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Confessions of a Small Working Studio—Put Up or Shut Down

It's hard to believe that it's been a whole year since we launched our “Confessions of a Small Working Studio” column for Mix, and what a whirlwind 12 months it has been! When Kevin Hill and I first discussed the idea of the column with Editorial Director Tom Kenny, we were excited about the opportunity to talk with studio owners around the country, take a look behind the scenes and share their creative antidotes to tough economic times.

PopMark Media founders (from left) Kevin Hill, Stephen Joseph Antonelli and Lisa Horan.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole year since we launched our “Confessions of a Small Working Studio” column for Mix, and what a whirlwind 12 months it has been! When Kevin Hill and I first discussed the idea of the column with Editorial Director Tom Kenny, we were excited about the opportunity to talk with studio owners around the country, take a look behind the scenes and share their creative antidotes to tough economic times. We never anticipated just what fascinating stories these entrepreneurs would have, nor did we expect to uncover the unique services they are developing and adding to their repertoires. The stories that these owners helped us bring to light have been so interesting that we’ve found ourselves wrapped up in our conversations—it’s hard to put the phone down. Beyond the articles that have resulted from my notes, we at Studio Unknown have begun putting many of these owners’ ideas to good use. So, this month, instead of interviewing other studio owners, we thought we’d “interview” ourselves and let you in on what new things this small studio is doing to stay competitive.

Practicing What We’ve Been Preaching
It seems like every month, we devote some attention to how studios are diversifying their offerings in order to keep revenue coming in. We knew it was time for us to follow suit, so we stopped the talking (well, not completely!), and got down to the business of doing. It all started last December when Kevin (Studio Unknown’s owner), our music producer Stephen Joseph Antonelli, and I were at the studio, and the conversation turned to how hard we were working, how exhausted and frustrated we all were, and if and when the big “pay off” was ever going to come. Yeah, I guess you could say we were throwing ourselves a good old-fashioned pity party. But we’re a stubborn group, and feeling sorry for ourselves only lasts for about five minutes. That’s usually long enough for us to lick our wounds and get fired up enough to figure out a way to tackle the challenge at hand.

Fortunately, in addition to our tenacity, we also have a great tool in our arsenal: our community of fellow studio owners. We began analyzing the information we had collected and discussing what steps we could take to thrive in this new industry, rather than just hang on for dear life. We considered our individual strengths and what we each brought to the table. (My background is in writing, marketing/PR and songwriting. Steve’s is in music production and music supervision. And Kevin’s is in audio post-production.) We talked about the potential benefits that could spring from combining forces. And we mulled over how we could offer these new, combined services. After months of very colorful discussions and ridiculous amounts of planning, PopMark Media was born.

Simply put, PopMark is a creative partnership that we originally developed to help music industry professionals, filmmakers, and others in the entertainment community make sense of the “new” music and film industries. We began focusing on this group of professionals because we consider ourselves experts in these fields, each of us having experience in the music and film/media worlds. In conjunction with partnerships we’ve forged with graphic designers and videographers, we are able to provide clients services that include the full range of promotional, social media, and strategy consulting, along with original music composition and music supervision, and what we refer to as “sound polishing” services, in a one-stop-shop experience.

“What’s great about PopMark is that it offers us a way to pull together under one roof all of the services that we had been working on separately for so long,” says Steve. “The more we looked at it, the more we realized that this setup just made sense.” For one thing, filmmakers not only need audio post-production services, but they often need music for their films, as well as help with promoting their projects when they’re completed. And it’s the same scenario for recording artists. “Not only do they need to get their project recorded, but they also need help spreading the word about it and themselves. PopMark provides us a way of offering these services in a more efficient, cohesive way.”

And for the three of us, the concept made sense because it provides us a way to cross-promote our services and offer a product that is in high demand. “The bottom line is, the fact that I can offer more services to an artist because I work with a team, rather than acting as a solo producer, makes me more competitive. This kind of set-up isn’t readily available yet, so it makes us more attractive to potential clients and gives us an advantage.”

Creating a Win-Win Takes Work and More Work
While the goal behind PopMark is to create a scenario that is mutually beneficial, and we’ve definitely begun to experience some success based on our efforts, bringing our new creation to life has been, well, a lot like nurturing a newborn baby. We’ve had to constantly feed it with new ideas, persistently meet its many demands, dedicate unrelenting attention to it, spend multiple late and sleepless nights both lulling it and worrying over it, and deal with all of the “you know what” that it produces. And that doesn’t even account for the fact that our new creation is an amalgamation of three separate small businesses, which has required each of us to let go of previously held ideas that we have become accustomed to, having done things on our own for so long. In other words, it has been a test of wits and guts.

