by Marianna Levine
Musician and contractor Bryan Downey is definitely a man with a mission. He not only organized the hugely successful “Singer/Songwriter Sundays” series, which premiered at Bay Street Theatre on January 17, he also started seeking out and recording local performers at his newly built Bulldog Studios in Noyac this past year.
He believes “every well known singer comes from somewhere, why not here.” An interesting comment considering it is coming from a man who is originally from Liverpool, a city famous for its legendary singer/songwriters.
In 2009, Downey built a cozy but professional recording studio with the initial intent of just recording his own music. The space, while not large, is spacious enough to house various instruments, including a drum kit, a keyboard, various guitars, as well as containing a sound proof recording room and mixing studio. Once everything was set up, he realized it just wasn’t inspiring enough for him to play and record his own music in the studio.
“So I started looking for people with talent around here, and began inviting people one by one to record with me in the studio,” Downey explains.
What started as a personal labor of love, quickly turned into an exciting new venture for Downey. A friend of his, John Monteleone, created a website for Downey’s studio, in exchange for studio time, and immediately professionals were calling Downey to rent his space.
“HBO called me a few days after the website went up in June. They wanted to know if Liev Schrieber could come in and do some voice over work,” says Downey. “Then Richard Gere came in to do the same on the hottest day of the year for a movie called ‘Journey from Zanskar,’ which they’re hoping to screen in Sag Harbor soon.”
“We couldn’t have air conditioning running because of the noise and he sweated it out, but he was great about it,” adds Downey. “Then Sam Roberts came in, and I did three sessions with South America’s most famous singer Tahlia. We did a radio call in show with her here because we have something called an ISDN that allows us to hook up to any studio around the world.”
The popularity of his studio came as a pleasant surprise to Downey who is using the income he makes from that professional work to sponsor local artists he feels are talented, especially young people trying to get their work heard for the first time.
“I sponsor so many people free of charge because I believe in them.” Downey explains, “I know we have a couple of really talented people around here, guided in the right direction they could really make it. I tell them if they hit it big they can buy me a limo.”
Downey says in general his studio has a sliding scale, although he tries to make it free for teenagers who come in to record. He does have one strict rule about all recording in his studio. The music has to be original. He won’t let kids do any covers.
“I don’t really care how good a singer or musician they are, no one can sing a cover in here,” he says. “I want to encourage originality and creativity. If a kid has a song but they don’t know how to create a score we’ll find someone to help them do that. Or we’ll bring in other musicians to play on the song if needed.”
Downey enthuses over the talents of several of his recording artists, including Ross student Shanna Polley and teenager Jawlee Trudden and her band “In Circle.” Another local teen band “The Glazzies” who are based in Sag Harbor have also recently recorded in his studio.
Downey, whose day job is restoring historic homes, is a self-taught musician and producer who grew up in a musical household.
“My father was a professional musician,” he says. “He played with ‘Roxy Music’ as a session musician, and Eric Burdon of the ‘Animals.’”
However, he adds, he does use two professional engineers in the studio, but for the free sessions Downey uses what he’s learned and “plays the part of producer.” He notes he’s still learning, but so far he’s had no complaints about his producing.
The “Singer/Songwriter Sundays” Downey organized at the Bay Street Theatre will be offered bimonthly and came out of his enthusiasm for the local artists he has met through his studio space. Several of his recording artists performed their original music in the completely packed Bay Street foyer two Sundays ago. Like Downey’s studio sessions all ages performed and attended the show.
“The audience was amazing. They kept coming in despite the rain and the football game. Apparently we broke all records for attendance at Bay Street that night and everyone stayed for the whole thing as well.”
“Singer/Songwriter Sundays” at Bay Street Theatre will be offered the first and last Sunday of each month from 5 to 7 p.m. The theatre is located on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. To record at Bulldog Studios contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top: Bryan Downey, owner of Bulldog Studios in Noyac, directs Argentinian singer Claude Imaz as she lays down vocal tracks. Heller photo.