Creating, releasing, and promoting your music as an independent artist requires a lot of moving parts and team members. For artists who are at the stage in their career when they’ve moved out of the home studio and are ready to dedicate some of their budget to sessions with an engineer, there’s plenty to take into consideration.
That’s why we’re opening up the floor to highlight some recording studios in our backyard of New York City and beyond each month on the TuneCore Blog! Studio owners and engineers work with indie artists who use TuneCore for distribution and more every day, so it only makes sense for us to give them a platform to talk about the cool stuff happening in the control room.
To kick it off, we chatted with Ben Rice, owner of Degraw Sound located in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn. Ben’s been active in the music scene since he was in his teens, and the studio is in it’s fifth year of existence. Next weekend, on June 3rd, Ben and his cohorts are throwing the inaugural “Degraw Fest” – a mini full-day music festival taking place at Littlefield just down the road from the studio to be filled with bands, beer and food.
Learn more about what makes Degraw Sound special, and if you’re an NYC-based TuneCore Artist, make sure to check out Degraw Fest and say hello!
First, give us a little bit of your background as a musician/producer in New York City.
Ben Rice, Owner:I’m originally from Brooklyn — like I actually grew up here. My family lived in Park Slope in the late 80’s and early 90’s and then we moved out to Ditmas Park. Growing up I was obsessed with baseball and music and as luck would have it, music won out!
The first job I ever got when I was a teenager was working in a recording studio. It was this place called Clinton Recording Studios which was
one of the last major facilities in New York. I did all the fun jobs like cleaning the bathroom and making coffee and that was my introduction to studio life. I loved the feeling of being in the studio, going in and turning on the lights in the morning and watching their huge live room light up. The old console and racks of gear fascinated me. I would work there during the days over the summer or after school and then go home and play with my Tasman 4 track and make demos of the songs I was writing.
I played in bands and toured and got to experience the early 2000’s music scene here in NYC, which was really incredible. During that time I started producing records for other bands on the scene, and at a certain point I decided that I wanted to focus solely on producing and went all in on building a studio.
If I may say, it’s a beautiful studio. What went into it’s design and how did you keep artists in mind during its construction?
Thanks Kevin, I appreciate that man. When I set out to build Degraw Sound I wanted to create a space that artists would feel inspired and comfortable in. I wanted it to feel warm and inviting —kind of like an extension of the whisky bars that me and my friends liked to hang out at, almost like there was a secret back door that would lead you into another room that somehow magically was full of sick gear.
I met with a few different studio designers and through a couple different friends I got connected with a guy named Dave Ellis who had built some beautiful spaces around Brooklyn. When I met Dave it was instantly clear to me that he understood my vision for the studio and he just seemed like a cool guy — he had a sick car and liked a lot of the same music that I did. I put a lot of trust in him to take my idea and turn it into a reality. In a lot of ways I think of him as the studio’s “producer”, meaning he had the experience, skills and tools to turn my idea into something tangible.
How do you feel that Degraw Sound contributes to the Brooklyn/NYC musical landscape? In what ways do you collaborate or connect with artists outside of production and engineering?
I think after five years of making music here we’re starting to feel that we’ve become part of the city’s musical landscape, which is a really cool feeling. Growing up in New York you learn about all the different studios in the city and to have Degraw get to the point it has where it’s become part of that conversation and musicians think of us as a place to come make records is pretty special.
The artists that we work with here have become like family. When you spend countless hours in-studio with someone collaborating on a creative project you wind up getting pretty close with them.
One of the things I appreciate most about producing records is you get to be a part of significant moments in other peoples’ lives. That often extends beyond the studio; for instance, I just got back from Austin, Texas from my buddy Will’s wedding. He’s in a band Elliot & the Ghost and we’ve made some awesome records together at Degraw Sound.
Tell us more about how you came to organize Degraw Fest, and what are you looking forward to most about it?
A couple months ago Harper and I were breaking down gear after a session and somehow we wound up riffing on the idea of putting together a show with a few of the artists that we were working with. When we’re brainstorming the ideas can grow pretty quickly and before we knew it the idea had evolved into a full day mini music festival!
