It’s easy to be down on Atlanta right now. And while I know I’ve done my fair share of city bashing the past couple of weeks, I don’t think outlining our shortcomings or cataloging our self-inflicted wounds yet again is going to do any good for anyone. Suffice it to say that for reasons listed here, and here, and here, or for the specific purposes of this article, here, Atlanta has a lot of soul-searching to do. And after that we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and get to work because progress and change don’t come easy, and they certainly don’t come for free. Taking ownership is key.
Damon Moon and Chandler Galloway understand this implicitly. The two local scene veterans have witnessed firsthand the destabilizing effects development and skyrocketing rents have had on the artist class, and have spent many long nights discussing what can be done to mitigate and reverse the damage. As a much respected and sought after producer and engineer (Moon) and a vintage gearhead (Galloway), the duo couldn’t help but be alarmed by the shuttering of such legendary recording institutions as Doppler Studios and Southern Tracks. But rather than throwing their hands up in disgust, the pair partnered together to throw caution to the wind and purchase their own space. The result of their efforts is the newly opened Standard Electric Recorders.
Located in a 1930s bungalow on Memorial Drive in Decatur, the commercially zoned studio is as much an investment in the community as it is a business. In addition to traditional recording services, Moon and Galloway have stated that a major focus of the space will be an internship program where novice learners will be able to access the skills necessary for careers in the field of producing and engineering. “I absolutely endorse formal education when it comes to engineering (as a set of tools, not an absolute truth), but I never went down that road,” Moon wrote in a recent Facebook post announcing the endeavor. “I cut my teeth making records for myself, and my friends. You CAN start with nothing and end up with these skills, and we aim to empower those who have passion but no path forward.”
But while Standard Electric is open and operational, there is still work to be done, much of it more costly than they can currently afford. As such, the duo turned to GoFundMe to help crowdfund the necessary additions to the studio. Perks include mixtapes, shirts, and various levels of recording, but the real reward is helping an artist-owned business stake its claim and take off on the right foot.
Recently, I spoke with Moon and Galloway about the details behind their new venture, their core ideology, and what can happen when artists decide to lay down roots and fight for the future they want to see.
How long has the studio been in the works?
DM: I think the idea of actually owning a place and building something from the ground up is something that we’ve both had a huge interest in for a long time. As far as the reality of where we are now, it’s definitely something that’s just kind of fallen into place.
CG: I had been looking for a house with enough space for a small studio and room to keep my collection of old gear. It had gotten out of hand and was being stored across three different locations. At some point, the idea to look into a commercial live/work property came up and Damon and I started kicking around the idea of developing a new studio for recording and design — then this property came along. It sort of met all of the requirements and is situated on a huge lot in a great location, so I took the plunge, as they say, and made an offer. The day I closed, we started removing walls and building out the control room, so things have been moving pretty quickly through the whole process.
DM: The vintage recording console I’ve been dreaming of and pining for for years became available, all of a sudden. It’s something I’ve been Googling weekly for years, and they seldom ever show up. This one was in Canada, and shipping on this thing would have been crazy. So Chandler and I made the trip in a rental cargo van, in 4 days, and brought this thing back to Atlanta. The property we’ll be inhabiting was put on the market only days before we left for Canada, and we were able to get the offer in before we left. If I recall, I think we actually found out our bid had been accepted when we were on that trip. It’s all happened very fast.
CG: Now just seemed like the right time to bring something new and accessible to the Atlanta music scene, so we were working every day to make sure it was ready to record a record on January 1.
Is there any significance behind the name? It’s reminiscent of Electrical Audio in a way.
CG: Ha! We didn’t intentionally reference them, but [Electrical Audio] is awesome. We liked the term “Standard” because it could have several meanings. It can mean basic, as in it’s included with every interaction; it can refer to a bench mark, as in it meets a certain standard; it can also refer to an individual’s standards, on a more personal level. “Electric,” besides being involved in everything we do as a recording studio, implies action and getting things done. It’s kinetic and paints an image of never staying in the same place for too long or resting on your laurels. We decided to use the signifier “Recorders” instead of “Recording” or something similar because we wanted to subtly remind people that a studio is about the people coming together to make a record, not about the walls or gear. We keep going back to this idea that a million dollar studio can’t make a record — it requires someone to walk in with an idea for that to happen.
