Pop Mark Media's Confessions of a Small Working Studio: Tree Sound StudiosSocial Responsibility Yields Unexpected New Business Ventures, Number One Album 9/25/2012 8:34 AM Eastern
Given the society in which we live, it’s no wonder why many of us become jaded. All too often, we see the dishonest get away with crimes, the innocent suffer unnecessarily, and good people overwhelmed by bad circumstances. Sometimes, though, a story comes along that brings us back to that old adage: You reap what you sow.
Atlanta’s Tree Sound Studios offers a refreshing example of that saying. At its heart is a guy who decided to follow his conscience and do something he felt would make a positive impact on the world, in spite of the sacrifices he’d have to make. In the end, his choice not only has served its intended purpose, but also generated positive effects he never saw coming.
Planting a Seed of Responsibility
When Paul Diaz opened Tree Sound Studios in 1992, it was simply a recording studio set up to serve the Atlanta music community. And it did that very well. The studio developed a stellar reputation in Atlanta’s music community and in the music industry at large, attracting major recording artists (Beyoncé, Fergie, Whitney Houston, Collective Soul) and playing a part in Platinum and Gold projects.
As time went on, however, and the studio was thriving, Diaz began feeling drawn toward using the studio’s position to go beyond recording. He wanted to promote a cause that was near and dear to his heart: green initiatives. “Honestly, I just felt like it was the right thing to do—not necessarily from a business standpoint, but, really, on a personal level,” he explains. “I figured that if we could get some of our world famous clients to recognize the value of green initiatives, they would potentially influence their own fan base, which represents millions of people, and we would then have been a part of spreading the message about the importance of going green to people on a global level.”
An interview with Dave Matthews only strengthened his resolve. “Dave Matthews gave a really powerful answer to this question that an interviewer asked him: ‘Now that you’re super famous, are there any causes you would support or champion?’ His answer was green initiatives and promoting the Seventh Generation Prophecy, which emphasizes that when you take something from the Earth, you have to consider if the seventh generation from yours will have that same thing, and if they won’t, you shouldn’t be taking it. In other words, its focus is preserving the environment for future generations.”
That premise became a focal point for Diaz, but not merely in hoping famous artists would inspire clients to go green; beyond that, he made his own commitment as a studio owner. His studio is carbon-neutral and powered by renewable energy sources, uses biodegradable cleaning products, and has an on-site organic herb, spice, and vegetable garden, and a water catchment system that collects and uses rain water for landscaping purposes.
Growing a New Business Model
Diaz’s commitment began extending into offshoots of the company. He launched several sub-companies under the Tree Sound umbrella that focus on green initiatives. Take Tree Power and Sound, for instance. The company offers live sound services through solar and wind power technology, including a solar trailer that operates on 1,500 watts of solar power, in addition to two smaller PODs. The equipment has powered three stages at once fully on solar and wind power.
Interestingly, Tree Power was not created as a moneymaking venture. “We built a mini-solar powered rig and began offering solar powered recordings that we offered to several charitable causes,” explains Diaz. For instance, Tree Sound received a request to record a concert sponsored by Green Peace. Later, River Keepers Association made a similar request. The company was happy to provide its services, but, as time went on, it became financially impossible for Diaz to continue offering the services to organizations free of charge. As it turns out, he didn’t have to. Many organizations were willing to pay. Ever since, Tree Power has been experiencing significant growth. “We get a new gig just about every week,” reports Diaz. “It’s turned into a whole new business for us and, honestly, it’s helped to float the studio.”
Originally inspired by San Diego’s Alternative Power Productions, Tree Power has become the largest solar production company in the world. Since then, Alternative Power Productions’ CEO, Mark McLarry, has approached Diaz to potentially partner on the development of more robust solar powered systems.
In addition, two songs that were recorded in the studio at Tree Sound run on solar power are on Rapper 2 Chainz’s newest album, which just happened to debut at Number One on the Billboard charts.
Speaking of rock stars: The company’s organic micro farm, called Rock Star Farms, is another arm of Tree Sound. Run by Diaz’s wife, Sunshine Sweetwater Diaz, the farm grows a variety of produce through organic and biodynamic practices.
Another offshoot of the company is Tree Leaf Music, a record label whose mission is to educate its clients on the importance of sustainable living and the impact of conscious consumerism through music. The label records with renewable energy and offers green ticket options, including Earth-friendly merchandise and recycled packaging that uses soy-based inks and cellulose shrink-wrap. In business since 2005, the label recently landed a placement on a videogame. Much the same, the film company division of Tree Sound, Three Little Digs Films, is also coming into its own. Three videos produced by the film company were recently selected to air on MTV.
The company’s blog, which is attached to Three Little Digs Films, has also served as another surprising source of revenue, though it was originally designed merely as a tool for sharing information. “We have actually had clients who have booked a month of studio time in the hopes of getting mentioned on our blog,” says Diaz. “It has been that popular. This just goes to show you the power of social media.”
Enjoying the Harvest
While Diaz admits that he fully recognized that music was a rough business when he got into it, and that he did it because of his passion for music, rather than the money, he feels like he is on the verge of being able to enjoy both. “There was a time that the studio was bringing in three times as much work as it is now, but, as has been the case across the board, budgets have really shrunk,” says Diaz. “The reality is, if we would have waited around for the phone to ring, we would probably have had to shut our doors, but the combination of all the businesses we offer under the Tree Sound umbrella has been a saving grace and is really starting to pay off from a financial perspective.”
In fact, as a result of Diaz’s reputation in the Atlanta community as a proponent and installer of green methods, he is regularly approached and hired for solar installation projects in the Atlanta area. Some of these projects, which he’s landed via his collaboration with Turnsol Energy, have included the University of Georgia in Athens and REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.). He says that he is also involved with a new electric car contract that is gearing up to be what looks like a potentially monumental venture.
“For me, the work we do has never been driven by a purely business-minded approach,” Diaz concludes. “As a matter of fact, in some ways, it’s been done with a complete disregard for business.”
Diaz says it’s about doing what he loves and believes in. “I’ve wanted to give up a thousand times, but I don’t know what else I would do. Now, I feel like Tree Sound is more significant than it’s ever been, in spite of the amount of income we’re generating.”
Visit Tree Sound Studios at www.treesoundstudios.com.
Lisa Horan is a writer with more than 19 years of industry experience, as well as the co-founder and executive director of PopMark Media, a unique partnership that offers creative and marketing, custom music and music production, and audio post-production services to music, film, and business clients. Her “Confessions of a Small Working Studio” column has been regularly featured in Mix since 2010.