Take out your phone and do a Google search for “Joe Viers” + “Columbus” and you’ll come up with pages of website hits. The lead producer, chief engineer, and owner of Sonic Lounge Studios has a resume that boasts production credits from the likes of O.A.R., Dr. John, Blues Traveler, and Twenty One Pilots. Viers is not only a producer-engineer-studio owner triple threat that lands marquee names; he’s also the go-to producer in Columbus for everybody who’s anybody. Bobaflex. Orion and The Constellations. Cousin Simple. The Werks. fo/mo/deep. Ekoostik Hookah. The list goes on and on. His name is so highly regarded around town that there was even a joke making its rounds on Columbus music Facebook in which people were writing in “Joe Viers” for county recorder for the upcoming primary. He’s that big.
Getting to know Viers, you start to understand why Columbus musicians are lining up left and right for studio time with the head honcho of Sonic Lounge Studios. Located near Old Grove City, the space is host to legendary electronics and a studio that feels more like home than a workplace. Even with a laundry list of clients, Viers took the time to answer a few questions for Experience Columbus about his roots in music recording, the keys to retaining so many local musicians, the people and processes that make Sonic Lounge a possibility, and much more. You can read what Viers had to say by reading on below.
Q: It started to become clear to me that you’re sort of like this source of magic within the Columbus music scene; it’s very hard for me to go months at a time without hearing a local musician mention that they’ve worked with you. How long have you called the Columbus area home and how long have you been a part of the scene?
Viers: My opinion is the magic comes from the musicians/bands. I’m just the person who’s lucky enough to be tasked with making what the artists envision come through speakers while adding my spin on things.
I’ve lived in Columbus for about 40 years; moved here when I was very young. I listened to music a lot when I was a little kid. I loved reading the record jackets and got very into how different studios, producers, and engineers made the records sound unique; it was fascinating to me. I started playing music when I moved to Columbus; I had nothing to do and knew no one. The bands I formed and played with started gigging in local clubs in 1985. The engineering/production didn’t really begin until 1989.
Sonic Lounge Studios isn’t your first venture in running a music studio, correct? What was your previous music studio experience prior to Sonic Lounge? Did you decide this career path when you were at Capital University?
I attended The Recording Workshop while I was a student at Capital University. I was actually going to quit after the first week and come home and play gigs to make money during the summer of ‘89. However, my mom basically told me TRW was where I was supposed to be, and she would beat me senseless if I quit. So I stayed, ha-ha. It turns out she knew me better than I knew myself; go figure. She was right, and the lightbulb came on, and I loved my experience at TRW.
My first studio job was at Sisapa Record Company. I had the very good fortune to work with and learn from some incredible people there (Jeff Ciampa, Jimmy Dutt, Tom Johnson, and Mike Nugen were all staff there). Sisapa closed in 1993, and I went into a partnership with John Schwab and Robert Falcone. The three of us put together John Schwab Recording, and I ran that studio for 13 years before putting Sonic Lounge together.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars can be spent trying to get a studio up and running, and even then you could still be working with some lower-end equipment. You’ve passed 12 years running this past January. What would you accredit your success in longevity to?
I believe it boils down to results and the ability to make people comfortable. I deeply respect the emotional and economic investment musicians pour into their recording projects. The best performances come when an artist is free to just play or sing and not be concerned with the technical aspects of the recording process. I try to be one step ahead and as invisible as I need to be, or as involved as I’m asked to be. Sometimes it’s tricky to figure out which side of that to land on, which is a skill I think takes a while to develop. I feel like it’s one of my strongest assets.
How was Sonic Lounge’s location chosen? How would you describe where you’re located in Grove City?
My business partner Barry Damron found the building. When I saw it for the first time I fell in love with the building and the location. Sonic Lounge is two blocks from the center of Old Grove City. I’m seconds from incredible restaurants and bars but far enough away where it’s still private and quiet.
What are some of the major misconceptions about recording studios?
I think the standard definition of “recording studio” has changed drastically in the last decade. Sonic Lounge is a blend of the classic idea of a studio but feels more like a studio in a house. The building isn’t a house, but we put it together to have that kind of a feel. A recording studio can be anywhere now with the technology that’s available. Great records are being made outside of the traditional model.
