#MusicIndustryMonday: The Zone Productions

Mark Brasel from The Zone Productions in Melbourne, Florida is today's guest for #MusicIndustryMonday. Mark talks about touring on the high-seas as well as some of the high-profile gigs he's worked with such as Disney star Zendaya, Dishwalla, Incubus and Hollywood Undead among others.

The Fan Connection (TFC): Hi Mark, thank you for taking some time to talk with us today. We've heard some great things from artists you've worked with, and about your studio, The Zone Productions. 

Mark Brasel: Yeah I rock!! It just comes natural, I can’t even really help it. (Evil uncontrollable laughter). Seriously, thanks for inviting me to interview!

TFC: Now, The Zone is in Melbourne, Florida...correct?

Mark Brasel: It’s actually in WEST BY GOD MELBOURNE.

TFC: Okay, we might have to find out what the "West By God" reference is, LOL. Tell us a little about the music scene there. 

Mark Brasel: There has always been a huge talent pool here. I have seen so many great local bands over the years and feel really blessed to call many of them friends. You know how some music scenes get hot for a while then kinda die down? Not here, we have just had a non-stop ride of new bands ever since I was young and was playing with bands, and that’s been over 25 years since I have been into the Melbourne area music scene. Love it here!

TFC: Interesting! Sounds like "West By God Melbourne" might be a little hidden gem! How did you come to be involved with The Zone and how long have you been there? 

Mark Brasel: Well I started learning recording back in the 90’s playing in a band called Glass Hippie and sharing practice space with other bands. This guy had a mixing console, that guy had a tape machine, this guy had microphones. The scene has not only been great, but also filled with cool people who always tried to help each others' bands out. If we all worked together and shared gear we could all do so much more. Anyway, I was always hands-on with the recording process trying to learn what works and what doesn’t. Later that decade I joined a band, Tin Can Jets, who had an actual studio setup and began going in their practice space. These guys were much more experienced, so I was able to learn a bunch during that time and we made some records I am very proud of, and not to mention lifelong friends. To finally answer the question...I was also doing a lot of live show mixing for bands at the time, one being Bravo Hotel, who were also good friends. Tom Gaynor, one of the guitar players, owned the gear they used for their shows. Well I started borrowing stuff from him and got him involved with our recording process at the Tin Can Jets room. Tom had a commercial space he was renting and came up with the idea of building it out for a studio. By this time I had invested quite a bit of money into recording gear, so we put our stuff together and started The Zone in 1999. And yes, we were partying like it was 1999. Since then we have joined forces with other great people with big talent and resumes. Billy Head has worked with many, many huge national acts over the years and brought some nice gear and talent into our world. Then again a few years ago when we joined forces with Keith O’Brien and Todd Charron, when they moved their Garudio setup into the Zone, bringing their skills and equipment to the Zone. As of late, we've added to the team Jamie Stoffa who's from New York and has a degree in studio management and engineering. He's been a great asset to the team and has become the lead engineer in the studio! 

TFC: Wow, it's always impressive to see something that's been around for years like The Zone. Is there a specific area you lean more towards in the studio yourself? Such as the production side of things? Engineering? What's your specialty? 

Mark Brasel: I do all of the above, but I think I track and mix music pretty decent. The main thing is bands feeling comfy enough to do their best in the studio and I think we have that down good.

TFC: The studio and recording can sometimes be such a tedious process. What's the longest time you've spent working on one project? 

Mark Brasel: Oh jeez you're not kidding! Are you referring to the ones I haven’t finished yet after how many years or what? I actually did a CD of a country band I played in that took a butt-load of time, like hundreds of hours, but I forget how many exactly. Ray Allaire's “Feels Like Home” was the CD. 

TFC: Did it turn out the way you wanted in the end? 

Mark Brasel: Yes I think it did for the most part. But I do also know it is possible to overcook the soup.

TFC: True, and that's where it becomes so tedious especially for artists who are completely OCD and perfectionists! Are you also a musician? Or do your talents lie mainly with the recording process?

Mark Brasel: I can bang pretty loud and hard on the drums in addition to twisting some knobs, or in the case of mixing live shows, making loud things LOUDER.

TFC: Note to self: Mark Brasel likes it loud. What's your favorite, studio or live recording? 

Mark Brasel: Favorite studio album is probably "Nothing’s Shocking", Jane’s Addiction; favorite live record..."Live After Death", Iron Maiden. One is a studio masterpiece the other the incredible energy of a live performance captured.

