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The Evolution of MASTR Productions: From a Humble Home Studio to a Nationwide Powerhouse

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The Beginning of a Long Road

MASTR Productions started as a dream. Not literally, but it started as a seemingly fictional lifestyle created by two brothers with a janky home studio in the basement. We dreamed of a lifestyle that didn’t involve a “normal job”, where you have a boss that’s constantly on your ass about showing up on time, or doing menial things that benefited others more than yourself. It’s important to learn where MASTR Productions came from, because it’s so much more than just the music. We didn’t have any professional analog gear, and we didn’t know anyone in the local music scene. We started as a mere bedroom studio.

This story begins when I had recently graduated college, and my brother Daniel was finishing up his final semester or two of business school. We didn’t have a clear path as to where to go in life, no “5-year plan”. We didn’t have another older brother to lead the way, our parents were very supportive but not completely in-tune with the creative-entrepreneur lifestyle we wanted to live. We didn’t want to clock in at a job, we didn’t want to have to report to anyone. We wanted more responsibilities, but with more rewards in it for us. We needed something that scaled in compensation as our output increased. This is something you don’t typically get at a 9-5 or an office job, and as people who value freedom of time, flexibility, and pay that scales with performance, it’s something we both needed in our lives.

Up until this point in our lives, all we had known was “you get paid what your hourly rate is”. That changed for me when I made a few Instagram posts, and started to understand the power of social media and running your own business. I had been working in Ableton for about a year or two before I understood exactly what it was capable of, and the value I could provide to other musicians with it.

Learning How To Run a Studio

When I posted a few snippets of my work on Instagram tagged with some local hashtags (#bostonstudio, #bostonproducer, #recordingstudio), I had some DMs coming in asking how much studio time was, and how much mixing and mastering would cost. I didn’t really know what to offer as a price, because at the time, I didn’t even have speakers! I had a couple pairs of headphones, and a shitty Alesis interface that was missing a few knobs, and a dented AKG microphone my brother’s friend from school gave us.

I decided that at the very least, I should ballpark my rates close to what I was making at the job I was working, so at first I said $15 per hour to record music. Knowing the scene like I know it now, I see why people were interested given the extremely low hourly rate. It wasn’t pretty, but the fundamentals were there, and we were getting clean vocal recordings in a comfortable environment.

In my first couple years of Ableton, I was working with instrumental tracks. I was making beats, recording piano and saxophone, and just trying to get the workflow to be more intuitive. I had been a live musician my whole life, so it was a substantial learning curve to work with a computer.

This underground hip hop scene was an opportunity for me to bet on myself, and do the necessary work to make that bet successful. I focused on getting better and better recordings with the equipment I had available, providing a comfortable recording environment, and networking with as many groups of friends as I possibly could. In the matter of a few months, I went from a complete nobody in the Boston music scene to someone that a lot of people had heard of, either from their friend or they heard a mix I did for an artist.

Jon working on a beat in the old, original MASTR Productions bedroom studio

Practice Makes Perfect

The key to succeeding in the underground recording scene is getting in your reps. When I was recording and mixing for $15-20 an hour, there was a special relationship going on between myself and the artists where they were getting an incredible deal on recording, and I was getting valuable practice recording and mixing vocals. That meant that the more they came back, and the more people they told about me, the better their product would eventually become.

Local artist, Keitho Wavy at a MASTR Productions home studio session

They knew that they weren’t fully fledged artists, and they were on the come-up as well, so the environment was one of learning. It was an understanding environment where if things went wrong, it’s okay. There’s no record labels bearing down on us about deadlines. There’s no crowd. There’s no expensive equipment to break. So it’s okay if the artist doesn’t have great bars tonight, or if the computer is overheating and we have to end the session early. That’s part of the come-up. You don’t have all the pieces together yet.

The artists in the Saugus, Lynn, Peabody, Somerville, and Medford areas of Massachusetts are special to us because they helped us develop into something that couldn’t develop without support and trust. They trusted MASTR Productions to provide a safe, comfortable, non-judgmental space, to record quality music, and we trusted that they would treat the space as if it was their own.

Expanding the Home Studio

After a year or two of consistent sessions, I was able to focus completely on the studio, and didn’t have to work another job. This allowed the studio to record more artists, which allowed us to get better equipment, and eventually a better recording space. It was clear that recording vocals for hip hop artists was the best way to grow, practice mixing, network, and make money.

We started the studio in a bedroom. In the next spot, we dedicated an entire living room (with a lakeview) to the studio. After that, we moved 15 minutes outside of Boston, and built a booth in the living room of that spot. The progression and reinvesting was clear to our clients and the general underground Boston music scene, and things were really coming together.

We upgraded the Alesis interface to the Apollo x8, which provides latency-free effects like Antares Autotune, and lush sounding reverb. We picked up a few legendary compressors – the Purple MC77 FET Compressor, and the TubeTech CL1B.

