Dean Stairs, a musician, sound engineer and father of 10, has been running his own business since 2001. His ever-cheerful wife, Stevie, is his partner in life, love and the family business. At their house - the old Salvation Army Citadel at 104 Main St. - family life flourishes in the upper floors while the music business booms below.
So, what exactly does go on in the basement of the Little Known Artists' Studios (LKAS)?
According to Stairs, he's busy helping people make music careers.
Drawing on his 30 years' experience in the industry, Stairs guides those careers with creative support, helping them develop their music and providing high-end recording and engineering, as well as promoting the finished product.
The studios consist of a master workroom with high-end computer and audio gear, and several isolation rooms with different floor and wall surfaces for different types of sound. All the rooms have unusual shapes - triangular or parallelograms. It's almost impossible to find a 90-degree corner in any of them. The floors in the studio are "decoupled," meaning they float free, independent of the walls, in order to prevent the transfer of subsonic sound. The rooms are soundproof and all have deep, insulated wall cavities.
"It's all about control of sound, knowing what the space can do and what tool to use - the right tool for the right job," Stairs said.
During recording, musicians are situated in a studio while Stairs is at the computer in the main room recording the sound and monitoring it through speakers.
"Some people play guitar, I play the computer," he said.
In fact, Stairs refers to himself as an audio sculptor.
"People come with an idea in the form of an emotion - they want to create a particular feeling with a certain melody," he explained. "We start together with this and from there we sculpt it into something."
Stairs has worked with musicians such as Terry Penney, Dan Bursey, Irene Bridger and Ada Jenkins. He's also working with a number of teenage musicians as part of his second Janeway CD project, due out in April.
Musicians come to him with a range of experience and at different stages in their careers. When working with a singer/songwriter such as Penney, Stairs said, the songs are already like fine-cut diamonds. Stairs' role is to create the setting for that gem.
He said one of the highlights of his career as a music engineer was Penney's 2009 SOCAN Songwriter of the Year Award for the CD "Town That Time Forgot," which Stairs co-produced.
He is know for his good working relationship with his clients.
As Dan Bursey says, "Dave doesn't have clients, he has friends."
Stairs said his work goes beyond recording music.
"What I find that people don't understand is that you can go to a lot of places in Newfoundland and get a CD made, but what we can do is help you have a career," he said.
His team - which currently includes MUN student intern Kayla Ball of Lewisporte - helps with CD distribution, concert organizing, cyber PR (promotion using the Internet), as well as with the administrative tasks required of musicians as they establish their careers.
The Stairs children range in age from three to 21.
"It's not exactly a family-run business, but the family is integral to the business," Stairs said. "Sometimes when new clients come to the studio, they don't realize that right away. While they may be initially surprised, most of them are happy with it; they come to look forward to that aspect of their work at the studio.
"The business comes down to who we are," he said. "The combination of our family, this location, and my experience is a unique one."
Little Known Artists' Studios -