Laptops Vs. Desktops For Music Production

[Editors Note: This article was written by Nadav Biran and originally appeared on the Catz Audio Blog.]


Desktops vs Laptops

The first thing that comes to mind when comparing desktops and laptops is portability. Obviously, laptops are more portable and are the ultimate solution for those of you who are gigging or like to produce on the road.

Choosing a laptop is a no-brainer if you are a traveling producer/DJ and we highly recommend these music production laptops 🙂

Desktops are more cost-efficient and offer a much better value in terms of how powerful they are. In our opinion, they are the perfect solution for those of you who are looking for the most power for your dollar.

You probably already know if you belong to the first category or the second one, however choosing between a desktop or a laptop will probably be the most important decision you make when building your studio, much more complicated than just power or portability.


Music Production Laptops

In our opinion, the only reason you should pick a laptop instead of a desktop is if you plan to travel or gig with your new laptop.

As we have mentioned before, laptops offer the worst value when compared to desktops. And this is why you should only choose a laptop if you are a 100% sure you will travel with your laptop.

Another downside of laptops is they easily break and are not really upgradable. Both of these factors are a major downside of owning a laptop and make them way less appealing for VST intensive producers.

Some of you have probably seen laptops with I7 CPUs and GTX GPUs and believe you are getting the same hardware components you would get in a desktop for relatively the same price.

But don’t let it deceive you, almost all laptop CPUs and GPUs have a weaker laptop version and from our experience laptops almost always perform worse when compared to a desktop with the “same” hardware components.

Reading this you are probably convinced that you need to choose a desktop instead of a laptop. However, that’s not the purpose of this article and we believe no amount of power will help you if you can’t take it with you.

That’s why we have previously mentioned a laptop should only be chosen if you are a DJ or traveling producer.


Music Production Desktops

Desktops are our go-to choice when producing in our personal studio. In our opinion, you should definitely pick a desktop if you mostly produce in your home studio.

The reason being: desktops simply offer a much better value for the dollar and are much more reliable in their performance.

Desktops are also easily upgradable. This is in our opinion the biggest upside of owning a desktop and we constantly upgrade our studio desktops when they start falling behind in their performance.

From our experience, laptops tend to last 3-5 years on average while desktops tend to last up to 10 years if you take proper care of them and upgrade when needed.

As you can probably tell choosing a desktop is the rational decision for most home studio owners and we definitely recommend you to pick a desktop instead of a laptop if you are not actively gigging or traveling.


And the winner is

If you made it this far you already know the major upsides and downsides of owning a laptop or a desktop.

To recap, laptops are suitable for the traveling producer/DJ while desktops are suitable for the rest of us.

Even though we went hard on the laptops we believe they are the much better option if price isn’t a factor for you, The reason being: you can get both portability and power if you are willing to spend upwards of 2,000$+.

With that being said, we know most of you aren’t willing to spend such high amounts of money for a computer. That’s why our winner is the desktop and we honestly believe that most of you should pick a desktop if you are serious about your music!

Building a Home Studio On a Budget

[Editors Note: This article and infographic were compiled by Jonathan Biran of Catz Audio, an online pro audio magazine. Readers can head over to our “Complete Home Studio Guide” for more resources on getting theirs set up!]


The field of audio engineering can be intimidating. The countless shiny buttons, the myriad of knobs and meters, the guy behind the mixing desk that knows more than anyone else in the room…describing this as ”intimidating” may be an understatement. Walking into the realm of audio for the first time is wondrous and frightening.

Regardless of how capable you are, audio engineering will challenge you – TuneCore was right in advising to “take a breath.” There’s much to consider when entering the audio field.

We at CatzAudio curated a little infographic that addresses the common barriers-to-entry of audio. It covers the nitty-gritty details of what you must have to get started. We think you’ll find that it’s actually easy to build a solid recording rig!

The infographic covers common questions asked about needed hardware and software. Questions like “what headphones should I buy?” and “what microphone is best?” are all discussed. Hopefully, your search for the best entry-level recording gear can end here.

Here is what we cover:

– What you need in a recording interface.

– A list of DAWs you can start with.

