Recognize this smiling face? If Cincinnati transplant Griffin Kelp has anything to say about it, you will soon:
This spring, Kelp plans to introduce Austin to Beatentrack Studios, a mobile music production house equipped to record, mix and master from absolutely anywhere. The plan is to offer in-house recording services for the rock-bottom rate of $30 hourly, alongside full-board mixed and mastered live venue recordings for $200 a pop. These are screaming deals! Kelp feels, as many down-and-out musicians surely do, that it's an idea whose time has come.
"I have a lot of friends who are talented and broke," Kelp says. "We're trying to bridge the gap between the music community in Austin and the resources they need to make things happen."
Kelp escaped to Austin from the frozen tundra of Ohio one January a little more than two years ago. In early 2011, some friends at Vox Veniae handed him the keys to a donated 1991 Kit Companion fifth wheel trailer with the simple condition that it be used as a blessing to the city.
The idea of a rolling recording studio came immediately to mind. Kelp had self-produced two albums and worked in the studio with national touring bands, and he'd always wanted a studio to call his own.
He began renovating the trailer's innards and commissioned painter Mick Santostefano to muralize the distinctive beast — the Music Monster — over the original factory exterior. He also set up a meeting with philanthropy agency Austin Involved to help him flesh out the project, but was unsure at first whether he'd find volunteers with the specific knowledge and skills to make Beatentrack Studios a reality.
That uncertainty was quickly calmed by Mark Younger-Smith, an Austin Involved volunteer and, as it happened, a studio-building, Grammy-winning, Billy Idol-collaborating guitarist with nearly two decades' experience in the music industry. Younger-Smith helped guide the vision for the project, and, one year later, Beatentrack Studios is cleaned out, blueprinted and ready to roll.
Just about ready to roll, that is. Kelp is relying on his personal gear to provide free in-house recording services during SXSW 2012, and the crew is hiring a friend's truck to move the Music Monster from its current position as parking lot guardian at Space12 to a more central location at the headquarters of UP Collective on Cesar Chavez near Pedernales.
"The first guy who said he'd tow us out ended up selling his truck last week," says Kelp, "which was pretty untimely. We're talking to another friend with a fifth wheel, so we should be able to get out there, but our own truck will definitely make things easier."
The Beatentrack Studios crew, which consists of Kelp, his high school friend Matt Stamp, ACC intern Jake Augustini and a handful of other committed folks, has turned to popular fundraising outlet Kickstarter to help pull together the final ingredients for the project. The truck is the biggest ticket item on the agenda, but they also need dedicated professional gear and acoustic insulation to help them provide the best service possible to Austin's earnest but indigent musicians.
Their project is a welcome breath of fresh air in the Kickstarter community. "If you go to the music section of Kickstarter," Matt Stamp says, "99 out of 100 projects are about one band recording one album. Our project can produce hundreds of albums from hundreds of bands, if we get it off the ground. It seems like people are appreciating that."
Beatentrack has made some solid connections in the performance and production scene in town, working with members of Vallejo and third-generation engineer and producer Josh Woodhouse of Droplink Studios. One lucky big-time donor to the Kickstarter project will get signed vinyl and a private concert from Austin darlings Quiet Company. Longtime community hip-hop project The Cipher has been with the Beatentrack crew since before the beginning.
But it takes more than good friends to get a project like this together. SXSW-goers who find themselves at 2326 E. Cesar Chavez (less than half a block from Juan in a Million, if you're hungry) can stop by UP Collective and see Beatentrack Studios in action. The artists already on the recording slate are a diverse bunch — from jazz-tinged local folk combo Georgette to Austrian-born noisepopper Bensh — and the crew's faithful intern will fish for more acts to fill out the bill by slipping business cards to passengers in his pedicab throughout the week.
Isn't it about time that something like Beatentrack Studios happened? We're the live music capitol, after all, as well as mobile-business trailblazers and a city where you can go to converted and painted fifth wheel trailers for street food masterminded by Texas's official top chef. Frankly, it's a curiosity that mobile recording studios aren't deploying three to a zip code.
"There's a lot of activity happening around Austin," Griffin Kelp says. "There are a lot of local projects, a lot of local bands. We really feel like we've come upon something that can be transformational, something that could really bring the elements of the community together."
With our help, Beatentrack Studios can bring a new and savory ingredient to the already yummy gumbo of Austin's musical culture. Learn more at the Kickstarter project page, the group's website, or the Beatentrack fan page on Facebook, and don't forget to wave to the Music Monster when you see him roll by.