IN FOCUS: Small Business – All the right notes

Posted on Oct 1, 2014 :: Small Business Spotlight
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Marc Golde, owner/operator, at the recording console at Rock Garden Studio in Appleton. Photo courtesy of Rock Garden Studio.

Appleton enjoyed a wave of cultural success with Mile of Music – Mile 2.

But take a tour of Rock Garden Studio, the award-winning recording facility involved with Mile 2 and its musicians, and you will get a much better sense of the powerful currents that power the Fox Cities’ music scene.

“There was something dragging me here, something pulling me here. It was the music,” says Rock Garden Studio owner/operator Marc Golde. “This was like my mini-version of LA.”

Rock Garden, located on an island of the Fox River in Appleton, opened last year as a continuation of Golde’s previous ventures in the Fox Cities. Rock Garden promotes itself as versatile and affordable, traits Golde says kept it alive amid a recording industry racked by the rise of digital media.

“Diversifying is what saved the studio,” Golde says. “Most major studios in America have closed down. You can’t just complain that business isn’t what it used to be.”

Instead of complaining, Golde added video and began working with commercial advertising agencies to generate the revenue to keep the studio open and allow Golde to pursue his passion — catering to upstart musical acts and growing a vibrant music scene.

“I’m loaded with how much work I can actually put in myself; I hit the wall,” he says. “I gross around $80,000-$100,000 a year, and I won’t be able to crack that unless I have someone else doing production too.”

Golde’s involvement with the Appleton music scene dates back to the late 1980s, and Rock Garden has a unique retro appeal that reflects his experience as a musician, producer and songwriter growing up in the ’70s. By age 9, Golde was performing at the bars and clubs of his hometown, Merrill, and was gifted a portable recording set. At 16, he went on the road, finding himself in Appleton two years later.

In his 20s Golde began hosting recording sessions in his basement. “I was getting some better results than the small studios around here. And I was like, hey, I can do this.”

During the mid-’90s, he went to work for a studio in Neenah. When that studio folded, he decided the time was right to go out on his own.

“The first one lasted about two months. It was terrible,” Golde says. “The next one, I just outgrew the place and it evolved into this.”

Along the way, he learned valuable lessons about pursuing his passion as a business.

“I tell people, I’m not in this business to make money, but I have to make money to stay in this business,” Golde says.

Still, he remains committed to music, something not lost on area musicians.

“I’ve been working with Marc since I’ve been about 15,” says Nicole Rae, lead singer for The Travelling Suitcase, one of the region’s leading indie rock groups. Rock Garden recorded a music video for Rae’s band as a segment in a 10-part series of Mile of Music acts.

“A lot of us in the inner circle, we know Marc, we love to record there,” Rae says.

For Golde, it will always be about finding that balance between the musicians and the services he can offer on the commercial side, not an easy task in an age when anyone with a smartphone can dabble in the recording trade.

“I haven’t worked with anybody better at creating really great work at extremely competitive prices and being very dependable,” says Kip Karstedt, president of Burton Karstedt Ad Agency, one of Golde’s clients.

Ironically, Golde’s work for Burton Karstedt began with a musical parody.

“Marc proved to be adept at playing many instruments,” Karstedt says. “It developed into music videos. I was impressed with his video work, so we hired him to do a bunch of video recording as well. Now we’re creating many more forms of video ads. It’s not just TV ads but YouTube videos, flash videos and embedded videos on websites.”

Looking forward, Golde says the success of ventures such as Rock Garden Studio and Mile of Music will add to the cultural and economic vibrancy of the Appleton area.

“The last 20 years or so my goal has been to take this music scene here and put it on the map,” he says. “We can make great records here.”