How a BCom led to a career in indie rock


Sauder BCom grad, Tom Dobrzanski lives and breathes music.

When he started his undergrad, the member of acclaimed Vancouver indie-rock group The Zolas decided to finance his studies with a basement recording studio, producing demos for up-and-coming bands.

Majoring in finance and accounting, Dobrzanski was preparing for a career in corporate management accounting. But by graduation, his home recording studio was thriving and he realized that a shift in the music industry was opening up new opportunities.

Shrinking budgets were forcing bigger bands out of the top studios in search of more affordable recording space. At the same time, the smaller acts he was recording were starting to do it for themselves with easy-to-use equipment coming onto the market.

He decided to seize the middle ground and create a studio that could handle established acts with reduced budgets. He also wanted to create a venue outside producers could rent for projects during off hours, generating revenue 24/7.

Dobrzanski saw the opportunity, but money was an issue.

“Financially I realized I couldn’t afford to buy a studio and also buy a separate place to live in Vancouver, so I had the idea of combining my live and work spaces,” he said.

Since the City of Vancouver classifies recording studios as industrial space, he began to search for an industrial-residential space – a rare commodity. After a year of looking, he finally located a warehouse that could contain a studio and living space on the same site.

To reduce labour costs, he tapped into the music community that he had worked in for the past decade for volunteers. “I enlisted a small army of audio school students and they did everything from putting up sheets of drywall to building sound diffusers,” said Dobrzanski. “In return they learnt how to build a recording studio and got to pick my brains about sound engineering.”

On the marketing side, Dobrzanski got the music community behind him and built support for his new studio by developing a social media strategy.

“I set up a tumblr blog and used Twitter. People followed our progress throughout, and we picked up new clients,” he said.

With his live-work studio now complete, Dobrzanski is literally living his dream.

His studio is fully booked for the rest of the year, with people already booking into 2013 at rates 40 to 50 percent higher than he charged in his old studio. 

He says Sauder training was the key to helping him develop his business model, as well as the planning, financing and marketing to make it a reality. 

Currently, he is working with some of the biggest names in Canadian indie music, including We Are The City and Juno award-winning band, Said The Whale.

“I’ve produced all of their records and now we can move up and progress together,” he says, noting that his new space allows him to continue working with major acts he helped put on the map back when he recorded their demos between late nights studying for first-year finance.