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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A New Home for Howl Street, Bay View’s Busiest Recording Studio

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There are few people as important to the health of Milwaukee’s vibrant music scene as Shane Hochstetler. For the past five years, Hochstetler’s Howl Street Recordings studio has recorded a wide assortment of artists, helping such acts as Juniper Tar, Northless and Absolutely produce top-notch albums at a cost that would usually cover about a day’s worth of expenses in most professional studios. A musician himself (he plays drums for both Call Me Lightning and Zebras), Hochstetler knows how to coax the best performances out of those he works with.

For many acts, part of the appeal of recording with Hochstetler was the comfortable atmosphere of his space in Bay View; the cramped, first-floor-only studio was neither overwhelming nor intimidating. Yet Hochstetler—who records bands six days a week and is often booked solid for three months in a row—had begun to feel that he needed more than his cozy Howl Street habitat could offer. “For the past two to three years,” explains Hochstetler, “I had been feeling like I wanted a bigger space, that I had outgrown my space.”

While Hochstetler and his wife contemplated their next move (the two share a dream of relocating to Seattle), fate stepped in: The building that housed Howl Street Recordings was sold with no advance warning. Not yet in a position to undertake a cross-country move, Hochstetler decided to buy some time in Milwaukee and look for another rental property. What he found was a larger space in a non-descript warehouse on the outskirts of Bay View.

“The cool thing,” says Hochstetler, “is it’s a warehouse. Anybody who is here does understand that there’s going to be some noise now and then. So that’s good. Until I can buy my own property—my dream of having a farm house in the middle of nowhere and building a studio in the barn—I just have to deal with some things.” Yet Hochstetler was able to work with the building owners as he built out the studio, with both parties taking steps to make the space as sound-proof as possible. So even though he counts a hair salon, a temporary modeling agency and a handful of offices as his neighbors, Hochstetler notes that “Once I shut my door I can’t hear anything. It’s pretty isolated for the most part.”

As he designed the new studio space, Hochstetler turned to acclaimed engineer Greg Norman for advice. Norman, who mans the board at Chicago’s Electrical Audio studio, worked with Hochstetler on getting the most out of both his control room and the studio’s main recording room. “It’s basically the same thing that I had [in the old studio],” Hochstetler humbly explains, “but in a bigger space, and one that’s a little nicer.” The acoustics in the main recording room are superb. More specifically, Hochstetler is able to get a drum sound in this space that is absolutely huge, a development that makes him particularly happy.

Hochstetler has wasted little time in taking advantage of his new surroundings. He began the tear-down process at his old space on March 26 and was open for business at his new location less than two weeks later. As of mid-April, Hochstetler was booked through the end of June. And he continues to branch out in terms of the types of performers he chooses to work with. The list of acts that have already recorded at the new and improved Howl Street is quite eclectic: Jene Tate, Herman Astro, Broken Prayer and Protestant all recently completed recording sessions with Hochstetler.

Hochstetler is not sure how long he will occupy his new space. Ultimately, he wants to own whatever building houses his recording studio. Bands throughout Milwaukee are undoubtedly hoping that he continues to call the city home for the foreseeable future. Studios like Howl Street, and people like Hochstetler, don’t come around every day.

For more on the new Howl Street Recordings visit howlstreetrecordings.com.