Rise of the Small Studio
BR’s recording industry is ready to explode
By Kendra R. ChamberlainPosted Nov 9, 2011
Fact: Baton Rouge does not have the same draw to recording musicians as New Orleans.
But the forces that govern recording norms are shifting towards a new world order, and local studios are ready to take advantage of two developments in the music scene.
First, thanks to the recent spike in film production in the area, coupled with a set of tax incentives through the Louisiana Economic Development office, Baton Rouge studios are learning that a whole lot of film is actually music.
As big recording studios are crumbling left and right, and “indie” is becoming more and more “mainstream,” Baton Rouge is also learning that if you have the equipment, technical skill, and a good price, artists will come here to record – and they are.
New Orleans, look out.
Earthquake in the industry
CDs are dead – there’s almost no way around that fact. Music, however, is thriving in a digital world of streaming, Youtube, Pandora, iTunes, and Spotify.
The movement away from the physical and towards the digital has essentially decimated an industry that, for the better half of the last century, was very, very lucrative.
As Philip Mann, director of live performance and music at Louisiana Economic Development, succinctly said:
“Labels have sort of gone the way of the Dodo.”
Just about everyone in “the biz” concurs with that, and everyone has an opinion as to why. Many point to the technology boom – not just that equipment has become more affordable, but that Garageband and other “hobbyist” recording programs have increased in quality.
“The fact that any kid with daddy’s credit card and a Macbook pro can record has freakin’ sent a nuclear missile through the model that was in place for recording and producing records,” said Brian Beyt, owner of the recording studio Little House Productions. “It totally destroyed the format. Everything got turned upside down.”
Today, as a musician, you don’t need to sign a big label to “make it” – indeed, one could argue the very notion of “making it” has changed dramatically.
“Both of the studios that I worked at in New York are now closed,” concurred Devon Kirkpatrick, owner of Sockit Studios here in town. “The larger facilities – there’s definitely fewer of them out there.”
The industry now looks something like this: there are the Rihannas of the world, the Beyonces and the Lady Gagas, sure, but there also exists an entire echelon of recording artists that have reached national prominence without a big label, or without a big studio-produced album.
“You don’t have to go to Nashville, or New York, or L.A. to get that professional sound anymore,” Kirkpatrick said. “That’s allowed places like myself grow, and get more clientele.”
In other words, small studios are on the rise. Here in Baton Rouge, this trend coincides with another lucrative development for local recording studios: the expansion of the film industry.
The little industry that could
Nowadays, there doesn’t seem to be a week that goes by without hearing about a road closure here in Baton Rouge due to filming – especially now that the A&E drama Breakout Kings has begun filming.
The city has been all a-flutter about the success of our film industry, the result of an excellent new facility, Celtic Media Centre, and a wildly successful tax incentive program.
The film tax incentive is one of four programs aimed at the entertainment industry, which includes live performance, digital media, and sound recording.
“The concept of these programs has a lot to do with wanting to service all sectors of the entertainment industry,” Mann said. “We see a natural parallel between film scoring and the sound recording incentive, just as we see a parallel between the digital media incentive, and sound recording, and film.”
It has been estimated that every dollar of tax credit issued for sound recording generates $6.47 in economic output – that’s higher than the film tax credit, which generates $5.74. (For the record, both the digital media credits and the live performance credits are estimated to generate more than either of those two).
Last year, the sound recording tax incentives included an infrastructure tax credit. A lot of studios took advantage of that provision, which served to create an army of modern, state-of-the-art facilities, across the state, poised to receive any and all projects the film industry might throw their way, including our very own Sockit Studios.
“To score a film, you need a pretty significant facility,” explained Mann.
Local studios are learning there’s a whole lot of money to be made for a recording studio in film.
“The more profitable aspect of this business is film post-production,” Beyt said, “like doing AVR work, voice-over, which we just started doing. And we’re anticipating, hopefully, an avalanche of more work.”
All indications seem to point to more activity for the recording studios in the coming years. The tax incentives were first introduced in 2005, when the recording industry here was pretty infinitesimal. Two years later, the incentives had only garnered five projects. That number jumped to 15 in 2009, and in 2010, it was at 45. That’s a triple-fold increase in just one year, and resulted in an estimated $1.1 million worth of in-state spending.
Those numbers indicate a bit of a lag behind the film industry, but there’s still a whole lot of room for growing. LED hasn’t confirmed the number of projects in Baton Rouge, but with more and more film projects coming to the capital city, everyone’s getting ready for a big boom.
“What I think you’ll see in Baton Rouge over the next three to five years is, hopefully, the amount of activity going on that mirrors New Orleans,” Mann said.
That may not be as outlandish as it sounds. In addition to the film work, local studios are seeing a lot more musicians coming through to record albums, too.
New Orleans ain’t all that
New Orleans has a whole lot of draw when it comes to music recording. The history, the famous musicians – the feel of the place just exudes music. It’s no secret that Baton Rouge loses a lot of musicians to the Big Easy.
But studios here in Baton Rouge have been seeing more and more business from all parts of the state – including New Orleans.
“We do have bands coming from New Orleans, and we’re getting more and more of them,” Kirkpatrick said. “We had a huge influx after Katrina...[Now] we reach from just passed Lafayette to New Orleans, to just past Alexandria, and we have a number of bands that come through from Natchitoches.”
“Location has a lot less to do with business than you’d expect for a recording studio,” Beyt explained. “It doesn’t really matter all that much – all that matters is that you’re in a central, easily accessible area, and that your place has a vibe.”
Baton Rouge studios are drawing attention from other places, too. Beyt said he’s pulling bands from Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi, and Kirkpatrick mentioned he just finished up a Volkswagen commercial. He’s also done work with National Public Radio, and a number of TV spots.
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that location has become less meaningful in the recording industry – that’s a trend just about everywhere.
Ultimately, the most important standard to be measured by is quality of product.
As Beyt put it, “Nothing else matters but your portfolio.”