As black as the nearby parking lot asphalt, the skull doormat is a good sign you're standing in front of a recording studio.
Osceola Studios sits inside a rust-colored brick building, bound by railroad tracks and a concrete plant at the end of a strip mall on a service road near downtown Raleigh. Even with directions, it is not easy to find.
"We don't have a sign," offers co-owner Dick Hodgin, opening the door. "We don't want everybody to know we're here."
Dick is a compact and energetic man. For the past four decades, Hodgin has engineered and produced records for the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Flat Duo Jets and Corrosion of Conformity. He speaks his mind without qualification or pause, a quality that makes him a valuable studio asset and has earned him the nickname "The Dream Assassin."
If middle age has tempered him, it's made him no less direct. That's why I know that, when I ask him how business is going, I'll get the truth.
"Excellent," he responds, drawing out his answer, as though enjoying a ripe peach.
There is a difference, of course, between the record industry and the recording industry. The record industry, long the domain of record labels and distributors, has changed irrevocably since the turn of the millennium. CD sales have flatlined, and royalty rates for music streaming offer a fraction of traditional revenues. Despite all the touring and ad placements and corporate sponsors, musicians are still struggling to find ways to make music a livelihood as their industry continues to wobble.
Nevertheless, most any survey of area recording studios reveals a landscape that's been altered but improved. The digital age—and the resulting ability to make high quality recordings relatively cheaply—has led to a new era of smaller, leaner and very versatile recording studios. From Nightsound in Carrboro, now celebrating its 15th year, and the long-running Overdub Lane in Durham to the aptly named Seriously Adequate and Hodgin's Osceola, local rooms have survived because the people behind them have learned to evolve with their industry, whether by becoming parts of their community or experimenting with novel funding methods.
None of them acts as if making music is a diminished or dead prospect.