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In the early 2010s, after spending more than fifteen years as a producer/engineer at several major Los Angeles studios, GRAMMY-nominated Detroit native Roger Goodman decided to move back to his hometown and build a world-class studio with the aim of reinvigorating the music scene in a city that had once been the mecca of musical creativity.
Royal House Recording opened its doors in 2015 and since then it has hosted major name talent like Lil Yachty, Alicia Keys, Ty Dolla Sign, Big Sean, Tee Grizzley, Swae Lee, and Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda, to name a few. It has also received multiple design awards from state and nationally recognized boards.
Roger sat down with us recently to talk about what sets Royal House Recording apart from other studios, how they’re giving back to the Detroit music community, his plans for the future, and his long and fruitful relationship with Vintage King.
Take us back to when you set up Royal House Recording–what was the local music scene like back then?
When we were building out the studio in Royal Oak, which is about 30 minutes from downtown Detroit, the music business had completely left and gone to Los Angeles. Back in the day, we had Motown here, but then, as movie studios were coming up in Los Angeles, the music business followed them, and there was nothing left here. Hitsville, the famous studio from Detroit, is like a movie set–it's literally a museum. So building Royal House Recording was really like saying, “Hey, let's give this a shot.”
We came up in an area where, at the time, there were no management companies, no publishing companies, no record labels… so it was like dropping a really nice, label-style recording studio in the middle of the suburbs, with no real infrastructure for the business in the area. Since then, some labels have come up here, but Royal House was ahead of the curve on everything that was happening.
There have been some ups and downs, it took a couple of years to get rolling, but the last six years have been profitable, and for the last four we've been booked almost every day. In terms of the big picture, it has been an emotional investment for sure–a lot of time and energy has gone into building the brand.
How did you first become aware of Vintage King and what was your first experience working with us?
I would come home to visit my parents from Los Angeles in the summer, and during that time, I used to work on my various projects at Joel Martin's studio, here in Detroit. The engineer at Joel’s studio told me that Vintage King was their main supplier and maintenance service provider. Vintage King was local–their studio is on 9 Mile in Ferndale, and their main warehouse was right down the street from there so I had that in the back of my head; this was long before I had planned on moving home and building a studio.
When I did come back to build Royal House, I obviously wanted a provider that was local to me and I was really lucky to have Vintage King right down the street so that I could nag and harass them at any given time. [Laughs] If I needed anything fixed or anything worked on, I knew they did all their service work there as well, so I was like, “Oh, this is perfect, it's a no-brainer! I'm just going to buy every single thing from Vintage King–that way they'll owe me for the rest of my life.” [Laughs]
I got really fortunate because Jacob at Vintage King, who is my sales rep, is unbelievable. We call Jacob in times of crisis and he goes way above and beyond for us. I still buy stuff from Vintage King, do upgrades, get different outboard pieces, speaker equipment, or whatever it may be, and I am very loyal to Vintage King because of how great Jacob has been to us and to the studio.
What are some of your favorite pieces of gear that you have purchased from Vintage King?
I’ve bought everything from VK! I love my SSL Duality console, which has been incredible for the studio. I have to keep knocking on wood because everything has been so great–all my cool boutique vintage outboard gear, vocal compressors, microphones, amps… I mean, besides my vintage guitar collection and some other instruments, all of the actual recording gear and anything related to it is from Vintage King.
When I was building the gear list with Jacob, we really curated it together. I had an idea of what I wanted, from working at these other studios, but Jacob made it possible and really took care of us with a nice bundled package to put everything together.
How has Vintage King helped you with gear selection, purchasing, and servicing in the past?
Here’s a recent story–I had someone tuning my room at the beginning of the year and he turned a knob on the Bryston crossovers; I think it hadn't been touched for so long, it sent a frequency that a human being can't hear and it blew out the left side of my main speakers–my TAD driver, tweeter, cone, and the subwoofer on the left side all blew out! I called Jacob and said, “Alright, let's get ready to panic!”
Now, some of the stuff is custom-designed and hard to find but Jacob reached out to a studio owner from Atlanta who had sold his studios a few years ago but still had an inventory of things like TAD tweeters and a horn and some other stuff that I needed; I bought whatever he had, just in case something else were to happen in the future. So it was Vintage King having these relationships with other studios–from doing this for so many years–and being able to find these parts for me right away that was just amazing.
Then I said, “Alright, while I'm spending the money, let's just spend some more so I can get all the anxiety out of the way at once.” So Jacob brought in a bunch of new nearfield speakers for me to test out and I also ordered a new Tube-Tech vocal compressor that some clients had been asking for.
What sets Vintage King apart from other pro audio gear companies?
When I was building my studio in my house in Los Angeles, I remember calling these huge retail businesses, piecing this stuff together, and always talking to different people. When it came to Vintage King and my experience with Jacob as my sales rep, it was very personal–he would meet me and we would go over stuff. When it was time to wire everything, the guys from Vintage King who were delivering the SSL were working hand-in-hand with the guys that I had hired to wire the actual studio to make sure that everything was done correctly.
