Seeing an increase in demand from area businesses, a Richmond recording studio is delving deeper into the world of podcasting – spurred in part by a recent recording with a Monty Python veteran.
Red Amp Audio is dedicating space in its downtown studio specifically for recording and producing podcasts, which co-owner Marna Bales said are surging in popularity.
The move was prompted in part by a recording session this year with John Cleese, the comedian, actor and co-founder of British comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Bales said she and co-owner and husband Jody Boyd had been considering upping Red Amp’s podcasting services after fielding an increasing number of recording and production requests. When a producer for Cleese came calling this year, seeking a studio for his client to record one of his podcasts while he was in Richmond, Bales said the experience cemented their decision.
“For about a year and a half, we’ve had a lot of requests for podcasts and we have done a handful outside the current situation,” Bales said. “It was like, ‘OK, I think that’s the universe telling us that we need to do something here with podcasts.’”
Bales said they spent about $4,000 setting up one of Red Amp’s recording rooms as a podcasting suite, spending the funds on new computers and other equipment. Red Amp’s Justin Khoury is assisting with the effort, as is Jay Smack, a local voiceover artist and former radio host whose regional music podcast, Studio B, records in-studio performances at Red Amp.
Since starting Studio B on area radio stations in the mid-1990s, Smack said he’s seen his audience increase after launching a podcast supplement in 2007. When the radio version ended last year after nearly two decades on XL102, Smack said his numbers have jumped even higher.
“I was always afraid of losing access to those radio waves, and then, when it became a podcast, it actually started growing and the reach started growing,” Smack said. “I realized that local musicians are not listening to the radio. They’re not tuning in.”
Smack said he’d known Bales while working in post-production at Studio Center, where he was employed for several years until mid-2016.
Bales acknowledged other studios in town also provide podcasting services, but she said Red Amp is the only professional recording studio in Richmond that she knows of that has a suite set aside specifically for podcasting.
She said Red Amp also is looking to create a Richmond podcasting network to help listeners find podcasts, and vice versa.
Since setting up the suite, regular podcasts have included The Altitude Academy, which Khoury described as a weekly personal-development series. Other podcasts have revolved around similar self-help themes and groups offering services that can involve extensive discussion and explanation.
Smack said podcasts as a medium lend themselves to businesses offering a service or some form of assistance. He said industries and businesses he’s seen take to them include law firms, real estate brokerages, SEO (search engine optimization) marketing, home maintenance – even podcasting itself.
“That’s kind of meta,” Smack said. “It’s new and exciting, but people find the medium fascinating. I listen to a couple podcasts about podcasts.”
Smack said they’re planning a podcast that will focus on local nonprofits, and he said they’re also targeting area businesses that could use the suite to produce content for their business or on their websites.
Carlos Chafin, who runs In Your Ear Studios in Shockoe Bottom, said he’s seen a similar uptick in interest in podcast recording, particularly from businesses that want to create and supplement content, and deliver a message to a specific audience.
“It’s been around a while, but we didn’t see that much adopting of it on any kind of serious level until recently, which is surprising,” Chafin said. “All of a sudden, people are really interested in it. It’s obviously a proven way to communicate with people: If you’ve got a fairly complex idea or something you want to go into depth, it’s going to work.”
Chafin said some businesses see podcasts as an alternative to traditional marketing and advertising, producing their own content or sponsoring podcasts that reach a target audience.
“We’ve seen a transition to podcasting that’s being sponsored by companies that used to do those pieces. They’re sponsoring things that are actually more informational about a given business sector. We’re seeing this in everything from real estate to law to technology,” Chafin said.
Bales said Red Amp’s podcasting rate is 20 percent of standard recording rates, which she said can range from $200 to $300 an hour depending on the studio.
Founded in 2001 and housed in its 9 W. Grace St. location since 2009, Red Amp also provides audio post-production and mixing, music composition and production, sound design, and other production services. It also frequently collaborates with video production firm MadBox, which shares Red Amp’s 9WG Studios building and is run by a group that includes Bales’ daughter, Macy West.
Some of Red Amp’s work includes recording and mixing for a radio campaign for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s E-ZPass 64 Express Lanes and a TV and radio campaign for Union Bank & Trust; music composition for a Bassett Furniture TV ad; sound design for a campaign for the 1717 Innovation Center; and mixing and production for a tribute album for the late musician Robbin Thompson, who co-founded In Your Ear Studios with Chafin.
Having spent several decades on Richmond’s airwaves, Smack said podcasting “is the new radio.”
“It’s what radio used to provide us,” he said. “Radio is still strong and will always continue to be a vibrant force in a community, because of the community. Even if it’s not addressing locality, it’s still a voice down the street. And podcasting, the immediacy and the intimacy is there. Podcasts find their audience, and the audience finds the podcast.
“It’s kind of replacing morning drive radio, where people get up and they want their podcasts there.”