Entretiens bloqués avec des propriétaires de studios de musique

Aaron Fletcher, Buzzin Sounds

We take some time out to speak to Aaron about his experience as a recording studio owner and what advice he has for others in the industry.

In this series of articles, I chat with people who share my love of recording so much that they make their career out of it. Here's what Aaron and I spoke about when we chatted recently.

Back in mid-2019, Aaron opened Buzzin' Sounds a socially responsible professional recording studio based in North Manchester. During the interview, I learnt about his DJing past, how he survived the Covid-19 pandemic, and the famous artists he’s been lucky enough to work with. He also shared his advice for people looking to set up their own studio and how recording studios should be ‘way more’ than a recording studio when it comes to supporting their artists.

Tell me little about the studio

Yeah, so it’s a small independent studio, we’ve been running since mid-2019. And I started it because while I’ve been doing this, like really been doing this, for about 10, 12, 13 years on and off, and I was just sick of having normal jobs. I quit a retail job half way through a shift. I just thought F*** this, I want to do what I want to do. I want to be based in Cheatham Hill in Manchester, which is quite a deprived area. And there are a couple of small studios in the general vicinity. But I felt that there was kind of a gap in there where, you know, they weren't implementing themselves in the area.

And I think, for me, as a person, I'm very much about social responsibility. And so it’s one thing to be doing what I am actually doing, and it's another thing to actually also be implementing yourself in the local community and being a positive force, and being a positive role model and stuff like that.

Starting up in 2019 means you hadn’t been around long before Covid-19 hit. Tell me a bit about your experience of that

So yeah, we've managed to navigate ourselves through a pandemic. And we basically did that by converting into a bit of a podcasting hub. Just because, obviously 90% of what we were doing was in-person recording sessions, and then the mixes and masters that came through that, obviously, they stopped. And it's been a slow process, trying to get them back in which we are back into a pretty good, pretty full swing of things.

But yeah, we kind of managed to get through a pandemic, by switching to podcasts because they could be done like this. But people still needed help with editing and getting them off the ground and stuff like that. So yeah, that's kind of a bit of a base of where we've been over the last few years.

What does a day in your life look like?

That's a great question. It changes every day. And that's one of the things that's really interesting about this and keeps you on your toes is no two days normally look the same.
I'll kind of probably start my morning, getting up nice and early. And catching up on whether it be some social media posts are just kind of the admin stuff, which is the one thing you do want, when your alarm’s waking you up is going Yes, I need to get out of bed because I want to do admin! Because at the moment, it's just me running the whole thing. So I'm kind of taking care of all the admin and stuff like that. Probably checking social media, wondering if I haven't already, are there any posts I need to schedule? Is there anything like that, that I can be getting on with contacting people who may have tried to contact very late at night, and replying to emails and stuff like that.

And then it's, you know, depending on what that day looks like, it'd be getting into the studio first thing after that. The studio is only like a 10/15 minute walk from my house so it's not like I'm travelling for ages. So I'll get in any sessions that are planned for the day, if I've not managed to already, which I normally do the day before, is just kind of get those sessions up. If it's an instrumental that I'll be working with, I can drop that into the session, get the session ready. And anything like that, that's going to go on through the day.

I normally do a lot of my sessions in my mid to late afternoon, evening. So I very much like to be on my toes and busy all the time. So if I've got any meetings, any chats or anything like that that I have, like now, I'll try and hopefully schedule them for around this time. So we can do them without interruption.

And yeah, that's it. Like I say from probably mid-afternoon onwards, we're doing hopefully sessions and stuff like that. Normally I'll try and plan at least one day a week or a couple of days where I've not got a meeting in the morning. I've not got any sessions kind of until late so that I can catch up with any mixes and masters that needs to be done and things like that. And kind of at the moment, it's taken a little bit of a step back as I try and get the music stuff going again, and the music studio side of things going again.

But obviously in that, could be throwing in some podcasts, some podcast recordings and maybe some training and things like that. So yeah, it can, it can be varied, but that's quite a relatively common kind of template of a day.

Are you a musician, yourself?

Yes and no, it depends on what your take on DJs are!

