Most students know that when a professor mentions the words “guest speaker,” it translates to an entire class period spent struggling to retain consciousness. After all, who really enjoys listening to someone rant about the “The importance of communication in the workplace”? Don’t answer that.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, when professor John Pachence mentions the words “guest speaker,” one can’t help but eagerly wait to hear what this person of interest has to say. This is because John Pachence has cool friends. Friends in the music industry. NOW you’re interested.
Today, Friday, March 6, John brought in Brian McTear, renowned Philly producer, owner of Weathervane Music, and TED speaker, to share his knowledge and experiences with John’s music business class (MUSIC 497E, for those of you interested). McTear explained his beginnings in music, the start of his studio, Miner Street Recordings, his inspiration for Weathervane Music and how it’s evolved, and the unique business model that has enabled him to continue to run a successful recording studio in the day and age of bedroom recording studios.
McTear, a musician before all else, started collecting recording equipment during his time at West Chester to produce music for his band. In a time when it seemed impossible to make a record without a record deal, McTear quickly found himself producing music for his friends’ bands as well. In 1996, Miner Street Recordings moved to Manayunk in Philadelphia, and by 1999, McTear was making a living producing full-time. 2005 marked the move from Manayunk to Fishtown, Miner Street Recordings’ current home, and where the “Shaking Through” documentary series takes place.
Shaking Through is part of McTear’s nonprofit music project, Weathervane Music, that aims to document the recording process from the perspective of the producer and of the artist. The concept of Weathervane started as an artist retreat, a luxurious place where musicians could go to focus on perfecting their art. However, once the economy tanked in 2009, the business plan changed to “What can we just start doing?” Thus, Shaking Through was born. The project involves bringing an upcoming independent artist (or band) to Miner Street Recordings, and producing a previously unreleased original song in just two days.
Yeah, two days.
Day one is spent tracking, and day two is spent mixing. The result is a high quality song and a feature on Shaking Through documenting the entire process. McTear confessed that, often, the songs produced during the two-day recording process end up being the best recordings the artist/band does to date. He attributes that to the fact that the short time frame requires quick decisions to be made, eliminating the chance for anyone to dwell or over-scrutinize. Surprisingly, none of the almost 50 sessions have resulted in freak outs or break downs.
Aside from the documentation process of Shaking Through, McTear emphasized that the purpose of Weathervane is to promote community. Through its Members section, Weathervane supporters can download and remix the high quality audio from the Shaking Through sessions to practice their own mixing, and to build a mix portfolio. Furthermore, it’s encouraged that members share their mixes with the Weathervane community to gather feedback and to engage in musical discussions with over 2,000 fellow Weathervane supporters. Having read through some of the discussions, I can verify that the community is friendly and supportive of each other’s work, willing to give compliments where deserved and constructive criticism when needed.
While McTear’s nonprofit has found great success, some may wonder how he affords to run his studio space in today’s age of “bedroom producers”. He credits this to a unique business plan that he started using at the right time. In the 1990’s, big time studios in Philadelphia were relying on record labels as their main source of income. Scoring a dozen records a year could fund the studio easily. McTear took a different approach. Having experience with DIY music for years, he recorded all kinds of musicians that approached him. Independent musicians could fund a studio just as well as big time record labels. McTear did what huge studios didn’t do; he recognized non-career musicians.
This is a segment of the market that isn’t given enough focus. McTear pointed out that with the high level of accessibility to recording equipment now, the majority of people making music have no ambition to be career musicians. Making music is as much a hobby now as painting has been for all of time, and for the first time ever, people can be recording artists for their entire lives. McTear also mentioned that there are people that cash in their vacation time to buy studio time instead of actually going somewhere on vacation. By establishing relationships with these musicians, they’re likely to return for future projects for years to come, generating a continuous stream of revenue for Miner Street Recordings.
Among all the valuable life experience he shared, McTear made sure to highlight what sets Philly apart from other cities in the country in terms of DIY music. Compared to places like LA and New York City, Philly has an incredibly inexpensive cost of living. Combine that with the rich history and culture of the city, the LOTS of available space (a city fit for 2 million people is inhabited by 1.5 million), and the close proximity to New York City, and you’ve got a perfect storm for creating music without spending a fortune. Take that as a pleasant reminder that there’s plenty of opportunity for growth in our own beloved city.
When all was said and done, it really felt like we had just experienced a TED talk in 112 Woodland. Brian McTear is an incredibly experienced guy with a passion for music and giving back to the music community. If there’s one thing to be learned from what he shared, it’s that building relationships with the community is one of the most important things someone involved with music can do. Stay connected,
To check out Weathervane Music, click here.
To check out Shaking Through, click here.