Unbeknownst to many music fans, there’s a lot more that goes into music production than a great studio. Degraw Sound in Brooklyn demonstrates the benefit of having a full-powered team behind production. The Degraw Sound team empowers and publicizes the unique music scene of Brooklyn year-round, but now they are trying to showcases themselves annually with the newly minted Degraw Fest.
Degraw Fest began last year and is back and bigger than ever this weekend, featuring artists Queue, Eighty Ninety, Elliot & the Ghost, Kevin Daniel, and more.
Ben Rice, is the jack-of-all-trades behind Degraw Sound and Degraw Fest. He’s a producer, musician, and a sound engineer, as well as being the company’s founder. He gave us an inside look on the challenges, growth, and rewards of creating a festival championing unique artists.
Can you tell us a little bit about what goes on behind the organization and inspiration of Degraw Fest?
The inspiration for Degraw Fest came from all the amazing artists that record with us at Degraw Sound. Last year I was chatting with my friend Harper James—who’s also a producer and works with me here at my recording studio, Degraw Sound—about the idea of getting a bunch of the artists we produce together for a show. It just so happened that last year was the fifth anniversary for the studio, so that conversation was the nucleus for putting on Degraw Fest as an anniversary celebration.
The festival went so well and all the artists and fans had such an incredible time that we just had to do it again, so it kind of quickly turned into a yearly thing for us.
As far as the organization that goes into it behind the scenes, for a one-day event that’s still relatively small, it takes a tremendous amount of planning. We’ve put together a great team this year to work with us for Degraw Fest—from Sin and Hana over at GOGO PR to help us with press to Julie, Scott and Mads from Littlefield, where Degraw Fest will take place. They’ve all been amazing to work with and so accommodating to us. On top of those logistics, a lot goes into working with each artist to make sure their musical needs are met.
What have been some unexpected challenges and surprises along the way?
I think I always expect there to be challenges, so when they do come along, it’s not that much of a surprise. I did find that it’s difficult to get answers to outstanding questions in a timely manner, and I’ve found it’s really hard to get sponsors onboard.
With that said, I couldn’t be more stoked about the sponsors that decided to join us this year. Sixpoint has always been one of my favorite local beers and we’re super pumped that Lyft hooked us up with a promo to be able to give everyone who comes out 25% off their ride to or from Degraw Fest if they use code “DEGRAWFEST” in the app. Overall, we made it happen and every year it gets a little bit easier to navigate putting it all together.
You’ve been in music for a very long time, from interning at Clinton Recording studios, to starting your own studio, to founding a music festival. What has the journey been like?
It’s been a long journey that’s gone very quickly. If you asked me when I was sixteen and interning at Clinton Recording Studios if I’d ever own a recording studio, I’d have said “no way.” If you asked me when I was twenty-six and I started Degraw Sound if I’d ever start a music festival I would have said “absolutely not.” Somehow I’ve done both of these things and it feels completely natural.
How have you found your passion projects and do you have advice for people who would want to follow in your footsteps?
My advice for anyone who might want to follow in my footsteps is: don’t. There is line from an old poem by the Japanese poet Matsuo Basho that I love and try to hold in my mind on a daily basis: “Do not follow in the footsteps of the wise; seek what they sought.”
In the context of reflecting on my career, this line reminds me of how important it is to avoid trying to use another person’s life as a roadmap for your own. When you find something that you’re passionate about, something you deeply want to do, and you see there is someone who is doing a similar thing, your first instinct might be to try to do it their way. Resist that initial impulse.
A good friend of mine who’s becoming an incredibly successful producer and songwriter right now has a photo of a horse with blinders as the background on his phone. He said it’s something he heard the legendary producer Jimmy Iovine talk about—that they put blinders on racehorses because the minute that a horse looks to either side, the horse will miss a step. I really love that.
