INTERVIEW: Obsidian Studios

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INTERVIEW BY: Caitlin McGeehan

Obsidian Studios is already an asset to the Philadelphia music scene. The recording studio offers multimedia services that span from photography to marketing, and upholds an ‘artist first’ mentality. 

Founder Grayson Cedrone (GtheShep), Junior Executive Sound Engineer Joe Kuri (Kain), and the Obsidian team plan to elevate Philly as a music market and put the rest of the music industry on to the new talent the City of Brotherly Love offers. 

GtheShep and Kain spoke about Obsidian’s roots, recording session vibes, and what’s next for the studio.

Caitlin McGeehan: You are both sound engineers as well as Obsidian’s managers. What inspired you to branch out and open Obsidian Studios?

GtheShep: I met Kain working with mutual clients at a previous studio I managed but didn’t own. And y’know with a business you don’t own, you tend to see a lot more of the problems and think to yourself what you would do different. So eventually, I just made the decision and put down the deposits. I knew I had Kain and a bunch of other guys supporting me, so as scary as it was opening during COVID, we did it well.

I really think we’ve created a premiere space in Philly for recording and overall artist development. Philly is one of those spots that doesn’t have those huge record labels like in LA, NYC or Atlanta. So one of my main goals when opening Obsidian was to bring that feeling of legitimacy and professionalism to Philly and make sure that the world can see that even though Philly has a C-list music market right now, it’s always had A-list talent. And it’s definitely a goal of mine to bring Philly to that A-list music market. 

Kain: Shep taught me basically everything I know and—

Shep: When he was interning for me this man would go days without sleeping, was always on his s***, always taking notes and learning. That’s really the sort of drive every Obsidian staff member has. Sorry for interrupting. 

Kain: {Laughs} Yeah that’s just the attitude we all have, we all work hard and play hard. But yeah we saw problems with the way other studios were run and when the conversation came up, of course I was on board. It meant I would have a bigger role and I would be able to have more of a say in how the studio was run. 

CM: How do you see Obsidian Studios as beyond just a recording studio?

Shep: Like I said before Philly is sort of a C-list music market with an A-list talent population. There’s so many talented artists out there but sometimes they can’t afford to pay for sessions or if they can, it’s the one fun expense they can have that month or week. We get that, y’know? We all been there. And we all been in the position of every step along the journey of an artist so we’ve seen it all. 

Something that sets us apart I feel like is the energy of the staff, like we all really care about every session that comes in, whether they have millions of streams or it’s their first time recording. We don’t just hit record, we’ll work with you on the song. We’ll give you feedback on lyrics, breath control, diction, and all that important stuff. We also do a master for each song recorded, which is included in the recording session fee, something most studios don’t do. 

I don’t know man, Obsidian really is a place where artists can come and just forget about the other bulls*** in their life and just enjoy making music. Not to mention we’re one of the few studios taking COVID seriously and actually keeping up with sanitation practices. 

CM: How do you see Obsidian Studios making its mark on the Philly music scene?

Shep: We want to be the next platform that can help Philly artists make it. I feel like for so long people have had the mindset [that] ‘you gotta get out of Philly to make it.’ And there’s some truth to it, like I said there’s no large labels in the area helping the community, and it’s not like the artists who have made it are going out of their way to help the rest of Philly. 

There are so many talented artists and creators in Philly and we’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of them. More often than not, they simply don’t have the clout, or the recognition, they should. And there’s a multitude of reasons, I’m not saying it’s easy to make a career out of music. But Philly has just been an underdog for so long and it deserves its time to shine. 

CM: What challenges have you faced opening your studio during the pandemic?

Shep: We opened when COVID was getting really serious in 2020, so obviously we opened with a set of safety and sanitation practices which are y’know, necessary to work safely, and that’s a big draw for our studio, everyone knows it’s safe because we take the pandemic s*** seriously. But because we do, that’s been a financial drain, we sink $100-200 into supplies almost every week.

