Oftentimes when a song or album gets popular, the artist responsible is the main benefactor of the rewards, as their fame increases and their opportunities expand.
What can get dismissed, though, is the work put in by all the people on the back end: sound engineers, producers and the like who help craft the final product’s sound and aesthetic. Local production outfits like DBrown Sounds and Dynasty Media Productions, along with larger operations in Ithaca like Pyramid Sounds or REV, serve as the breeding ground for many of the artists making an impact on the local music scene now, regardless of genre, though their contributions can go unheralded.
This is one of the inherent parts of the job, said Donell Bard, who founded Dynasty Media Productions in 2018. He works primarily with hip hop and R&B artists, though his studio has also done everything from pop to metal music too. People like he or David Brown, who runs DBrown Sounds, can exist just in the background despite the vital role they play. That’s compounded by the fact that both of their studios were started relatively recently, and are smaller than their more established Ithaca counterparts.
Bard and Brown both started their studios with a similar vision in mind: provide a cheaper alternative to some of the larger operations in town, with a mindset that as music changes and technology continues to innovate, the more expensive production experiences aren’t necessary. Bard said one of the inspirations for that mindset was to ensure that younger, less experienced artists who might not have the means to rent time at a larger studio could still have a professional sounding record; obviously, there are business aspects as well, but providing a platform factors in for Bard.
“The goal of opening [DMP] was to provide an alternative to the major studios in town,” Bard said. “You don’t need millions of dollars of equipment anymore. You need a nice little array of equipment [...] We keep the prices low like that.”
Brown, who previously ran his own studio out of the Southside Community Center and started DBrown Sounds officially earlier this year, said that while his dream is to meet and develop a long-term working relationship with a select few artists who are able to achieve widespread success, he’s comfortable with running DBrown Sounds for the foreseeable future as well. To his studio business, he’s brought what he says is the unique aspect of integrating himself into the artist’s work, as the artists sees fit, in order to best craft the finished product they desire.
“I record, mix and master all at the same time, so I get to kind of create with the artist on the spot,” Brown said. “I kind of turn into their band member, like a concierge service band member, who does everything. [...] The mixing process nowadays is such a big part of how the artist sounds and how they are perceived by the audience.”
Brown said he has stayed working on his own, instead of with one of the bigger local studios, because of the connection he is able to make with people who come to work with him. If he was part of a larger team, he said, he wouldn’t feel as integrated with each artist’s project.
“It’s so important to me to watch people smile when they walk out of my booth, because something they can’t believe just happened,” Brown said.
Both have taken steps to differentiate themselves among other local studios. Brown uses his aforementioned do-it-all method to become like a member of the group that is recording; on the other hand, Bard is attempting a “one-stop shop” experience, where artists can find help with each part of the album process, from recording the music to mixing and mastering to even providing video production and merchandise printing.
“It separates us, we’re a little more personal than a studio where you just go in and pay to have your stuff recorded,” Bard said. “You’re trusting us with your first project, you’re trusting us to make it sound good, that’s the most exciting part of it for me.”