Studio Unknown’s Confessions of a Small Working Studio—Studio Owners Venture Into Live Venues

Jan 11, 2010 7:13 PM, By Lisa Horan & Kevin Hill

Thaddeus Moore—owner and chief engineer of Sprout City Studios

Thaddeus Moore—owner and chief engineer of Sprout City Studios

Managing the Details
But opening new facets of any business can also open up a can of worms if you aren’t careful. And getting a solid grip on day-to-day management is essential. Wilson and his partners recognized that each member of the team would have to be responsible for managing his share of the business. “My brother Garrett handles all of the bands, recordings, and studio session scheduling; I take care of the finances and live sound jobs; and Josh handles the third aspect of our business, our DJ services,” explains Wilson. This division of responsibilities not only enables each member of Wilson’s team to stay focused on his own area of expertise, but also helps the business stay organized.

Organizational skills were something that Moore knew he needed to develop. “I recognized that time management wasn’t my strong suit,” he admits. “Fortunately, the small-business class I took really helped me to create a strict time regimen for myself and keep track of my priorities.”

Beyond solid management practices, strong customer service is also critical, regardless of how many different “divisions” are within a company. “The philosophy I share with each of my employees is that their Number-One task should be treating people with respect,” Wilkerson says. “I’ve worked with sound guys who have toured with top bands, but if they have no idea how to treat clients and wind up ticking them off, they won’t work for me. It’s just that simple.” Wilkerson says that when it comes to management, live sound and studio sessions are no different: It’s all about keeping the client happy. “My job is to make everything as seamless as possible, and I go to great lengths to make that happen,” he adds. If that means going back and forth countless times between an act and a venue at a live event, Wilkerson does it because at the end of the day, both sides have to be happy in order for the show to be a success. “If the talent is stressed, so is the production, and then so is the audience. Unhappy audiences don’t buy drinks and don’t come back, just like unhappy listeners don’t want more from an artist, so it’s my job to keep everyone at their happiest.”

Seizing New Opportunities (Without Going Overboard)
Whether it’s keeping people happy or managing day-to-day duties, our business is all about balancing, and the more diversified a company is, the more necessary it becomes to be effective at balancing. Moore, Wilkerson and Wilson all know that first-hand. In addition to the studio and live sound divisions of their businesses, they each offer other services through their companies to generate supplemental income. ADEK provides multimedia production services, produces instructional and music videos, offers Website design and maintenance services, and provides live concert opportunities. Skyline features a DJ service and provides concert promotions for nationally touring acts. And Sprout City not only offers audio instruction classes and operates a rehearsal space, but company owner Moore also runs a lucrative vegan cupcake business with his wife.

However, one important caveat: Be careful not to take diversification too far. That’s a maxim Wilson now lives by as a result of an experience he and his team had while running sound for a live “School of Rock” type show. While the sound portion of the job went off without a hitch, the team didn’t bargain for having to take on lighting and special effects. “The guy who hired us didn’t have a huge budget, so he asked us to do the lighting and handle the fog machines,” Wilson recalls, saying the client wanted to create a super-dramatic effect by covering the entire area with fog. Unfortunately, as someone with no expertise in working with the machines, Wilson didn’t exactly create the look the client was hoping for. “I placed the fog machines strategically on the stage, but instead of this big billow of fog, what I got looked more like someone was smoking a cigarette on the stage,” Wilson says, laughing. “I made a promise to myself at that point not to go beyond what I know how to do well.”

At a time when diversification is becoming synonymous with survival, this may be the best lesson of them all.

Kevin Hill is the owner/engineer and Lisa Horan is the creative director of Studio Unknown, a full-service audio post-production facility and recording studio that specializes in helping clients discover creative sound for film, video, Web, gaming and artist projects.

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