If you read this newsletter regularly, chances are the names “ES Audio” and “Donny Baker” ring a bell, because both names show up regularly here. Located in Los Angeles, ES Audio is a world-class studio that does recording and mixing projects for major artists with a client list that ranges from “YouTube Star” Shane Dawson and Emmy-nominated actor Anthony Anderson of “Black-ish”, to Grammy-award-winning-singer Tionne Watkins of “TLC.” Recently, ES Audio enjoyed having Academy Award winner DJ Paul of “Three 6 Mafia” and artist Trinidad James in the studio to complete their latest projects. Likewise, ES Audio’s chief engineer and studio manager Donny Baker is one of our most in-demand Recording Connection mentors.
What you probably didn’t know is that ES Audio is owned by JoAnn Bush, Donny’s wife.
While Donny oversees the various projects coming through the studio, JoAnn oversees the business side, and as such, she brings a unique perspective to the industry while giving plenty of opportunities for Recording Connection students to learn. In a recent interview, JoAnn weighed in on a number of key topics, including the challenges of being a woman in the industry, her take on what’s most important in the music business, and how Recording Connection students can get ahead in a competitive industry. Enjoy!
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RRFC: What was your journey into studio ownership? Why did you decide to embark on this kind of a career?
You could say it was when “luck met opportunity.” My husband, Donny Baker, was partners in a recording studio he had built from the ground up; however, when his partner decided he wanted to leave to pursue another career, five years into it, it was either we take it over 100%, or just call it quits…So, I was the one who basically said, we have to do this, we have to take it over and see what happens. Call it women’s intuition or just not liking the word quit, I basically took over complete ownership of the previous studio, renamed it ES Audio Recording Studios, and it’s been pure bliss ever since [laughter].
RRFC: What is your day-to-day at the studio?
Whether we planned it or not, Donny and I have defined roles in the business. Not only is he a Mentor for RC Students, he’s also the Lead Engineer and ES Audio’s Studio Manager, who keeps things running smoothly at the studio on a day to day basis—whereas a lot of my time is spent “behind the scenes,” basically making sure the bills get paid and that the lights stay on. I also handle all of the social media for the studio, which takes at least a few hours each day to get the word out on our latest projects.
RRFC: Do you have any muses in audio? If so, who are they?
I know it sounds crazy, but when I was in middle school, I used to record “Dick Clark’s Top 40” onto cassette, and then I would play it back, writing down each song and the tidbits of trivia he’d throw out about each artist. So, yeah, it would definitely be Dick Clark. And I have to say, never in my wildest dreams, as a twelve-year-old girl, did I think I’d go from living in Kentucky, listening to “Dick Clark’s Top 40, to owning a recording studio in Los Angeles, California, where “Dick Clark’s Top 40” was produced every week. Pretty awesome, when you think about it.
RRFC: What’s your most memorable experience in the studio? Any cool stories to share?
Way too many stories, but one that does stand out is when Steven Adler of Guns N’ Roses was in my studio and said to me, “Hold on a sec, I want to go grab my CD of my band “Adler” for you to listen to, so you can let me know what you think.” Yeah, that was definitely a pretty cool moment.
RRFC: Is the music industry really as different today as people say it is? After years in the industry, what would you say the industry is all about—the music, the money, the camaraderie, for example?
Well, for one, the music industry is definitely not only about the money, otherwise we wouldn’t be here [laughter]. It’s about providing a safe and creative environment for artists to feel free to express themselves through their music or work. And, when they do happen to succeed, it’s an awesome feeling to know that you played a small part in their success, whether or not they give you a “shout out” at the Grammys!
RRFC: As a woman in the industry, do you have any advice for other women who might feel a little out of place in what is often seen as a field dominated by men?
Sometimes, as a woman, it is hard to stand your ground. Growing up with two brothers on both sides of me, I guess it was always easy for me to get along with the guys and fit in. But, yeah, never be afraid to speak up if you have a valid point, and say, “You know what, here’s a different way we could go about this.” Usually, they’ll listen. That being said, even for guys starting out, it can be intimidating for them to fit in as well. Once again, it’s all about trying to understand everyone’s role on a project and finding where you fit in, and following your passion from there.
RRFC: Any other advice for females who want to get into working in the studio?
Personally, I would start with schooling vs. behind the front desk…That’s why RC is so great, because it does give you a “hands on” opportunity to learn different genres of the business. You could be working on a music video shoot one day, then sitting in on an ADR session the next. It’s all about deciding where your passion lies and then following it to the fullest. And, luckily here in Los Angeles, there are so many opportunities available to people starting out in the industry today.
RRFC: Any tips on how Recording Connection students can make the most out of their apprenticeships?
As they say, it’s 90% about showing up. And when you do show up, be prepared and ready to learn everything you can. Believe me, a positive attitude will get you far…But don’t get me wrong, you definitely have to put in the work, in order to learn how to handle any situation that may arise during a session. We understand you’re not going to learn everything overnight, but you have to be willing to at least show up and try 110%…And, as a student, you need to realize that you’re going to make mistakes, but that’s how you learn…You need to know when to put the phone away and give people eye contact, so that they know they are being heard.
RRFC: What advice would you say to those of us with big, big dreams of breaking into the industry?
Very rarely do big dreams happen overnight, like you see on “American Idol.” It takes a lot of hard work, planning, persistence and hustle. And, like they say, you better be ready when opportunity knocks on your door, because nobody is just going to hand it to you. It’s a hustle, Every day, day in and day out. And every once in a while, your hard work will pay off, like when you hear the song you mixed on iTunes, or when you see the movie you recorded sound effects [for] win an Oscar. But, honestly, it’s all of these little moments that add up to the Big Moment when you look back on all of the late nights and realize, “Wow, I’m so incredibly lucky and so grateful to have been given such an amazing opportunity to be doing what I love in this world!”
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