– What to look for in a microphone.

– The most bang for your buck when it comes to headphones and monitors.

– Necessary accessories needed to record a killer track.

We are lucky to live in a digital age. It’s never been easier to jump into the recording field. Instead of spending thousands of dollars tracking in a studio, you can carry a fully functional studio in your backpack for a mere fraction of the price!

building a home studio on a budget infographic


Studio Spotlight: The Creamery Studio Celebrates Its Diverse Brooklyn Artist Base With a Mixtape Series

With close to three million residents, a constantly evolving music and arts scene, and a virtually indescribable pace and overall vibe, Brooklyn has remained a magnet to creative types looking to find ‘their people’ and start a career. It’s a place to collaborate, a place to celebrate art, and a place to find inspiration (among high rents, a borderline cut-throat job market, and an urban environment that appears to be its own force of nature and cares little about its inhabitants).

Sitting at the base of the Pulaski Bridge at the northmost point of the borough in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn lies The Creamery Studio. A lofted space hidden among auto repair garages and other industrial buildings, The Creamery offers a large live room that would make most musicians drool, and a writing/lounge space that might make them want to move in permanently. Named one of the “Top 11 Brooklyn Studios” in Brooklyn Magazine, the Creamery opened its doors in 2008, and the studio is currently run by Quinn McCarthy and Jeff Fettig.

In an effort to highlight the amazing variety of bands and artists they’re happy to call clients, Fettig and McCarthy released their Creamery Mixtape last year. To follow up on that, they’ve tapped TuneCore on the shoulder to release The Creamery Mixtape 2.O on Friday, January 19th! It’s a 12-song compilation that was put together in a four-day recording sprint and, “like a subway car at rush hour, it crams together an eclectic group of New Yorkers into harmony.” You can check out this diverse array of music – ranging from afrobeat and alternative pop to singer/songwriters and garage rock – on Spotify and Soundcloud.

We got the chance to spend some time at The Creamery Studio and Quinn and Jeff were kind enough to answer some questions about the space, music in Brooklyn, and the mixtape series below.

First and foremost, tell us a little bit about your foray into the world of production and engineering, and how you came to open up The Creamery.

Quinn McCarthy: For both of us, engineering and producing originated from the most important source: an obsession with listening to and playing music. We’re musicians.  We play in bands.  We like a lot of different types of music.  Recording and producing has been a way to become more broad than we ever could have as singular artists.  I play bass, Jeff plays guitar and we both dabble with other instruments.  

We started a studio because we wanted to make magical recordings, not because we wanted to open some kind of sound motel.  People pay us to record and mix and use the studio, so sometimes I get a funny look when I say, “I’d rather listen to a crappy recording of a great song than a great mix of a crappy song.” When I first started listening to hip hop and electronic music, I realized there were other ways to create music other than just playing in a band.  

That curiosity of making sounds and sonic worlds and combining it with instruments and performances led us here.  We’re both collaborators and facilitators and when we share a goal with bands, great things happen.

In a music city – or borough, for that matter – it can be tough to stand out as a recording studio. What efforts have you made to make sure that The Creamery and it’s offerings stand out to artists?

QM: When it started, we couldn’t compete with anybody.  We had minimal gear and no business plan.  My buddy I wanted a place to record our music and our friends’ bands. We both had about $5,000 saved, so we found a forgotten building in Greenpoint and started framing and drywalling.  We lived in the studio for many years and worked all types of other jobs while pouring ourselves into albums that were earning us nothing.  

Some of those albums sounded cool and our friends’ friends started hitting us up.  The lifestyle was like that of a musician, not a businessman.  Because of that, the studio has always been about our community and what we can create from our tenacity rather than by owning a bunch of fancy gear.  At this point, we do own a bunch of fancy gear.  The reason we have two pianos, a Hammond organ, and an MCI console is because people who have worked with us have donated them.  

This is New York City and people don’t like storing big stuff in their tiny apartments.  We have a timpani drum!  The Creamery isn’t just just a space you come cut a vocal.  It’s a place to fill with musicians and be inspired.  In NYC, that’s just not the usual business model, so I suppose we hit some niche that has been very true to who we are.

