Groovebox Studios Uses Kickstarter To Put The Music First


Groovebox Studios set up shop in Detroit's Russell Industrial Center 16 months ago with a simple premise: one band, one room, one take.

It's not a new concept, but it's one that's fallen out of favor in the remix era. One-take-only means musicians need to come to the studio polished, practiced and ready to play. The resulting recording gets no editing and no overdubs.

Royce Haas, a back-to-basics rock-and-roller, records music with Groovebox under the stage name Scarecrow Jones. He's a fierce supporter of the project and likens the studio's approach to the early Sun Records sounds of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.

"You read the background on that stuff: It was one room, one take, and listen to how great it is," he said. "It just gives it a rawness and a life to it that can't be captured when you've got 45 takes."

Sound Engineer Jeff "Fuzzy" Wenzel runs Groovebox with partner Shawn Neal, who handles video production. Radio personality Shotgun Mike, who hosts Groovebox shows on 1610 AM in Hamtramck and online at Radio OPIE, rounds out the studio.

Wenzel said Groovebox modeled its project after Detroit's Motown Records and Seattle's SubPop records. Both studios are known for a collaborative spirit Wenzel feels is lacking from much of today's music scene, which can seem isolating.

"Everything is very fractured," he said. "You've got everybody in their own little corner playing with their own Pro Tools system and not communicating with each other, not understanding what you heard."

By relying on on the same recording microphone and the same rules for each band, Wenzel said Groovebox has attempted to create something different: a consistent sound.

For all the retro feel, Groovebox has one novel approach: its funding model. Bands pay for their studio sessions using Kickstarter, the crowd-sourced funding tool. The studio sets a funding goal with each band, usually $600.

Wenzel sees the studio as resource for local bands. He learned his own hard lessons trying make it in Southeast Michigan's competitive music scene with his own outfit, The Sugar People.

"The concept was to build a studio that would have very, very low overhead and be able to provide a service to the community for almost anyone to come in and record," Wenzel said.

Groovebox now has more than 100 bands on its roster, playing in genres as far apart as folk, funk and electronic, as well as an audience of fans who participate in the studio's live video shoots.

In addition to having their recording time paid for by fans, Groovebox bands get a five or six song EP and a video of the studio session -- and any money that might have been raised beyond the set Kickstarter goal.

Groovebox also offers a certain amount of publicity for recording artists, releasing video footage of performances on the studio's own Vimeo channel.

Wenzel said he's not trying to sell the bands anything they don't need and discourages artists from making high-priced investments in projects like full-length albums. And local musicians seem to appreciate Groovebox for that honesty and the creative and financial assistance the studio provides.

IAMDYNAMITE, a two-piece rock and roll outfit, recently recorded at the studio. Drummer Chris Phillips said he loved the Groovebox vibe and the ethic behind it.

"It's more than [most] bands could do themselves with the technology and stuff behind it," he explained. "If you're good, you're practiced and you're entertaining, it can get captured."

Phillips said the online support IAMDYNAMITE received really surprised him. Using Kickstarter, the group met its $600 fundraising goal in just two hours.

In fact, Wenzel said IAMDYNAMITE raised several thousand dollars over that mark, and, per the studio's policy, he let the band keep the additional money.

Groovebox put over $9,000 back in the hands of artists in the last quarter of 2010 alone, according to Wenzel. He encourages musicians to give back to their Kickstarter supporters in the form of special perks, like exclusive releases.

More than anything else, bands that record with Groovebox appreciate the studio's "music first" ethos.

"The thing that is most important about those guys is they truly care -- and people say that a lot -- but they truly care," said Haas, the Scarecrow Jones rocker, who also retains Wenzel as his manager. "They're in it for the long haul, and I think they will be as successful as they want."

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