recording studio

AES 2017 - One Guy's Big Revelation

The famed Telefunken U47 on display at AES 143

The famed Telefunken U47 on display at AES 143

Just the other week I was lucky enough to attend the 2017 AES Convention at the Javits Center in New York. It just so happened to coincide with my cousin Adam's wedding, which brought me into the Empire State for the weekend so I figured what the hell? Maybe I'll meet some of "my people" and try out some expensive gear. 

For those of you who you don't know, AES is the Audio Engineering Society trade show where hundreds of audio companies come to showcase their products to thousands of industry professionals. It's pretty cool. 

The show was definitely a good time, even if I found it to be surprisingly as expected. I spent the day perusing the various booths feeling like a kid in a candy store. I particularly loved being able to pull up to an $8500 Telefunken U47 and try it out on my voice. Let's just say that while it may not be a wise financial decision for a budding music producer, it certainly does do magic to your voice. 

Maybe it was the way that Dave Pensado casually stepped into main hall with zero fanfare (turns out he's really tall!), but I was struck by how normal everybody there was. Okay, maybe "normal" is pushing it for people that are obsessed with audio. Still, even the big names at the Mix With the Masters and Waves booths seemed like the rest of the regular guys to me, happy to be there doing their thing. Despite our various backgrounds and where we might live, we all share that passion for sound and we struggle with similar obstacles. 

This led me to my big revelation: it's not just me! Everybody in this industry seems to be working on their own; handling their projects solo in a room by themselves. I think we all kind of get down about the work that we do because when you work by yourself, you don't have anybody else validating your process. I found this to be uplifting, really. What a sense of relief to find out that maybe I'm not that bad after all! 

I also think that many of us feel like everybody else is judging us from afar. The fact that some people are mean and judgmental (rather than supportive) on the internet forums heightens this insecurity that many of us feel that we're just not as good as the other people who are doing this. Why? Because we don't get to talk to anyone in person anymore and it's easier to troll than to give constructive criticism on the internet. 

Moreover, this trend of flying solo has a tendency to make us approach potential gigs with a sense of scarcity. We spread ourselves thin trying to take on any and all projects on our own - recording, producing mixing, mastering - doing all of it instead of collaborating. No specializing. Jack of all trades, master of none. We've grown to fear working with others lest they steal our nut.

Granted, there's a reason this has happened. The once multi-complex recording facility now fits on your laptop; artists don't stand a chance at generating direct revenue from the product we help them create. It's a tough world no doubt, but it's tougher on your own.

I think it's time as a community that we come together and support each other by meeting in person, talking shop and forging relationships. I think it's time to share our work with our peers so that we can validate the sounds that we hear. I think it's time to have each other's back and fill in the professional gaps that everybody has. We're only human after all. 

I think collaboration will lead to growth in our field and at the very least help us share this journey together. I'm planning on meeting up with other audio professionals in my city and I encourage you to do the same. Let's start a conversation. 

My Biggest Mistake

As you may have noticed, I recently rebranded my business. This time I simply used my name: Ben Wallick, Music Producer. At the time I wanted to sound more professional than "Sonic Itch" and I figured my name was a good place to start. Besides, every project I've worked on in any capacity could help solidify my place in the scene. I may not have realized to what extent this was true at the time but now I believe that this "minor" rebranding was one of the best business decisions I could have made.

For years I had been marketing an affordable recording studio in Jerusalem. I tried as hard as possible to bring people in and to make things sound great but I struggled. Big time. My client list staggered, growing slowly but never generating enough income to pay my bills (luckily the wedding band I was playing in was covering that). I had a business mentor who tried really hard to push me to find more clients and to think of my unique selling proposition (USP) but I just wasn't smart enough - or at least experienced enough - to see through it all. In fact I didn't realize what I was doing wrong until after I had already rebranded my business... 

Things were thankfully on the up and up when it finally did hit me one night while folding laundry (thanks in part to Seth Godin who's excellent work I had been devouring). The idea of marketing a recording studio in Jerusalem in 2017 was a terrible idea. The only studios that can remain open these days are the #1 studios. Even some of the great studios in LA - which has a way bigger and better market than Jerusalem - have shut their doors. They just weren't #1. The chances of being #1 are really slim and trying to make my studio affordable made those chances even smaller. Studios are closing because people can do almost everything a multi-room complex can from the comfort of their own bedroom. Nobody needs another recording studio. They're expensive and the few that still remain are struggling to keep their doors open. It was so obvious to me at that point why my business had been fledgling.

My small production room can accomplish what would have required a multi-room recording complex a decade ago...

My small production room can accomplish what would have required a multi-room recording complex a decade ago...

What I failed to see in all those meetings with my business mentor was that I was trying to market the "studio" when I should have been promoting myself. Jerusalem doesn't need another recording studio but, along with the rest of the world, it does need more innovative music producers and songwriters willing to take risks, go to great lengths for the sake of the song and who understand their clients' wishes and needs. So even if it's impossible to be #1 in the physical space game it's not impossible to be #1 in terms of blending your own mix of creativity, interpersonal skills and understanding of song-craft and musicians' needs.

I was my own unique selling proposition and so are you. The talent and knowledge you bring into the room is what makes you valuable in the music industry. Not the studio you work in or the gear you own or even the Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster you play. 2017 is not the year to open a recording studio but it is the year to be proud of the valuable work you do. So don't sell yourself short.