The Music Issue 2015: Made in Tampa Bay

The local recording industry is thriving where you least expect it

“There’s no music industry anymore; people can do it in their bedroom with a laptop, microphone interface and sequencer.”

So said producer/engineer Steve Connelly a few weeks back. He can be forgiven the doomsday tone; when we spoke, he was dealing with the aftermath of the ceiling collapse in his own locally renowned studio, Zen Recording.

But if the recording industry hasn’t exactly disappeared, it’s definitely undergoing a transformation. The big studios of old, like NYC’s Power Station and LA’s Sound City, are no more, and Tampa’s own Morrisound has closed its doors as it transitions into becoming a much smaller-scale operation. Flagging record sales mean that many artists don’t have the budget to record at big facilities, let alone travel to them, and they can save money and achieve the same sounds in smaller, more specialized spaces. Home studios are on the rise in Tampa Bay — Superbee, The Moontower, Hey We Put Some Foam Up! — and the quality of home recordings has grown exponentially as the costs associated with establishing a recording space at home have dropped. Production software like Pro Tools and Logic is affordable for home producers, and there’s greater access to high-quality gear via the internet (some of it at bargain-bin prices and sold by studios that closed or are scaling back). There are also more schools offering cost-effective sound education, like the MIRA program at St. Petersburg College, while entirely new centers of learning à la Big Noise Institute also answer the growing demand. Both offer hands-on training and free access to state-of-the-art studios, equipment and technology.

Connelly used to worry that the home recording phenom would put him out of business. “But it didn’t, because people can only go so far until they decide, ‘Should I just go in someplace and play?’”

That’s where the boutique studios come in (Mana, Red Room, Atomic), succeeding because they can accommodate more meager budgets and are managed by expert producers and engineers who can not only produce but play if need be. And since theirs are usually no more than three or four-room operations, the overhead is lower and isn’t passed on to the clients.

“All the really good studios have closed down for that very reason,” says Connelly. “They can’t afford the overhead.” Then there’s an even more nimble model: the mobile studio, embodied in producer/engineers like Shawn Kyle, who bring their wisdom, recording gear, and fine-tuned ears to spaces befitting whatever client they may be working with. Connelly may take the mobile route, too, due to the costs associated with repairing the damage to his studio. “I still have my diehard clientele, but it’s tough to make it. I may just go freelance and work out of other studios, and not have the hassle of an overhead.”

But, like all of the musicians in this studio-centric edition of CL's Music Issue, Connelly would likely agree with Kyle on one point: You need the right room.

“A space colors sound in a way that can be uncontrollable,” says Kyle. “Understanding what sound does in certain spaces, how frequencies bounce against walls, is important.”

—Leilani Polk

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