Audio production is a Martha's Vineyard growth industry
Photo courtesy of Anthony Esposito
Oak Bluffs resident Jim Parr has been in the music-making business for four decades. He has seen music recording evolve from expensive, clunky equipment to computers and even smart phones.
"It used to be that you needed thousands and thousands of dollars to set up a studio. I am now editing movies on my iPhone. I can edit music while I'm driving," he said recently, then quickly said that he doesn't do that, of course, but he could.
While many Island residents have their own personal recording studios, from high profile professionals like Carly Simon to music teacher Will Luckey, who uses his studio to help his students, to amateurs with a guitar and a computer, Mr. Parr is one of several Island residents who make a living recording and producing music in their own on-Island studios.
Music recording has evolved from using simple analogue recording devices, like tape recorders, to expensive multiple-track recorders allowing parts to be recorded onto different tracks, or re-recorded and mixed.
Music studios became expensive propositions requiring high-end equipment. Now, music is often recorded on computers that can use unlimited numbers and a variety of tracks. Computers allow for an almost limitless alteration of any of the sounds in a recording and for the addition of any sound.
"It's not really about the equipment anymore," said Mr. Parr, perhaps counter-intuitively. "It's about the musician. It's about the song."
He said that for years, it was about track counts: How many tracks you could record on? Now, there is no limit.
"What's really nice about the way things have evolved is that it is really about the song, the musician, and the instruments," he said.
Today for $4.99, a recording studio program called GarageBand comes with Apple computers, and can be downloaded to an iPhone. Anyone with an Apple computer and a microphone or instrument input has the makings of a recording studio.
Capturing high quality sound still requires an investment in microphones, mixing boards, speakers, amplifiers, instruments, more complex software, and most significantly, the knowledge and skill to use it all.
Mr. Parr calls music production an art. "It is like being able to look at a blank canvas and imagine the finished painting."
The studios on Martha's Vineyard, while competitors, sometimes work together sharing information and equipment, according to Charlie Esposito, who has had a studio of his own since the 1980s, when he played in a band called TCD. In conversations recently, he and other studio owners pointed out that Islanders, for a variety of reasons and purposes, need recording services, and there are mainland musicians who prefer working on the Island.
The studios offer services, from composition and arranging to musical accompaniment and instruments, along with recording and mixing, and in one case photography and video services. Most have mobile recording capabilities for events or live concerts.
Some studios charge on a sliding scale depending on the project and the people involved. Some of the studios have recorded projects they really like, or for people who couldn't afford it, for free.
Studio rental rates on the Vineyard generally range from $40 to $100 an hour for starters to, as one studio owner said, "the sky's the limit." Some projects allow for New York commercial rates that can be as much as $3,500 a day. Rates may depend on how involved the studio owner is and how much equipment is used. Producing, writing, and composition work can be at pre-arranged rates, flat fees, or for "a piece of the action," that is, a percentage of return.
Parr Audio is the name of Mr. Parr's recording and producing business. The 50-year-old opened his first recording studio in Katama in 1985, had a studio behind SBS in Vineyard Haven for about 10 years, and spent another 10 in a studio he built in the Oak Bluffs Arts District. He recently begun building a new studio in the basement of a building on Carly Simon's property. He hopes to have it in operation next month.
For years he recorded and produced music as a hobby, running an upholstery business and a silk screening business to pay the bills, but his work as a music producer has been a full-time job for about the last decade, he said.
The draw of the Island has helped with his business. He said that many musicians like the peace and quiet, compared to New York and Los Angeles, to work on their music.
His recordings have been heard on feature films and CDs for major labels such as Walt Disney, Miramax Films, and Paramount.
Much of what he does is composition and working with individual artists to help them achieve the sound they want. Mr. Parr said that often he will produce a song where the artist might sing or play an instrument, and he will be the band playing the rest of the instruments.
"That can help them know what to look for when they go out to put their own band together," he said.