Who all is involved in making Sonic Lounge run smoothly?
Sonic Lounge would not be Sonic Lounge without B.J. Davis. B.J. is a fantastic engineer and producer. We’ve been working together for almost 20 years. And the same goes for my business partner, Barry Damron. He’s not as involved day-to-day but still plays a big role. I’m fortunate to have several great independent engineers and producers bringing work in. Jay Alton, Nick Magoteaux, Tony Rice, and Aaron Oakley to name a few.
We could make a list for days consisting of Columbus-area musicians you’ve collaborated with. They range from Ekoostik Hookah to The Werks to Lydia Loveless to MojoFlo. Where people probably see your name pop up more often than not though are on the production credits for Columbus juggernauts like O.A.R. and Twenty One Pilots. How do you think you were able to earn the trust of bands with followings of millions?
I think the reputation built over many years is key, and consistently turning out high-quality work. Honesty and dedication to the goals and ideas of the artist is priority.
What do you have to say about your experience with working in this city with musicians at all levels in the industry?
A: We have an incredibly rich music community and music history in Columbus across all genres. I’m beyond grateful for the 30 years I’ve spent making music here. I’ve had many offers and opportunities to go elsewhere, and I’ve worked in many studios all over the U.S., but this is home and I love it here. The list of thank you’s and friends is miles long and humbling for me to think about.
There seems to be a lot of positive camaraderie flowing through the Columbus music scene. Have you had experiences in different area scenes? What would you say makes our local scene special?
I have traveled a lot in my career and spent pockets of time in other cities. Columbus has always had a bustling music scene. Like anything it ebbs and flows, but the level of talent and creativity here is not lacking. The people in our music scene are what makes it truly special, from the players to the fans to the club managers and owners, there’s always a willingness to help. While there is competition, it’s healthy and rooted in making the scene better.
We’ve already mentioned some of the bigger modern names you’ve crossed paths with, but someone with a resume as stacked as yours has to have so many classic stories having met a handful of historic musicians. Over all of your years in the music industry, is there an encounter that sticks out to you as being most special?
I worked with Dr. John on his album Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch. We spent a couple of weeks together, I learned a ton, heard some of the most unbelievable industry stories, and made a good friend. He was truly one of a kind.
It seems that one of your key ingredients in attracting an army of talent to Sonic Lounge is the equipment you have to offer musicians. Locals have mentioned the one-of-a-kind mixing consoles: Amek/Neve 9098i and Raindirk Symphony LN 4032. There’s also mention of your massive microphone collection.
What do you believe is the gem of Sonic Lounge Studios?
The people are the gems for sure; nothing replaces quality dedicated people who care about the music being made. Equipment-wise, the 9098i console is the centerpiece. It came from Olympic Studios in London where many historic records were made. I really can’t verbalize how much I love that thing. The preamps, the eq’s, the flexibility of it in general, and sonically it’s just massive.
What does it take for someone to be able to record at your studio? Can outside pedestrians schedule creative time?
Sonic Lounge is open to anyone. Scheduling does sometimes get crazy; we stay very busy. I’ll apologize in advance for messages that take some time to be returned.
How have you adjusted to having strictly solo time in the studio? How well are you able to work remotely?
I’ve been able to do some mixing and mastering. I don’t like being there alone too much. I thrive on the interaction and collaborative process. I have done some editing and things at home, but my workflow involves a large amount of analog equipment, which all resides at the studio.
What have you admired the most about local musicians’ creativity during the stay-at-home orders?
I love watching the live streams. I’m seeing people perform that I’ve not seen in a long time. I love computers, but I’d much rather interact with people face to face. I miss it so, so much. It’s really taking a toll. I know I’m not alone.
For over a decade now, Sonic Lounge Studios has been a sort of backbone to the Columbus music scene under the guidance of Viers. If you’re looking to book studio time at the 3975 Arbutus Ave., Grove City location, you can reach Sonic Lounge Studios at (614) 991-5300.