There was a lot of going above and beyond–so many hours of putting together different ideas for setups. I knew I wanted an SSL Duality for sure, but then there were a million different pieces of outboard gear; I have a mastering rack as well, and there were a lot of different options. There's the popular stuff that you see in all the studios that I was very familiar with, but I also wanted to have some cool boutique stuff that you wouldn't necessarily find everywhere else. Vintage King had dedication and made sure this studio was going to be exactly what I wanted… it was a very hands-on, very personal experience that I didn't get from other big corporate companies.
Vintage King has grown a lot too, over the years. Thank God they're still around and it sounds like they're doing really well. It is a competitive space, for sure, with these other large corporate retailers, but even today when I call Jacob up, I still get that same level of service, which is phenomenal.
Working with local Detroit artists is very important to you–tell us more about that.
Yeah, we’re talking about artists like Icewear Vezzo, Babyface Ray, Peezy, and Boldy James, who was the first guy that I brought into the studio to work with pro bono, just because I believed in him–they’re all doing extremely well.
They were working really hard and I really believed in them so I spent a lot of time helping them, whether it was with content for their music videos, or locations, props, and other things like that, and now pretty much everyone of their careers has taken off.
Even if we had other bookings, I would move stuff around to make sure that they could get in, say if they were coming back into town, or they needed to rush to get a project finished. There are so many artists that have really flourished in the industry so I'm extremely happy about that, honestly, because they're really building a brand and a sound for the city.
What sets your studio apart from other recording spaces?
We work with one client at a time, as a one-room recording studio. I wanted it to be like that because when I was working at Record Plant or Paramount and other such places in Los Angeles, I noticed that clients didn't like having to deal with the crowds and the other people that would come in–that was a distraction for them.
Then there is our level of service–there is good service at other studios too, but being the only client here, you really get everything to yourself. We have a half-court basketball hoop, a gym, and a kitchen; a lot of studios have auxiliary rooms like patios and firepits, for example, but to know that you're the only person that's going to be in any of these rooms is a draw. The big artists coming in on tour, especially, really love the fact that they can have the whole 5500 square-foot space and our staff exclusively for them.
I think that sets us apart. I don't know if anyone would come up with a business plan thinking ‘We're going to spend $3 million and make the least amount of money possible by only having one room’, but I felt like it was important and it was going to be more beneficial for the clients and for the staff too; it runs very smoothly.
How has the industry changed since you first opened your doors and how has your studio adapted to those changes?
We kind of do our own thing; I just stay on course with running sessions and catering to clients, like how The Four Seasons or The Ritz-Carlton caters to guests. We keep a very upper echelon, five-star treatment, and a different vibe and atmosphere for our clients.
We have guys come in who are multi-platinum selling producers that work and make all their beats on their laptops–they don't know what any of this gear is and you don't necessarily need to… but there's an art to recording that isn't available as much because these different software companies have made it so easy to be able to work on music with home studio setups, which is great; I'm not mad at that at all.
Does it hurt large-style studios like Royal House? Of course, for sure, it takes money away from us. But all of these young artists wouldn't have the experience of making music if that stuff wasn't available to them. So I'm not mad at it at all, because music, for me, is something that is so therapeutic and such a positive outlet in my life that I'm happy that there is stuff for younger people and artists who need that; it provides happiness and fulfillment in their life–not everyone can afford to come in and spend $1000 to $3000 a day to record music in a big studio.
So we're there for the clients that want the gear, want that next level of sound, and are into the experience that Royal House has to offer of coming in, being taken care of, and being treated like a king or queen. Working at home is nice, you get a lot of stuff done, but then sometimes you like to take a vacation, and if you are an artist and you want to go on a vacation, I hope you’d like to come to a place like Royal House.
Looking back, what are you most proud of in terms of your studio’s history?
The fact that it's still here and doing well. I did it more for the passion; I wasn't thinking about making money at all. I was thinking that I want to have this, and I want to have this here in Detroit because there's nothing like this here and we're just going to hope that, like in the movie Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner, ‘if you build it, they will come’. And that's exactly what happened–I've done no marketing, no advertisement ever for the studio–all I have is Instagram because it's not something you can really advertise.
This year we started a series of after-school programs at the studio that teach vocal recording, mixing, mastering, introduction to Pro Tools, and production on FL Studio and Pro Tools. We cater it to the younger crowd to get them involved; it allows them to be able to work on their laptops or work from home, but we host it at the studio. It was a new thing that I did for Royal House to give back to the community, and it's an opportunity for local kids to have a cool experience.
What are your plans for the future of your studio?
There’s a building next door that I bought, encompassed in the same walls, and currently, we’re building out a space there for videography, photography, and podcast hosting, with a front office, an editing room, lounge, kitchenette, two bathrooms, dressing room, janitor closet… the works.
It's called Fiction House and I’m hoping it will be open by the end of the year. It’s going to be an extension of Royal House because it all has to do with entertainment–shooting videos, pictures, headshots, and creating podcasts too, which is a really huge thing now.
We also do new artist development at Royal House: some artists come in and they want to make music, but they don't know how to make money, so we teach them how to use streaming service programs, like DistroKid, for example, and show them how to upload their music for streaming. We can even tell them how to put their singles out, what the timeframe is to roll out their EP, get their artwork done, and teach them that aspect of the business, so I'm always trying to build and develop new ways for the studio to help and work with clients.
Want to learn more about Royal House Recording? Check out our interview with Roger Goodman!