Mr. Parr has worked as a musician and/or a producer with many of the top names in the music business. James Taylor and Ms. Simon, Lou Reed and Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Buffet and Willie Nelson are just a few. He has also worked with many local musicians: Johnny Hoy, Maynard Silva, and Judd Fuller among them. He has recorded the voices of many authors reading their books such as David McCullough, Walter Cronkite, Tony Horwitz, and Geraldine Brooks. The lists go on.
He began playing piano as a young child, singing in bands at 12, and he has been in bands since high school when he took up a variety of instruments. The father of six, ranging in age from 16 months to 15 years, he often plays in local bands.
He credits his studio expertise to being the only guy in several of his bands to have an outside job so he could afford to buy equipment, which he would learn to use. He has both analogue and digital equipment he has collected over the years and said he usually does about "99 percent of his work on 10 percent of his equipment." He has an Airstream trailer set up as a mobile recording studio that he can take on the road when necessary.
To find out more about Parr Audio visit jimmyparr.com.
Some of the music he has recorded may be heard at mvtimes.com.
The Print Shop Studio
Vineyard natives Phil DaRosa and his friend and fellow musician Ryan Casey opened The Print Shop Studio (TPS) a little more than a year ago above the daRosa family business in Oak Bluffs. They have equipped their studio with state-of-the-art equipment and have been adding instruments and upgrades since they opened. Mr. DaRosa said 2013 is the year of the microphone: "I'll be saving my pennies to fill out my mic arsenal."
Mr. DaRosa said their plan has been to record artists from the Island, to bring in talent from off-Island who want to record on the Vineyard, and to produce and record their own records. He said he wants to get more involved in music licensing and producing tracks for TV and film. He also plans to open the studio to other engineers who may not have an adequate place or the equipment to produce and record.
Mr. DaRosa splits his time between playing in two bands, Dukes County Love Affair (DCLA) and Kodacrome; his solo work; and the studio work. He returned to the studio recently after a cross-country tour with DCLA.
Mr. DaRosa said he produced several releases in the last year, including albums and demos from Island artists Alex Karalekas, The Daytrippers, rapper Luke Dunlap, Cassidy Look, and his own material. He co-engineered the debut album Perla for Kodacrome, mastered the second album release for DCLA, and recorded numerous voiceovers for radio, as well as smaller projects with a variety of bands and singers.
He is working on DCLA's third album with Mr. Casey, a children's record with Island singer Mark Lovewell, and solo projects with several artists.
Playing on the road limits what he can do in the studio, but Mr. DaRosa said, "When I was away with DCLA this fall I was able to bring my laptop and continue to mix and produce on the road with the material I had recorded before I left. It is a true luxury to not have to be here in the studio to continue working on projects."
Mr. DaRosa was not shy when he said he thinks his strengths are engineering great sounding tracks and producing those tracks to get the results the artists are looking for, while making the artists feel comfortable in the process.
"I like to think that I make the recording experience fun for everyone," he said. "Isn't that the point?"
For more information, visit printshopaudio.com.
Charlie Esposito, 63, who lives in Vineyard Haven, has had an active recording business since 1988, when he said he first started charging people. He has recorded many Island events over the years. He is a talented musician and has played in numerous bands. He now plays in the Island's Beatles tribute band, The Daytrippers.
Since he has been the fulltime managing director at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center (PAC) for the last four years, his recording business has reverted to a part-time affair. He said one of the favorite parts of his job is sharing his knowledge of the audio arts with students.
He has owned several fully equipped studios, recording bands and solo musicians, one in the basement of Educomp in Vineyard Haven years ago. He is now slowly building a fully equipped studio at his house. He currently has a small studio there where he can do voice-over and mixing work.
Living here, Mr. Esposito has developed an interesting recording niche working with visiting actors and other voice-over virtuosos who do work for ads and movies and with National Public Radio (NPR). He said that several Vineyard residents, particularly during the summer, have a presence on NPR either as commentators or interview subjects. They and the mostly summer resident actors need a way to work and communicate while on the Vineyard, he said.
Mr. Esposito said the preferred method of transmitting high quality real-time audio for professional audio and broadcast applications is with integrated telephone service through a high bandwidth line called ISDN. Mr. Esposito said he was the first to have an ISDN line installed on the Island at his studio, and as a result he has been the Island's primary portal to NPR and for voiceover work for advertising and movie trailers. He said this is his primary studio work at this time. He can charge New York rates for most of that work, he said.
