Since opening its doors in 2008, Charleston Sound studio has churned out great albums and singles by an array of artists from Darius Rucker (who recorded his cover of “Wagon Wheel” there) to Sol Driven Train, Gaslight Street, Dangermuffin, and many more. In the relatively brief span of a decade, the studio became a go-to for many local, regional, and national acts, because of its staff of skilled engineers as well as its state of the art equipment. There seemed to be a permanent, or at least long-term, place in Charleston for the studio and its owner, Jeff Hodges. So it was something of a surprise when Hodges put the studio up for sale recently.
As it turns out, Hodges’ time at Charleston Sound was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to his career in music, and he felt like it was time to kiss the daily grind goodbye.
“Basically I was ready to retire from the business of music,” Hodges says. “I was a piano major in college, and I’ve been involved in some way on the recording end since the late ’80s, building several studios over time. My wife and I will be empty nesters in the not-too-distant future, and over the years the studio’s stock has risen. So it was more or less a feeling of, ‘We’ve had a great ride, but let’s use this opportunity to do something else interesting.’”
Once Hodges decided to put Charleston Sound on the market, then it was a matter of finding a new owner who was the right fit. He didn’t want someone who would radically change what the studio was about, and he certainly didn’t want a new owner who would simply close it and open another business in that space.
“The most important thing to me was to wait for just the right buyer,” Hodges says. “I wanted whoever bought this great facility to continue to serve the local community and keep taking care of local hard-working musicians just like I did. I wanted them to carry on the name professionalism and goodwill that we’ve created in a decade of service, and I think we accomplished that goal.”
That’s where Steve Fisher, owner of 11th Street Studios in Atlanta, comes in. Fisher has spent nearly two decades behind the boards with a wall of gold and platinum records to show for it. He’s worked as an engineer, producer, or mixer on tracks by Lil’ Jon, DJ Quik, E40, DMX, Outkast, and even — gasp — Beyoncé. But when he graduated USC in 1998 with a Media Arts degree, the Charleston native didn’t see anywhere in his hometown he could put his skills to use.
“Coming back to Charleston just wasn’t really an option if I wanted to be a professional engineer,” he says. “There weren’t really any studios. So my choices were pretty much Atlanta, Los Angeles, Nashville, Miami, or New York.”
Then one day Fisher saw Charleston Sound on the cover of the engineer’s bible, Mix Magazine.
“That was my first inkling of it, and it was a big deal to me that there was a studio of that caliber built in Charleston,” he says. “I’ve kind of kept my eye on the studio since then. I never really thought it would ever be for sale or I’d have the chance to buy it, because I figured it would be Jeff’s until he reached retirement age. But it seems like he’s had other opportunities and other businesses that have done well for him, and it became something that he’d rather let go to somebody who could maintain it rather than see it not having the proper attention paid to it.”
In fact, Fisher doesn’t plan on changing all that much at Charleston Sound, which probably pleases Hodges to no end.
“I think equipment wise, it’s well-stocked,” Fisher says. “There’s not much to do there. All it really needs is computer and software upgrades, and maybe an updated look, like some fresh paint and some new furniture.”
Fisher, who predicts he’ll probably spend at least one week a month in town doing production work and running the studio, says that he sees the studio growing as a hub for a mix national and local acts, even if it’s not at a level on par with Nashville, Los Angeles, or Atlanta.
“I don’t think it’s ever going to be on the level of some of those cities just because major labels are heavily entrenched in those places and a lot of talent lives there,” he says. “But there’s a strong music scene here that can be supported, and the studio can be positioned as a destination for a big act to come to town, be able to get away, get rid of the distractions, and record.”
As for Hodges, he’ll still be doing some occasional engineering at Charleston Sound, and when he’s not, he’ll have some great memories to fall back on.
“A few years back we recorded Darius Rucker’s Christmas record,” Hodges says. The record was to be released in time for the Christmas season, so we had to record it in July. It was probably 95-100 degrees, so my staff had a plan to help Darius get in the holiday spirit. In the main recording room where Darius was going to be singing, they brought in a Christmas tree and dressed it, put some presents under it, and they had tinsel wrapped around the microphone stand and lights draped around the studio. And as an added touch, I think they cranked the A/C down to about 62 degrees.”