Back in 2012, Dinesh Boaz, founder of the SoHo recording studio SweetSounds, freely acknowledged his gamble by opening the two-room facility. “I feel like when you take a chance, people want to come along and be a part of the collaboration,” he said at the time.
Five years later, Boaz and his team have conceded that the venture’s rewards are too briskly outpaced by the risk. SweetSounds is closing at the end of April, winding down a bold expansion that demonstrates the ongoing challenges of NYC studios. Faced with another five years of paying big rent for rooms that had been a little too small to distinguish themselves, Boaz declined the lease renewal at 594 Broadway and made the painful decision to shut down.
“The rent was already high where we were in SoHo,” explains Boaz. “We had always been getting good talent into the facility, but there wasn’t a market I could stick to. The music business can be unpredictable, and what we found was there weren’t bookings that we could rely on.
“Even if an artist is hot, or they’re working with a marquee producer, they’d frequently say, ‘We have a very small budget’ — their budget was actually often below what we could charge an independent artist. Everyone wants the hottest young artist in the studio, but we found we’d have to trade the rate for the social value of having that person in the facility.”
With SweetSounds’ attractive location, beautiful views, natural light, and dedicated staff, they were able to keep the rooms booked with a diverse swath of clients that included independent artists, VO sessions, and podcasts. Music clients that came through included American Authors, Danny Tenaglia, Zed’s Dead, Jay Pharoah, Talib Kweli, mixer David Wrench (for Tei Shi); VO and podcasting visitors included Arrianna Huffington, Deepak Chopra, Bon Jovi, Benedict Cumberpatch, James Althucher, De LA Soul, Rick Moranis, Miss Info and Mary Louise-Parker
However, no mega-client emerged with long lockouts, nor did a single defining vertical that Boaz could hang the studio’s hat on. “There was no one sector of our business that made me say, ‘I want to drop everything and turn SweetSounds into a VO studio now, and strictly do that kind of work,’” he says. “After five years of trying to figure it out with my team, we couldn’t pin down the formula. It’s one of those situations where you have to be as versatile as you can, and we maxed that out. The challenge of NYC and the studio business is that you can only raise your rates so much, and even with rising costs you can’t raise the rates of the studio.”
Boaz opened up SweetSounds on Broadway as an Act Two to follow his original facility, a smaller space smushed into Mercy Sound on 14th Street and Avenue B. After a few years there with several other engineers, they were bursting at the seams with hip hop artists, vocalists, and EDM clients.
An electronic music producer and former DJ who has also been running the digital ad agency Direct Agents for the last 14 years, Boaz crunched the numbers and decided that grow-or-die time had arrived. Working with studio architect Douglas Welsh of Box 59 Design they made the most of a relatively small amount of square feet to create a two-studio facility with an intimate, boutique ambience.
The technical centerpiece was a Rupert Neve Designs 5088 console. It was a board that looked and sounded fantastic, but ultimately proved to be more of a burden then benefit to SweetSounds. The studio sold the console after three and a half years in service, then changed the “Crosby” control room to API lunchbox-style tracking and mixing.
“It was a beast of a console – it sounded amazing, people loved tracking on it,” Boaz notes of the 5088. “The downside of it was that we didn’t get enough bookings from bands on the strength of the desk. As much as bands like to say, ‘I’m working on a Neve or an API,’ from a studio owner’s perspective, it doesn’t necessarily contribute to getting the next project in your door. I think that’s more of an engineering thing – it’s a tool in your toolbelt.
“It was also a beast of a machine to take care of,” Boaz continues. “The maintenance was heavyweight, and it was a hot machine, giving off so much heat.”
No matter how the gear changed, however, SweetSounds remained consistent in its status as a fertile breeding ground for serious engineering and managerial audio professionals. “I just believed in good talent,” Boaz says of his hiring philosophy. “I found people with hustle and drive, that you could really trust with the facility and clients, and with helping to run your business. I tried to build as many partners as I could.
“Whatever tools you have, at the end of the day, it’s your talent that matters. In New York City, people resonate with the engineers that you have. I gathered up a really good roster of people, who will hopefully land on their feet after SweetSounds closes.”
Over the course of SweetSounds’ five-year run in its Broadway location, Boaz applied his marketing best practices to help support the facility and staff. Consistent eBlasts and open house events were in the mix, as well as strategic partnerships with complementary businesses like Legacy Audio to create SoHo Audio Source, serving as the NYC showroom for the speaker manufacturer.
Boaz saw his expertise pay off when it came to generating leads for SweetSounds, as well as burnishing the studio’s overall image. “More than ever, marketing is essential for engaging the customer – the potential next person at your studio may find out about you through social media, video, events,” says Boaz. “We did everything. We would always be creative about the way we told our story, and we seemed like a much bigger facility to a lot of people. It contributed to giving it a certain feel, keeping a certain cool, and it led to a lot of people saying, ‘We want to come and check it out.’”
Next Steps & Sage Advice
For Boaz, who is channeling his creative pursuits into developing his aerial photography while he continues to run Digital Agents, parting ways with Sweet Sounds is equal parts disappointment and relief. “I’m going to step back from the recording studio business,” he confirms. “I’m going to keep some of the gear and continue doing music production work, but I don’t want to keep trying to sell clients on a music studio.
“The grind of it is tough: trying to fill a calendar every week, trying to make sure you’re covering your rent and all your costs. Even on your best months, you’ll have an unexpected gear meltdown or something else that will offset your numbers. I won’t miss the stress of that, where you live and die by making sure your studio is booked. It’s a beautiful thing when it comes together – clients are happy, things are humming – but then you’re looking at an empty couple of days and it drives you crazy. I’m very happy to not be thinking about that.”
After going through the cycle of ups and downs, Boaz has advice to anyone considering opening their own commercial audio facility. “Map out your six-to-12 month roadmap, the clients you want to get, and how you are going to get them,” he counsels. “That’s instead of saying, ‘I’m going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to design the studio, buy this gear, and design this beautiful space.’