DM: It’s all about the people doing the work, not the tools doing the work.
You make it very clear that part of what drove you guys to do this was to stake a claim and take ownership in a city that often looks to bulldoze its history and calls it progress. How important is the idea of building community in your plans?
DM: Our city seems to be really dealing a bad hand to artists of all types these days, and it’s really disturbing. Many recording studios have closed over the past few years due to places getting sold out from under them for redevelopment. That’s how this whole thing was born! It’s become apparent to us that we can love our city for all the right reasons (however diminishing they seem to be becoming), but that’s not enough. Unless enough artists can make the jump and lay real roots down, then the culture that people are moving here for will be packing up and leaving. Standard Electric is a step in that direction for us. We opened January 1st, and we’re not going anywhere. It’s a place for the community we’ve already built, and it’s a place to keep growing it. What good is a studio without great artists to inhabit it? Community will always be #1.
CG: Community is probably the cornerstone of why we decided to do this. We’ve both been in the Atlanta music scene for years and have seen the changes and how that affects the creative output of the city. It has been getting to the point where it seems like nothing new can survive in this city unless there is a billion dollar investment company behind it. This city is being sold pre-packaged, recycled ideas of what would make for a “cool” experience based on what has worked in Brooklyn or SoHo, and that is just not interesting or acceptable, from an artist’s standpoint. It’s so obvious what is happening and sad that there is not much we can do to stop that side of things. All we can do is rally and make our own community stronger. Yes, historic and important studios, venues, practice spaces, etc. are being torn down by the month in the name of hip development, but we don’t have to roll over and let ourselves be edged out of the city. That’s why the decision was to purchase the property as opposed to renting something.
Tell us a little about your internship program? Why do you feel its so critical?
DM: I think getting into the field of producing and engineering, professionally, is a tough thing to do these days — it’s certainly been a journey for me. Anyone can make a record in GarageBand, and you can probably do it without ever touching a real instrument. The idea is crazy to me, but that’s the reality. Consumer grade recording is an industry that’s only really existed since the early ’90s, and I think our industry is just starting to try to figure out how to deal with that. The guys doing it at home never step into a big studio (maybe because they’re all closing down), and the guys in the big studios are often out of touch with what kids are doing in their bedrooms. Maybe that’s laying it on heavy, but there’s a divide there, and I think it’s time we start to address it.
CG: There are obviously a lot of people out there that have a natural talent and ear for recording and producing, but getting into a working studio is very difficult. It seems like the goal of a lot of big studios is to use interns as free labor and gofers (“Go for this, go for that”). We saw this as an opportunity to help a group that really has no clear cut path. The difference in our program is that it is intended to lead to a real-world job, hopefully at Standard Electric. As the internship program develops, so will the community surrounding it. Just one new connection can open up a door to a whole new crowd and we would love to see this place become a communal space for multiple groups.
DM: Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of different people, and I’m amazed at all the assumptions surrounding the industry, particularly in the younger generations that I encounter. The message I want to send is that if you’re passionate about music, and you have a general understanding (or at least a desire for it), then there’s a way to move forward with that, if it’s what you want. We’re very interested in transforming people who have no real world experience, into working producers and engineers, or at least get them started on that journey. Again, it’s not an easy thing to do, but we’re simply trying to uplift those who have a natural desire or interest, but have have no path forward. I wish there was something like this that existed when I was just getting started.
So it doesn’t concern you to be starting this type of a venture in this era of widespread DIY recording?
DM: That’s not really a worry of mine. People have been recording out of bedrooms since it was an affordable and available option. That’s exactly how I started, I owned a four-track tape recorder before I ever owned a guitar. People will keep recording at home, and I encourage that. The need for a professional recording studio will always exist, and I think we’ll be able to offer something unique.
