No Recording Equipment? A Music Manager and Engineer Built a Professional Studio in a RV
Recording studios are still closed along with all other “non-essential” businesses. That hasn’t derailed music-making for huge stars with home studios or bedroom pop purveyors who rely entirely on laptops. It does, however, present a problem to everyone in between. But what if artists could order a sound-proofed RV — one that had been gutted, reconstructed, and souped up with quality recording gear — to be planted right outside their front door?
That’s the kind of experience that Mobile Sessions founders Christine Hufenbecher and Kenny Moran are trying to offer right now. With live events and large gatherings banned, the L.A.-based Hufenbecher and Moran are finding a new market for their company, which officially launched in 2019 at the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Show as a different way for artists and writers to create. The pair renovated an RV into a professional-quality studio they could bring to artists — trying to foster the same kind of creative music-making from people’s driveways as from remote cabins and retreats.
While the concept of a traveling studio isn’t new — the Rolling Stones used a mobile studio to record ‘Exile on Main Street,’ for example — Mobile Sessions’ nature as a for-hire service that can provide unknown, indie artists with high-end equipment makes this offering unique.
Pricing depends on the client’s preferences, and having just one vehicle and no need for special travel permits keeps costs down. “We kind of just feel out the artist. What are you trying to do? Do you want to do a whole album? Do you want to do a writing session? We’ve talked to publishers about doing song camps for like five days — where they rent an AirBnb for writers and we plug into the AirBnb,” Hufenbecher — who previously managed producers and songwriters after being mentored by Lady Gaga’s former manager Laurent Besencon — tells Rolling Stone.
Mobile Sessions’ RV is broken up into three zones: the control room, the production area, and the lounge. Thanks to carefully applied acoustic treatments, sound can be isolated to one zone or played throughout all of them. Moran, who just finished producing a song for Earth, Wind & Fire and has worked with everyone from LMFAO to Jennifer Lopez, emphasizes that the space isn’t just for mixing and mastering, and that most instruments can be recorded in the RV.
Since launching, Mobile Sessions has done recording sessions on the beach in Malibu with the wheels right in the sand, as well as 3,000 feet up in the mountains. The duo expanded its business model by getting into the brand side of things last summer.
“Fender called us one day and asked if we could partner with them and 1500 Sound Academy to do an on-site experience for fans,” Hufenbecher says. “They wanted to let fans come inside the studio, try out the platform and play some Fender guitars. It just turned into this whole thing where hit songwriters were coming on board just hanging out for hours. That was at Real Street Festival in Anaheim, so just imagine Big Sean and Cardi B performing 200 feet away… and there are people doing sessions inside the studio while there’s a festival going on.”
Mobile Sessions was supposed to set up bigger demo sessions for artists this year in conjunction with ASCAP and non-profit She Is the Music, and it had hoped to be a part of Camp Flog Gnaw and Coachella. But the team had to press pause on marketing events after the pandemic shut down public gatherings. Still, Mobile Sessions has seen a noticeable increase in requests in the last year, and it is planning on ramping up at large events next year.
A new education partnership with the Recoding Academy and GrammyU would have also brought the mobile studio to schools this spring, but that initiative has been moved to the fall. “We’re gonna talk to students about the recording process, the mixing, the live process, publishing, and the business side of things,” Moran says.
The team’s normal recording hourly rate is $100 and day rate is $2,000 for a 24-hour period, but the duo stresses that pricing is flexible. “By and large, the bulk of musicians aren’t going to make a platinum-selling record or sell a million downloads,” Moran says. “They’re gonna do an album, they’re gonna put it out, and they’re gonna get in a van and try and push it. We recognize that. We want to help, so we’re gonna be as flexible as we can with a truly independent artist.”
Of course, a mobile studio on wheels has constraints. Moran says the only major thing they can’t do in the RV — aside from recording a 30-piece orchestra all at once — is track live drums. But they can run 100 feet of cable from the curb and into an artist’s home, which is what they did for Earth, Wind & Fire drummer John Paris last week.
“Unless it’s a really small kit, it’s just not gonna fit,” Moran says. “But we have several amps, several sought-after guitars always on board. We have a full mic compliment, so we can easily roll up and do a full headphone mix and record a full band — like a five-piece.” He also stands firmly by the quality of the space’s sound: At the last NAMM show, he says, more than a dozen employees from Dolby and Dyn checked out the RV and were impressed by its sound. “And Dolby Atmos came up with a design with Dynaudio, saying we can make this a full Atmos rig,” Moran says.
Mobile Sessions has partnered with Blue Microphones, which allows them to offer discounts on mics to students, and they say more partnerships — like one with Yamaha that’s currently being fleshed out — are on the horizon.