Houstonian Tales: Casey Waldner
For many people, the music industry is just that, an industry. However, if you’re a woman, it’s a world full of navigating through assumptions, backhanded compliments, and odd advances. One woman who’s making Houston her number one focus, is Casey Waldner. Waldner and I worked together on the “NEXTWAVE” compilation, and I was delighted by her passion for the project and for her employer, SugarHill Studios. I learned real quick, that if you need something done in this town and it has to do with music and community, then she’s your go to person.
FPH: Where are you from?
CASEY WALDNER: I’m from the south side of Houston, specifically Friendswood.
FPH: You’ve kind of done everything before taking on the studio manager position at SugarHill, right? How did working at SugarHill come to be?
CASEY WALDNER: Yes, I’ve been employed as a teacher, an artist, a bartender, a musician, and a personal trainer. I was bartending and training part time when I received a call from my friend, local musician and entertainment lawyer, Erin Rodgers. She told me that Josh Applebee had asked her to recommend someone for the Studio Manager position and that she had thought that I would be a good fit for the position. Needless to say, I was totally flattered that my name came up in the conversation at all! I immediately got my resume in order, and the rest, they say, is history.
FPH: What’s it like being the manager of a recording studio?
CASEY WALDNER: Well, I encounter a wide variety of tasks and emotions on a day to day basis. There is the business side of me that likes to make lists and get things done around the studio, whether it be maintenance related, scheduling events, or reserving studio time for clients. Then there is the artistic side of me that loves to peek into the studios to inconspicuously listen in on the magic, or maybe I’ll play a drum kit that someone has left out in the studio. The President of SugarHill, Dan Workman, and I meet weekly in what we call our “Dreamscape,” freely discussing both our business and artistic ideas for the the studio. So, all in all, it’s kind of a perfect situation for me because I really get to bask in both sides of my personality, the business side and the art side.
FPH: I would guess that the biggest misconception is that you’re closer to a receptionist than anything else, correct?
CASEY WALDNER: Yes, that has been a big misconception about the role I play at SugarHill. People have assumed that I just “answer phones” or do “office work.” I used to get really offended when I received this response because the person I’d be talking to would initially be so impressed that I was a Studio Manager at SugarHill, then immediately shift into, “so you answer phones?”. It felt very condescending and it would prompt me to go into a fevered, in depth monologue about everything I do for the studio. I still, to this day, get this response when people find out I’m a Studio Manager. However, it will forever be a lifelong struggle for me to not take things personally, being of a business and art mind, so I really just try and blow off these comments and educate people about what it is I actually do.
FPH: Is it difficult being in the “all boys club” that is the music industry?
CASEY WALDNER: Sometimes. I also work in a gym with a lot of dudes so I’m a little desensitized to being the minority gender in an all-male dominated environment. At the studio I feel really lucky to work with such an amazing and talented team of guys who don’t make me feel outcasted because of my gender. The boys at the Hill listen to my girl problems and I listen to their boy problems. If anything, I can attribute a lot of my gender-coping-mechanisms in the music industry to the insight that the boys of the Hill give me. And yes, sometimes I have a moment of feeling like the “token girl”, but that feeling is matched by reassurance and encouragement to by my community, and friends I have made in the music industry. (Also, being the “token” girl usually leads to instant bonding with other girls that pass through the studio. So I enjoy my interaction with the female population because I feel I can bridge the gap and make myself accessible to any needs they have- that would be awkward for them to address with a male.)
FPH: We worked together on the “NEXTWAVE” compilation, but I think very few people know that you were actually the catalyst as to how of it came about. Would you like to explain your role in the process?
CASEY WALDNER: Sure. Dan Workman, Josh Applebee, and myself were discussing ways in which we could creatively promote the use of our studio. Being relatively new to the business side of the music industry, I thought to myself, who do I know that knows the local music scene and could help us in coming up with this cool idea? I immediately I thought, David Garrick! I had met you when I was playing shows and had become familiar with “The Best of the Week” column you wrote for Free Press. I invited you to coffee, Josh Applebee joined us, and through a series of brainstorming and phone calls the idea of the NEXTWAVE compilation was born. And it was Josh’s idea for you to curate it, in which I responded with, “brilliant!”.
FPH: What’s your big “pitch” on why an artist should record at a studio instead of recording at home, and especially as to why they should record at SugarHill?
CASEY WALDNER: Yes, a lot of people are recording their music in home studios or on their phones. However, the majority of them are not audio engineers that went to school specifically to study the art of sound and how to sculpt it. In a recording studio you have trained professionals whose job is to focus on capturing the best sound possible for that artist. Also, as an artist it gives you a break to give some artistic control to an objective, outside party that knows the technicalities of achieving the desired sound that you as a performer know absolutely nothing about. This is why I think recording at SugarHill is the best because our team consists of audio engineers, of whom I deem “artist counselors”, that really connect and understand their clients to reach a mutual sound goal. Not to mention that SugarHill has almost 75 years of recording history under its belt. Why would you not want to record at the country’s oldest recording studio in your hometown? Besides, there is this notion that SugarHill is this exclusive, uppity studio that only caters to a select few, and that’s just not true. We open our doors to everyone, even to the extent that people from the music community come to just hang out and run ideas past each other. Our studio environment is very homey and down to earth, it really gives you the feeling that you are at a home, not in a doctor’s office.
FPH: You’ve done a lot for and at the studio, do you want to clue people in on everything you’ve achieved in the past year?
CASEY WALDNER: I renovated and helped to redesign the building(s). I organized and hosted an Open House, about a year ago, that brought over 400 people from the Houston community through the studio doors. The Open House sparked an interest of groups touring the studio, so I book and co-host the studio tours. I facilitated the execution of the NEXTWAVE compilation and partnered the event with M.I.O.W. (Music is Our Weapon), a non-profit organization that provides music programs to the Alzheimer’s community. I’ve volunteered for Girls Rock Camp, Springboard South, Volunteer Houston, and was a judge in the Pride SuperStar contest. Recently I have donated hours to the Youth Slam Poetry Team for an organization called W.I.T.S. (Writers in the Schools). I also, along with Josh Applebee, run the internship program that we have for prospective sound engineers that want to take their skills to the next level.
FPH: You do a lot for the Houston community, what are the three biggest contributions you think you’ve made?
CASEY WALDNER: Well, I support the belief that professional recording studios are still relevant, namely the legendary SugarHill Recording Studio. I support the local music/art scene by attending, volunteering, or promoting events. I think that by putting my energy into my work for the studio, and serving and inspiring our engineers and clients, that I get to influence the art that is made at SugarHill. Including my own!
FPH: In a perfect world, where do you see the Houston music scene in five years?
CASEY WALDNER: I think the music scene is on the rise right now because everyone involved in the scene is really trying to support not only themselves, but other artists as well, together. I really believe it takes a village to make something special and awesome happen, and I believe that right now, Houston is that village. I feel proud and excited to say that our city is on the cusp of becoming the next big music hub, because we are doing it together and doing it our way. H-Town proud, people.
As you can tell, Waldner wears a lot of hats and has her hand in a multitude of projects while managing the studio. You can volunteer alongside her with the Music Is Our Weapon project here, or you can contact her about recording at SugarHill through the studio’s website here.