CG: I think the thing we can bring is perspective and excitement. It’s hard to know where to go sometimes as just a solo artist or band recording at home. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that at all, but knowing where to take a record or having the motivation to finish it are difficult things to summon sometimes. We are on the artist’s side and want nothing more than for them to produce something that they are proud of and that we know we put everything into. On top of this, we also pride ourselves on having a totally wacky collection of vintage (and new) instruments that have always inspired us to come up with a new idea or perspective on an old idea. I have always felt that the studio is an instrument in itself, so why not play it?
DM: One perspective that we can offer is kind of a new workflow. It’s something we call the Standard Method. It is sort of a blueprint for how we want to make records, or anything else for that matter. It falls on four pillars, and each of them must be accounted for in order for it to work. The pillars are honest, challenging, timeless, and relevant. The culmination of those four ideas can apply to anything. In terms of record-making, it must be honest. What’s honest? The process, the art, the emotion behind something? The truth has to be there, for someone. It must be challenging. Challenging for who? The artist, the listener, the staff making the record? To be challenged is a good thing. If you want to make anything that lasts, it has got to be timeless. That’s a constant goal with any art form. That brings us to relevant. As much as I wish it were 1967, it’s not. Anything created these days has to have instant relevancy for anyone to even want to determine if the other three pillars are there. This whole method can be applied to anything you do, and it’s sort of a universal formula for creating something that is YOU, to it’s core.
CG: We don’t think this is any kind of hard and fast rule to making something great. If an artist feels there is merit to these four values, we feel that we can help them along that path. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
You describe the studio as a “place for everyone”? What other services do you plan on offering?
CG: We plan to welcome any kind of music or project idea that we think we can handle. On top of that, we have some cool ideas that I think are dependent on a diverse community. We want to release a themed quarterly zine/paper with articles written by us and friends of the studio. In order for this to work, we need to have a diverse set of viewpoints so that it doesn’t become predictable or boring. I think it will be interesting to see different perspectives on the same subject and, hopefully, that cause a few people to consider new points of view.
DM: Chandler and I have been in a lot of bands over the years, and I think we understand as well as anyone else that for bands, content is the golden egg. Chandler does design and marketing, freelance and full time. He’ll also have an office at the studio and he’ll be working there every day. This gives us a lot of flexibility in terms of what we can offer, beyond producing and recording records. Whether it’s a “making of” video about your record, photos from your sessions, live in-studio videos, music videos, marketing, PR work — we’ll be able to offer a lot of services, and we’ll be able to adapt to the specific needs of each project.
CG: We also plan on doing quick Super 8 live video sessions. The idea is that you only have one take and it is released unedited. This whole idea is similarly reliant on varied group of artists to keep the project from turning stale. Outside of these things, we are also excited about hosting some community events where people who might not typically cross paths can meet and become new friends.
You stared a GoFundMe for this project. Tell us a little something about that.
DM: Buying commercial property was necessary to make this happen. So many studios have closed over the last few years, and our city seems to be trying to shut the doors on artists of all kinds at a very depressing rate. Launching a crowdfunding campaign wasn’t an easy thing to do, but we’ve both been completely self-sufficient for a long time doing the things we’re passionate about, and buying this place is a huge step in our lives. I think over the past few years we’ve built up an incredible group of people close to us, and with Standard Electric we want them to feel like they’ve claimed a little part of our city, too. The money we raise will help us out immensely with the build-out. We’re moving along at lightning speed already, but materials are expensive, and there’s still a lot of work to be done!
CG: The whole idea of asking for a little help finishing the studio out was one that we debated a little on. In the end, it seemed fair to give the artists who are going to record here a chance to buy into some better gear and a more finished space. We also saw this as an opportunity to kind of announce some of our intentions and set up what kind of role we hope to play in the community. Most studios might be a little more focused on just recording, but we are planning on being much more than a studio, and that requires a little bit of, well, money, to be honest. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking of ways to build an authentic sense of a “brand” around Standard Electric, and that requires more than just buying a building and opening the doors. We’re operating with certain standards in place from day one, and we don’t want to have to cut corners. We have a lot planned and building out the studio is just the beginning of it.