Sympathy for the Recording Industry: Midnight Records

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L R: Executive Director of Utah Arts Alliance, Derek Dyer, recording technician, Cal Cruz and founder of Midnight Records, Kent Rigby in the Midnight Records Studio. Photo: Ruby Johnson

In 1985, Kent Rigby, founder and proprietor of Midnight Records Recording studio, began playing and recording music in the New Wave group Us At Midnight. At that time, there were few options to help poor, young bands with big dreams. For bands without a recording deal, years of touring under their belt or corporate radio endorsements, the bottom line often seemed too high of a hurdle to jump in order to start a viable career as a musician. Fast-forward to 2011, and things are rapidly beginning to change. Multimillion-dollar recording deals, secured radio play and corporate tastemakers are falling to the leveling and democratizing tools of social media, word-of-mouth marketing and cheap and proficient home-recording technology. Like totalitarian rulers, totalitarian business models often fall at the hands of their own constituents.

Founded in 2008 and located in the back of the Utah Arts Alliance on 127 S. Main Street, Midnight Records has beaten the odds by flourishing and growing in this incredibly volatile time of transition in the music industry.

In a year when many in the recording industry are closing their doors, Midnight Records is expanding and gaining more clients. I spoke with Rigby, recording technician Cal Cruz and a handful of musicians who have recorded at Midnight Records about their experience. Rigby attributes the success primarily to their nonprofit status. “We are a 501c3 nonprofit, so we specialize in affordable recording services for area musicians, emerging artists and local bands. That is our primary service, to provide quality recordings for kids who are coming up in the music business,” says Rigby.

This nonprofit status allows Midnight to charge prices far below the norm of most recording studios. Midnight charges a flat, $75 rate per song, which includes mixing, mastering and a CD, or a $45 hourly rate, which includes mastering. The flat-rate pricing allows a more relaxed and interactive recording environment. “What I enjoyed through the recording process was essentially the ability to take your time and not feeling like you had to go in and crank out an album in a day,” says J. Scott Lee of Merit Badge.  “Kent and Cal have the patience and want to work with you through the process and help you to make it the best it could be. It makes for a much more fluid and communal album.” When faced with a high overhead and a for-profit system in place, time is often something many recording studios cannot afford to give. “There was this feeling of it doesn’t matter how long it takes, we can keep doing it and keep doing it and we are welcomed back the next time,” says Tres Wilson of YYBS.

In an era of “instant everything, constant nothing” surplus of over-hyped, over-blogged download-only singles, an almost casual relationship to music has arisen. The ability to produce an album under the tutelage of a recording engineer, and in many cases a producer, that reflects your best work has become an outdated standard that seems to exist on shaky ground. “The supposed democratization of media has created a glut of music that nobody cares about, nobody wants to listen to—it is recorded the exact same way, and there is a lack of variety in the sounds,” says Christian Arial of Isle of Skye. “Recording well and caring about sounds is what [music] is supposed to be about—it isn’t supposed to be a forum for your latest photo on MySpace or a vanity propulsion mechanism.”

What Midnight champions, however, is that recording music, while intentional, doesn’t need to be out of the grasp of even the greenest of bands. Midnight has been behind the successful EP of Max Pain & the Groovies and the forthcoming Wolves Among Us full-length, as well as upcoming releases by Isle of Skye, Fauna, YYBS and Merit Badge. With the bottom line of money largely cut out, Rigby and Cruz are free to put all of their time and energy into creating with, rather than taking from, a band. “We are more than willing to work with the artists, trying to get as good of product or as good of a record as we can—no matter what. That is another principle of ours. No matter what it takes, let’s try to do the best we can as a studio and work together with the band or musician. Anybody can do it on a laptop, but this gives a sense of community,” Cruz says.

This spirit of cooperation and co-creating reflects the ethos of the statement, “Punk is reflex. Throwing a brick is reaction. Building community is action.” Allowing young—and largely unknown—artists to create music in a space with state-of-the-art equipment and knowledgeable professionals fosters a sense of community that reaches beyond the artists using the services. Beyond the mutual benefit of the musician learning the ins and outs of recording and the recording studio, the community at large can support a music scene without having to suffer through sloppily recorded, barely mixed, shitty sounding demos from their friends’ projects.”

To celebrate Midnight Records’ third year of existence, J. Scott Lee from Merit Badge is organizing a Midnight Records benefit show May 7 at the Woodshed to help cover the cost of fixing a leaky roof after extensive water leakage this winter/spring. Merit Badge, Max Pain and the Groovies and Dizzy Desoto will be performing. Come and be part of the growing community supporting Midnight Records.

L  R: Executive Director of Utah Arts Alliance, Derek Dyer, recording technician,  Cal Cruz and founder of Midnight Records, Kent Rigby in the Midnight Records Studio. Photo: Ruby Johnson