Mike Watts spent more than 10 years building up his music recording and engineering business, VuDu Studios, on Nassau County's south shore in Freeport, and owned a home for himself and his wife Dorothy on the shores of Baldwin. In 2010, though, they decided it was time for a change – but couldn't exactly pinpoint why they felt that way – and moved to a Port Jefferson home that they intended to make into both a top-notch studio and a comfortable home.
When superstorm Sandy hit in 2012, they knew they'd found their retroactive reason.
"Something had told me to move," Watts said. "It got hit by Sandy so hard that it was under five feet of water. That studio and my house ... I wouldn’t have had a business or a house. Something moved me to the top of this hill."Now, VuDu Studios is thriving in its new Port Jefferson village home: a space formerly a 12-car garage with 28-foot ceilings, attached to a house on 1.8 acres in which the couple now lives. He said he spent more than $120,000 sound proofing the new space, including bringing in an architect and acoustician to help, and upgrading the equipment as well.
Now, Watts said, "people driving by late at night are louder than this place. Lawn mowers are louder."
The move to Port Jefferson, he said, caused a brief lull in business "because we kind of abandoned Nassau County." But the studio is now back on track again, working primarily with independent music labels.
And the work is not going unnoticed. VuDu has worked with bands such as Fuel, Brand New, Hopesfall, As Tall As Lions, The Pixies and many more.
"If you do one or two or 15 or 20 national things and it makes it on the radio, people come from all over the country," said Watts, who has college degrees in music education and business. "I don’t advertise at all, it’s just word of mouth, and it’s been that way for 15 years."
There are so many bands looking to record a great album, he said, that there is very little competition between studios like his.
"There’s so many bands that it’s not even competition," he said. "Each studio, I think, finds it niche of sonic character. ... Mine just happens to be working with musicians and live bands only. I don’t think we’d do justice to pop, hip hop, R&B. I want to stick with what I know and that’s rock bands and live musicians."
Along the same lines, Watts doesn't feel that aspiring sound engineers who set up their own computer-based home studios will be able to achieve the same results.
"Everyone can buy a computer and record. ... For a minute, maybe a year, it felt like it would hurt," he said, "but being that I produce, not just own a studio, I don’t think the respected producer role or engineer will ever disappear. ... I think people are finally starting to understand that it takes more than a $300 program to make things sound good."
Watts has played in bands in the past, but he said he was never really taken by the experience.
"Playing in front of 100 people or 200 people, every other musician seems to have this thing like that’s the biggest high in the world," he said. "I feel like creating a song and mixing and at the end having a song that sounds really good, to me that’s the high."
For Watts, 47, working with younger musicians keeps him feeling young. He says his job isn't work, even though he spends 60 to 70 hours a week in the studio. And overall, their new Port Jefferson home is working out really, really well.
"[Freeport] was a very distressed-looking area," he said. "You walk out here and you can be comfortable anytime. The bands, they love it down here. .... I couldn’t be happier being here."