Partnerships are rare in the recording studio business. Studio ownership seems to be a highly personal, highly passionate pursuit. It’s one of the few businesses in which an intense personal vision bordering on madness may actually be an advantage. But there are some productive partnerships in this business, and in talking with partners, the secrets of making the relationship work become clear. In fact, the lessons they’ve learned over the years can be distilled into a few simple but critical lessons.
DEFINE YOUR RESPECTIVE ROLESTom Nastasi joined with partners Ray Martin, John Sickett and David Seitz two years ago to open Theater 99 in lower Manhattan. Martin, Sickett and Seitz are all engineers and/or producers; Nastasi has a construction company that has built studios, notably Sony’s New York facility and Lauryn Hill’s personal studio. Each of the partners has his own area of specialty, such as Nastasi’s knack for building and running businesses (he has several, including a carpentry business and a rehearsal studio). He took on the role of president and oversees the ongoing construction of the studios; Martin runs the day-to-day details of the business. “Though John and David don’t really have day-to-day responsibilities, they have pretty good careers as engineers and producers,” says Nastasi. “But they also brought equipment into the picture, and they bring a certain sense of being known in the business, so they bring in business to the studio. And those are legitimate roles in any business. We realized that and agreed on it from day one, which has been one of the secrets of making this relationship work. our roles were very well-defined between ourselves going into this. It’s not a matter of how other people view our relationships-it’s how we view them.”
REMAIN FLEXIBLEThe importance of some roles, however, is not always immediately apparent. Bobby Guy Graziose and Ernie Lake have been partners for close to a decade, creating a remix team that opened a studio on Long Island and, later, one in Manhattan, Reel Tyme Productions. “Ernie is the master networker; I tend to stay at the studio and take care of things like writing the checks,” says Graziose. “There were times I was stuck here and Ernie was out schmoozing and I felt a little resentful. But what you have to realize is that everyone has certain skills, and if they’re not the same ones you have, it’s not always immediately clear that what they’re doing is actually good for the partnership. But when you stand back and look at what it does in the long run, then you begin to realize that a contribution is a contribution.” Graziose and Lake have done remixes for Celine Dion, Whitney Houston and Toni Braxton in recent years.
KNOW YOUR PARTNER”You’re going to be spending a lot of time together, so you better be compatible,” is how Dave Rouze puts it. “Just wanting to be in the same business isn’t enough.” He and partner Jeff Sheehan have owned Bay 7 Studios-the former Lighthouse Studios-in the Los Angeles area for two years. They got together when Rouze was on the road as Mick Jagger’s guitar tech and he wanted someone to keep an eye on the vintage-equipped home studio he had built. That turned out to be a prelude to the partnership, which Rouze says was important in laying a foundation of trust between the two of them. “We found out we had a lot of the same interests outside of the music business,” Rouze adds. “We’re both into hang-gliding and dirt bikes. In fact, it was dirt bikes that brought us together and really let us get to know each other. I don’t think I could be partners with someone I couldn’t be friends with, too.”
Bill Cooper, who owns American Recording with long-time partner Richie Podolor, agrees. “We’re both pilots and both into motorcycles,” he says. “We’ve become like brothers in our lives both within and outside of the studio. And that’s where the trust between us comes from.”
KEEP THE COMMON GOAL UP FRONT”There have definitely been some conflicts along the way,”says “Void” Caprio, co-owner of Interzone Studios in Nashville. “But one thing we’ve learned in the year or so we’ve been doing this is that if you stay focused on the goal you set for yourselves in the beginning, that seems to help resolve a lot of the minor disagreements that come up along the way.” His partner, Keith Spacek, adds, “Problems might seem important at the time they come up, but the reality is that most of them are nothing compared to the long-term goals you’ve set for yourself.”
REGULAR MEETINGS HELP AVOID COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWNSEvery partnership we interviewed came to realize at one point or another that regular partner meetings were critical to maintaining a smooth working relationship. Caprio and Spacek found a few months into their joint studio venture that one of them tended to work days and the other nights at the studio. “It was getting to the point where we sometimes didn’t see each other for days at a time,” says Spacek. “We were leaving each other notes and phone messages. So we made it a point to hold regular meetings, just the two of us, so that we could make sure we were both on the same page every day.”
Theater 99’s four partners talk informally often, but Tom Nastasi says they all agree on a more formal conclave every eight to ten weeks to review larger issues. “It’s important to do that, even if nothing really big has happened in that time,” he says. “We’re all out of our 20s now, and we get pretty set in our ways. So having everyone in the same room provides perspectives that we can’t get in informal meetings or in memos. I think everyone has a renewed sense of purpose after those meetings. Considering that all of us have professional and personal interests outside of the studio, it helps focus on what we got together to accomplish in the first place.”
THE BOTTOM LINE: GET IT IN WRITINGThe one observation that was mentioned in discussions with all of these partners was, “Get it in writing from the beginning!” Partnerships, like marriages, often break up, and if you don’t have a prenup, you don’t know who’s going to end up with custody of the console.