New digital technology has created opportunities for grass-roots audio recording and production studios far from the traditional centers of the entertainment and media business.
Off the Beat-n-Track is one of this new generation of recording studios. Its name describes both the activities and the location of the business, which is located in a 100-year-old barn on norfolk Road in the rural southern Berkshire village of Southfield.
The business was launched last year by Todd Mack and Will Curtiss. Their market includes regional musicians and organizations who want professional-level recording and reproduction services at an affordable price.
“We don’t have the desire to be a multi-million-dollar facility that charges $3,000 a day,” said Mack. “We’re geared to the independent musician, especially those who are interested in releasing their own CDs.“
Mack described it as a full-service business that offers in-studio and remote mobile digital recording and editing services, CD mastering and reproduction, and creation of CD and cassette packages ready for distribution. “We have the ability to do it all in-house, from concept to finished product,” he said.
In the same way that desktop publishing has made it possible for individuals and small businesses to produce high-quality printed material, the emergence of digital technology has made it feasible to produce high-quality music recordings at a fraction of the cost of more traditional methods.
“Ten years ago, we probably could not have done this,” said Mack, who lives in an adjoining colonial house on the property. “The development of computerized production and recordable CDs have made it possible to create a professional studio and offer high-end production quality without having to buy equipment like $20,000 tape machines.”
To make up for what they lack in deep pockets, Mack and Curtiss also use a variety of innovative business strategies to attract and serve clients.
For example, on unusual program they are experimenting with are live concerts which are recorded in their studios. Musicians who are also clients of the studio perform in exchange for a free recording. While there is a tip jar for the musician, attendance is free for the audience.
Mack said this is primarily a promotional actvity, and an added service for their clients. “It’s a variation of a movement in the folk scene that started about 10 years ago,” he explained. “Because there were fewer clubs where talented people could play, musicians began holding their own ‘house concerts.’ We’re adding a twist to that concept by holding house concerts here and recording them. This gives the musician a free live concert recording they can sell or do whatever they want with. And for us, it gets more people out here to see what we do.”
Another project on the slate is an Off the Beat-n-Track record label. They hope to have at least two CDs released by the end of the year. “It’s still in the development stage,” said Mack. “Since we already have the facilities, it’s a logical next step.“
Mack moved to the Berkshires a couple of years ago with the idea for the business alread in mind. After growing up [in] the suburbs north of New York City, he went to college in Georgia. he remained in Georgia for a number of years after college, working as a musician, songwriter and producer.
A couple of years ago, he and his wife decided to return to this region to be closer to family members. “As a musician, I was on the road 200 nights a year,” he explained. “We were ready to have a child and it was time to settle down. Since I wouldn’t be able to settle down as a professional musician, this seemed like a logical alternative career.”
They looked for a property where he could establish a home-based studio. They were attracted to the property in Southfield because it had an 800-square-foot barn and in serious disrepair, it had the characteristics he was looking for.
He met Curtiss, a south Berkshire musician, after placing an ad looking for other local musicians to perform with. They became friends and decided to join forces on the studio business.
Converting the ramshackle barn required a year’s worth of renovation work. in addition to structural repair, the interior was soundproofed and remodeled to hold a control room, one large studio, a smaller isolation booth and another room that doubles as office and auxiliary studio
The actually began the business before completing the studio, by initially offering mobile recording services to capture live performances.
The venture’s start-up costs were raised through a combination of personal savings, sweat equity, Mack’s credit card and other loans. “It wasn’t easy, and we had to go into debt,“ he recalled. “But once business started coming in, our first priority was paying off all our debts. I’m happy to say we’re now debt-free.“
The studio features a mix of computerized digital technology and more traditional electronic recording equipment. The heart of the system is a Macintosh G4 computer desktop audio workstation driven by Digial Performer and Sound Studio software. This is connected to a Soundtracs MXR 240channel mixer, plus an array of sound-processing equipment.
They have a Sony DAT recorder and Sony mini-disc player as well as other equipment to make CDs, and a desktop publishing system and packaging equipment.
The studio is equipped with 25 microphones, plus a collection of guitars and other instruments, including an old-fashioned organ. Mack serves as producer and Curtiss handles the engineering duties on recording jobs.
Mack said the facility is available in a variety of packages. Base rates are $35 an hour, $1,625 for a 50-hour block or $3,000 for 100 hours, which include discounts on the cost of media materials. Mobile recording base rates are $250 for a two-hour performance or $400 for a four-hour one.
Mack noted that they also offer tailored package discounts and other special offers. “One idea we’re starting to promote is called a Lost Weekend,” he said. “We have a sleeper sofa in the office. A musician can camp out here for a weekend or longer and get unlimited studio time, plus housing and meals for a package price.”
Off the Beat-n-Track services include making finished copies on CD, cassette or other media, completely packaged. Base costs vary depending on the arrangement.
“Most companies require large orders which is too much for musicians who might only want a few hundred copies of a CD,” he said. “But we don’t have a minimum order size. We’ll make a single copy, if that’s all someone wants.”
“We fill a need for those who want the flexibility to make fewer copies to sell on their own,” he continued. “There are many people who don’t want to make a lot of copies they might not be able to sell, or who want to try a smaller release first.“
He said their rates are especially suited for orders of up to 1,000 copies. “When you get into orders larger than that, there are probably cheaper places to go,” he said. “But for a smaller number of copies, we’re very competitive.”
he noted that despite the consolidation that has occurred in the music business, the opportunities for independent musicians have proliferated. “Musicians are handling their careers themselves outside of the corporate system,” he said. “The Internet, for example, opens up a whole new area of opportunities to promote and sell your own recordings.”
Mack said initially they have focused on Berkshire County. Now they are beginning to market and promote themselves to a larger area, including Hartford, Springfield and the Capital District of New York.
While they have done some traditional advertising, he said they rely on word-of-mouth and grss-roots marketing efforts to promote the studio.
For example, clients are eligible to receive free studio time by referring other musicians to the studio. The referring musician gets 10 percent of the amount of time that is booked by the other musician.
This summer, in another grass-roots marketing campaign called “beat trackers,” they have been offering music fans free tickets to music festivals in exchange for handing out fliers and other networking and referral activities for the studio.”
So far, the response to Off the Beat-n-Track has been promising. “Things were a little slow at first, which is to be expected,” said Mack. “But since the beginning of this year, we’ve gotten really busy.”