The timing just felt right to do something like this. This month is our fifth anniversary so it seemed like a fun way to get everyone together that has been a part of building Degraw and putting it on the map. Now that all the heavy lifting and planning is done I’m just looking forward to hanging with everyone. When I think about the perfect early summer Saturday it involves good friends, music, beer and food – and I think we’ve got all those boxes checked! (Ed. note – buy tickets for that here!)
Given that as a business owner you’re always looking to foster a community with your neighbors, do you feel Degraw Fest will help enhance those efforts?
Oh yeah definitely. Julie and Scott over at Littlefield (where we’re hosting Degraw Fest) have always been great to us. They were super welcoming when we moved into the neighborhood and we’ve built a great relationship with them over the years. They’ve been here for a decade now and are such a big part of the scene and community that is growing here in Gowanus so we’re really pumped to be working with them on this!
Everyone that we’ve talked to about Degraw Fest has loved the idea. Marshall and Eric who own Braven Brewing in Bushwick jumped on board to help sponsor the festival. Cheech A Cini’s, a local Italian food truck and Yankees fans, are going to be joining us, too!
A lot of the artists already know each other from seeing each other around the studio or meeting at some of the other parties that we’ve thrown, so I think getting everyone together is going to feel like a really fun family reunion.
How do you recommend that your fellow studio owners/engineers take steps to connect with artists in a similar fashion as you have with Degraw Fest?
For me it’s really about having fun and doing things that you’re pumped about. I have a ton of respect for all the studio owners in this city. It’s a tough business and we all put in long hours, so anytime there’s an opportunity to do something like this that’s a little different and can help the artists that you make music with I think you have to jump on it.
What do you think makes Degraw Sound unique in terms of how studios in New York operate?
To me the thing that makes Degraw Sound unique is the people who work here. Gian, Harper and myself… we’re a bunch of weirdos who love making records and are obsessed with every aspect of it.
I think that we’re bridging the gap between commercial studios and independent producers. We can each function independently as producers and collectively as a team. We have a really beautiful and well-built professional recording studio here that is flexible and can accommodate whatever type of project people bring to us.
What we’ve found over the past few years is that the majority of the projects that we’re working on are those where the artist will hire one of us, or a couple of us, to produce their record and help them take the project from start to finish. This just seems to work out best because it allows us to really invest ourselves in the records that we’re making and help artists create music that’s authentic and realize their vision and potential.
If you HAD to choose, what’s your favorite piece of gear or recording equipment that Degraw Sound boasts?
Oh man, that’s a tough one… I mean I have my “desert island” list of toys… I love our Trident console, it’s a great British desk and it’s super fun to work on. I’d box that up and put it on a boat and take it with me. My rack of 1176 compressors and Pultecs has become a staple. I have a couple Jazzmasters that I’ll never get rid of, and we just got a Mellotron which is probably the coolest instrument ever!
What inside advice would you give to independent artists who are getting ready to step into a professional recording studio for the first time?
Find a producer that you dig and who loves your music and let them help you. No matter what stage of your career you’re at I think this is key.
Whether you grew up listening to The Beatles or Michael Jackson one of the key ingredients to those records is that there was someone who helped foster the artists’ creativity and develop those sounds.
It may seem like just yesterday, but in fact 20 years ago on this day, brotherhood boy band (and purveyors of some pretty serious blonde locks) Hanson kicked off their three-week run at Number 1 on the US Singles Chart with their infectious hit “MMMBop”. And for those of you who were around to remember and enjoy this three-week run, it’s likely that it actually felt like three months. Where are they now? Wikipedia will tell us! But if you’re looking for a deeper mid-week/mid-day distraction, enjoy this round-up of TuneCore Artist music videos below:
When the 33-⅓ RPM speed became the preferred format for albums on vinyl, a wonderful and often overlooked tradition came along with it: album liner notes. While previous renditions of this – literal notes about the recording living within the album’s sleeve – had existed in recorded music before this, often times the space was reserved as an advertisement for other recordings from the label putting it out.
Album liner notes made it possible for artists to get creative with messaging, crediting personnel, and offering fans a little something extra in the way of art. Eventually as preferred formats of music evolved to tapes and CDs, the tradition continued. Anyone who grew up buying music in the 1990’s can tell you how much extra work it was to read some of those liner notes, but regardless of that, how satisfying it was to have a little something extra from their favorite band or artist. Of course, vinyl record liner notes are the best because of their size. I even remember trying to make wall art out of some of the Clash records’ (that I more or less stole from my dad) liner notes as a kid.