Recently, Island-based musician Willy Mason had to do a live interview for the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC).
"He came into my studio and was interviewed from England and played four songs from his new album," he said.
Anthony Esposito, 31, Charlie's son, went to the West Tisbury School, graduated from the M.V. Regional High School, and lives in Edgartown. His studio is in Katama.
The younger Esposito, who plays guitar, ukulele, bass, drums, and a little piano, began recording his own music when his father gave him a four-track cassette tape recorder for his 16th birthday and told him if he learned to use it, he could record just about anything. That's his story.
He said that much of what he knows he learned working on his own songs, and from his dad, who would take him out on recording gigs.
"My dad taught me the fundamentals. He and I call each other with recording questions all the time. He might ask me something about Pro Tools, a software program, and I might ask him about a mic technique.
"My dad sends me recording gigs all the time. We sometimes help each other out, and we share equipment and ideas from time to time." They have recorded the Island Community Chorus together "a bunch of times," he said.
Mr. Esposito's interests have taken him in an ever-widening arc of related activities. Sometimes he will not only record a musician's work in the studio but will also record a live performance, design and take photographs for the companion CD, and shoot the artist's videos. He also writes and records his own music.
He shot the photographs and designed the cover of Tristan Israel's latest CD.
His photography and video have led to work shooting weddings and other events, which he sometimes records as well, mostly in the summer.
He drove a taxi for about seven years until fairly recently, when income has been sufficient from his recording and camera work.
"I am very busy right now," he said.
For more information, visit www.espositopro.com
Vineyard native, Elisha Wiesner, 37, has turned all but one little corner of his Chilmark basement into a recording studio. That little corner keeps his clothes, washer, and dryer.
"I like to think they provide a natural reverb," he said.
A longtime member of the Island band Kahoots, Mr. Wiesner, who is also a carpenter and sells vintage guitars online, said he works at capturing the bands he records as they sound, whether in the studio or live.
Mr. Wiesner said he worked for Charlie Esposito for a long time and did an internship at a studio in Boston. He spent several years on the road constructing music studios with a designer based in North Carolina, combining his skills in carpentry and acoustics. When he and his wife acquired the house in Chilmark, he built his studio there.
He free lanced as a full-time recording engineer in Boston and New York, traveling quite a bit, but says he got sick of that and appreciates having a smaller, professional studio where he can record rock bands without the pressure of it being his full-time job.
He prefers to work with rock bands, but has done some jazz as well. In the last year he has recorded albums for the Island based groups Master Exploder and the Loogees. He has worked with his band, Kahoots, another Island group Good Night Louise, Kate Taylor, and Evan Dando. He mixed a Chicago recording of a group called The Martha's Vineyard Ferries.
Mr. Wiesner said he prefers to charge a daily rate, "It prevents people from looking at the clock as much." He charges the same rate plus travel expenses when he free lances at studios off-Island.
"Whether I'm recording an experimental jazz band in New York or a local punk rock band here on the Island, I like things to sound natural, and I feel that there's a rawness and energy that can get lost when stuff gets over produced," he said. "I'm happy when a band sounds like themselves, when they sound like they want to sound."
Mr. Wiesner's guitar business may be found at Musicians-enemy.com.
Songs recorded or mixed in the mentioned studios:
The Loogies, 'Cut Up In Rows' was recorded in Elisha Wiesner's studio, late 2012. The Loogies are Andrew Valenti, Zac Klumick, Sean Gilpin and Ben Jones.
Master Exploder's 'Cracker Jack' was recorded in early 2012 by Mr. Wiesner. The Island band's members are Slim Bob Berosh, Rob Myers and Jerome Badot.
The Martha's Vineyard Ferries song "Look Up" was recorded in Chicago and mixed at Wiesner's Studio in 2012.
The Print Shop Studio produced the song by the band Kodacrome entitled 'Dance Malady' off their debut release last year called 'Perla.'