Cue Recording’s “Red Room” is no more. The rear studio is being leased out and revamped into the new independent atelier 38 North Studio, which opened last month.
A joint venture by financial planner Sarah Marks and Buddy Speir, a career musician from Falls Church, has the duo taking a different approach to how studios are normally managed.
Conventionally, studios charge by the hour for musicians either passing through on tour or just looking to put together a project. A small stable of in-house producers and engineers with a very specific range of talents would be on-hand to serve the artists…as long as they didn’t ask too much of them.
In short, the onus is typically on artists to find the right studio for them, not necessarily the studio making an effort to accommodate the artist. Flipping that dynamic around is what Marks and Speir are branding as 38 North Studio’s defining element.
“I met a community of artists, producers, engineers, session players and other bands while recording here,” Marks said. “It allowed me to recognize the talent in the area and the D.C. music scene in general, and we thought we could be doing something bigger and better for the artist community here. We wanted to create space that will help launch people to the next level.”
Marks and Speir first came into contact with each other three years ago while working on a project for Marks’ former band under the guidance of local resident and longtime music producer, Jim Ebert.
The two found common ground in how they viewed the music industry’s role in supporting artists and wanted to bring that vision to life — if the chance to operate their own studio ever became available, that is.
As luck would have it, last fall Cue reshuffled its priorities and became open to leasing out the “Red Room.”
Speir and Marks mulled it over for a few months before finally deciding to take over the space right around Thanksgiving. Now the pair had a chance to enact their idea of a project-based studio.
Unlike the more rigid, traditional studio model, Marks and Speir did away with the hourly rates and set roster of in-house talent. They opened the door for long-term projects that can run days or weeks at a time. And they’ve established a reliable network of producers, engineers and session players to be called upon to contribute to a group’s work. Videographers and photographers are also able to be contracted to document the studio session. Maybe most impressively is the duo offers up their own talents in terms of songwriting and arrangements in case a band finds themselves hitting a creative wall.
Though it’s not purely about Marks and Speir needing to do the legwork to assist in completing a track or album. Some bands may have their full crew on hand when they drop in, or have a clear direction of where they want their project to go. In those cases, Marks, Speir and head engineer Aaron Mason will take a backseat and give the group carte blanche in the studio.
The concept for how they run 38 North is based on the studio ecosystem in Nashville. Drawing inspiration from hotspots such as Black Bird and Sound Emporium, those studios favor working with one another (when reasonable) rather than scrapping it out over every artist and EP up for grabs.
“There are different ways to work in a community,” Speir said. “It’s not as much as other fields where [similar establishments] are direct competitors. Even if there’s overlap in what we both provide, it’s not about saying ‘Hey, we’re better than them.’ It’s more along the lines of the saying ‘A rising tide lifts all ships.’”
A community aspect is important to getting 38 North’s name out there, however; the studio has intentions of being a big player in the national scene.
Marks and Speir are glad to serve as a stopgap for bands experiencing a dead day while on tour in the area, or as an entry-level studio for up-and-coming artists looking for a break.
It’s why they’ve made connections with local venues to steer both established and entrepreneurial artists their way in Falls Church.
But the overall plan for 38 North is to make Washington, D.C. a music destination in the same vein as New York, Los Angeles and Nashville. It’s a goal that will take time, but the project-based approach sets them apart from how most national studios work, giving Marks and Speir’s an edge in the services they offer.
As is help from local consulting firm Viget, which is overseeing the studio’s website creation and launch as well as offering some tips for social media marketing.
Right now the studio is working on building its client base and garnering more name recognition in the area.
Marks and Speir’s shared relationship to Ebert has allowed the producer to funnel in about a third of the clients so far, and licensing more libraries of music is beefing up their revenue streams as well. The studio’s production forte is currently rock, indie and country music, but they’ve also begun branching out into rap.
To see more from 38 North Studio, visit their Instagram page at instagram.com/38northstudio.