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Bill Davidow of Garden Grove's Virlouise Recording Studios and Virlouise Records hopes that by looking to the music industry's past, he'll be prepared for its future.
What's your musical background?
My mother was a classical pianist, a prodigy. I grew up around it. My uncle was a jazz trumpet player. I was raised around classical. I learned music from my mother first, and then went to college. With engineering, I just started with a tape recorder when I was 12. I learned flying by the seat of my pants. I did a lot of live sound. Producing comes when you hear things and you start hearing what's wrong with them. I study all the time. I just stay at it.
And Virlouise is the name of your record label and the name of your recording studio?
Looking at the record label, we have three projects. I'm looking for more. I was fortunate I was able to spend time with people from Motown Records and the late Nick Venet from Capitol Records. So I've been around some pretty legit people who love the arts. Virlouise is an artistic endeavor. It's about music the way people want music to be—artistic and from the heart. We want to do fun music, too. I'll do anything—it's a non-genre label. The recording-studio part, we've done a lot of rock bands. Rock bands look for deals. They're looking for Epitaph or Sony to pick them up. They all have the big dreams. I'm building a new place that will have a larger live room.
How did Virlouise start?
We started the old-fashioned way: You sell whatever way you can, gain capital through sales of MP3s or CDs. I haven't looked for backers. If they come, they come. Right now, you have three or four really wealthy organizations—the major labels—and you have some pretty good-sized independent companies, and then you have a lot people doing the independent thing. The recording studio hopefully pays the costs of my overhead—to have a building, to buy things for the studio, keep the place open. People get a really high-quality recording at my place. I'll see how far I can make it grow in the next three to five years. Nobody knows which way the industry is going right now. My friend has a radio show in LA, and I was listening to Donald Passman a couple of months back. He was asked what the future of the music industry is, and his answer was, "I don't know," and here's the guy who wrote the bible everybody in the industry reads [All You Need to Know About the Music Business].
Did the recording studio come first?
Yes. As I started the studio, I was already thinking of a label. Record labels now have their own studios. It's becoming more and more common. Producers often build a place at home or have a low-cost place. People are streamlining and reducing their overhead. So, I'm not doing anything unique. Motown started in two houses in Detroit. They all started that way. When the whole thing started in the '50s, the labels and the recording company were one thing. The old days of a record company paying a lockout fee to lock out a studio for two or three months and the bands hang out for three months, those days are gone.
So your setup is with the flux in the music industry in mind.
Yeah. The amount of MP3s being sold is rising. You can sell them right on MySpace. The problem is the market is so saturated that people actually have an aversion to buying music. There's so much hype. People think they have to give the typical sales pitch, but I think all it has done is traumatize consumers. I think they're more likely to go right to name acts. It's going to be like it was in the old days, when the industry started. The only way a band is going to break is they'll have to have a killer song, and they'll have to be the band to play that killer song. Every time I hear an independent act that's having incredible success, I hear an incredible song that I would buy. And it could be some style that I would never think of buying, and I think, "I would buy that." It's become so easy for anyone to make music and CDs that everyone wants to do it. With American Idol and all that, everybody's into this glamour life thing to an extreme now. The slogan of my label—"It all starts with a song"—we started with that philosophy. If you write properly, if you study the craft of writing, inevitably, if you stick with it, you'll have one song that you can make a living off for the rest of your life.
How is Orange County as a location for what you do?
What I'm discovering is a lot of the bands—rock bands and alternative bands, which Orange County is full of—they don't care about LA. There's sincerity and honesty in Orange County. It surprised me, how many of the groups here are into doing it for the sake of doing the music. I really think that Orange County has its own thing going on. I like being in Orange County.