I started DJing when I was about 12/13. We all grew up with music that our parents forced us to listen to obviously. What came on the radio and stuff like that when we're in the car or travelling. But I grew up on quite a rough council estate just outside of the city centre of Manchester. I grew up with a lot of mates who wanted to be an MC. So I kind of grew up with that too to a certain extent. Being around people who wanted to be MC and wanting to be doing that sort of stuff, or some writing, and little bits of performances and getting involved in all that sort of stuff. But I was enamoured by the DJ decks rather than the MC stuff and that kind of passion, especially for the tech side of it. And the pre-planning and being there before and knowing what's coming.

And it wasn't until I left school in year nine, then home school for two years, and my mom was working night shift as my dad was working all day and often away. So my mom needed something that I could learn what I would actually learn myself because she really wasn't easy at keeping on top of me and stuff like that. So she bought me some DJ lessons with the guy who was DJing at a local youth club. And he taught me a little bit about production and stuff like that, convinced I was going to be the next Calvin Harris or something. But for dubstep, because I was like the next big thing is gonna be dubstep.

And then I went to college and walked into a studio, and then just went nope, this is it. This is where I want to be. And I don't particularly want to be on stage, I don't like being on stage. I don't like doing that sort of stuff. But here I can be involved in everything. Put in front of everybody. And I'm a very confident person in terms of the fact that I can go on stage and not have a problem. But I just don't want to be doing that sort of stuff. So whether it's gigs, I like to be at the back with the power to turn everything off if you wind me up or in the studio with being sat at the desk with a lot of the power. But none of the responsibility of that.

So that DJing background was a gateway into the technology side and the back side of things that brought me to becoming a studio engineer and, and wanting my own studio.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to set up a studio of their own?

Yeah, so one of the things that I did and I'm very, very grateful for is I didn't literally walk out of college and say, right studio here we go. In fact, no, that's a lie. I did. And I failed miserably, I was going to just be a freelancer. But I failed miserably because I had a few contacts through college and through doing a foundation degree, but not very many. And none that were particularly useful at the time to someone who was just trying to climb up that ladder.

So my only, well, my main advice would be to kind of, at first, build those contacts, get those relationships. So if you're in a college or you're in a university and you’re studying, it's not about that piece of paper that you're gonna come out with. When people come up to me and ask me if they can get some work running in the studio and stuff like that. And they say they've been to college and they'll send me proof of that. Like, I don't care. And all they got from a college degree or college certificate is proof that you can tick some boxes because they can't judge on talent. They've got to judge on boxes that are ticked and can you, do you know how to do this now? Do you know how to do this when it suits? So I'm not interested. What I'm interested in is here and a portfolio here and what you've done and when you've done it and why you've done it.

One good thing about colleges, not everybody has access to that equipment or to those people. But in college, you will be if you're in the tech side of it, you'll be surrounded by people on the performance side of it. And you've also got free access to quality equipment. To be able to build that portfolio, it doesn't matter if the singer is not a world class next Beyonce, and it doesn't matter if you are not the next Rick Rubin or Eddie Kramer, it's, you know, it's about what you just kind of create in that moment, and what you're working with, but utilise those opportunities that you get, and those contacts that you do make, because they're what's going to help you build up that portfolio, that's going to get you into slightly bigger studios, slightly better studios to continue to grow that portfolio.

And when you feel like you've built up enough contacts, and you think actually there are people coming into the studio that only want to work with me, and they'd rather be with me than with anyone else, and you can prove you've got your own reputation, then it can be a good idea to step out in that world.

But also, then you might have a few people who come in and maybe even transfer over with you because they want to stick with you. But actually, most of the stuff that you were getting was initially down to the reputation of that studio. And those three, four people that will not sustain your life, and they will not pay the bills on their own. So you are going to need to go out and find your own people using that reputation. But also, you know be there for the people that are around you as well and have that social responsibility. Because things like that also, they helped me down the road.

And beyond that, just kind of like, be unique, be yourself. But also, when you get the opportunities, take them. Make the contacts, make that reputation for yourself. Because if you do, like I did, try and run with little contacts and little help, you are going to hit a brick wall and it is going to hurt. Yep, not going back to working in retail. And trying to do little things here and there when you've not got this in the little bits of pockets of time that you've got.

That’s great advice. Thank you. So in your career, have you ever worked with anyone famous?

It's a good question. Because, well, the interesting part of it is how we're going to define famous.