Jon mixing a song at a MASTR Productions home studio session

We messed around with a LOT of different microphones, and ended up using the Telefunken U47 (and the Manley Reference C). In our commercial studio we ended up getting, we were able to provide our artists with a Neumann U87 as well.

Everything gets run through the Neve Shelford 5052, which allows us to get a rich, perfect input level, send it through the compressors, and then have the signal come back through the Neve for EQ and saturation.

Growing the Team

rudywade with purple and black hair

Above all else, we had the resources and client volume to bring on more people to the team. One of the first people we brought onboard was artist and recording engineer, RudyWade. Rudy makes music on his own, which made inviting him to the team a no-brainer. He already had the skills I was looking for, so there wasn’t really much to teach, other than some conventions I had developed over the years of working in Ableton.

Bringing on someone else to the team was essential, because it allowed us to move with a different mindset. It allowed us to think bigger, and plan strategically. It allowed us to run studio sessions from two locations at once – the home studio, and the commercial studio, where we could have bigger gatherings, be as loud as we want, and lock in at all hours of the day (or night).

Rudy also introduced me to renowned TikTok star and “dark pop” artist, Stellar. He had recently been blowing up on TikTok for his song Ashes, and was looking to make some more hits. So we recorded a few songs on some YouTube beats, but after a few sessions together, we cooked up a banger from scratch, and it eventually became the song, Daredevil, which at the time of writing this, is about to break 25 million streams on Spotify. Click here to watch a video of how we made that beat from scratch, piece by piece.

viral tiktok artist, Stellar at a MASTR Productions studio session

This was a bit of a shock to me, because up until this point, I thought helping hip-hop artists was the best way to make money in music in the underground scene. It turns out that even pop and rock artists still need “beatmakers”, and still need a place to record their vocals. When we made Daredevil, I had no idea it would blow up to be the success that it has been so far, and I’m grateful that Stellar’s platform is able to reach so many people.

Experiments with Location

Orion recording a session at MASTR Productions commercial studio

We noticed a direct correlation between great recording environments / equipment and the satisfaction of our clients. People loved the commercial studio for its public nature, the ability to invite a bunch of people, and the separate recording room. We were able to bring on another engineer, Orion, specifically for this location. This allowed two studios to be recording at once, while I mixed projects in a third, separate location.

People love our home studio setups just as much as our commercial studio sessions, but for different reasons. They’re comfortable, they sound every bit as good as a commercial studio, and there’s less fuss over showing up a few minutes late, or a few minutes early. Having both locations allowed us to be flexible, and to provide more value to our clients.

Another distinct pattern we noticed was that the closer to the city we got, the more clients were able to access us as a recording resource, and thus, we were more successful through greater exposure to our target market. Knowing this, we felt we needed to experiment, and see what other markets had to offer.

Yes, having the level of success that we had in Boston was great, but it always felt limited. The music scene in the Boston area does not seem to cater to hip-hop. There’s limited venues for it, there are very few clubs that stay open late, and there seems to be this stigma towards artistry in Massachusetts that is: if you’re an creative person, you’re struggling, and you’re failing in life.

The Next Chapter

Jon listening to a mix outside by the pool in California

When I realized that this genuinely wasn’t true, and I wasn’t failing at life, I had to change my surroundings to where people go when they’re pursuing something creative. California. Los Angeles. Hollywood. This is where the maximum exposure to the music scene (or at least the creative scene) is in the United States. So if we’re able to succeed so well in Boston, what can we accomplish in an even greater music hub? We’re currently finding out. In 2022, we bit the bullet and moved our entire operation to the West Coast. We stationed Orion in Providence, Rhode Island to keep the East Coast on lock, but we’re working on getting him out here too.

Today, MASTR Productions is a versatile music production team spanning from coast to coast. We have our core engineers, but our network allows for so much flexibility, that we have:

  • Artists who record for themselves, and sending in their raw vocals to be mixed.
  • Artists that have converted to recording engineers so that they can join our team, learn about music production, and walk the path from home studio engineer to professional.
  • Studio owners who we funnel artists to when we know they will get a good deal for the quality provided.

We integrate individuals into a workflow in a way that’s fair and rewarding for everyone. It’s great to see people following the things they’re passionate about, and learning to bet on themselves.

Special Thanks

I want to give a special shoutout to my brother Daniel for believing in MASTR Productions, and investing time and resources into the dream.

Daniel, throwing peace signs for the camera at a MASTR Productions recording session

Daniel saw the work and dedication I was putting in over time, and provided a lot of opportunities for us that we otherwise would not have had access to. Daniel has been a key behind-the-scenes power player from the beginning. He even helped to write “Secrets of the DAW”! If you’re looking for any kind of help with marketing, branding, advertising, do not hesitate to hit up my guy Daniel – he does his marketing through Doin the Most Marketing.

Here’s to continued success in the ever-changing music industry, to more music, and to more friendships made along the way. We invite you to put your 10,000 hours in and become a master at whatever it is that calls you.

JL

@mastr.productions