Interview: Paul Diaz Of Tree Sound Studios

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The list of clients who’ve recorded at Paul Diaz’s Tree Sound Studios starts with Aerosmith and ends with Usher. In-between are literally hundreds of rock, rap, folk, and r&b acts who’ve availed themselves of this Atlanta facility’s blend of state-of-the-art recording technology and environmentally conscious outlook. In addition to his studio complex, Diaz also oversees Tree Power & Sound, a solar-powered offsite recording unit; the Tree Leaf Music record company; and even the organically inclined Rock Star Farms. We recently asked Paul about the the promise and challenges facing green recording and production companies today.

Tell us about Tree Sound Studios and some of the recordings that have occurred there.

We’ve had a lot of great clients over the years and our website lists them all (because my memory sucks). But it all began with the first OutKast album, and we’ve worked on many others for them since, We’ve also done albums for REM, Elton John, Lil Wayne, Whitney Huston, and too many others to list.

Are there many green recording spaces in America? If an artist wants to be environmentally conscious when recording an album, what kind of choices does he or she have?

There are a few out there, most notably Jack Johnson’s place in California, and the folks from the band Cloud Cult have an off-grid studio as well. We’re not as green as either of those places, as we still consume a lot more power than we make, but we are the only large commercial facility on the green tip. We have three companies beside Tree Sound that move in the environmental world. Tree Leaf Music, our label, focuses on combining the environmental movement with the music we produce and the tours of the artists we work with. Tree Power and Sound provides alternative energy, sound, and lights. And we hope to partner soon with Sustainable Waves and Rock Star Farms to combine a biodynamic organic farm in North Georgia with our small garden at Tree Sound.

Artists’ choices include whether or not to work at a place that’s earth friendly or at least carbon neuteral; using organic materials for your merch; using as much bio fuel as you can on tour; using efficient tour vehicals; using paperless tickets; encouraging downloads when making a CD; using companies like Groove House for recycled packaging and earth-friendly inks (not to mention their high-quality pressings); using a single stainless water bottle rather than thousands of small plastic bottles; using alternative energy for sound and lights; supporting environmental nonprofits on tour and in your products; and being active in educating your fan base. Your fans think you’re cool, so help them understand that saving the planet for future humans is cool too. The number-one thing is to be a good role model for other humans.

Tell as about Sustainable Waves and Tree Power Sound’s use of solar-paneled staging, light, and sound.

It all started at Echo Project, where we first worked with Sustainable Waves. They were running the solar stage and I had a baby solar rig with four batteries and two solar panels. I was recording the performances on the solar stage, mostly as an experiment. Then we came to know and love Neal and Mark and what they are doing with live production. Over the next couple of years, folks here on the East Coast started calling for what Sustainable Waves had at Echo Project. I would call Neal or Mark, and they would say it’s way too far to travel for a small gig, and not so green to haul all the batteries and staging. So after a while I headed to Austin and Kenny, who works for Sustainable Waves, sold me his baby solar trailer and we expanded its capacity with a 300-watt wind turbine, two more 130-watt panels, and doubled the battery capacity. We began to try and fill the niche here in the east for alternative-energy production. We hope to keep expanding that, and we’re going to meet with SW to see how we can form a strategic alliance and cover the areas too far away for them to justify working.

Many festivals now have a solar-powered stage, but it’s usually the smallest stage. What kind of system can solar support? Can you handle sound systems that can rock 3000 people? What’s the limit?

I personally believe there’s no limit to the size of an event that can be powered with alternative energy. Sustainable Waves has rigs that will rock 3000 and they’re growing. When you combine wind-, solar- and biofuel-powered generators, its easy to run the biggest stages around. Most giant festivals run on generator power, so its just a matter of feeding it biodiesel. As for giant solar arrays, the biggest hurdle is batteries. They’re super-heavy, so hauling them around becomes difficult due to their gross weight, vehicle limitations, and the fuel needed to move tons of metal. This will become easier as batteries improve, but for now the trusty lead acid battery is still the standerd.

Are these are economically sound, viable businesses, or does the cost of being green make it extra challenging to turn a profit?

It certainly takes a lot of upfront green to go green on production, and the savings in power is not really enough to consider unless you’re looking ahead seven to ten years. But there’s great marketing potential in being green. State and federal tax incentives ease the initial cost. Making a profit in any business is very challenging, and spending money to do something the green way is hard to justify just on tax incentives or power savings. But again, the marketing value is growing quickly for green versus not green, so I’m sticking to it. I also feel a lot better about educating the public at large about green options – and given the same quality, or even better production, for a competetive price, would you choose green or non-green? “Green” is the answer I hear the most, so being green is good for the bottom line. The other thing about saving resources for humans is that we need customers to do business. So if everyone is scrambling for clean air, water, and food, they’ll be buying less of everything else.

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