Tyler Owen ended up in Cleveland on a dare.
Bill March, a classmate at Boston's Berklee College of Music and bass player for '80s rock act Beau Coup, frequently told him how fertile Cleveland's rock scene was for young musicians trying to break into the business. But Owen wasn't so sure.
"I told him I needed a gig working in a studio and I needed a salary gig playing in a band," he recalls. "And he made me a deal and said, ‘Come out here. If you don't find both of these things within a week, the whole trip will be on me.' "
Owen found both within the first three days. Granted, the studio job was programming eight-hour tapes for roller-skating rinks, but the Rochester, N.Y., native kept working and his self-ordination as a Clevelander wasn't far behind.
After a decade of bouncing back and forth from the studio to the stage, Owen finally settled on the recording end of the business and opened Closer Look Recording on the third floor of a rented duplex.
"I started off really small, very small," he recalls. "I just had a lot of experience watching what didn't work at other studios and what did."
Since then, Owen's studio has far surpassed its origins. For the past five years, Closer Look Recording has been housed in a hulking third-floor warehouse space at 3615 Superior Ave., packed tight with hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of audio equipment and a truckload of comfy leather furniture. Earlier this year, Owen opened a second studio on the sixth floor of the same complex and outfitted it with a 72-channel mixing board that, at 19 feet long, is the only one of its kind in the Midwest.
Naturally, such investment turns heads. Owen counts members of LaVert, the O-Jays, James Gang and Bone Thugs ‘N' Harmony among his client list. But it's some of the newer local faces with whom Owen has worked that have generated the most buzz lately.
Eighteen-year-old singer-songwriter Will Bowen, who recorded his full-length debut on a shoestring budget, recently inked a songwriting deal with former Arista and Epic records executive Pete Ganbarg's New Jersey-based Pure Tone Music. Meanwhile, Joe Rohan, who stepped out from behind his drum kit to a well-received solo career, showcased material from his debut disc in Nashville early last month. Other local favorites on Owen's roster include singer-songwriters Alexis Antes and Robin Stone and reggae vet Carlos Jones.
But you don't have to be chasing platinum to book time with Owen. His door is open to anyone, whether your next gig is the talent show or the big show.
"If a guy comes in here with his daughter and he just wants to hear her sing, I'm a parent, I understand what he's saying," Owen offers. "I do stuff like that all the time."
Will Bowen • This Lonely Mile
"When I met him, he was a 15-year-old kid calling around to studios. Nobody who listened to his voice would give him the time of day. I certainly wasn't that way, so I booked him and he came in and brought a bunch of his high-school buddies and he started to play. Then, after he got through a tune or two, he started whipping out great material. It made me stop and say, 'Wow! Who is this kid?' ... We made his first album here. I'd like to say it was really a tiny budget, but that's being generous."
Robin Stone • Rushmore
"She'll go to the ends of the earth to make sure that it's right. ... She started in the middle of November and finished probably four or five months later. She's very diverse and eclectic when she writes and there are a very limited amount of players who can actually cover that kind of stuff. ... Listen to the song 'Cold Water.' It's so smooth the way everything goes by you. But if you stop and really pay attention to how many different things you're hearing at once and how they work together, it's a milestone."