Get the back story on this fast-emerging Grand Rapids studio’s special niche. Plus, listen to live Dogtown tracks and song debuts by several Michigan artists via Local Spins on WYCE.
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The live recording sessions at Dogtown Studio are like parties to which Robby Fischer has invited all of his musical friends.
“During every session, I probably say this: ‘I have the best job that I could really ever ask for,’ ” says Fischer, who launched Grand Rapids’ Dogtown Studio with Tito Mendoza five years ago.
“Who you work with really makes it. It’s a fun way to be creative with other people.”
During its tenure, the cozy studio in a warehouse on Front Avenue SW has carved out a distinctive niche that stands out from other West Michigan recording operations by specializing in live performance videos for dozens upon dozens of regional artists.
It’s all part of the mission for Fischer and Mendoza, who’ve been best friends since junior high school in Flushing, Mich.
“Video is the language of the Internet,” says Fischer, who relishes the opportunity to “translate” artists’ music to video so they can better showcase their work for a broader audience that might otherwise overlook songs amid an infinite array of entertainment options.
“It’s kind of a tragedy – music is easy to slip through the cracks in that kind of media landscape. … There’s so much power and potential in music. Video is just so central to leveraging those possibilities.”
A multi-instrumentalist and songwriter himself, Fischer originally developed his slice of warehouse space for his own musical projects about 10 years ago before he and Mendoza launched their live-performance-video endeavor.
Getting “all these plates spin in the right way” with their first video convinced them the concept had legs.
“From there, it was off to the races. We really dug in,” says Fischer, noting Dogtown produced 50 videos for free the first year of operation, later winning an Ovation Award from the Michigan Music Alliance for helping live-stream bands during the COVID pandemic.
“All these experiences gave me the foundation to begin doing this as a real business and now this is my full-time job,” says Fisher, noting that Mendoza remains involved with the studio but has stepped back currently while renovating his home.
For this week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE – which went on location at Dogtown – Fischer spotlighted tracks by up-and-coming funk-rock band Short Panic and indie-rock/Americana artist Eric O’Daly who staged live video sessions at the studio. Watch the video for O’Daly’s “Indigo Sky” here and scroll down for the full interview/radio show podcast and the Short Panic video.
VIDEO: Eric O’Daly, “Indigo Sky” (Dogtown Studio)
THE ‘RAW’ BEAUTY OF LIVE PERFORMANCE VIDEOS
Fischer argues that while it has its challenges – sometimes requiring several takes by the bands in-studio – recording live performances has advantages over traditional recordings that lean on overdubbing and multiple layers of instrumentation and vocals in a bid to achieve perfection.
The videos and live performances exude an energetic, ‘whatever happens, happens’ freshness. “We want to keep some of that rawness,” Fischer insists, and “not polish away” any minor flaws.
Many notable Michigan bands and solo artists have embraced Dogtown’s approach, including The Crane Wives, The American Hotel System, Brother Elsey, LVRS, Mikeyy Austin, Patty PerShayla & The Mayhaps and Ficus.
Fischer gets great satisfaction from hearing bands say they landed prominent bookings or management deals thanks to their Dogtown videos, or have otherwise had profitable years built, in part, on the attention gleaned from those live performance videos.
As for Fischer, he just released his own new, analog-based EP under the Unsummer Club moniker, a groovy, surfy, instrumental rock affair that he describes as “a really good chance to get back to the basics in terms of my own creativity.”
The Sept. 1 show also debuted the aforementioned live tracks by O’Daly (who plays Midtown in Grand Rapids on Sept. 30) and Short Panic, as well as new music by Headband Henny, The Bloody Pickups, Dan Terry, Strange Generation, Seth Bernard, Karriem Riggins, Rachel Brooke, The Third Degree and The American Hotel System. Listen to the show here.
PODCAST: Local Spins on WYCE (9/1/23)
VIDEO: Short Panic, “Skunk” (Dogtown Studio)
PHOTO GALLERY: Robby Fischer at Dogtown Studio
Photos by Joshua Tufts