In terms of actually in the studio, a lot of who I work with, just due to the place where I put myself in is a lot of start-up musicians and a lot of musicians like that. And then because then they go and they tell their mates who've been doing it a little bit longer and they say actually, you know what I loved going into this studio, I love being there. So a lot of kind of semi-pro stuff came from that.

But I did do a lot of live stuff. And was very, very lucky to get a bit of an in house type thing with Band on the Wall. And so I managed to do quite a few gigs for a couple of people who I’m trying to push faders for but also going ‘Oh my god. It's them’. So I've done some kind of little bit gigs for Lee Scratch Perry [Jamaican record producer], who was a personal hero of mine, Dreadzone who again, reggae, dub, dubstep, they were part of the bridge into that and I've been very lucky to work with some people like that. Amp Fiddler, who I'd never heard of at the time but my mom asked me, you know, who my gigs that I was doing that month and I said Amp Fiddler. And the one thing you don't want to hear from your mom when she turned around and said was ah, sex music. Well, that's what he is. He's that kind of R&B, but you know he was from America but he was selling out, okay, not the biggest like, not arenas but he had a sold-out Europeans tour so I guess that's quite famous and quite well known. Yeah, people like that I've been lucky enough to work with to some extent. And I think one or two of the acts that came through there did turn around and say, oh, we need some work. We need a new person for mastering, do you do that? And I was quite lucky again, then to get a couple of masters through that.

Post Covid, what do you think the challenges are for the industry? And the opportunities?

Yeah, I think it's no secret that the music industry over the last few years has had a rude awakening with, thankfully, the more socially conscious, the generations coming forward gap, the more ways in which the music industry can't hide behind. And it's always put itself forward as quite a loving, open and accepting industry.

And I don't mean to use it in this way. But you look at the fact that, you know, there are so many great, big LGBTQ+ artists, and that makes you think, as a young LGBTQ person, that it's an accepting industry. And it's not the amount of female, very, very big female artists that come that make it and go big and make lots of money and do amazing things, that young girls see and think that it's an accepting industry of women, and it's friendly towards women. And we, we know that it's just it's not and there are a lot of people who have very horrible agendas, and who you will come up against, and it's sad, but you will come up against it at some point. And obviously, on all the different facets as well, but I just see those have been quite big ones at the moment especially. And it’s got no no room to hide anymore.

Those people who have those bad intentions of exploiting our, you know, kind of the homophobic aspects, or the sexist aspects and misogynistic aspects are finding less and less room to be able to do that and hide behind people. Which is sad, because you find out how many people have already been let down. But actually, hopefully it leads on to less and less people being let down in the future. So I think in terms of just, kind of the way the natural world is going, we're hopefully looking towards a fairer and a better industry. And it's a start. That the current construct is cracking. But that's not a bad thing. It's scary. But it's not necessarily a bad thing.

And the way Covid has kind of hit it is I think we're kind of feeling more like it's gone back again. It's gone back to being creative. I think a lot of artists are more about the creative side of it. Because they've had to do a lot more from home. They're not in with a manager or this person or that person. People are sat at home and just making music they want to make, they want to create, and you're going to get, hopefully, more people who've either stopped doing it, but picked it back up for something to do during lockdown, or people who found a new hobby, but that's just those people are there just to create make something that they enjoy.

And I think for people like myself with the rise in how much home studio recording equipment is, it can be a worrying thing thinking, Am I going to be out of a job, you know. Are studios going to be a thing of the past? Maybe. Maybe not. We don't know. But I just think that there's the opportunities of that. For studios to become more collaborative places, strip egos out, have people come in, and let's just collaborate and make stuff together and make it more of a creative space.

And that's one of the biggest opportunities, I think, for studios, and for people in the industry is to see that the changes that are being made, and how can we adapt? And how can we be better suited to those changes? And I do think that, whilst it won't be tomorrow, but in a few years, you know, that we're going to have a fair, hopefully, a fairer industry with a lot less homophobia, misogyny, and things like that. But also one that's gone back to a certain route we've just created.

And for studios, it's less about just getting in a session, getting the person out, getting in the next session and getting the personnel; we need to be supporting people on their journey. We need to be supporting artists, whether it's through social media stuff, whether it's helping with getting them distributed. So I've worked with a couple of labels and I send them music and then we can add helping artists on that front. And those are opportunities that we can't miss. Opportunities to be there along with everything, not just an hour or two in someone's week.