Sunday, November 4, 2012

Thoughts on Success with TJ Saddler

The other day I had the pleasure of sitting down with studio owner and Full Sail University Alum TJ Saddler. TJ, along with his friend Lucas Kellison, founded SadSon Music Group, LLC after TJ graduated from Full Sail University. SadSon Music Group is a multi-faceted professional music company based in Lincoln, Nebraska since 2009.  With an independent recording studio ranked among the nation's best, they can accommodate virtually any recording project. As native Lincolnites, Kellison and Saddler are proud to be establishing SadSon as an up-and-coming, young and energetic business in the community. They love the state of Nebraska, and are excited to give their best effort to make it a destination point for musicians, labels, commercial businesses, film producers and other creative minds from around the world. Their facility was purpose-designed--not renovated like a house or basement--to be among the nation's top independent recording studios, and their intention is to make an affordable hub for clients to work comfortably and assertively in fulfilling their personal and professional artistic goals. TJ is also beginning to record his own music as a vocalist. I had a chance to sit down and talk to him the other night about his career and also picked his brain on some topics that may be of interest to the fledgling music industry entrepreneur.

Me: When you first started your career, what did you want to accomplish, and how closely does that initial vision match what you’ve created today?

TJ: When I first started interning as an engineer, I just loved music. I wanted to gain more information and more experience recording, mixing, editing and vocal arranging, so I just wanted to be in the studio all the time. I just wanted to learn everything I could. When I was in school (at Full Sail) I just wanted to get as much studio time as I could. The business aspect of it was never a concern for me initially. I think I’ve done a pretty good job progressing as an engineer and a businessman, but I have room for growth.

Me: You’ve recently started performing as an artist and recording your own music. How have you integrated that new role into your busy schedule?

TJ: Really that has to take a back burner right now. With the business I’m in, owning a recording studio, I have to make sure my overhead is getting met. Every time I record, it’s expensive because that’s time I’m not getting paid for from someone else. So I have to really take my time on my recording career.

Me: Do you have a plan for moving the recording artist part of your career forward, or do you take a “wait and see” approach?

TJ: I am taking a “wait and see” approach for now, but don’t get me wrong. I’m always working on some things. When I put out my first single (Believe In Beautiful)
 and my second single (Deal With Your Daily Daily), I was spending a lot of time making sure I was comfortable with my music and making sure I loved my music. Right now, I’m not “in love” with anything I’ve created recently. It just takes time to develop that relationship with a piece of music, and that’s how you create an album…a nice project that you want to put out there.

Me: Since you spend a great deal of your time working with the artist who record in your studio, what is the role you play in the projects they create?

TJ: I do a lot of artist development, and that just comes naturally. If somebody asks me for my opinion, I can assist them in creating what they want to hear. It’s really up to the climate of the session. If it’s not my place or my time to say anything, then I don’t say anything. Sometimes it has to do with the relationship with the artist, but other times it depends on my role. If there’s a producer in the session, and I’m acting as the engineer, then I’m not going to give input on anything unless that producer specifically asks me for it. Here in Nebraska though, there are not a lot of times that the artists have a separate producer in the room, so I sometimes take on that role. Taking that on can be a disadvantage though because I do try and make clear-cut lines with what I do with an artist, because production is another service the artist should be paying for versus just engineering. That is the business side of things that I always have to be mindful of. Usually, I just say, “ok whatever” so we can just get some work done. But if I were in a bigger market, it would be a different situation.

Me: Speaking of bigger markets, do you see any advantages or disadvantages being in a smaller market such as Lincoln versus a larger market like Chicago or Denver, or the larger coastal cities?

TJ: The advantage to being here in Lincoln is that if you’re an owner of a studio and are producing music, the property value is pretty low versus a bigger city. Yes the market is smaller, but there’s less people doing what I do, so there’s less competition for me. But then if I go to a market where there’s more studio competition, there’s also more artists to work with as well. Either way, you have to put out a good product.

Me: What challenges have you faced in developing your business and how were you able to overcome those challenges?

TJ: I think the hardest thing is to gain capital to invest in a recording studio, first and foremost. It’s just work. Once you get out of school, you just can’t stop working. You have to learn more, network more, and work on your craft every day or else you’ll lose it.

Me: What specifically do you do to network?

TJ: A lot of it is word of mouth and people hearing the quality of the music. Word gets around town. And then as far as nationally, we’ve been blessed to have local artists bring national artists here. Travis Porter came through recently as well as a few others. We’ve been able to work with them and have a good time! We’ve just been blessed and placed in a special situation, and for that we’ve been grateful. Our HipHop scene is growing. I’ve always been recording HipHop here in Lincoln since I got out of school, and I’ve been fortunate enough to see the growth that has happened. With the new facilities that have been built, the sound just keeps getting better along with the artistry available.

Me: In your journey becoming a leader in the music industry in this city, as well as the state and regionally, what do you see as the keys to your success?

TJ: Just keep making hot tracks. [laugh] That’s what you have to do, really, though. You have to put your best work out there and hope that the people love it. And if they don’t, try it again. Be original. Don’t be a copycat because nobody wants to hear that. You don’t always have to conform to the perception of what you think people want to hear. You have to get outside of your brain sometimes, outside your stubbornness, and try something new. And you just have to be patient. Your work ethic has to be up to par. The biggest thing for me was not to dream without a plan. I had to make a plan, and then work my plan. A lot of times people get caught up in the moneymaking aspect or the glitz and glam they see and hear about the industry. I mean, those opportunities are really good when you can get them, but your focus should really be on local and home-grown grass-roots organizations that support you and your passion. You have to show the passion to create and give something back. That’s really what it’s all about for me. Stay encouraged! You know it’s hard in these economic times, so we really have to buckle down and keep working. You never know what is being planned for the music you’re working on. You just might be in the right place at the right time, but you won’t ever be there if you don’t keep working.

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