As far as passion projects, I try to bring the same level of passion to everything that I do, from wrapping cables, to cleaning the studio bathroom, to making records. Anytime I set foot in the studio, for me that’s game time. The artist has trusted me with their baby—the song—and I feel it’s a tremendous responsibility.
I’m fortunate to get to work with a bunch of artists who I love and respect, many of whom are playing at Degraw Fest. The band Queue always come to mind for me when I’m talking about artists I love; they’re incredibly talented and dedicated. They’ve been coming in from Philly and DC for the past few years to record with me and just moved to Brooklyn earlier this year.
Lately I’ve been carving out some time for myself to make some of my own music, which has been rewarding and grounding. I just put out a song called “The Getaway,” which you can find on Spotify. I have a lot more music in the pipeline that I’m excited to get out there into the world in the very near future.
How would you say Degraw Sound distinguishes itself within the Brooklyn landscape, and then on a larger scale within the industry?
I think Degraw Sound stands out in Brooklyn’s music landscape because we are very intentional about not approaching things the way typical commercial recording studios do. I think that we’ve built a reputation for being very artist-focused, artist-friendly, for essentially doing artist development, and for being willing to go deep on all the projects that we take on.
To give a little context for this statement, within the recording industry, a lot of times and traditionally speaking, a recording studio is a place that musicians can rent by the hour or by the day where they can go and make a recording. This may or may not include a recording engineer to operate the equipment for the recording session, but if it does, the engineer’s role typically is to handle only the technical aspects of the recording process. The majority of artists are looking for and need something more than that in order to make records—they need a producer.
Unfortunately, most artists who are starting out don’t really think about this or aren’t aware of it on one level or another. They wind up renting the best studio they can afford and don’t really pay much attention to the most important thing—the person or the people they’re hiring to be in the studio making a record with them.
Artists set out to record with this equation for themselves and their music, based on the music they love and the artists whose songs have resonated with them. But in this equation they’ve generated for themselves, they’re often missing a crucial factor: the vast majority of the artists whose music spoke to them had producers who helped shape those songs and recordings.
What we’re doing here at Degraw is filling that gap between the “uninvolved” commercial studio and the bigger name producers who are not accessible to most indie artists by giving independent musicians the type of guidance and support that they need. Even after a record is finished, we’ll often help the artist navigate the tricky process of releasing and promoting the record. I believe that as a result of this more involved approach, many of the artists we work with wind up coming back to do multiple projects and over time become part of the Degraw Sound community.
What are your hopes for Degraw Sound? And Degraw Fest?
My hope for Degraw Sound is that it can continue to exist for a very long time as a haven for musicians here in Brooklyn and that we continue to have the opportunity to work on even more great records. With that in mind, my hope for Degraw Fest is that it can continue to grow and be a platform for sharing all the the music that’s created at Degraw Sound with an even broader audience.
Do you have anyone you can’t stop listening to right now? How do you discover new music?
Phoebe Bridgers. She’s making some of the realest stuff around right now. I spend a decent amount of time listening to Spotify playlists and I think it’s an incredible way to discover new music.
I’ll just have playlists on in the background at home and whenever a tune catches my ear I’ll add it to an ongoing playlist of my own with songs that I’ve found on Spotify. Then later on, I’ll go back through those songs and dig deeper into those artist’s catalogue. Whatever algorithm Spotify developed for me is spot on, and I constantly find new tracks that I’m into.
What’s in store for the next year?
Globally, I have no idea. Studio-wise, we’ve got some records in the works with Sophie Colette, Scarlet Sails and Queue that I’m stoked about. I’ll also be releasing more of my own music this fall; I have a bunch of new songs that I’ve started recording that I’m very excited to get out there.
Anything else you’d like to include?
Come hang out with us at Degraw Fest! We’ll be hanging all day and most likely all night so stop by to say hello and hear some great music.
Interested in going to Degraw Fest? Don’t miss out!
August 4th, 2018 | 2 PM to 10 PM
635 Sackett Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217