As the tides changed once more and fans switched to digital, liner notes became more of an afterthought for most – and eventually new music fans would be buying and streaming without even having their own personal history of CD booklets. In 2004, iTunes began offering digital booklets to certain albums. TuneCore offers artists the opportunity to include digital liner note PDFs when they distribute to iTunes for an additional cost.
While more and more releases began to include digital liner notes within iTunes over the years, it’d be a stretch to say it was any sort of craze or phenomenon. Fans can be delighted to find that their new digitally downloaded album contains a little something extra from the artist – a recent high profile case of this was Drake’s 2016 Views album which featured a digital booklet of images that were considered to be ‘meme-able’. This was an interesting example of a pop star not only incorporating something considered to be rather antiquated into their release, but doing so in a fashion that appealed to his generation of music fans.
But beyond that, does anyone care? Sonicbids published a great piece about this a few years back, with artists and industry folks chiming in with their opinion on the once-holy liner notes. These days, we see artists who cater to their ‘niche’ fan bases by focusing on vinyl releases – whether it’s LPs or 7” records – while still working with distributors like TuneCore to offer a digital component for those who prefer to stream or download. Artists have the opportunity to connect with these fans further by getting creative with their liner notes, and should they feel so passionate about the effort they put into them, include it as a digital PDF as explained above.
Another overlooked element of these booklets is that they give artists the opportunity to credit the producers and engineers associated with the release. Aside from the general karma points of shouting-out those hard working folks, it also allows artists who are fans learn who helped make such a great release even better. (It might even throw some business their way.)
There’s little doubt that artists with fans who prefer vinyl will continue to choose this medium for releases – but some wonder how long the resurgence of vinyl will last and how effective or important it is to the majority of independent artists. During a time of great saturation for indie artists online, standing out in the crowd can feel difficult – but what better way to garner some extra attention for your new release than a unique creative offering at no extra cost to the fan? Perhaps digital booklets and liner note PDFs can be an artistic channel for more artists to express themselves, give proper credits and ‘thank yous’, or provide a bit of a window into the production of the album or EP.
If you’re an artist who’s beginning to roll out vinyl copies of an upcoming release, it’s likely that you’re putting some thought into what your fans are going to be able to see and read in addition to what they’ll have to listen to. This should be cherished and seen as an opportunity to really connect with them, even if it’s just some credits and a cool poster. But for that other portion of your fan base who’ll be downloading, it may be worth your time to convert it all digitally, too.
If you’re an artist who is really just starting to develop a fanbase, vinyl copies of your new release probably aren’t in the cards. But as you begin to consider how you’ll be marketing it when it comes out, think of how a digital PDF of liner notes and additional art could help foster a new level of dedication from your fans that both already exist and begin to discover your latest release. If you feel you have the kind of audience who would appreciate this sort of component to an album, it’s likely that some will even consider converting from their preferred way of listening, streaming, to downloading it permanently.
Got any cool success stories with offering fans digital PDF booklets with releases? Let us know in the comments! For more information on how to include one of these with your next release via TuneCore, read more here.
Back in January of last year, we rebranded our awesome Artist Service – known before then as “Track Smarts” – to its current name, TuneCore Fan Reviews. With that news, we also introduced the capability of getting TuneCore Fan Reviews for unreleased albums, EPs, and singles – great news for anyone who wants to take advantage of real, actionable feedback from music fans before releasing their project to the world.
Today, we’re upping the ante once more.
TuneCore Fan Reviews (powered by SoundOut) now offer new interactive reviews and data, and they are now available online or as a PDF download. This is great news for independent artists who are looking to take the feedback they’ve received to the next level.
Take a look at some screen shots from the updated TuneCore Fan Reviews reports below:
Getting feedback from impartial music fans can be a great way to identify your best tracks, find new markets, and grow your career. TuneCore Fan Reviews gets your tracks in front of real music fans to rate and review, and you receive a report per track with reviewers’ actual comments, plus insight and analytics to help you improve your music and advance your career.
Not familiar with TuneCore Fan Reviews? Here’s how it works:
1. Before or after you distribute music through your TuneCore account, you can purchase Fan Reviews reports for as many songs as you want.