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Santa Cruz's first recording studio cooperative releases 'The Sounds of the San Lorenzo,' a massive compilation of local musicians.

By Curtis Cartier

Songs are not like mousetraps. If you write a better one, the world will not necessarily beat a path to your door. In reality, you've got to hire musicians, record the song, market the album and tour, tour, tour. It's the first three steps that give fledgling bands the most trouble, and it's those first three steps that a co-op of local artists has essentially eliminated with the creation of Santa Cruz's first nonprofit music studio.

The Dead Cow Music Studio and Entheon Records at the Tannery Arts Center is a donation-based operation that not only gives any musician with a song the chance to cut it in a professional studio but also connects them to a wide network of other local artists who can help them record the song and get it noticed. Like the Bike Church of the music world, Dead Cow and Entheon turns a collection of like-minded individuals into a community of cooperating professionals and has the potential to launch a music renaissance in Santa Cruz County.

For the last year the studio has operated quietly under the supervision of "The Godfather" Kirby Scudder, director of the Santa Cruz Institute of Contemporary Arts, while the art mecca of the Tannery has been slowly constructed around it. Now, with the upcoming release of Sounds of the San Lorenzo, a massive two-disc album featuring 41 Santa Cruz County rock and folk acts, the experimental project is harvesting the fruits of its labor.

For studio co-founders Dustin St. Wright and J.J. McCabe, the compilation is merely the tip of what they see as a colossal iceberg of overlooked local talent. The two young musicians are planning to follow Sounds with several other compilations delving into hip-hop, electronica, jazz and reggae.

"So many times young bands can't afford to pay $30 or $40 per hour of studio time. But they've got great ideas and should be able to get them out there," says the tall and ever-smiling St. Wright. "Santa Cruz should be on the map. It could be the next Portland or Austin or Nashville, and it should be. We're trying to build the infrastructure of a music environment that can develop bands and keep them here."

Occupying one end of a colorful art gallery, the studio itself is surrounded by vivid paintings and sketches. In addition, the spot has a plethora of instruments and great natural acoustics. At a recording session Sunday night, a dozen friends passed microphones, guitars, glockenspiels and wine bottles while they took turns laying down each other's songs and practicing for the two-night CD release party at the Crepe Place Dec. 18-19. Bud Sasse was there squeaking out lilting vocals for a song called "Dead of Life" featured on the compilation disc. With some simple instructions on the song's three chord progressions and ideas for a bridge crescendo, the crew of mixed and matched musicians had the kinks worked out of a unique and catchy folk tearjerker within a few takes.

"This is beautiful, what can I say," said Sasse outside on a smoke break after finishing his track. "This is a whole lot of people's dreams coming true here. It's already changed everything."

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