Back to York – Back to Pittsburgh – Reality 2.0

Cindy (my wife) and I found the same cheap but cozy farmhouse we rented when we first got married.  I got another day gig and quickly hooked up with another local band.Farmhousea

For three years we lived in the farmhouse and finally started a family.


Me and my boy.

My son was born September 17, 1982.

While I was part timing with a local band my dream, desire, and passion was music and somehow making a living with music.  However I was still very naïve, especially to the real world of business.

Here comes the second dose of reality.

While I was back in York for these three years, Barney Lee, Justin Brown and a third friend, Henry Yoder, had formed a small business and built a small eight track recording studio in the Pittsburgh area in Dormont, PA a town just outside the Pittsburgh city limits.

The studio would later expand to a 24 track facility.

Obviously I was drawn to this like a magnet.  It had all the ingredients I was looking for, music, studio, and working with Barney Lee.

So in June of 1983 with a 9 month old baby boy we moved back to Pittsburgh and a small apartment in Dormont  about 1 mile from the studio.

My parents and my grandparents as well as Cindy’s parents weren’t very happy about this move.  We were taking the first grandchild (on my side of the family) and moving 250 miles away.  But this was my calling.

For a while we lived off of the money I had saved up in my retirement plan that accumulated while working for the County of York the previous 3 years.

We had no health insurance and I had a hard time finding any work.  My blessed wife started her 30 year career in waitressing.  A career which through most of the 1980’s helped keep the family going.

I spent a lot of time at the studio and started to realize that I had organizational and logistical skills. Barney Lee recognized these skills.  Barney convinced Justin and Henry to bring me on to help run the place.

Over the next few years I learned the business of business.


Starting to learn another set of skills.

Slowly my drumming skills were pushed aside.  Not only because of my running the day to day operations of the studio, which very few musicians have the skill or desire to do, but because time is money and there was always someone better.  There was always that other go to drummer.  No time in a session for me to learn my craft.

I did get to meet and get to know some very talented and successful people.

And I learned a ton about business and how it works, first hand.

I shined at business operations more than my musical talents and so gravitated to the business side of the music business.

In 1984 we bought our first house.  We paid $36,000 for a 2 bedroom, one bathroom house but it was in a real nice neighborhood and was on a great lot.  It has some apple trees and a grape arbor.  The interest rate was 12.9% which was a bargain at that time.

The studio was just managing to keep its head above water and committing to a 30 year loan for over $30,000 scared me to death.  But like I said earlier, Cindy was there to help keep things going and to give me the push I needed to make the move.


My little girl.

In 1986 we had our second child, a girl.

After three years at the studio I thought we were due to get our big break.  That next big act would walk through the door, we would sign them and all our troubles would be over.

But after being put in charge of the books and having to make decisions about who gets paid and who doesn’t I started to realize this.  Until that next big act walks through the door we need some steady income.

I learned the importance of cash flow.

So between dealing with banks, lenders, suppliers, musicians and the IRS, I started to seriously worry about the family that I had to support.

People would walk in the door of the office and my first thought was “do we owe you money”.

Anytime I went back to York for a visit and then returned to Pittsburgh I would drive by the studio just to see if the IRS or creditors had finally pad locked the doors.

I couldn’t live feeling that way anymore and my playing time had all but stopped.

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© Otis P Smith and About the Groove, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Otis P Smith and About the Groove with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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