Awhile back we saw an article by KQED titled “Interns Turned Engineers Take the Reins at SF’s Historic Different Fur Studios” and knew we had to meet them! Meet Lien Do and Grace Coleman audio engineers and managers Different Fur Studios in the Mission District of San Francisco, California. Different Fur Studios is a recording studio that has been around since 1968, started by Patrick Gleeson. In its early years, Different Fur was run as an artists’ commune, housing Gleeson, Vieira, a Stanford harpsichordist, a jazz saxophonist, and their various families and collaborators. The early studio was self-designed, a humble synth emporium and experimental musical space, where Gleeson began honing his synth expertise. In 1971, Gleeson was enlisted to set up a Moog synth for Herbie Hancock recording many of the synthesizers on Head Hunters. Gleeson eventually sold Different Fur in 1985. The studio is now owned by Engineer Patrick Brown. Artists who have recorded at Different Fur include Neil Young, Brian Eno, Devo, Primus, Rodrigo y Gabriela, OneRepublic, and more.
During the pandemic Grace received an unexpected call from her boss with the news that he had become too busy with his music label, Text Me Records, to keep up with demand at Different Fur Studios. He wanted to see if Grace was interested in taking over Different Fur while he focused on label, and if she wanted to co-own it with her longtime friend and colleague Lien. While it took getting over what sounds like a little bit of imposter syndrome they’ve really taken the reigns and we’re thrilled to see it.
In their free time Grace enjoys sitting at the park or beach enjoying the California weather, cooking, hanging out with her cat Pip, or shooting hoops. Lien is an urban exploring with her roommate, practicing mirror writing with her left hand, walking in the fog at night, dancing in her room, surfing, “or rather trying to surf and not being very good at it”.
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
Lien: I was lucky in the sense I knew I was going to do music my whole life. All my friends and family already knew as well. However, I didn’t know I would be getting into audio engineering, music production, teaching, or being a sound installation artist! I always thought I would be a touring artist but I pivoted towards learning all the technical aspects of music so I can self produce. I still would love to perform as an artist but I definitely came into this industry by interning at Different Fur Studios.
Grace: I got into the industry when I got my internship at Different Fur in late 2013. What motivated me to get here was my curiosity regarding music creation. I was always drawn to music and being involved with music but not necessarily the performance aspect. I didn’t realize there was a place for me to exist in this industry as a creator of music without being a performer. Once I figured out that there is a place for people who like to tinker around with ideas and gadgets I was certain that this was the path for me.
What is a day in the life like?
Lien: I usually wake up around 10am and go to the gym while I review all my mixes / production I did the day before. I will listen to them on repeat while at the gym to try and pick out mixing issues or try and generate ideas on how to make the song better. Then after that it usually depends on the day because session lengths, times, and dates are usually all over the place every week. But usually it will be a full day session that starts at noon in which I will get there an hour early to set up. Then the session will be recording or mixing with whatever project is happening. Then sessions usually end later than the full day and I’ll end up staying an hour or two after to clean up and listen to more mixes. Then I’ll go home around 10:30-11pm and shower/do my skincare routine / journaling. Then again listen to music I am inspired by or the mixes / production I did that day. Then I end up watching / doing whatever subject I am obsessed with for that week, youtube, or reading until 1am-3am.
Grace: All days are different but generally speaking: Wake up around 8am, make coffee, feed my cat Pip, drink coffee that has been made, and then head off to the studio with enough time to start setting up about an hour before my session is supposed to begin. Then work, work work, break for a super veggie burrito from my favorite taqueria, El Buen Sabor, then more work, then clean up, go home, cook dinner, feed Pip dinner, engage in whatever dissociative activities are on the menu for the evening, read a bit, then go to bed around 11pm / midnight.
In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
Lien: It has changed a lot over the years but currently I’ve been really into the album I just finished mixing with a local band called SUPERGOOD4UTHING. I just really vibed with them and I loved their production. I really pushed myself with my mixing with this project. Also I mixed in Ableton which was hilarious and it still turned out great!
Grace: The coolest thing i’ve worked on / most fun I’ve ever had in a session was when I was making an album with The She’s – their latest full length. It was just a really fun laid back session with a lot of experimentation and using an analog workflow. We took our time with things; they wrote about half the songs on that album while in the studio, and I felt like I got to push myself creatively alongside them.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
Lien: I think unfortunately (and probably most relatable) the hardest part is trying to feel financially steady. I love what I do and would never change it but there is always this pesky reality check of needing to pay the bills. I am fortunate that I am stable as a full time career in music which is a blessing but since each month is so drastically different from the next it is hard to fully rest. I guess it keeps me on my toes!
Grace: The most difficult part of this job is staying on top of everything. When it comes to running the studio – making sure everything is being maintained properly, the space is getting cleaned, sessions are being booked, rent is getting paid, emails are being sent, etc. The to-do list is essentially infinite. It is difficult to maintain a healthy work / life balance for sure.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
Lien: I definitely would stress that so much of it is being disciplined in teaching yourself. Since this industry in many ways is so subjective, I would spend a lot of time making sure your vision, intent, and skills are clear. I also would network online and in person because they will be huge motivators in your growth.
I love the community aspect of music and seeing how talented everyone is! Collaboration is really the gem that should be nurtured if you want to get into this industry. I always say that youtube university and feedback from friends is honestly what has allowed me to grow so much in this career. Oh and no mansplaining haha! really ruins vibes fast.
Grace: Take initiative but be careful. Have enough self awareness so that you know your strengths and weaknesses. Work on said strengths and weaknesses.
Don’t be a hater. Stay open minded and creative when problem solving. Stay learning and be cautious of identifying yourself as an expert. That isn’t to say don’t be confident in yourself though.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
Lien: I used to be! Unfortunately the turntable I was using broke so haven’t been able to use vinyl in awhile. I love vinyl for the timelessness of it and how you can actually see the artist’s intent. The artwork is big, you can’t skip songs on an album as easily, it is a full package!
Grace: My partner and I have a healthy collection of records. My collection started when I moved out to SF from Indiana. My parents let me take their record collection and stereo set up with me since they weren’t using it. I really enjoy the presence aspect of the format. I think buying records is a great way, and personally my favorite way to support artists I like.
What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.
Lien: I have been seeing a lot of new technologies in the form of algorithmic frequency responses which I feel is innovating completely new genres of music and sounds that I could have never heard back then. It is amazing to think with all the music that has been made in cultures and decades of human existence that there are still so many more sounds to be heard and felt.
Grace: I am excited that there seems to be an increase in awareness regarding royalty payments to musicians and artists at a government level. Rashida Tlaib meeting with UMAW (The Union of Musicians and Allied Workers) and being willing to write & propose legislation that supports and protects the interests of artists over corporations is huge, and makes me feel hopeful for the future of the music industry.
Who has been influential to you and your growth as a professional in this industry?
Lien: Sarah Cargill, Patrick Brown, Grace Coleman, Matthew Pereira, Arca, Sophie, Mica Levi, Bjork
Grace: Patrick Brown, Phil Manley, Phil Becker, Donny Newhouse (El Studio Crew), Terri Winston, Jimmy Lyons, Mary Ann Zahorsky (Expression College Crew), Lien Do, Sami Perez, The She’s, Pllush, and every single person in every single band I’ve ever worked with to be honest.
Anything else you’d like to add, if not tell me what you’re listening to:
Grace: The Breeders, Paramore, Groove Armada
Lien: Lately been listening to Charlotte Adigéry, Miso, and a lot of Korean R&B
Find Lien and Grace:
Different Fur Studios: @differentfur