Talbot snow’s recording studio in his east-central Vegas home is drama-free, despite all the characters who drop in. Like the ex-porn star-turned-singer/songwriter who rolled up in her custom Bentley with an entourage. And a Spearmint Rhino stripper-cum-R&B diva. One time, when Mormon missionaries came a-knockin’, he put them in front of the microphone. Snow produces hardcore rappers who party 24/7—except when they’re in his studio.
Check your drugs at the door. Make sure the mic room is closed before you start spitting those expletives. The kids are running around out there. But it’s all business in here.
“Things get done because we’re not baked in here,” says Billy Jack, a pop/rap artist whose real name is Billy Hewitt. “Even though [Snow] is religious, he still feels what we’re doing—he lets you be yourself. He’ll download sounds from porn, but he’ll also make suggestions about how to get your stuff on the radio.”
Snow, a producer, videographer and photographer, helps local rappers with rap sheets get focused. He’s their Mormon confessor, a “church check” for the unchurched.
Snow says he takes 7 a.m. crisis calls from clients (he’s just getting up; they’re just getting home). Snow listens to paranoid rants, tales of sex parties and benders. He bails them out of jail. God, drugs and women. Love and hate. After 30 years in Vegas, nothing surprises him. Artists are bursting to express themselves in a city that eyes their cleavage, slaps their ass and then doesn’t call back the next day—or until the next high-roller is in town.
“It’s almost like psychotherapy,” Snow says. He’s half-Maori with a Kiwi accent. “They will sit for an hour or two and spill their guts. I get confessionals from people because this is the closest thing they have to church, because they don’t go to church. They know I’ll keep it in confidence and give them decent feedback. It’s a quasi-religious experience.”
Every Sunday you’ll find Snow and his family at the Francisco Park Ward, a Mormon church near their home. He is a youth-group leader, directing the spiritual growth of young men in the church. He hears their troubles, just as he does with his secular artists. He’d rather be rolling out positive messages for his youth group. But at Sound Masters of Las Vegas, his 1,000-square-foot studio, he also believes in respecting the artist. Whether that’s a Christian rapper or … not.
It’s Saturday morning in his state-of-the-art mix-down room, and the new pop/rap tune “She’s Outta This World” blasts from Snow’s speakers. Billy Jack’s gesticulating in the mic room, fine-tuning the vocals for this song, and rap artist MCDC waits his turn. He’s wearing dark shades in a curtained room. MCDC, or Deric Cooper officially, is well known by serious rap scenesters. He’s an underground West Coast artist who does 65-70 shows a year. And thanks to help from Snow, MCDC can walk Vegas’ streets without fear of getting picked up by the cops. He had a few youthful indiscretions with drugs. A stolen car was involved at some point.
“I’ve worked with a lot of rappers, and a lot of them don’t take feedback; he takes feedback,” says Snow, who’s known the rapper since he was in a Valley High School boy band about 20 years ago.
With a bit of his own spirituality and a devotion to the music, MCDC is getting paid. He will move to Los Angeles to live part-time after recently signing with Hawaii-based 5ive 7even Records. MCDC says the nonexclusive deal is worth about $1.25 million to start.
“I was born and raised in Las Vegas,” he says. “I represent Las Vegas to the fullest. My whole goal is to put Las Vegas on the map.”
Of course it already is—for many different things. But MCDC is talking about the city as an incubator for rap artists. As Billy Jack demonstrates in the mic room:
“They really dig her rhythm/How she breaks it down/She’s the one that everyone’s talk-ing a-bout.”
This song is about a hot chick at the club. Or she could represent the neon city, the entertainment capital of the world. And she’s always getting played. This song will be featured on both MCDC and Billy Jack’s albums. It will also be played at an upcoming South Point runway show, Billy Jack says.
“We want to make money doing what we love,” he says. “We don’t just want to do what we love and be broke for the rest of our lives.”
That’s not Izana’s plan either. She’s a stripper at the Spearmint Rhino (stage name: Lynx, pronounced Lennox). She invests her money into her singing career. The petite almond-eyed beauty is self-producing her first album in partnership with Snow. Izana’s also an Army Reserve soldier who has traveled all over the world. She moved to Orlando recently to get away from the party scene, but she still travels back to work and record.
“That’s my hustle—dancing, and the money is good, the Spearmint Rhino is a great strip club to work for, great clientele,” she says. “My focus now is to be all about my music.”
Brittaney Starr also needed a career change. A skin-and-smiles blonde, she was an adult-film actress, producer and director until about four years ago. She recorded her first song, “Then There Was You,” with Snow. That song, which Starr describes as “completely re-did and made more poppy with a new producer,” is featured on her new album, Counting Starrs, available on iTunes.
Snow’s studio has transitioned into the digital age. Clients will put their entire multimedia packet—with music, video, photos—on a disc or USB drive to distribute to potential investors or leads.
The new bling is musical digital presentation, says manager and producer Jywanza Scott-Jackson (aka Rockit), co-owner of Nulyphe Productions.
“Your presence on the Internet is more who you really are,” he says. “People see you in person, it might be the car you drive up in, what you’re wearing, the watch you have, the shoes you got on. Whereas on the Internet, it’s about your presentation technically. I think that is a lot more solidified. It’s not like a veil or a mask you are hiding behind, but you can create a façade that’s a lot more impressionable by having an online presence.”
Snow embraces the change. He started out as a young musician, graduated to mobile DJing and then had a studio in his parents’ garage for 15 years. It took him two years to build Sound Masters in his home, where he’s been based for about three years. Snow is one of dozens of studio producers doing business in Las Vegas. Many are staying economically feasible during a recession by building their own studio and working from their home.
Snow’s space represents a $500,000 investment over 20 years. Snow’s photo studio is in the living room. In a year he’ll see hundreds of clients, most of whom need his complete orchestration on the keyboard.
He records with Cirque du Soleil artists from shows including Mystère and Zumanity, as well as Matthew Kriemelman, a former Blue Man Group musician. Other notable clients include King Errisson, the percussionist for Neil Diamond, and the Boo Yaa Tribe, a Samoan hip-hop group.
Will he always be in the garage?
“The music industry has changed so much,” Snow says. “A lot of the big, big studios have gone and have been replaced by studios like mine. Some of the most famous studios in the world are in somebody’s basement or garage. That’s the new model now.”
The 1972 Mustang convertible sitting in the driveway will always have to make way for the Neumann mic.
Visit Snow online at soundmasterslv.com.