Located in a huge, old, repurposed, industrial building at 240 Front Street SW, Dogtown Studio is a dream come true for best friends Robby Fischer and Tito Mendoza. The two spent most of their spare time playing music together as teens in the Flint/Flushing area until it was time to go to college. Mendoza headed south to Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida to study recording arts. Fischer attended Grand Valley State University, settling in Grand Rapids.
Fischer got into video recording about five years ago, setting the scene for Dogtown Studio Sessions—live, affordable music videos that give Michigan musicians a platform to promote their music. (Fischer had to speed through the interview for this story to leave for a downtown shoot with Hannah Rose Graves, Lady Ace Boogie, and Ty Beat making music within the Prismatica street-art exhibit.)
According to its website, “Dogtown Sessions are a way to get your music the attention it deserves in a highly visual, ‘always-scrolling’ world … if you want your music to be heard, you usually have to be seen first.” The live music videos are filmed at the Dogtown Studio or at remote locations like rooftops, riverbanks, or warehouses.
“In today’s economy and social media, there is more money to be made by bands in video than just audio,” Fischer says. “The music scene is no longer what it was in the 70s, or even the 2000s when I was a kid. Dogtown Sessions took off naturally. I invested in equipment and built up my skills.”
Launched in November 2018, Dogtown Studio Sessions had featured 50 bands by December 2019. Fischer and Mendoza recorded the sessions at no charge with the understanding that bands would participate in Dogtown’s crowd-funding campaign at the end of the year. In addition, musicians Pink Sky, Mark Lavengood, LVRS, and Fruit Punch, on their own initiative, staged a December benefit at the Pyramid Scheme for the project. Even so, Fischer and Mendoza found themselves with only half of the $5,000 total that they were hoping for, a number reflecting $100 per band.
“I thought it would be so cool if we could do 50 bands that first year. It was a fun thing to do,” Fischer says. “The money was a good cushion to keep us going, but we weren’t tied to it. In 2020, we moved to a more traditional business model. Bands pay upfront.”
Even so, the pair is still adamant about making Dogtown Studio Sessions accessible to local musicians. They did the first 10 videos of 2020 for free, the next 10 for $150. By late January the price went to $300 for one video or $350 for two. Another price hike is currently in the works.
“We’re trying to find a price that works for bands and works for us, too,” Fischer says.
He estimates that between set-up, sound checks, shooting, mixing, and post-production editing, he and Mendoza spend approximately 20 hours working on each 10- to 15-minute video.
“Sometimes, the band gets it down in one take,” Fischer says. “Other times, we do up to five or seven takes.”
On Fischer’s birthday in January, Mendoza gave him a yardstick inscribed with the words, “Remember why you started.” By that measure, Fischer asserts that Dogtown Studio has enjoyed immense success. More than 50 bands have made an important splash online and beyond and the two friends are living their dream, doing what they love. Fischer concludes,
“That’s the yardstick we use to measure our success, the whole story of Dogtown—remembering why we got started, not getting swept away in other people’s metrics of success.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Dogtown Studio and Mike Young Media