Building on that, how do you feel that The Creamery fits in with or contributes to Brooklyn’s diverse music scene?

QM: New York is the greatest melting pot on earth and it’s part of what makes it fun to run a studio here.  I love making a salsa record one day with a bunch of Dominicans, the next day tracking an all-Hassid girl band, and the next a room full of classical musicians.  We listen to a lot of different music so it’s great to live in a place that has it all. I guess in any business, there’s an argument to specialize, but we don’t want to. It’s too much fun.  

We’re dining at the musical buffet of the whole world!

What inspired you and Jeff to release the studio’s first mixtape last year? What was the reception from the artists invited to partake?

Jeff Fettig: It’s a celebration and expression of our community and we make it a really fun event for everyone involved. Part of the conception grew out of the extremely challenging concept of it; can we actually record 12 bands in four days?  

But it also came from a place where we were trying to remind ourselves that a recording doesn’t always have to be precious in its process.

We used the tape machine to help unify the process and the sonic architecture, and we made it entirely about the moment and having fun. I think for listeners, it’s cool to hear all this music and imagine it coming from the same place.  It has that cohesiveness of a mixtape with a really diverse blend of bands.

As you continue the series this year, paint a picture of what it was like to record 12 bands over the course just four days!

JF: I don’t think we could do it without each other. To get even 1 band in and out with a complete recording in under four hours is almost a sport. We did this 3 times a day for 4 days in a row. I think it speaks to an unspoken communication between Quinn and I, and is a real lesson in people moving and organization. It becomes all about instinct, and embracing anything that comes out unexpected later.

Some days we had fifty musicians in and out, with cultural influences spanning the entire globe. The studio meets its full potential as a beacon of creation during these times.

This mixtape feels like more than just a promotional device for both the studio and the artists involved – what are you hoping to tell the world about what’s happening in music right now?

QM: Ha! It is promotional – just in an honest way.  The mixtape is a reflection of life here at the studio and in Brooklyn.  The Creamery is all of these genres.  It’s really cool to hear it all in the same room, through the same tape, and with the sensibility with which Jeff and I bring to it.  

We work on a lot of cool records each year, but in a way, this culminates the experience.  If there is a message, it’s just to be open to music.  Anyone who is going to enjoy this mix is already on that level  This is about having fun and celebrating what’s around us.

You’ve got a lot happening in those three rooms – tell us about some of your personal favorite recording gear and instruments that The Creamery boasts.

JF: There are two live rooms, a little booth, and a control room.  Everyone wants more gear, but I really think we’ve got it all: pianos (upright and grand), Hammond, Rhodes, Whurlitzer, Farfisa, Tympani, Synths, over 20 guitars and basses, a couple dozen amps, and a hundred pedals.

We can really make any sonic dreams come true. One of the newest additions to the space is a 50’s Deagan Vibraharp.  It sounds like you’re entering the dream sequence of a movie every time you play a note on it!

What kind of advice would you offer to independent artists who are getting ready to step into a professional recording studio for the first time?

QM: Make it about music.  If you can start with a great performance, that’s a hundred times more important than the rest.  Write a good song with good lyrics and practice that shit.  

Play it for your friends and people you trust to help refine it.  Demo it with whatever tools you have and listen back so you know what you really want the studio, producer, or engineer to enhance.  Put yourself around good musicians and start collaborating!

Make Your Guitars LOUD!!!

[Author: Chris Gilroy *]  
I love guitars. Something about them excites all my nerve endings. From softly picked acoustics to a mountain of amps at full blast. These nuanced instruments can be tricky to record. Luckily for you, I’m setting up for a session right now where we will be tracking distorted guitars for the next 3 days. Let’s talk a bit about getting some of the best results you can while recording and the things I will be doing for this session.

Before you even get into the studio to shred, find a few different examples of recordings where you, the artist, producer, or whoever is in charge of the project, are inspired by for this session. Guy Picciotto of Fugazi has a very different tone then Matt Pike of Sleep/High on Fire. Talk to your engineer about how these different sounds speak to you and how they were achieved. What amps, guitars, pedals, etc etc were used for tracking.

