Amplifying the Local Music Scene

by June Owatari March 1, 2015


rarefiedImagine a small, cute, Golden Hill home. A hundred or more hipsters cram themselves into the living room with a third of the space used up by the band and the band’s equipment. The crowd spills out into the hallway and onto the front porch where people could still hear the tunes.

So starts an email from Mickey Walker who was asked to describe The Habitat – or as fans called it, The Habitat House – where free shows were held twice a month from 2006 to 2010. Everyone who attended, even those relegated to the porch, came to The Habitat for a reason: to support local music and connect with the community.

“It was a music lover’s dream come true,” Walker says.

The mastermind behind this dreamy house venue was Roy Silverstein. Silverstein moved to the Golden Hill neighborhood in 2002 and thought what San Diego, and the neighborhood, needed most was a place for musicians and new fans to make real connections. And he had an ulterior motive: he missed the house shows that he and his friends used to put on back in Evanston, Ill., and a part of him wanted to relive those days.

Evanston had a small but thriving Jewish community, right outside the even bigger community in Skokie. By learning about the history of his culture and religion, Silverstein learned that being a minority in the United States automatically marked him as different, but this difference helped him to develop a strong sense of self and identity. In short, he learned to be “okay with it.”

In fact, he attributes much of his current musical tastes and endeavors to that sense of confidence. He started to listen to a lot of different music, not just Top 40 songs. A lot of it was “weird,” he says, but he stopped caring what other people thought. He was already different so why not take it a step further?

Silverstein and his family weren’t complete outsiders, he says, owing in part to his parents taking him to Hebrew school and synagogue. Through that shared experience, he learned about community and camaraderie.

That’s what ultimately led Silverstein and his friends to start their own music projects and house shows in high school (with the blessing of his parents, of course). That commitment to community and togetherness is also what inspired him to start throwing shows in Golden Hill.

The Habitat shows were always free so anybody could attend, regardless of income. Anybody was welcome to play there as well.

“It gave local artists a stepping stone to perform without having to be in a big venue and gave guests a chance to see them in a very unique, intimate setting,” Walker says.

Op Tran, another Habitat attendee, agrees. “You got the feeling of a real community.”

Guests were friendly and supportive, and bands could play there as long as they were respectful and passionate.

The Habitat no longer exists, but Silverstein’s commitment to San Diego musicians continues. In 2010, he moved from Golden Hill to North Park. There he quickly began realizing another dream, a state-of-the-art home recording studio. Legendary studio designer Wes Lachot led the build-up of Rarefied Recording, which finally opened its doors in 2013 after three years of planning and construction. The studio houses beautiful, high quality equipment that any professional would drool over.

Silverstein calls himself the house engineer at Rarefied Recording, but he’s much more than that. Much like The Habitat, Silverstein’s studio has become a community hub and a popular recording destination for Los Angeles- and San Diego-based musicians as well as freelance recording engineers. That’s intentional.

“I don’t want to hoard the space to myself,” Silverstein says. “I want to be able to share with other creatives.”

There was no point, he thinks, in investing his time and money into the studio if others could not enjoy it.

His goal has always been to keep studio rates affordable so that more musicians have a chance to follow their passions. His plan is working. Most of the time, the studio is booked 20-30 days out of the month to freelance engineers and musicians.

Brian Scheuble was an established recording engineer in Los Angeles but in 2014, contrary to the career tragetory of most in the music biz, he decided to start fresh in San Diego.

Upon arrival, Scheuble put his feelers out and discovered that many of the studios in San Diego charged high day rates, a holdover from the golden days of the recording industry. It was hard to find something that catered to the budget with which Scheuble working. With little money but high expectations, the engineer found Rarefied Recording and his assumptions about low budget studios were uprooted. Scheuble found the equipment housed in Silverstein’s studio to be as high or even higher quality as the equipment in more expensive studios.

Silverstein doesn’t expect to raise his prices anytime soon either. With the downfall of the traditional recording industry and the advent of home studios, more self-funded, independent musicians have a chance to create and record their own material without the financial support and red tape of a record label. Silverstein and Scheuble both cite this trend as an exciting new time for music.

“There’s no label support anymore,” Silverstein says. “Bands are left on their own.”

Despite this fact, he says that the creativity of the music community has not stopped.

“Music is a fundamental part of culture and subculture,” he says, and that culture and creativity needs to be recorded and documented as it grows and changes.

Silverstein credits Mark Rubel, a well-known engineer and personal idol for the small business owner, with this world view. After hearing Rubel speak at a conference before he started the recording studio, Silverstein was inspired to become a “documentarian of his community.” That sentiment still drives him today.

“I’d love to record an instant classic, but it may not happen,” Silverstein says with a laugh. “But at least I can be in the local community and put out things that people will listen to, that people will have an emotional reaction to.”

Despite his full-time job as a Codec Systems Engineer at Qualcomm, and his role as house engineer at Rarefied Recording, Silverstein still makes an effort to organize music-related events around town. Most recently, he curated a live show to accompany the Handmade Holiday craft fair held at the San Diego Central Library. The bands – all local acts – and Silverstein volunteered their time for the benefit of local artisans, craftspeople, artists, and buyers.

Silverstein also has a hand in SD Music Wire, a local blog that records, mixes, and releases live sets of bands coming through his studio.

“Indie music and underground music deserve a voice,” Silverstein says, and for now, he’s happy to be the megaphone.

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