Jason Melker talks Dream Recording Studios, Talib Kweli, L.I. restaurants and more
It is well-known that countless important musicians have Long Island roots. But it is less known that there is still a large music industry presence based on Long Island. Artist management companies are based here, as are merchandising companies, start-ups, concert promoters, and recording studios.
One such recording studio is Dream Recording Studios in Bellmore. Beyond being a full service recording and production studio, Dream is also the headquarters for Devil's Belt Entertainment and its subsidiary Jayem Artist Management. Dream also partners with The EarWaxx Sessions, which has been referred to as Long Island's premier creative expo.
Jason Melker, who serves as Head of Music Operations for Devil's Belt beyond managing Dream Recording Studios, spoke to No Place Like Long Island. Prior to his work in Bellmore, the Oceanside native worked at Glassnote Records, and within the Capitol Music Group before that. He not only opened up about the Long Island music scene within this Q&A, but also some must-go establishments in Nassau and Suffolk.
How did you get your start in the music world?
JM: When I was somewhere in the five to seven-year old range, I went to a sweet 16 and heard the DJ playing a style of music I had never heard before. Looking back, I would assume it was hip-hop, but at that age, I just couldn’t place it or even describe what I heard. Regardless, I was obsessed with Elvis at the time -- and still am to this day. I had asked the DJ to play an Elvis record, maybe “Hound Dog,” and when it finally came on, it absolutely made my night. I decided that night that I wanted to become a DJ.
I never became a DJ, but my love for music and the way it could make people feel became clear, and I have since dedicated a good portion of my life to finding music I enjoy and sharing it with others, both in my personal and professional life.
What was the link between your last job and where you are now?
JM: I worked at Glassnote Records from 2013 to 2014 under one of the greatest mentors this industry has to offer: Daniel Glass. Towards the end of my time there, a friend had told me about a friend of his who had opened up a studio in Bellmore, Long Island. He had asked if I would be able to bring some Glassnote artists there and my thought process was “one, I don’t have the pull for that, and two, why would Mumford & Sons want to come to Bellmore?”
When I saw the studio, I was stunned. It was perfect, sonically, aesthetically, and technically. I knew, just by walking through the doors that this could be a promised land for local talent. Long Island has such great original music and a lot of the studios in the area just weren’t in their price range. We came up with a few ways to make the studio affordable for local and independent artists and really focus on meeting their needs.
When my partner and I first stated discussing our goals, it was obvious that artist development was a commonality, so we turned a little management company I had been running as a hobby into a full-time situation and things couldn’t be more fun.
Who are some of the people that have recorded in your studio lately?
JM: Some of my personal favorites that have been by recently are Great Caesar, EVVY, Dud Music, Bohemians, LBO, OnetakeCarter, Dan Lamoureux, Marlo DeMore, Quarter Horse, D.A. The Future, Jess Ingui, and Buddy Lofton. We’ve also had some great national acts come through our doors: hip-hop legend Talib Kweli did a Q&A session with our former interns. Country superstar Jason Aldean came by to do commentary for his most recent album. Super-producer, 88-Keys came by to work with LBO on his song “Pickin Liquor.” We also had Theresa Caputo from The Long Island Medium record her audio book You Can’t Make This Stuff Up with us.
Are there any other music-related companies on Long Island that you often work with? Is there much of a Long Island music industry?
JM: We love partnering with other local companies. One in particular is The EarWaxx Sessions. These guys have somehow become the center for all things Long Island hip-hop. Their vision for Long Island music, independent artists, and vibrant culture is spot on. Alex Yake and Derek Anthony -- a.k.a. D.A. The Future -- have put together a small team and a large movement. Their brand has become synonymous with hip-hop, fashion, visual art, poetry and jazz on Long Island in just two years' time.
Almost as important as collaborating with local companies is our partnerships with the schools in the area. Every semester, we are pulling in interns from Nassau Community College and Five Towns College, along with many other schools. Both NCC and FTC have a student body who want to win and we love giving them a platform to do so.