If you are engineering, you need to learn the different sounds between guitars. Why grab a Fender Stratocaster over a Telecaster? What’s the draw of a hollow body guitar? Each instrument sounds very different. Then there are amps! A Fender Deluxe sounds AMAZING when cranked, but very different from a Marshall JCM50. It is a never ending task for us to learn these differences. I’m not a guitarist (my mind was simpler and could only handle smashing two pieces of wood against a drum) so every session I work on I make sure we try a few amps and guitars. Mostly so we can make sure that we have a sound we are happy with in the room, but partially so I can listen to different combinations of instruments and amps, learning it and internalizing it.

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Luckily I am fortunate enough to work in a place that has a bunch of great sounding amps. When you turn the gain till the pre amp starts to clip, we reach a magical land. Which is emulated through so many pedals. To get geeky for a second, a lot of distortion pedals are trying to recreate the sound of tube amps distorting. Housed in much smaller and cheaper enclosures they are create to throw a few flavors in your bag for a gig.

But these boxes use transistors and diodes to compress and clip your sound, which will flatten your dynamics and take a ton of life out of your guitar. Live they totally rule, but if you are in the studio and have a Marshall Bluesbreaker, you probably also don’t need that OCD pedal on. Turn up the amp, and rock out.

A hard balancing act while tracking distorted guitars is not OVER distorting. When we play live we have the benefit of watching the player’s hands on the instrument. We don’t get that same luxury through a recording. Our guitar sound must be clear enough to make out all the notes and harmonies played. For listening example, blink-182’s Enema of the State is laden with giant and punchy sounding guitars that we hear everything Tom DeLonge is playing. Back a few albums to Cheshire Cat, it is much more difficult to hear exactly what he is playing. His sound is muddied and a bit too crunchy to full hear everything. When we are tracking back down the amount of distortion a little less then when we play live. The clarity will come through but we still have the amp growl.

Kurt Ballou of Converge is a master at getting an insanely aggressive sound while still maintaining note clarity. Don’t get me wrong I LOVE horribly recorded black metal records. But after a short period of time my ears get fatigued because the guitars basically almost white noise (which then I wonder why I didn’t put on a Merzbow record).

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When I double guitars I first make sure I know why we are doubling. Recently I finished mixing the new Nihiloceros EP. I wash’t involved in tracking, so during mixing I heard sections that I wanted a slight energy boost like after a bridge into the final chorus of a song. To solve this we tracked a meatier guitar sound to blend in slightly behind the rest of the guitar assault. Mixed in you can’t quite tell that there is another guitar, it just feels like the part swells a little more.

For another record, a new band from Philadelphia called Puriden, we wanted to have a massive wall of hard panned guitars. They had recorded an SG through a Vox AC30 as the main guitar. Since the guitarist has that rig as his tone, we didn’t want to lose the Vox sound so we doubled using the same amp and a Telecaster. This gave us enough sonic difference to know that we had two guitars, but have no phasing issues between the two.

Steve Albini spoke about this very eloquently in Mix with the Masters. In short, if you have a different initial sound source with a different timbre you decrease the chances of having phase issues. Even if it is a different amp, mic, etc, the initial harmonic character is the same. For the most clarity and less phase related issues down the line change your instrument. If you have the ability then change your whole rig but at the very least try a different guitar.

Micing amps is a whole other beast. This section alone can be a whole book so I will only briefly gloss over some ideas here. Or buy me a beer at a show and we can chat all night.

The placement of an amp in the room affects your sound dramatically. Having an open back amp against a wall will increase the amount of low frequencies in your sound. Having a small amp on the floor will increase first order reflections. Is the room large and live (reverberant) or tight and dry? Often the room sound will slip into your mics and affect your recordings. Speaking of mics, each type of mic responds differently and adds or subtracts to our sound.

The SM57, love it or hate it, will always be around and serve it’s duties wonderfully. Learn it and how to use it. Ribbon mics, like the Royer R-121, will add extra lower mids to your sound and often tame harshness. Condenser mics also sound incredible on amps. I love the sound of a Schoeps M22 (tube small diaphragm) on amps like a Fender Deluxe. Or a Soyuz 017 slays on guitar amps, as do so many other large diaphragm options.

