It's 10:30 and the cops are already outside. Befuddled, the hundred drunken partygoers in the Bloomington home of local band Good Luck wonder why the show's opening band has stopped playing. It's a big show for Good Luck - the last they'll ever hold in their basement - but the whole thing is shut down before they can even take the stage.
Fortunately, they have friends like Mike Bridavsky, owner of local studio Russian Recording.
"He ran down there with his intern and on the spot got everything set up, moved 100 people to his studio and had the rest of the show there," said Ginger Alford, bassist/vocalist of Good Luck. "He didn't even freak out too much that people were crowd-surfing in there."
The acoustics and high quality sound equipment of the studio's live room make it ideal for live shows. Since Russian's first show in March, this is mostly what the space has been used for.
But since the professional-quality studio's construction last summer, it's been drawing the attention of some higher-profile clientele. BLK JKS, a South African band that recently signed to Bloomington uber-indie label Secretly Canadian, recorded at Russian earlier this year, as did Magnolia Electric Co. Though things have slowed down since the spring (summer is an especially slow season for recording, Bridavsky said), other Secretly Canadian artists have expressed an interest in doing sessions at Russian as well, like Early Day Miners and Damien Jurado.
Bridavsky, a graduate and former faculty member of IU's Recording Arts program, and a musician himself, enjoys hosting shows, but would rather be recording. Having bands play has become a way to promote Russian to touring clients, as well as a way to use the space in lieu of sessions.
"I'm getting no calls for recording and four or five calls a day for having shows here, and that's really disappointing," Bridavsky said.
To keep the studio afloat, Bridavsky has had to raise his rates for time in the studio. Despite this fact, and the recent influx of shows, Russian has never, and most likely will never, turn a profit.
"I don't make money," Bridavsky said. "I think people see this place and think I must be doing really well, but this is enormous amounts of debt."
It's a passion for recording, and music in general, that has kept Bridavsky in the business. Growing up in Cleveland, he started playing music early, and by middle school was experimenting with recording his songs on a cheap cassette deck. During high school, he spent all of his free time recording different bands with a four-track and eventually a computer.
"I already knew I was going to school here at IU for recording," Bridavsky said. "I decided to do this a long time ago."
In Bloomington, Bridavsky recorded bands in his house until opening a small studio called The Projects in an old battery warehouse owned by a friend. Unfortunately, the two proved better friends than business partners, and eventually called it quits.
"It wasn't really much of a business," Bridavsky said. "I think we had one paying client ever."
After graduating in 2002, he began working full-time for IU, and decided to open his own studio in 2003. He bought an old house in Nashville, Ind., across from Ski World, and the first incarnation of Russian Recording was born.
The first year was difficult, as Bridavsky knew few musicians and struggled to get clients. Then he met Pete Schreiner (of Magnolia Electric Co. and The Coke Dares) at a party. Schreiner showed some interest in the studio, and news of Russian spread by word of mouth.
"He said, 'I heard you have a new studio; I'd like to go check it out,'" Bridavsky said. "It was just lucky, and he's one of my closest friends now."
A new studio
Six years later, two dozen people sit on the carpeted floor of Bridavsky's new Bloomington studio. With rapt attention, they watch Normanoak, the name used by Chris Barth of the Impossible Shapes for his solo performances, sing a song called "Princess Unicornus."
With some help from Schreiner, Bridavsky built the new Russian Recording on South Walnut Street in the summer of 2008, in a building that used to be home to Secretly Canadian. The high walls of its main room are strategically covered in rectangular blocks of padding. Above the window to the control room that takes up most of the room's left wall is a painting of a man, with the words "Have Some Underfuckingstanding" in huge letters above his head.
Though Barth performs with only his voice and an electric guitar, the sound is powerful, the music accentuated perfectly by the PA and the dimensions of the room. The amount of time, effort and money that's been put into the new home of Bridavsky's business can easily be seen and heard.
Yet, for Alford, the main perk of working at Russian isn't the expensive equipment and perfectly honed space. Good Luck recorded their album Into Lake Griffy
at Bridavsky's old studio, but it was the engineer's tireless enthusiasm and knowledgeable suggestions that helped the most.
"He was very excited about recording our record," Alford said. "Eighty percent of the time he would make suggestions that we'd end up using - he made us do interesting things with the album that wouldn't have been done."
Dave Vettraino, an assistant recording engineer at Russian, agrees that Bridavsky's easygoing personality can be helpful to artists.
"He works really well with all the clients," Vettraino said. "He can be really serious and focused, but really lighthearted sometimes."
Bridavsky's musicianship also had an impact on the recording of Into Lake Griffy,
Alford said. Proficient at singing, guitar, bass, drums and piano, he was able to help with things like tricky guitar or vocal parts.
Side projects and the future
Originally, Bridavsky chose to pursue a career in recording to work with music in a way that could be considered a service and profession, but would also allow him to make his own art. Now, with some free time on his hands, Bridavsky is pursuing that goal.
He's been working on a new project, called Wackbards (a spoonerism of backwards), with Mark Pallman of Prizzy Prizzy Please. The two of them write and record songs on the spot in the studio, creating each new song in a progression based on the end of the song before it.
"It's all about having as many catchy melodies crammed into one song as possible and using really weird instruments," Bridavsky said. "I think every song is going to have opera singing, whistling, saxophone and trumpet. We don't have to like the song, we just have to be super excited that we wrote it."
Though he is an artist himself, Bridavsky said that his own musical taste has nothing to do with the work that he does with his clients. After spending so much time recording and making music, Bridavsky rarely gets interested in any particular style, though he has recorded everything from hip-hop to classical.
"There's a good analogy that I heard - it's not mine, but, does every gynecologist have to fall in love with every vagina?" Bridavsky said. "It's the same way with music; you can't expect to love every band you record or else you're going to give up."
Though he quit his job at IU to work full-time in the studio, Russian's inability to make money has forced Bridavsky to consider getting another job, or even having to scrap the studio altogether.
"If the bank comes and repossesses everything, it's like a clean slate - I can go do whatever I want," Bridavsky said.
He's considered other options, like teaching classes on recording at IU or touring with a band, because even in the busier months, the success or failure of the studio is difficult to predict.
"Every session I get, I feel like, 'Oh thank God I had this session randomly happen,'" Bridavsky said. "It's a really fucked up business - it's not like a restaurant where people have to eat every day. I record people who literally have no money at all."