In continuing with our ‘Studio Spotlight’ series that aims to highlight cool recording studios all over, this month we chatted with Matt Teacher, co-founder of Philadelphia’s Sine Studios. Matt started Sine Studios over ten years ago in the Rittenhouse Historic District with business partner Mike Lawson shortly after graduating from Berklee College of Music.
As the duo built up a reputation around town among clients across genres, they went on to launch The Giving Groove – an “artist-friendly, socially conscious” record label in an effort to help musicians they were passion about realize their musical vision while simultaneously giving back to the community. With half of all album proceeds being divvied up between the artists and a music-related non-profit of the artist’s choice, The Giving Groove is showing how members of the music community can make a difference across the board.
Read our interview with Matt below to learn more about his experience, Sine Studios, and The Giving Groove. Be sure to check out all Sine Studios has to offer in the way of mixing and recording, too!
You’ve been running Sine for 10 years now. Tell us a little bit about how you jumped into engineering and what led up to you opening your own studio.
Matt Teacher: My business parter, Mike Lawson, and I have been playing music together since 7th grade. From the first time we began making music together we were interested in learning how to record it. This started with a 4-track cassette recorder in Mike’s parents basement, then moved to a digital 8-track, then the Digi001.
By the time we were graduating high school we both knew we wanted to open a recording studio so we both went to school for it—Mike studying audio technology at American University and I went to Berklee in Boston. We both graduated in 2003 and returned to Philly and began working on finding our space, securing a loan, and finding someone to help us build our space. Mike and I both worked doing sound for film companies as we built Sine and in 2006 we opened our doors.
In terms of overall design, how is Sine unique? What can artists look forward to getting out of the space as a result of the way it was built?
The most important ethos of our studio is that we wanted it to feel like home, but allow our artists to be very productive at the same time. We were incredibly lucky to find Obie O’Brien to design our space and Bruce Slater to do the construction, both of whom had previously worked together building Bon Jovi’s studio, Sanctuary II. Our studio is in a turn-of-the-century brownstone in Philly’s Rittenhouse Historic District.
We gutted the 2nd floor, which was 2 apartments, and built our control room and live room. We used layers of leaded drywall, closed-cell foam, icynene, and sound-stop board to make the floor and walls very dense so that when we record the room holds the low frequencies and allows the microphones to pick them up in an even, well-rounded manner. There are no parallel surfaces in our live room and all the walls are curved or slanted so that it produces very even (but live) frequency response.
We didn’t want our room to be dead so we used very minimal treatment—mostly on the ceiling above where the drum kit is usually set up. Being musicians ourselves we have collected a lot of different instruments, amps, and toys that our clients are free to be inspired by and use during their sessions.
Philadelphia has become an even more prominent music city in recent years, whether it’s hip hop, garage rock, or anything in between. What excites you most about about the scene in 2017?
Having grown up in Philly and then returning here in 2003 I’ve seen the music scene dwindle and surge. When we first moved back a lot of venues were closing, studio options weren’t what they were in Philadelphia’s heyday, and it kind of felt like the scene was falling apart. Luckily, that didn’t last too long though. Over the proceeding years a lot of artists started making a name for themselves, whether it was Dr Dog and War on Drugs or Meek Mill, a lot Philly artists started making a name for themselves.
Today I am most excited about Philadelphia not only being a home to great artists, but also its return to a thriving industry town. I want Philadelphia to be a destination, not just for bands and artists, but for record labels and studios as well, and it’s incredibly exciting to see it happening.
Building on that, what kind of a role do you see Sine playing in the independent music scene around Philadelphia?
I love that many Philadelphia artists call Sine Studios home. We are here to provide a comfortable, creative space for one and all. We also provide a network of musicians and industry professionals and love to make introductions and connections for our artists.
A couple of years ago you started The Giving Groove record label. What inspired this move after so many years of running the studio?
After running Sine Studios for 10 years we wanted to expand into something that could help the artists we were working with. So many times we’d watch as an artist would finish their project and then struggle to get it out into the world in a meaningful way. Making and recording music comes naturally to most artists, but the business side of it is often not something they’re well-versed in.
It can be very difficult, especially when competing for tours and radio play with major labels who are throwing serious money behind their acts. That is why we started the Giving Groove: to have the ability to help artists get their art out into the world and enable them to give back to the music community that fostered them.
With 50% of the profits going to artists and 50% going to a music-based non-profit, what sparked the idea for this business model?
I was inspired by my dad and step-mother who had recently launched a cookbook publishing company, Burgess Lea Press. Their model was this: 50% of all after-tax profits would go to the author; the remaining 50% would be donated to a food-related charity. It needed to be adapted for the music industry, but this model is what would become the core of the Giving Groove ethos.
This model feels like something that really appeals to artists of this generation. What has the reaction been like from the arts community overall?
To date artist reactions have been overwhelmingly positive. They feel as though they are getting their fair share, something that the mainstream music industry has always struggled with, and they appreciate that the label enables them to give back to the music community in a meaningful way. In the year and a half from when we came up with the model to when we launched we vetted our concept by everyone we had developed relationships with through the studio.
Everyone from Harry Weinger (Universal/Motown) to Aaron Weiss (mewithoutYou) to Jon Bon Jovi have been incredibly supportive and are routing for us to make the Giving Groove a success.
What kind of future plans do you have for The Giving Groove?
We plan to keep expanding our roster with a diverse range of artists and allowing them to support a growing network of music-related charities. For us it’s not about putting out a certain genre of music; it’s about the label’s mission and I believe this mission should be inclusive of all styles of music. As our branding grows we hope to continue to sign both well-stablished acts and up-and-comers.
Back to the studio a bit: What inside advice would you give to independent artists who are getting ready to step into a professional recording studio for the first time?
When I speak to an artist getting ready to head into the studio I always stress the importance of pre-production. Whether they’re working with a producer or not there are certain steps that need to happen before they set foot in the studio to record. For a band they need be well-rehearsed, but not to the point where the songs aren’t exciting to them anymore.
The songs have to be second nature to all the musicians so they don’t find themselves working out fundamental parts in the studio—everyone should just be focused on capturing the best performance and not just getting a passable take. They need to be able to play the material to a click even if they make the conscious decision not to track to it.
If they are going for mainstream pop success they need to take a hard look at the songs’ narratives and make sure their story (or if the lyric is more eccentric: “vibe”) comes through to the listener—artists always know what they mean when they write something, but making sure that comes through to the listener is key.