TFC: By following some of your social media, we can see that you're in and out of town a lot. Seems pretty exciting! What are you doing on those boats?! 

Mark Brasel: I manage production for the Legendary Rhythm And Blues Cruise. It’s a 7-day Blues music festival on the water that has hosted many legends in the Blues music world, such as Etta James, Ike Turner, Taj Mahal, Johnny Winter, and Buddy Guy to name a few. They also have the new younger generation blues artists such as Kenny Wayne Sheppard, Samantha Fish, Danielle Nicole Band, etc. 

TFC: That sounds amazing! Can we come too? Usually we'll ask an artist for "stories from the road", and we always get a kick out of them. Give us a "story from the sea"! 

Mark Brasel: In 29 music cruises I have seen some craziness. As we all know, when doing an outdoor show the weather can get pretty intense, and when you're on the open sea with a stage and roof we built on the back of the ship, it can get really over-the-top. So when you're on a ship on open ocean and the ship is moving say 20-mph and you're going into a 20-30-mph wind, that’s like 40-50-mph winds blowing across your stage. This isn’t unusual weather for us so we just play on. Well one time I remember a band is playing and all of the sudden one of the cymbals on the drum's set caught the wind just right and the cymbal and stand as one piece just lifted up and flew about 20 feet away from the drummer. Also that night, harmonica players were just holding their harps up to the mics and the wind was playing them. 

TFC: At what age did you make the decision to work in the music industry?

Mark Brasel: I knew when I started playing music when I was a teenager, I knew I would either play or work in music. 

TFC: We're definitely glad you chose to do both! Who or what were your greatest influences? 

Mark Brasel: Still just pissing my parents off by not getting a "REAL" job, LOL.

TFC: That's literally the best answer we've had to any question, ever, hands down! You've worked with some heavy hitters, running sound at big shows, etc. Can you give us a little mini-list of some of the acts you've been able to work with? 

Mark Brasel: Incubus, Deftones, Hollywood Undead, J.R. Richards from Dishwalla and most recently Zendaya, are a few of the acts I have toured with. I've done many, many other bands...either in venues I work at or festivals.

TFC: What artist or band have you had the most fun working with and why?

Mark Brasel: I think (Disney star) Zendaya has been the most fun by far. It is such a good team of people both onstage and behind the scenes. Everybody onstage is so young but so incredibly talented and full of energy. I really can’t say enough about Zendaya and her team, both musicians and the dancers, about their skills and what great hard-working but very humble humans they all are. It was a good kick of energy I got from them, and also such a great feeling to be learning so much from a group of people who are kinda new to the music industry and half my age.

"The studio is the place to capture the magic, not try and learn it, especially if you're an indie band on a tight budget."

TFC: Any tips for first timers in the studio? What to do and most importantly what NOT to do?

Mark Brasel: Practice, practice, practice!!! Get your material down so you know it backwards and forward in your sleep. What "not to do" is come in unprepared and blow your whole budget figuring the material out and not get a good end-result, or worse...not finish it. The studio is the place to capture the magic, not try and learn it, especially if you're an indie band on a tight budget.  We wanna make great music and I was never in it to make a bunch of money. Sure, being paid by the hour means the time wasted is more money the studio takes in, but that’s no fun for any of us. That’s why I can’t say it enough...the more prepared, the less it costs. Let's just make great music together. That’s our idea of fun!

TFC: As you know, The Fan Connection is a “social media meets e-commerce” platform for indie artists. Our upcoming features include fan clubs, a music player searchable by genres, live video streaming and chatrooms. What do you think would be most important feature that an indie artist could utilize to help build their career? Can you add anything else that would help TFC help the indie artist community? 

Mark Brasel: The streaming features I think are the best and most important to the artist, but also being a place to communicate with other bands and the fans. I would say whatever can help bands connect to music fans is the biggest importance. Like I said earlier, on how when I was playing we all loaned each other gear and helped each other out, The Fan Connection has taken that concept global. I think what would be a great asset for the indie bands, would be a touring type of resource and network page where bands can help each get booking outside their area, and maybe also help a touring band when they come through their hometown, with maybe hosting them for a place to stay, some food or a place to take a freakin' shower!

TFC: It's crazy that you said that. We've discussed and have plans to put in place both of those ideas in the future! Thank you so much for your time! We look forward to catching up with you again in the future!

Mark Brasel: This was fun and thanks for having me. I love what you guys are doing for indie bands. Keep up the good work!

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