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Arts & Culture

The Revolution And Evolution Of Miami Music Business


Can you name these songs? 

OK, so what do they have in common? 

All of these songs, either in whole or part, were recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami. It began as a small studio in the late 1950s and grew into six studios with a global reputation for making hits.

The studios are just a stone's throw from West Dixie Highway in northern Miami, tucked behind a funeral home. Trevor Fletcher, general manager who had been going there since he was 5, and studio technicians were mixing "Layla" through Criteria's buyout by New York's The Hit Factory.

Fletcher is among the South Florida music industry veterans who have weathered the massive changes in the business over the past decade and a half.  Technology has democratized the recording process, allowing someone with a laptop, a microphone and an Internet connection to compete with the spacious studios and highly trained audio engineers Fletcher managers. 

Bill Kelly has been part of those changes. In 1985, the local DJ started a conference to talk to record labels about dance music. The genre was still recovering from the Death of Disco days. Kelly brought together business types to talk about distribution and marketing. That was the first Winter Music Conference.

WMC has evolved into an annual rite of spring for the EDM (electronic dance music) industry with, Ultra Music Festival packing Bayfront Park with EDM fans. But it's the conference that concentrates on the business and the beats. And while Kelly has felt the pull to move the conference away from Miami, it is due to celebrate its 30th year in 2015 in South Florida.

  Deep City Records didn't make it that long. The first black-owned record label founded by Willie Clarke and Johnny Pearsall started in the early 1960s. The label had some regional hits but never found the national distribution that lead to the success of other soul and R&B labels such as Motown and Stax.

Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound film documents the short life but meaningful music. As co-founder Willie Clarke tells the Sunshine Economy, Deep City Records was born as much out of economic necessity as it was creativity: "One day my wife came to the door and told me as I was mowing the lawn 'It's your turn to change the diaper. And don't forget you've got to find some money. We don't have any money for dinner.'"

The film is an original documentary from WLRN.

Tom Hudson is WLRN's Senior Economics Editor and Special Correspondent.
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