In the eight years since Michael Mikulka and Steve McClintock opened a recording studio in Westminster, they have spent thousands of hours working with hundreds of aspiring musicians.
As part of their efforts to gather the best information and advice for their clients, they've also journeyed as far away as Nashville, New York and Cannes, France, to attend numerous record industry conventions and seminars.
What have they learned from the music industry's experts?
"A lot of times, the experts don't know any more than anyone else," said Mikulka with a chuckle during an interview this week at the headquarters of Gopher Baroque Productions, one of the most popular recording studios in Orange County.
Another lesson they've learned is the importance of diversity, something they've emphasized in recent years in the business that started as a modest studio in Mikulka's garage.
Besides recording demo tapes, singles, EPs and albums for local rock bands, Gopher Baroque does a significant business with such projects as in-house jingles for Knott's Berry Farm and local businesses as well as pre-recorded music for South Coast Repertory's stage productions and other commercial work.
In addition, Gopher Baroque Productions has grown into a multifaceted music company comprising the studio, a licensed talent agency, two record labels (Baroque Records and 37 Records), a music publishing arm (McJames Music), an in-house commercial photographer and a voice coach. In the near future, they also plan to expand the studio from 16-track to 24-track capability and add a second, smaller studio.
The two musicians-turned-entrepreneurs have also become firm--though reluctant--believers in the music industry's new adage that sheer talent is no longer enough to guarantee success.
"A lot of musicians who come in here complain about records they hear on the radio," said Mikulka, a guitarist whose fascination with "the toys" he discovered in recording studios inspired him to build his own. "They say, 'I can sing better than that.' But it takes more than just talent; it takes more than ability. If someone has gotten a record on the radio, I don't care how bad they are, that's an accomplishment in itself. They've got something going because it's just not that easy."
Given the harsh realities of a business where an increasingly large share of career responsibility rests with the musician, they also recommend finding a financial backer.
"If you've got a band that's good, go to a neighborhood doctor, a friend or family member who can put up $20,000 or $30,000 to help you get started," said Mikulka. "The truth is that record companies don't spend money on new bands anymore."
Added McClintock, who continues to pursue his own career as a songwriter and performer: "There is no artist development anymore. Record companies are looking for anything that allows them to take fewer risks. So if you can do a single on your own and sell 10,000 copies, they are going to be more interested.
"The approach we're taking is to be able to go to the record companies with a master product, someone to distribute it and some promotion money behind it," McClintock said. "If you have all that, the chances of getting a deal are improved drastically."
But all too often, they find that aspiring musicians spend so much time dreaming of the day they'll step into a recording studio that they fail to consider what they'll do once the tape starts rolling.
"If a local band isn't damn sure what they want to do," McClintock said, "it's going to be a lot cheaper for them to hire a producer to help them than start experimenting in the studio. A good producer will help them find a focus, point out trouble spots right away. Floundering around in the studio at $50 to $100 an hour can get expensive. Before starting to record, they would be smart to consult with somebody who has studio experience; pay somebody a consulting fee to get ideas for getting a project going."
Said Mikulka: "As a commercial studio, we'll rent studio time to anyone who wants it. But we've had bands come in and literally rehearse in front of us. As an overview, I'd say that most groups that come in here are under-rehearsed."
Having kept a relatively low business profile over the years, the pair said they intend to promote Gopher Baroque more actively in the future. Among the studio's more widely heard efforts are Berlin's 1983 single "Sex (I'm A . . . )" (which was remixed at Gopher Baroque), Jeff Pearson's "Orange County Cowboy" and Exude's "Boys Just Want to Have Sex."
"We still haven't had that huge hit," McClintock said. "But all it takes is for one record to be a hit and all of a sudden we're hot property."
Commented Tim James, who--with McClintock--runs the publishing company: "We just returned from a new music seminar in New York, and everybody on the panels had a different opinion about what it takes to be successful. But I think the one thing everyone agreed on--the bottom line--is: 'Don't give up.' "
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