Kent State alumni create design/ recording studio

David Wilson, Kent State alumnus proudly displays a small gift given to him by a family friend on his first official day of business at his new design studio, Downpour Creative. Wilson keeps this “success” magnet on his desk hoping it sets the tone for his first year in business. Photos by Eddie Olschansky.

Nicole Aikens

Two Kent State alumni, David Wilson and Gabe Swarts, opened the dual design/recording studio in December 2010. Wilson, who graduated in 2009 as a visual communication design major, runs the design side under the Downpour Creative name, and Swarts runs his recording studio, Engine Room Recording.

Wilson, 26, and Swarts, 30, met through the local music scene. Wilson has been in a band since he was 15, and in 2005 Swarts joined Wilson’s metal band that now goes by the name Dog Days. That band is the reason Swarts started recording music in the first place.

“Honestly, this all came out of wanting to do everything ourselves for our band,” Swarts said.

Now, the duo is working toward having an accessible studio demanded by local bands. Ideally, Swarts would record and mix the album, and Wilson would design the album art for every band to come into the studio.

“We want to do stuff for the local Kent scene, and we want it to be cheap, and we want it to be good,” Swarts said.

And they are both adamant about it being very good.

“It’s not like a factory house where it’s like, ‘We can do it all,’” Wilson said. He doesn’t try to produce music, and Swarts doesn’t try to do design. They both do their own thing, and they both do it well.

Although there’s a recording studio in his building, Wilson’s projects aren’t solely album artwork.

He is currently designing the second issue of his zine All Teeth, producing a rap video for a local musician, illustrating a graphic novel for a friend and finding as many other jobs as possible while working another full-time job at the Kent State Ice Arena.

“I’m full time (at the Ice Arena), and I try to be full time here,” Wilson said. “Hopefully, as time goes on, things will progress to more jobs and more jobs and more jobs, and I can cut back hours there and finally just make a switch.”

Swarts, on the other hand, enjoys having his teaching job in the day then coming to the studio at night.

“It’s so hard to make a living doing recording now, I just don’t think there would ever be a high demand for me to quit (teaching),” Swarts said.

After graduating with a master’s degree in history in 2006, Swarts got a job at Hudson High School. He says it’s the perfect job for him because he always has evenings, breaks and summers off to work at the studio and travel with the band.

“I love my job teaching, but the benefits were there from the beginning,” Swarts said.

“I don’t think there’s a formula to finding jobs. Half luck, half hard work,” Wilson said. “I think one of the hardest things for me is trying to convince people they need good design. People think they can do it on Word and stuff like that, and it’s like, ‘Well, yeah, it’s done, but it doesn’t mean it’s effective.’”’

Wilson said his favorite kind of project is anything with a concept.

“I like being at the beginning stages of design and being able to talk to the client about kind of like an art direction thing. The worst jobs are ‘Here, we need a Photoshop monkey,’” Wilson said.

Wilson said he dreams of working at MTV, HBO, Showtime, ESPN the Magazine, The New Yorker or any place he thinks “allows creativity to flow.” And he wants to do it all, from illustrating to designing intro credits for television shows.

“It could be a detriment, but my mind is all over the place. I want to do video, film, posters, screen-printing, illustrations, design,” Wilson said.

Wilson admits that he can’t be the best at every art discipline, so that’s where his friends come into play.

“For me, it’s kind of the idea sells the product, and then you get people on board who are in with the idea or what you want to do, and you make it happen.”

You don’t have to look far to find someone who sings Wilson’s praises. In fact, you only have to look down the hall of the studio.

“He’s amazingly talented,” Swarts said. “I’m OK, but he’s there.”

The overall goal at Downpour Creative is to create a space where locals can come for good, affordable design and music production.

“We’re trying to record our friends and other bands we play with and give them opportunities for good recording and design,” Swarts said.

Wilson and Swarts make those opportunities for others by spending all their free time in the studio. They both come straight from work to the studio, and Wilson said the only time he’s not there is when he’s sleeping or working at the Ice Arena.

To some, all the time spent doing their jobs may seem excessive or even insane, but Wilson said, “I think you have to be insane to be good at what you do.”

Contact Nicole Aikens at [email protected].