by JB Hyppolite
Jason Dunkerley, 39, and C.J. Blair, 24, are co-owners, partners, sound engineers, producers and musicians at Drowning Fish Studio, which was born in the basement of Jason’s Glenside home and is now located at 2730 Pickwick St. in the city’s Port Richmond neighborhood.
Jason has worked with many musicians and producers, including Cornell McKnight, a member of the legendary Grammy-winning gospel group The Dixie Hummingbirds. Jason was mentored by Mike Tarsia, a Grammy-winning recording engineer and son of renowned recording engineer Joe Tarsia. C.J. does live sound production work on the side while working at Drowning Fish Studios. He’s worked with VH1, Saturday Night Live and The Jimmy Kimmel Show. He’s currently on a world tour with the all-girl rock band Haim, to be followed with a six-week U.S. tour that starts next month. Drowning Fish has also worked with the emerging Philadelphia-based bands Ex-Friends, Big Tusk and Quiet Arcs.
Jason and C.J. aim to ascend to bigger studio-driven projects such as producing full-length albums. “I don’t think we shy away or discriminate towards any specific style of music,” said C.J.
Jason and C.J. hold pre-production meetings where they give studio tours and discuss the budget and project details with the artist or band that may be interested. “In the right situations,” said Jason, “we’re meeting with these bands two or three times before the recording date, so we have a really firm grasp on what the record’s supposed to sound like and what their expectations are … Most of the city’s venues are notorious for looking out for themselves instead of thinking about the artists’ best interests. We want to change that mindset so everyone gets ahead further by sharing with each other. There’s nothing better than seeing one band promoting another band. It’s something bands should do for each other.”
Jason had bad experiences with other studios, most having to do with bad mixes and the engineer not caring about a project. Those instances were his main motivation for creating Drowning Fish Studio, which consists of 1,200 square feet spread across four rooms — two live rooms, a control room and a vocal booth. “We give people a chance who normally might have gotten shunned from another studio,” said Jason.
“It’s almost a conflict of interest when you’re the owner and the creative person because you don’t want to be held to a clock, just like your clients don’t want to be held to a clock.” The two would rather be the carefree “fifth member” of a four-member band during the recording process.
Jason and C.J. met as a part of the Philadelphia Recording Community, a group that meets bi-monthly. Its purpose is to gather music and entertainment contributors in the area for networking opportunities.
“At the time,” said Jason, “I was in love with the building that he was in, and I asked him if he ever needed a new partner, he should look me up. A few months later he actually hit me up.”
Drowning Fish Studio was not the original name of the studio; the name came to Jason after one of his earlier partnerships ended. The name was originally intended to the name of a record label, but it wound up being used as the recording studio name instead.
C.J. is from Reno, Nevada and is the only musician in his family. He’s played and toured in bands since he was 15. He worked at a studio in his hometown, then at a studio in Nashville. He eventually came to the Philadelphia area to be closer to his family, and he’s been here for over three years. Jason began what he describes as “banging on pots and pans” at the age of 3. He’s played drums since he was 5 and began playing in bands by age 12.
Jason built the foundation of Drowning Fish Studio based on the wishes of his friend Dave (who has since died), who had a dream of owning his own recording studio. He grew up in lower Bucks County but now resides in Glenside with his wife and children.
More information at www.drowningfishstudio.com.