Columbus rappers and engineers embrace 'work from home' with new DIY spaces

Earl Hopkins
Malcolm Westmoor

Last year, Malcolm Westmoor was operating a music studio inside a desolate office space alongside fellow artist Tune$quad. It wasn’t much, but the two craftsmen, working under the name Palace Recordings, circulated a small clientele base until operations slowed as the country wrestled with the effects of the novel coronavirus.

By March, most traditional studios temporarily ceased operations waiting for the moment to pass, which left local artists desperate to find places to record and someone capable of capturing their sound. Luckily, a few of these people were able to connect with Westmoor, who grew his clientele base from four artists to dozens in a matter of months using a stripped-down, DIY setup.

Westmoor, known as artist Yogi Split, eventually moved from the office space, relocating his equipment to a two-bedroom apartment for six months, where he used curtains as door dividers and three mattresses to form an enclosed booth.

Before then, Westmoor was forced to flex his artistic muscle moving from house-to-house, with the 24-year-old meeting local artists in their residence to record and mix songs as he prepared his in-home studio.

“My clients have been very understanding of my situation,” Westmoor said. “They’re like ‘Oh, we’re in the office today? Oh, we’re in an apartment today? A house today? It doesn’t matter.’ I’m very grateful to have clients that would probably record with me in a cardboard box if they saw a laptop and a microphone.”

Westmoor put the finishing touches on his home studio in September and has since  reestablished the same presence he had at the start of quarantine.

The setup is fairly makeshift, Westmoor said, but his clients are as grateful for the space as he feels running it. For many, this unstructured business model would breed a sense of instability, but Westmoor is living the lifestyle he’s sought out for years.

“Man, this is priceless,” he said. “I think back to what I gained and it’s a deep sense of fulfillment because at this point I’m not really chasing being happy. I found something supposedly we don’t get to find before we die, and I was able to find this by age 21. And I manifested it into something that could carry me for the rest of my life.”

Artist Inky Jamez said it was “love at first ear” when he started collaborating with Westmoor. And despite the shifts in Westmoor’s production space, Jamez (born Chris Jordan) remains willing to meet Westmoor wherever his services take him.

“I understand this as a tattoo artist: If you’re good at what you do, it doesn’t matter where you’re at,” Jamez said. “When I work with other engineers, and it can be the nicest studio, if we don’t have that connection, the song is not going to have what it needs.”

Prior to the pandemic and its associated restrictions, artist ayelookitsBrady rarely booked studio time, but the arrival of COVID-19 led him to invest in building his own in-home studio. Over the course of the pandemic, he equipped his one-bedroom apartment with a new desktop, computer software, monitors and low lighting to accommodate for his slight synesthesia a neurological condition that can affect sensory pathways like vision.

Between April to October 2020, ayelookitsBRADY (Demerus Taylor) crafted his recent albumNot Sorry, released in December, and compiled more than 110 songs between his own tracks and ones he recorded with other artists. Now, the musician feels he can make any song he wants, a level of confidence he said he didn’t have this same time last year.

“I feel like I would’ve never tapped into that if the pandemic never happened,” ayelookitsBRADY said. “I feel like I would’ve always toyed and played with the idea … That didn’t happen until this year, and I think over that time period, having worked with so many people in my house and with people sending me stuff, I was able to really work on mixing and mastering to the point I feel like I can work at a full studio full-time.”

AyelookitsBRADY said DIY studios ultimately kept the music scene alive, creating small artistic brigades across the city’s musical landscape.

“They have made it much more convenient way of making music,” ayelookitsBRADY said of these artists and engineers who have formed small, collaborative groups. “It’s our version of working from home.”

Westmoor said he’s heard too many “horror stories” about local studio spaces, with artists expressing frustration toward local engineers who overcharge for their services and don’t appear to appreciate the genre.

“I think a lot of these studios ... they’re not serious. They’re jokes. They smoke weed all the time. They do this and they do that,” Westmoor said. “For me, hip-hop is the fast-growing and biggest genre in the world, so why would I disrespect someone trying to cultivate that? Because there’s probably an in for me from a business standpoint.”

Westmoor said he’s seen more people shift toward a DIY setup because of self-sufficiency, and he believes more artists will be driven to in-home studios for comfort, collaboration and more reasonable price points.

“I definitely see more artists moving toward the DIY setup because of how people are reacting to quarantine, but I also think that’s the direction people are going to because of life,” he said. “People’s journeys will take them to having a microphone in their house.”