Be mindful that each mic has a limit of how loud it can handle. If you have a Marshall Plexi at full blast some mics won’t be happy and give you thinner or distorted tones. You could also damage the microphone, like the sensitive ribbon mics, rendering them into very expensive door stops.

Placement of the microphone on the cabinet has a big change of sound. The more on the center of speaker cone you get, the brighter a sound you capture. As you move off axis, the sound gets a little darker, or warmer. How far or close your mic is will also change the timbre and room tone. Among other reasons, if you place a cardiod mic too close you will get a bass bump known as proximity effect. Listen to talk radio to hear this overused. Justin Colletti, of Sonicscoop, has this wonderful video exploring the different sounds we get with just this principle alone.

Originally I was hoping to get into mixing guitars, but that must wait till next time. The last point I want to drive home is that this is a skill set that we can always improve on. We are constantly learning. Go to conferences (AES), workshops, talks. Read magazines (Tape Op!) and watch videos. Talk to peers at all levels. Whenever possible I try assist other engineers. It lets me see how other people do things and handle situations. The amount I have learned from that or the conversations after the session about techniques and decisions used in the session has been monumental.

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*[This article was written by Chris Gilroy, producer and house engineer at Brooklyn-based Douglass Recording. Chris earned his degree in Sound Recording Technology from UMass Lowell. Chris has worked with a diverse range of artists including Ron Carter, Mike Stern, The Harlem Gospel Choir, Christian McBride, to name a few.]

As Recording Technology Advances, How Does the “Live Experience” Change?

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Sabrina Bucknole. Sabrina has been singing in musical theater for over eight years, and wrote this as a deep dive into how the meaning of “live” performance has changed over time.]


Seeing a “live” performance has changed in meaning throughout recent years. With the introduction of new technology to the stage and online spaces such as YouTube and Facebook, the meaning of “live” has evolved and become something everybody with a smartphone or tablet can experience.

Bringing the Studio to the Stage

Technology once only found in the recording studio has recently been adapted and used for on-stage performances. According to vocalist, electronic music composer and lecturer Donna Hewitt, “Recording and performance practices are trending towards each other and this is being propelled by a combination of technological shifts, a broad change in the level of production literacy of musicians, and an increasing shift towards more technologically intensive performance, either on stage (in terms of the musician’s own performance tools) or off stage.”

In other words, the use of technology on stage has greatly increased, with artists becoming more experimental with the use of technology in their live performances.

The introduction of recording equipment and new pieces of tech to the stage has evolved and shaped the term “live performance”. For instance, loop pedals record vocals and instruments in real time, then loop the sound back to the artist. These nifty pieces of tech allow you to create layers of sound and add textures to live performance.

There are plenty of new and up-and-coming artists who use loop pedals for live performances, including Grace McClean who creates what can only be described as a witty form of jazz using clever yet comic lyrics and snappy vocals. A great example of this is in her live performance of “Natural Disaster”. Hite (aka Julia Eastern) is another example of a growing artist who uses the loop pedal in an innovative and experimental way during live performances. She uses the pedal to add smooth textures through holding long notes, creating an enchanting sound which is evident in her performance of “Eyes on the Prize”.

But it’s not only smaller artists who use these nifty pieces of tech during live sets. Pedals are becoming increasingly popular mostly due to the likes of famous artists including Imogen Heap, Radiohead, and of course, Ed Sheeran. With only an acoustic guitar and loop pedal by his side, Ed Sheeran became the first-ever artist to play Wembley stadium solo over three consecutive nights in 2015.

There were concerns that Sheeran wouldn’t be able to pull it off because usually audience members in an arena as immense as this require a grand spectacle. Plus, being able to fill a stadium with sound generated by only a guitar and pedal seemed impractical, but as history shows, the performance was a complete success. The pedal was able to create a richer and fuller sound, contributing towards Sheeran’s impressive achievement.


