Seeing Santa Cruz County’s music scene “on the precipice of a kind of renaissance” — one powered by young people of color — Summer Red and his Sonivore Studio are helping artists break into the music business with the nonprofit Solo Tracks program. He’ll talk more about it during a free panel discussion Friday at the MAH.
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If the signage for Sonivore Studio was as large as its owner’s ambitions, you could likely see it from a long way away. As it stands, though, you’re likely to pass by Sonivore without even noticing it. It’s not painted purple, like the nearby Ferrell’s Donuts. It doesn’t have a big sign that serves as a beacon, like New Leaf just down the block.
Of course, it’s part of the mystique of recording studios that they are often hidden in plain sight. Like a crystal geode, the nondescript outside often gives you little sense of the magic that happens inside.
Still, more and more musicians and artists are finding their way to Sonivore, on Fair Avenue on Santa Cruz’s Westside, as part of a new program to get people into the recording studio who might not have the means to do so otherwise.
Sonivore — the name is a play on “omnivore,” but with sound — is the fiefdom of a musician and producer named Summer Red, who opened the studio on the site of a former recording facility called Indigital shortly before the pandemic.
Sonivore is open to a wide variety of artists in many genres to create recordings, much like any other recording studio is. What’s distinctive here is a program developed by Red called Solo Tracks.
Think of it as a kind of scholarship program for talented, aspiring young artists, especially those not able to lay out the capital that recording can demand. Solo Tracks is free for artists in Santa Cruz County, who get a 10-day experience in the state-of-the-art Sonivore recording studio, including everything it takes to bring a recording into the world.
“At the end of it,” said Red, “you have videography, photography, a finished single at the industry standard, basically a modern press kit. And we’ve also got connections on the back end with publishing to try to place your music and get it licensing. And all that is a web of connection that I’ve been wanting to extend out to Santa Cruz County at large.”
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Solo Tracks is a partnership between Sonivore and a number of co-sponsors including the City of Santa Cruz, Arts Council Santa Cruz County, the musical programmer Indexical and others. Those interested in the program are asked to submit a song to a committee of five artists/producers who will select the winning song on the basis of a number of criteria, including gender, racial and geographical diversity within the county.
The program was soft-launched in January and is hurtling toward what promises to be a busy summer at the studio, sifting through submissions and engaging selected artists for a full-on immersive recording experience, all at no cost to the artist. (The program is largely funded by a grant from the Santa Cruz Arts Commission, as well as a number of private donors).
As a kind of springboard for the program, Sonivore is hosting a panel discussion called “The State of Music,” at the Museum of Art & History on Friday. The panel includes local musicians/performers Tammi Brown and Reggie Stephens, UC Santa Cruz professor and recording producer Greg Landau, and master percussionist Bill Summers.
Summer Red said that the panel is designed to explore the brave new world of building a career as a musician when the old-line record labels have largely lost their gatekeeping powers and technology has created new but often hard-to-navigate opportunities for emerging artists.
“In this world where we went from the institutional model of the label to one of the independent musicians or artists,” he said, “what are the areas where musicians assume that they should know something or have a skill set, but they don’t? How do you get to know what you should know?”
In the Sonivore stable, Red has a number of musicians, producers and recording engineers to assist in the Solo Tracks program. And, in the coming months, he’s looking to reach a capacity of about three artists per month going through the program, resulting in a few dozen a year and maybe a couple of hundred in a few years.
“I consider the music scene here to be on the precipice of a kind of renaissance,” said Red. “And the actions we take now — and the intentionality that we take now — is going to determine whether or not that renaissance actually plays out, or whether it just remains a vision that never came to be.”
Much of that renaissance, said Red, is coming from young people of color, particularly in the Black and Latino communities. “Those two communities are really making strides to empower themselves,” he said. “And it just so happens that part of the way that people empower themselves culturally is through music, to share their messages. And so you naturally get those people coming in because they have things to say.”
Summer Red, 34, is originally from Atlanta. After graduating from Georgia State University, he set out in a van to travel North America, visiting every state and every Canadian province over the course of a year and a half.
“I was wandering,” he said. “I was trying to find myself, get a sense of my own identity in this big fabric called America. I had a bit of a sour taste in my mouth about the South, and all the connotations that come with that. And I just really had a huge spirit of adventure.”
He arrived in Santa Cruz County more than a decade ago to visit a high-school friend who lived there. The friend was living in a commune-style environment in Felton. After leaving again for more traveling, Red eventually returned, this time to stay. “I don’t know what it was,” he said, “but something drew me in.”
All the while, he had been an accomplished musician on guitar, keyboards and vocals. He began working around town as a session musician wherever he could find a gig. At the same time, he was pursuing a degree in sound design and production.
Shortly before the pandemic in 2020, he became a business owner. Now he’s ready to take a new step in developing a culture of creativity from the ground up, giving talented young musicians access to pursuing their dreams.
“I think I kinda got it figured out,” he said. “How do I make sure we can collaborate with people in a sustainable way, and make it so that we all win, and especially making sure the musicians win?”
The panel discussion “State of Music” takes place Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz. Tickets are $15 advance; $20 after Wednesday.