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The Hills Are Alive (Again)

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It's not like they ever hated First Fridays or anything. It's just that it's not easy to get any recording done at Sound of Music recording studios when all those people are out on Broad Street, making noise and arting around.

But back in 1994, when John Morand, Miguel Urbiztondo, Craig Harmon and Dave Lowery (yeah, from Cracker and Camper van Beethoven) started their recording studio, there was no Artwalk. There was hardly Art.

Now it's a different city. And a different Sound of Music. It's been more than six months since March 11 when Morand came to the studio at 321 W. Broad St. to do some recording for the indie six-piece Cinemasophia. That's when he noticed a conspicuous trash fire burning in the building next door. The building had been vacated and boarded up by the city (Morand said in a March 14 Style story that the city put a "little pink sticker" on the front to keep people out) since 2005, when someone put up some studs in anticipation of construction. Transients had been using the space since then for mostly nonartistic pursuits. When those studs caught fire, Morand says, the trouble really began.

He managed to rescue one of the main computers before the fire department arrived, but by the time the fire next door was put out, the three-floor studio space had suffered extensive smoke damage and the basement had been flooded. The studio's archive of master tapes and a lot of Cracker's stored equipment were destroyed.

And it just so happened a band from the Netherlands was scheduled to record soon after. Hazy Jane had bought its plane tickets and needed a place to record.

So Sound of Music -- which has recorded for such big locals as Avail, Lamb of God, GWAR and Cracker, along with such nationals as The Black Crowes, Hanson and Joan Osborne — moved its equipment across the street to Back Stage, a sound and lighting store with an open warehouse area on the top floor. Morand says it was easier to roll a grand piano across the street than to find a new studio space. In early April, Sound of Music started an impromptu studio there, minus air conditioning, and stayed through the summer.

For the next six months, recording went on at Back Stage while Sound of Music was cleaned and repaired. Workers even got the smoke smell out of the walls. The Dutch band came and went, Cinemasophia finished the beginning of its second album, and the Sound of Music team began thinking after 13 years about using this opportunity to change its approach to music and the local community.

"I think we've always tried to hide," Morand says of the increasingly visible Broad Street space, "so now we're taking advantage of the unfortunate circumstances and make something good come out of it."

And instead of locking up on Fridays, Sound of Music will open its doors to the public, playing host to a few bands that perform for the artists and art-lovers patrolling the streets. It starts when the studios open Oct. 5. The gallery space somewhat masochistically shows photos of the fire and damage taken by Lynn Crounse. Cinemasophia, The Hotdamns and Trilobita will be playing.

The studio will feature art that was created by musicians or has a music theme. They may even start doing live broadcasts of those First Friday shows, Sound of Music's new recruit, Jonathan Lee, says.

Lee is a part of the studio's second major shift — "mastering and in-house PR help for bands that come through," Morand says, "or for local bands that just need help getting their music out there." They'll charge a flat hourly rate for their management services and become, in effect, a cradle-to-grave entity for musicians.

"At a certain point, bands forget to be bands anymore," Lee says. They stop writing songs and pour all their time into managing a band. "Everybody wants a manager, because nobody wants to do the work."

Lee's role is to take care of everything from booking shows to public relations to finding the band a place to sleep. "Anyone could do it themselves, but that's probably the weakest part," Morand says of bands doing their own promotions. "Having Jonathan on staff makes it much easier and more efficient to do this kind of work."

"The way that the music industry has changed so rapidly, it doesn't make sense for the studio to just be a studio anymore," Lee says. So Sound of Music is out to provide any type of guidance for bands on the rise. It fits into the studio's new, more involved approach to the city, opening its doors to those noisy kids and their art. The better the studio is doing, Lee reasons, the better the artists are doing, and it all comes back around. Bands build momentum when they record, which they have to keep up while out there in the world. "The idea is to not let that go to waste," Lee says. S

Sound of Music Recording Studios reopens with a reception featuring the photography of Lynn Crounse and music by the Hotdamns, Cinemasophia and Trilobita Friday, Oct. 5, at 7 p.m. 788-0607.

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