And we work with every kind of artist you can imagine, from rap, to EDM, to country. And we can’t control what people do outside of the studio so we have to trust they’re making the best decisions, which puts the staff at risk. But that’s the same risk other people working right now face, like if you’re working at a grocery store you just kinda hope and pray you don’t test positive. 

We have a smaller window of exposure but we still had to put a cap on the number of guests each artist is allowed to bring when they record. And some of these guys are used to pulling up with heads, so it’s sometimes been a struggle to maintain the capacity limits we set. 

CM: How did you assemble your team of engineers?

Shep: When we first started we had three main ones, myself, Kain, and Tokxic. Tox and I met through the old studio about two years ago and some previous clients we worked with. When we opened, we barely left the studio and we still rarely do. 

Both Kain and Tox were happy about the change and ready to start immediately. For the first few months all of our sessions were advertised through word of mouth, we didn’t use any money to pay for ads or promotions. And we had the jawn booked solid, just because the community knew it was myself, Tox, and Kain working. 

Over time we’ve brought on new staff members, like Kultivate, an artist and producer signed to Subsidia records. We met him over the last year through mutual friends in the EDM scene and we just hit it off. One of our artists also functions as an engineer, Blasé. We also have a new staff member, Mista J Dubz. We don’t add people to the staff often because we really need to know we can rely on them to be solid in their work and also respect the business structure we have in place. But when we do, it’s with the trust they’ll treat every session just like I do, or Kain and Tox do. 

CM: Obsidian is definitely artist-focused: from your playlists of up and coming artists, and profiles of artists on your Instagram. How did your insight as engineers impact your vision of serving artists at your studio?

Kain: The music industry these days is multifaceted. There’s a bunch of different things you need to think about when you decide you want to start making music and a main one is exposure. If no one cares about your music then you’re not gonna be posted on social media or get any word-of-mouth help. So having the website and our social media which has a decent following, we have the ability to help with exposure. 

Our Chief Marketing Officer, Kyle Beatty (aka adey8), has taken a lot of initiative in regards to showing off artists on the Instagram in order to help with exposure. Whenever we have a session we’ll usually throw a picture or video of them up on our personal Instagrams and if the session is popular enough, we might repost it on the Obsidian page. Getting a name out there is always the first step and according to our PR intern, earned media is really helpful I guess. 

Something we have in store are more artist playlists on Spotify and Apple Music, so that way the reach is even further. And like I said before, we care about every single session that walks through our door, so we want them to succeed and we’ll do whatever we can to help them. Our in-house photographer likes to refer to Obsidian as a one-stop shop. Artists can come and buy a beat made by one of our producers, record a song to it, have it mixed and mastered, go downstairs to our multimedia studio and get pics taken, record a podcast, record a music video, and even get consulting advice from our PR staff. 

CM: What is the vibe of a recording session at Obsidian?

Shep: It’s really whatever they roll in on. If they want to jump right in and get to work, f*** yeah let’s do it. A lot of sessions will come with their beat, lyrics, and everything else ready to really, sort of, optimize the time they bought. If they bought two hours, they can crank out two songs easily. 

However, we’re also a multi-service studio. We have a lounge area with a PS4, an XBOX, a minifridge, so like if a session buys out a 12 hour session, we’re probably not gonna be working 12 hours straight. We’ll take breaks to get food together, review the work, talk about what they want to do, and make it happen. Like, yes it’s a recording session but we’re also gonna coach you a little bit and make it an enjoyable experience.

CM: How can people support Obsidian Studios?

Shep: Book time with us {laughs}. Nah but for real, come check out the studio and spend some time with us, we’re all cool people, we don’t bite. Also check out our website, leave us a good review on Google, follow us on all of our social platforms, and interact with our content when you can. We’re still a small business, so the support of the community is huge and we really appreciate it.  

Obsidian Studios is located at 1118 Sigel St. in South Philadelphia. Make sure to check out their Instagram and website.

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