Like a lot of recording hubs, House Studio has a pantheon lining its walls. The assemblage of posters starts out with the obvious—Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix—but soon, you see where D.C.’s newest sonic temple is coming from. Staring out from the recording booth, your gaze may fall on the images of Aaliyah, Run-DMC, De La Soul, even J-Dilla, the highly influential underground producer who died in 2006.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, the person looking out from the booth was singer Abir Haronni, who was laying down vocals for her first professional mixtape against an airy backdrop of soupy synthesizers and hazy electro-soul. She’s lucky to be here.
“It’s been nothing but handshakes and hugs,” says Andrew Jones, owner of the Virginia-based Modern Music Group imprint, on which Haronni is an artist. “This place has a family-like feel to it.” A month after launching his label, Jones says, some unanticipated financial setbacks put a strain on his ability to pay House Studio’s rates. But studio co-owner Yudu Gray Jr. understood. “He let me know it was all right,” Jones says. “It’s a studio based on projects. They only work with artists who they know will complete various songs.”
Studio sessions at House range between $150 and $450, according to its website. Opened in 2009 by Gray and his business partner, Joel Powell, the studio—located in the unassuming residential area of Edgewood—has garnered national attention in relatively short time. Last year, its Twitter account was verified. Local hip-hop favorites like RAtheMC, Phil Adé, and Pro’Verb have recorded there; so have national names like Jim Jones. “If you in that DMV area, you need to get ya bars together and come down to the House,” Jones says in a YouTube clip documenting his visit.
Two years ago, Gray, 29, interned at Avalon Recording Studios in Bethesda, which he says has an antiquated approach to business: The studio charged flat rates to its artists and created a disconnect between artists and engineers. Gray came up with a plan for a studio that would forgo flat rates for varied ones, determined according to the project. In turn, those artists would help spread the message and bring in more established clientele. “My idea was to build a community, not just a studio,” Gray says. “We’re not going to overcharge. We’re more about the people and how they interact.”
House Studio also runs an after-school apprenticeship program for children who want to learn music production and engineering. Many of those kids come from nearby Brookland. The idea is to train those students to eventually work at House.
As far as the artists go, Gray is hoping to retain any future Aaliyahs and Dillas while expanding his clientele to include more Miles and Jimis. “We’re looking to make pop and big band records,” he says. “We want to step outside the box to get more people. This isn’t just an urban spot.”