Livestreaming music festivals and concerts are also becoming increasingly popular. In fact, 81% of internet and mobile audiences watched more live video in 2016 than in 2015. YouTube for instance, livestreams large events including Coachella and Ultra, giving new meaning to the concept of seeing a performance “live”. The BBC’s coverage of Glastonbury is another good example of this because even though the viewers are not physically there, they are seeing the action in real time.

As well as growing in popularity, live streaming is becoming increasingly normal thanks to Facebook’s new tool which allows users to go “live” and watch videos as they are happening. Facebook’s “live” feature can also be a great benefit to up-and-coming artists when they’re trying to promote themselves through their pages, from live covers to never-heard-before originals. What makes the “live” tool different and possibly more effective than uploading a music video is that artists can interact with their viewers in real time as well as reach new audiences.

As the concept of watching things “live” becomes more of a normality, how does this affect the way audiences view an artist’s performance?

Of course, seeing your favorite artist perform through a screen is not the same as seeing them in the flesh, but if more and more people are watching performances live, would this not decrease the number of people attending live shows?

Actually, 67% of live video viewers are more likely to buy a ticket to a concert or event after watching a live video of that event or a similar one. The use of technology here then acts as great advertising for artists by increasing attendees and therefore ticket sales. It’s also clear that people value the experience of being physically “there” at a concert more because they are part of an exclusive group experiencing a special moment in time.


Holograms have also been used in recent years as an experimental piece of tech in live performance. In 2012, a hologram of world-famous rapper Tupac was resurrected on stage alongside Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. Stunning more than 80,000 audience members at Coachella, they performed popular hits including “Hail Mary” and “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted”.

The illusion created, was not technically a hologram because a hologram by definition is a “3-D image produced by the interference of light beams that reflect off a physical object and can be seen with the naked eye”. Instead, the illusion was created by adapting a nineteenth century theatrical trick known as “Pepper’s Ghost” which used a sheet of glass and a light to project the actor’s reflection onto the stage. This technique was used in supernatural plays around this period to create an image of a ghost-like, ethereal being.

Still, this nineteenth century technique adapted and enhanced with the use of current technology offers audience members a seemingly impossible opportunity to witness deceased artists perform live.

Holograms and technology which produce holographic effects are also being used by living artists to add to the dynamics of the performance. For instance, in 2017’s Grammy Awards, Beyoncé used Holo-Gauze to deliver 3D visual special effects in her spell-binding performance. The hologram features Beyoncé, her daughter Blue Ivy, and her mother Tina Knowles.

Holotronica CEO Stuart Warren-Hill, who supplied the Holo-Gauze screen, said, “Holo-Gauze is ideal for live events such as this, allowing live performers to be situated behind our near-invisible gauze while visually stunning holographic effects appear to float in front of them. Holo-Gauze makes the seemingly impossible possible.”

Rather than using holographic effects to replace the live experience, they enhance the performance and add extra dimensions. It’s clear that artists are embracing the idea of using holographic effects in their live performances, manipulating the term “live” even further.

Whether it’s livestreaming performances for the benefit of the audience, using loop pedals to add textures and dimensions to the music itself, or introducing holograms to enhance the on-stage performance, the meaning of “live” is changing due to advances in technology. But this does not mean, seeing artists live, in the flesh is no longer of value.

While technology can enhance performance, audiences still appreciate and value the authenticity of live performance, especially when artists with “real” voices perform without technology like auto-tune to aid them. Modern technology found in studios allows artists to refine and perfect their sound including autotuned vocals, automatically mapped virtual instruments, and sound proofing foam to manipulate the acoustics.

While using high-tech recording equipment such as this can create a “perfect” final product, this can also raise the audience’s expectations when seeing an artist perform live. Audiences can sometimes feel let down when they see an artist performing live because the reality does not always live up to the expectation set by studio recordings.

This is why even though technology can enhance a performance, most people appreciate and value hearing “real vocals” and watching artists perform live, in the flesh, rather than through a screen.

