From hip hop’s Mikeyy Austin to rock’s Patty PerShayla, the Grand Rapids recording studio has helped fill the pandemic void of live music with constant, creatively produced live-stream shows and videos.
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Hunkered down in the furthest corner of 240 Front St. in Grand Rapids, Dogtown Studio is washed in a kaleidoscope of lights.
Patty PerShayla & The Mayhaps are gearing up for a barroom brawl of a set. The deep hues of purple and green paint their faces. Robby Fischer and Tito Mendoza are making last-minute tweaks behind the camera before one of them yells out, “One minute!”
A few curse words are yelled playfully before going on-air. Then it’s time to work.
Robby enters a hyper-focused mode. He almost dances with his camera, kicking off his shoes and waltzing around the room in socks, dodging cables and musicians. He’s always thinking a step ahead to capture the emotion of the set, which is wild and angsty in this case. He drops a knee to the floor to nail a guitar solo from a low angle that immerses the viewer in glorious fuzz.
“I feel like I always come in here and have a good time and don’t have to worry about what I’m doing,” says PerShayla. “I’m not overthinking things, which is the thing I tend to do. The quality is always great. I don’t have to think. I’m just able to have a good time. It’s comfortable.”
In addition to The Mayhaps, recent sessions have included August, Emilee Petersmark, Mikeyy Austin and Loren Johnson. The sessions are run like a tightly kept ship. Bands arrive an hour to two hours early, load in, sound-check and get settled. Upcoming Dogtown live-streams will feature Grace Thiesen on May 23 and The American Hotel System on May 27.
Strolling the long corridors of the old warehouse building, past a still-operating Pepsi machine, you can hear the drums and bass follow you down the halls. The building feels alive, with sound pouring out from its many studios in a cacophonous yet communal conglomeration.
Sitting in a circle after their set, the Mayhaps reflect on working with Dogtown and the studio’s place in the creative community.
“I think what Dogtown has done for the local music community, even in this short time, is incredible,” says drummer Alec Klinefelter.
“I mean, they expose everyone around here. It’s constant. It’s constant content to see and show new bands, and especially in a really exciting and also creative light. And I mean, not just the visual, but the audio is phenomenal. I actually have nothing but praise for them.”
VIDEO: Patty PerShayla & The Mayhaps, “Midnight Line” (Live at Dogtown)
Amid a global pandemic that’s hindered live music, Dogtown has stepped into the digital void to bring quality live-streams to the living rooms of viewers via Facebook and Instagram. Fans can tune in from the comfort of their homes to watch the polished and skillfully produced shows.
OFFERING AN ENVIRONMENT THAT SPARKS GOOD PERFORMANCES
“The best compliment we can get is ‘I felt comfortable performing,’” says Mendoza. “Because musicians can go to so many different studios and they’ll have different experiences and for us, we want to be ready so when a band comes in we’re not running around trying to hook stuff up. We’re actually interacting with them and making them feel comfortable. Because that will turn into a good performance.”
Fischer adds: “We want bands to come in and feel comfortable and feel creative first thing. This setup is a place that is safe and conducive to having creativity happen here.
“And that’s where we put a lot of our energy. Because that makes the rest of the process so much easier. It’s like the creativity that a band or an actor brings in is like a spark, and you fill the room with creative gases. And when the spark meets the gases, it’s just this explosion of good energy and creativity.”
While Dogtown charges for its live-streams, Robby says they also “work with the local musicians union, American Federation of Musicians Local 56, and people who sign up for the union can have their entire costs covered and get payment for musicians through a program called the Music Performance Trust Fund.”
He noted that artist and new union member Grace Thiesen recently was able to access this financial support to not only get her costs reimbursed by the trust fund but get payment for the musicians.
In addition to live-streams, Dogtown also offers artists opportunities for recorded video performances. Pre-pandemic sessions took place anywhere from a downtown rooftop to a cabin at Earthwork Harvest Gathering.
Fischer and Mendoza, both from Flint, moved to Grand Rapids in 2013 and 2018 respectively. They began dabbling with video production and live sessions in 2015. Dogtown was established in November 2018. Both musicians in their own right who’ve known each other since the sixth grade, the pair created the studio to record their own material, then began recording for friends.
“So much a part of our filming style is the fact that we’re musicians, too. It’s similar to if you’re jamming with a band, you know, you hear and you get the feeling. And you learn to attune yourself with that, so that if you’re doing like a crescendo, you can get in with it, you know, you can be on the same page as everybody,” Fischer says.
“In a good jam, everybody’s on the same page. And it’s the same thing with me behind the camera. It’s the same thing as playing an instrument where your movements and where your focus is all about being on the same page as the music, and being on the same wavelength as the music.”
Robby’s filming style ranges from dramatic long takes of solo artists, to quick cuts that pan to crashing drums and gnarly guitar solos that sting the camera. Dogtown’s place in the burgeoning Grand Rapids music scene has been one of endless and diverse musical promotion and support.
“The Grand Rapids music scene, I love it. It’s not in the competitive realm. It’s in the realm of a lot of cooperation and a lot of direct support for one another. And that’s one of the things that I’m continually amazed to see is that it’s a place where everybody is just shouting out about everybody else,” says Fischer.
“Everybody knows that you get further together and that you have more fun and more artistic life if you’re working with other people than if you’re in this competitive scene. Because if you’re worried about getting ahead in the competition, you don’t take risks. And if you don’t take risks, you’re not being creative.”
Upcoming Dogtown Live-Streams:
May 23 – Grace Thiesen
May 27 – The American Hotel System
June 27 – Chris Cranick
July 22 – Steve Leaf
PHOTO GALLERY: Dogtown Studio, Mikeyy Austin (April 2021)
Photos by Jamie Geysbeek
VIDEO: Mikeyy Austin, Dogtown Studio Sessions (January 2020)
VIDEO: The American Hotel System, Dogtown Studio Sessions (December 2020)
Copyright 2021, Spins on Music LLC