All that said, you may be thinking, “Sounds overwhelming! Why in the world would you want to go through all the hassle? Why not just keep business as usual?” There are two simple reasons. One, we’ve assembled a special team that doesn’t develop often. We work with one another well, play off of each other’s strengths, and balance one another extremely well. Secondly, we’re realistic. “The reality is, the structure of Studio Unknown—and any small recording studio/audio post facility—has limitations, and there’s only so much we can do in terms of growth,” explains Kevin, who has owned Studio Unknown for seven years. “When we look ahead at the trends, it’s pretty clear that while audio post-production and music production budgets have gotten smaller, diversification has become a necessity for generating more income. PopMark is a tool that will provide us with a revenue-generating resource because it enables us to increase our services not just for our existing client base, but to a new crop of customers that would benefit from the collective services we now are able to offer.”

PopMark Media partners Kevin Hill (left), Lisa Horan and Stephen Joseph Antonelli at work.

This new crop of customers is being perpetuated by a climate that has
required musicians and filmmakers to take on just about every facet of
their projects and careers, themselves. Truth be told, by the time
these folks come to us—either to have their song produced or mixed or
to have the audio post on their film project completed—they’re nearing
the phase in their journeys when they’re going to have to tackle, or at
least contemplate, promotion. Oftentimes, though, they lack the skills
and/or energy to do this effectively, or they simply don’t have the
stomachs to so much as think about how they are going to take on yet
another responsibility. We, however, are in a prime position to assist
them with this critical stage in the process because, in addition to
the expertise we offer, we have an intimate knowledge and involvement
in their projects.

“With the exception of color correction, sound is the last part of the
post-production process, and by this time, the filmmaker is typically
fully in touch with his vision and is able to communicate that to me,”
Kevin says. “A logical progression is for our team to talk with the
filmmaker about what is going to be done with the film once it’s
completed—whether that means submitting it to film festivals, posting
it online, or trying to get a distribution deal—and working with him to
develop a promotional plan that will best support those goals.”

In the few months that we’ve been up and running, we’ve already seen
this philosophy ring true. As Kevin was completing the sound design on
an action adventure film called The Photon Effect,
for instance, I was busy working with the filmmaker to create a
full-scale promotional package. In this case, the package included
developing a Website and cohesive online presence, writing a bio,
creating a social networking schedule, and writing and distributing
press releases, among other services. What resulted was a successful
campaign that led to exposure all around the world, not to mention a
pro online presence that has helped the filmmaker to stand out.

And it’s much the same when it comes to music. “The beauty of PopMark
is that when a singer or band or songwriter comes in, they’re not just
going to walk away with a track after a few sessions. They can, if they
choose, obtain a really necessary service above and beyond music
production—a service that will help them maneuver through the cluttered
and confusing world of diy music marketing,” Steve says. “The
promotional services we offer can provide them with tools that can help
them place their music, better position themselves in the industry, and
make sense of the multiple social networking options that otherwise
tend to be overwhelming for them to navigate and force them to stick
with the same old model—make a CD, sell a CD—which just doesn’t work

In fact, it’s the overabundance of options available that has propelled
bands and singer/songwriters to use our services. Take, for instance,
music client Sweet Leda. This exciting neo-soul band are rising stars
in the Maryland music scene. They recognized the need to step up their
game—both from a music as well as promotion standpoint—as they move
into the next phase of their endeavors: touring. Not only did the band
begin working with Steve to produce a dynamic, full-length CD (which is
currently being mixed), but also they contacted us to put together a
promotional package that includes a new Website and a fan funding

“What’s been great about working with PopMark is there’s a cohesiveness
and continuity in the product we’re getting because of the
communication that takes place between our producer and our promotional
consultant,” says bandmember Jaime Horrigan. “With the crazy schedule
that we keep as a band that plays multiple gigs, it’s a good feeling to
know that we have a team that is walking alongside us in the process,
making sure that all of the dots are connected for us. It’s one less
burden we have to bear.”

Focusing on the Future
In addition to working with music and
film professionals, we’ve begun targeting new media opportunities that
seem to be springing up just about everywhere we turn. PopMark
Professional, which we just recently launched, offers music, audio post
and promotional services to business owners who are looking for
solutions to their new media challenges. In the future, we’ll continue
to expand services in this increasingly popular area.

“Not only are we building a company that is poised to evolve with the
changing climate, but one that we hope will invalidate the notion that
you have to be in New York, L.A., or Nashville to be successful in the
music or film industries,” says Steve. We know the year ahead of us
promises to be unpredictable because with any new endeavor, there is
bound to be turbulence. We’re looking forward to the destinations that
lie ahead, and hope to share our experiences with you along the way.

Studio Unknown is full-service audio post-production facility and
recording studio that specializes in helping clients discover creative
sound for film, video, Web, gaming, and artist projects. For more
information, visit