Studio Spotlight: The Record Co. Focuses on Access Over Profit in Boston

Boston, Massachusetts is home to over 250,000 college students. With institutions like Harvard, M.I.T., Berklee College of Music, Emerson, Boston College and a slew of others, it’s a given that you’d see plenty of artists and bands finding their legs in a major U.S. city – whether they’re undergrads meeting at a local party or show, or a grad student furthering their music career by way of education. Growing up in the area, I recall being obsessed with bands in the ‘local scene’ – catching the T to see bands play in places from Elks Lodges to 18+ venues that I had to ‘borrow’ an ID to get into. But even then I noticed a turnover, as bands would migrate to other parts like New York and L.A., or venues with all-ages access would close unexpectedly.

While this isn’t uncommon, there’s still a lot to love about Boston’s music scene, but it can be a difficult place to live and survive as a musician or engineer. And what about the potential fans who don’t know what’s in their backyard?

Enter The Record Co. – a Boston-based non-profit facility that provides access to an affordable space to record quality projects and opportunities to freelance engineers and producers. The result is a much-praised collaborative atmosphere that is helping to change the landscape of Boston’s independent music scene. Not to mention, The Record Co. does a wonderful job of showing off all Boston has to offer with their Boston Sessions collaborative mixtape series, with Vol. 2 coming out soon!

In this month’s Studio Spotlight, I spoke to Jesse Vengrove, Program Director (and engineer/musician) at The Record Co. to discuss how the non-profit’s approach to offering this kind of access and how it’s been paying off:

First and foremost, what inspired you to start The Record Co. and do so as a non-profit?

Go up to any studio owner and ask them the following two questions and you’ll probably get similar responses:

1) “Are you making a large profit?” – “No”

2) “Why are you doing this then?” – “I love the work and I think it’s important/has cultural and/or artistic value.”

And there you have the most informal definition of a non-profit organization.

The Record Co. was founded in 2009 and, after a failed startup (first location flooded), we moved to our current facility in 2010.  The non-profit angle came out of a realization that that no one really needs to own a studio, people just need access to one.

We wanted to create a space that was accessible to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, gender, and we wanted to create a space that was a part of the community and give back to the city.  We charge our clients to use the facility like any other studio but the rates are subsidized by foundations/grants and individual donors who believe it’s important to cultivate a vibrant and creative scene in Boston.

We’ve found a way to allow artists to come in and use the facility at a price point that works for small/non-existent budgets while relying on other sources of funding to keep daily operations running. In 2017 we’re on track to host 1,100 sessions between the two rooms, so needless to say there’s a demand that we’re filling (while still seeing new studios pop up and legacy studios stay in business).

Give our readers a little bit of a breakdown of the facility overall. What sets your studios apart from others in the area?

We currently have about 5,000 sq/ft split up over 2 floors which gives us a fair amount of space. We have two studios, Studio A and Studio B (yeah, super creative!).  Studio A is 2,500 sq/ft and includes a full kitchen and a lounge (with an ever-growing homage to the amazing art collection at Goodwill). We wanted it to feel like you’re walking into your friend’s living room, warm and homey.  We kept a lot of the windows up there so there’s a lot of natural light, which really makes the room comfortable.  There are two iso booths in there and a large live room.  You can get giant drum sounds up there (and we once squeezed a 45-person orchestra in there) or you can control/segment the room with gobos.  It’s a large space but we did our best to keep sightlines open so no one feels disconnected.

Studio B is our smaller vocal/overdub room.  This room is a little more chic than Studio A; no windows to the outside, color-changing LED lights, leather couch.  It’s a small but spacious enough so it doesn’t ever feel crowded, and everyone always loves the homemade absorption panels covering the wall.  Studio B definitely has a more traditional feel to it compared to A but it’s by no means sterile; it’s still a comfortable room to work in.  There’s a lounge outside the studio so there’s lots of space to spread out.  Studio B has it’s own private bathroom which sounds most excellent for re-amping.

Obviously you provide a space for the many artists of Boston to record, but tell us a little more about how your setup has benefited freelance engineers over your seven-year history.

TRC is a 100% freelance studio, which means that we don’t have any staff engineers.  We think it’s really important for artists to work with technical professionals that they get along with (both personally and musically) and so we enforce that every client brings in their own engineer.  At this point we have 1,100 gigs for freelancers every year happening in our facility, and we’ve priced our studios in a way that leaves room for engineers to charge a reasonable rate for their services.

