much emphasis on branding efforts. The brand of a recording studio may not garner worldwide recognition, but it does impact client perception.

“Historically, we didn’t worry too much about branding or marketing," says New York City–based Dubway owner Al Houghton. "All of our business came through word of mouth." Houghton started Dubway with business partner Mike Crehore in the early '80s. “Today is much different than it was back then," he adds. "It’s a much more competitive environment now, so to set ourselves apart from other studios, we’ve realized that creating a brand is one of the most effective ways to help distinguish us from our competitors.”

In fact, the Vagabond Audio (Chicago) brand was one of the first components husband-and-wife team Rise Sanders and Drew Weir considered when they formed the studio in 2004. “From the very beginning, we had this idea to use a postage stamp as the focus of our brand to represent the idea of traveling,” explains Sanders. The logo that resulted is based on a 1918 air-mail stamp called the Inverted Jenny. “It took awhile to identify the right designer, several weeks after that to arrive at the design we were looking for, and a pretty significant investment for the logo to be developed, but we took our time and spent the money so that we would have a less likely chance of having to re-brand later.” Now, the rare stamp is Vagabond’s calling card. 

With a move to a ramped-up space in the financial district of New York City under its belt, Dubway is in the process of revamping its logo and Website to better showcase its new facility and capabilities. “We felt like a redesign was necessary for a few reasons," says Houghton. "For starters, we want to show off our new space because we feel it accommodates the needs of our clients even better than before—in terms of both capabilities and comfort. We also want to showcase our staff who make the work at the studio happen.” While Houghton admits the current Website has worked well and generated success for Dubway, he also recognizes that, as challenging as an overhaul can be, the upgrade is essential. 

Vagabond sunk a significant investment into its Website when it opened its doors, but it didn’t come without a sacrifice. “I believe a company’s Website is really its foundation, so it really has to be solid,” says Sanders. “We didn’t want to build the foundation as we went along because it winds up being much more difficult. Instead, we started with the foundation under our feet, and that meant developing a business plan and getting a sizable loan, a chunk of which went toward the Website development.” Even though they managed to work with a designer who was a friend of a friend, the investment was still around $4,000. “It’s a tough concept to swallow. You know you need these tools to be seen as legitimate and professional, but you also need the money to pay for it,” explains Sanders. “I could have saved the studio the $4,000 we spent by creating a simple Website on my own, but it just wouldn’t have accomplished the professionalism that we needed it to.” 

Look at it this way: In many cases, the Web is the only resource that potential clients use to obtain information about a recording studio. If a studio’s site isn’t competitive or if it doesn’t represent the facility, the philosophy and work, it may create a negative perception that very well may drive away would-be clients.

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