Asked if Studio 61 has met his expectations, Eric Fowler studied his coffee as he measured his answer.
“I knew in my gut I could make it work,” said the laid back Fowler. He added with a wry smile, “I’ve spent everyday since the studio’s opening proving I was right.”
Studio 61 has been a labor of love for Fowler. Like all entrepreneurs, he continues to see his share of challenges. But he has landed a cross-section of artists to his recording studio-soundstage located in an old grocery store in downtown Leland, and he has plans for expansion in the future.
A native of Vicksburg, Fowler grew up with a love for music. He was in the band all his life, and though he had entertained going into electrical engineering, he eventually went on to Delta State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in music education with an emphasis in percussion in the mid-1990s.
Upon graduation, he returned home to become band director at a local public high school. That experience left him frustrated.
“Our entire budget was $12,000,” Fowler recalled. “It cost $24,000 just to go to the football games. Our total need was $100,000, and it was up to me to raise the difference. I got tired of the lack of support for arts education.”
After four years of teaching and looking for a new music-related vocation, Fowler hired on as a contract percussionist on cruise ships. He liked the experience, enjoying the travel while honing his drumming “chops” with top-flight musicians.
But the seeds of Studio 61 were sown onshore. Fowler got a call from a musician/friend who was working on a recording project at a studio based in Clarksdale. Fowler started experimenting with new software and recording techniques while still a student at Delta State, and offered his help. He would spend the next six years in Clarksdale.
Eventually, the musician/friend left the business that he called Studio 61. Fowler now had a new family, and he relocated to Leland so they could enjoy the small-town atmosphere. He also brought the Studio 61 project with him with the vision to not only offer a recording studio, but also a sound stage for video production.
Looking for a venue, Fowler was introduced to a former grocery store in downtown Leland that had been shuttered for years. He loved the location, but the site needed extensive reworking — a recording studio has little need for a meat counter or freezer. It would take nine months to complete the renovations, which included a double-wall construction to help insulate the studio’s sound.
In March 2009, Fowler held Studio 61’s grand opening. A three-day event, 14 bands performed representing rock, blues, jazz and gospel.
It would be gospel where Fowler would find his most loyal customers. Fowler presented each act that performed during the grand opening with a video of the event. One those acts was a gospel group that, according to Fowler, subsequently landed $10,000 worth of bookings using the video as a demo.
With that, Fowler launched a new concept — recording entire church services. Using a set given to him by a local television station, churches could come in with their pastor and choir and present an entire worship experience.
This evolved into a weekly worship service offered to a local television station for airing on Sundays. Fowler sold ads around the program that covered the television costs, and the church sold tickets to attend the performance at Studio 61, which can accommodate up to 150 guests. That revenue would cover Studio 61’s cost.
That concept continues to evolve. For the first time, Studio 61 is going out of state. Referred by one of his Mississippi gospel acts, Fowler will soon be filming an Arkansas group.
With all of this, Fowler is contemplating significant expansion.
“I would love to have a separate studio to film in,” Fowler said. “I could use at least one more sizable facility, if not two.”
These facilities would house all of Studio 61’s current offerings, which include audio recording, music videos, CD duplication, wedding videos & DVDs, video editing, DVD creation and authoring, TV commercials and voice-overs and audio production.
Fowler has not forgotten his music education roots, either. He had a vision to start an after-school arts education program, but was originally told he must form a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and he had no background in grant-writing.
However, he was thrilled to learn that he could recruit an existing 501(c)(3) and work through it. The local chamber of commerce has agreed to do just that. And he has landed a grant writer.
“I just want to foster the general public’s education of the arts. I think it’s important,” Fowler said.
>> For more on Eric Fowler and Studio 61, visit www.ericfowler.com.