When clients need referrals we refer to our staff, who are all great engineers as well (but they still negotiate their own rates and get paid directly by the client as a freelancer).  We also see a lot of engineers coming in from other studios around town (Q Division, Mad Oak, Zippah, Futura…) which we love.

Has the way you operate fostered its own community within the greater music scene? Do you feel you’re providing a space for collaboration and networking?

We see thousands of musicians/artists/engineers through our doors every year so I’m happy to say that it feels like we have a large community surrounding the work that that we do.  We really value the face-to-face interaction that takes place in recording studio and are happy to see so many people coming out of their basements or bedrooms and collaborating.  The best music doesn’t get made in a vacuum, it usually takes a team.

How do you feel that The Record Co. has contributed to the ever-changing landscape of the arts in Boston?

We’ve contributed in two ways: through direct support to artists/musicians and through an effort to raise general awareness about the great music that is being made in our city.  There is an obvious need for the programming we do as there are thousands of people that have taken advantage of our studios.  We have had bands and engineers tell us that we are the reason they stayed in Boston instead of moving to NYC or LA which is extremely meaningful to us and shows that there is a need for the work that we are doing.

We have also made an effort to engage music fans in Boston and let them know that you don’t need to look to NYC/LA or Pitchfork/Rolling Stone to find good new music, there’s actually tons of being made all around you.  Raising the reputation and awareness of what’s happening here in Boston is a long process but it only serves to make the city feel more like home for all of the musicians/artists that struggle to live and work here in Boston.

For a city home to a quarter of a million college students and a mayoral administration hoping to retain this population after graduation, what else does Boston need to be a happier home to working musicians and engineers?

That’s a tough one and is something we talk about regularly.  All-ages music venues, more (well maintained) rehearsal spaces, better public transportation, affordable housing inside city-limits…. None of these things are easy problems to solve but all would go a long way towards making the city a more hospitable place for artist and engineers.

Speaking of those college students, how does the Recor Co. interact with student artists and engineers-in-training from local colleges and universities? 

We wanted to price our studio rates in such a way that artists could afford to rent an appropriate amount of time to actually accomplish what they set out to.  These days the only way for artists to develop themselves is to act as their own A&R and just keep recording and tweaking until they finally land on something good.

Because we also cater to a lot of engineers who are just getting their start or haven’t worked in a studio outside of a college setting we host orientations every other week which consists of a conversation about expectations and best practices while working in a professional setting, how to avoid pit-falls that have the potential to kill the vibe for the players, and then a full technical walkthrough of the facility.  We always have staff around to assist with any technical questions/issues and we do have a great crew of part-time assistants that are able to help out as well.

After six years in business you dropped Boston Sessions, Volume 1 – which resulted in a very cool development in the Rock Band video game franchise! – what led you to releasing this? What was the reaction from artists and labels involved?

We really wanted to tackle both raising the reputation of what’s happening in our music scene and also provide an economic opportunity for the artists involved.  ‘Vol.1 – Beast’ featured 13 brand new tracks by 13 Boston-based artists.  In total we paid 63 artists/engineers/producers to make the record, which we’re really proud of.

Artist and sponsors alike both loved the project.  It was unique as it was all brand new material (not pre-recorded content) and really provided a cool cross-section of the diverse scene in Boston.  We were really happy to work with Harmonix to get the album featured in Rock Band, which is by far one of the craziest things to come from the project.  We also just finished up a large donated outdoor ad campaign around the city and on the trains called “Boston Music Is” which features pictures of artists from the comp.  It’s great to see the city showing some love for the artists that make it a cool place to be.

The album is available for streaming on Bandcamp and Spotify and vinyl is in our web store.

What can we expect on the upcoming volume of Boston Sessions? Beyond promoting the Record Co. and the artists featured, what hopes do you have for the release?

Vol. 2 is going to be an awesome collection of new music from some great artists around the city.  We really hope this go around that we not only turn heads in Boston but in other cities as well.  Ultimately we want Boston to be seen as a music destination and the Boston Sessions program is just one step along that path to get there.