As far as Long Island’s music industry goes, it's a funny thing. I say it all the time: We live in the shadow of the greatest city in the world. What happens in New York, often outshines what happens on the Island, just because of the allure of New York. It is easy for artists to venture into the city, but for some reason, people from the city have this fear of traveling east. I can’t stress enough how much talent there is out here and how many creative entrepreneurs the Island has to offer. If we all pooled together, there is no doubt in my mind that Long Island could be as strong as Seattle during its prominent grunge era, or Chicago’s hip-hop scene following the explosion of Kanye West.
Do you have a favorite concert venue on Long Island?
JM: Treme in Islip recently won my heart over when I saw Dud Music bring his Swing Sessions there. They are a perfect venue for jazz.
I also have a deep love for The Paramount. They are just a pleasure to work with and their venue is stunning. Their Founder’s Room, downstairs, is an experience in itself.
I am confident that I will one day tell my grandkids that I saw a legendary artist, on a quiet Tuesday night, when they first started, at the Amityville Music Hall. There is something special about that room and some of these guys from this EarWaxx scene are going to go far if they stay focused and make smart decisions.
What's coming up for Dream Recording Studios?
JM: Summers are normally busy for us but this summer was beyond incredible. I am so proud of the team for growing the way we have and I look forward to continuing that growth.
Larry, my partner and the owner of the studio, has a passion for songwriting. He has been putting together writing groups and working with them weekly.
I’d like to do more networking events in the studio. We are talking to Ron Alexenburg, former President of Epic Records, about doing a Q&A similar to the one we did with Talib last year.
We are also looking into doing a private live recording with Dud Music in the studio. That would be special.
What about you as a manager and consultant?
JM: When we first launched the management company, Talib Kweli was just starting his Javotti Media label. He had asked me to come and as a product manager for his artists, NIKO IS and Res, so the partnership made perfect sense. After six months or so, he was looking into signing more artists and asked me if I would take on the responsibility of product managing the entire roster, including himself. Essentially, we act as consultants for them, providing input, insight and some strategy to help their artists develop.
On the management side, we have Dud Music and Bohemians. Dud is a star. He is a hip-hop artist, producer, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, playing saxophone, keys, guitar, drums, flute and clarinet. He is winning over audiences wherever he goes and it is exciting to be a part of. Bohemians are a young band who have infinite potential. When I heard their song “Speak Daggers,” it reminded me of some of the bands I loved working with at Glassnote, like Phoenix and Two Door Cinema Club. I knew I needed to be a part of it and watching them grow over the past year and and a half has been an absolute pleasure. I’m excited to see what lies ahead for these guys.
When not busy with your work, how do you like to spend your free time?
JM: When you work in music and you are passionate about what you do, it's difficult to draw the line between work and play, but I’m a Long Islander through and through. This weekend, I'm thinking about taking my little cousin to watch the Islanders practice at the Northwell Health Ice Center. Then I’ll probably be out for dinner that night in Rockville Centre or Long Beach.
Do you have a favorite restaurant near the studio?
What about restaurants near Oceanside?
JM: BBQ: Swing Belly’s (Long Beach), Breakfast: Demi’s (Island Park). Caribbean: Little Ochie (Baldwin). Frozen Yogurt: Brew 7 (Rockville Centre). Gastropub: EGP Oceanside (Oceanside). Indian: Raagini (Baldwin). Italian: Pizzaiola (Oceanside). Japanese: Himawari (Long Beach). Mexican: Pancho’s (Island Park). Whiskey & Wine: Winston’s (Rockville Centre)
Best kept secret? Lost&Found (Long Beach).
Honorable Mention: Nathan’s (Oceanside). There is something special about going to Nathan’s in Oceanside, even if its not in the original location.
Finally, what do you wish more people knew about Long Island?
JM: There are these pockets all over the island that are just so cool. Long Beach, Point Lookout, Rockville Centre, The Nautical Mile in Freeport, Huntington, Patchogue, Bay Shore, all of the cute little towns on the North Fork...People who aren’t from the Island need to know how accessible all of these great places are. It is so easy to escape the chaos of the city and enjoy all that Long Island has to offer.
We aren’t all auditioning for the Jersey Shore and My Super Sweet 16 out here. Whether you are a foodie or a lover of great entertainment, there is no shortage of either on Long Island, and I’m excited for the world to continue to learn about it all.