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Hartford Recording Studio Thrives By Branching Out

CORNERSHOP: Tapeworks Inc.

By JANICE PODSADA | Courant Staff Writer

September 10, 2008

After graduating from Boston's Emerson College in the early 1970s, Doug Kupper spent two years touring New England as an acoustic guitarist, singing and playing the music of the day at bars and ski resorts.

"I was living out of the back of a van me and my dog Karma good Karma," he said with a chuckle.

The experience taught him a lifelong lesson: "I learned I liked to eat regularly," Kupper said, as he sat inside the sound engineering booth of Tapeworks Inc., the Hartford recording studio he founded more than 30 years ago.

Since then, Tapeworks has produced musical recordings, radio commercials, advertising jingles, video game soundtracks, books on tape and, in recent years, the recorded voices used to direct callers to an automated telephone system. "Press one, press two," said Kupper, 61.

"With all the fluctuations in the economy, last year we had the best year we've had in 32 years of business," said Kupper, who attributed the company's success to diversification. "We're always looking for new revenue streams." Kupper would not disclose any financial information about the privately owned business.

After his two-year stint as an itinerant musician, Kupper returned to Hartford in 1972 (he grew up in Bloomfield), where he was hired by a local advertising agency.

In 1975, Kupper began moonlighting as a music producer, opening a tiny, closet-size recording studio on Farmington Avenue, where he recorded demo tapes for musicians on nights and weekends.

"I juggled both jobs for a while, but when I started to get my own production work, I quit the advertising agency."

Kupper's first big break came in the mid-1970s when he was hired by Sears, Roebuck and Co. to write and produce an advertising jingle for a series of radio and television ads. To complete the project, however, Kupper had to turn to a Boston recording studio to produce some of the ads.

"I was still in that tiny studio on Farmington," he said. "We didn't have that level of facilities locally. That's when I decided to build my own full-scale recording studio."

In 1983, with loans from family and friends, Kupper moved Tapeworks to its present location, a 2,500-square-foot studio at 770 Maple Ave. The studio can comfortably accommodate a 22-piece band or a 50-member choir.

"We did well. To everyone's surprise, mine included, we paid back all our loans in five years," he said.

Although the company only has three employees, each year it pays hundreds of actors, musicians and the occasional Foley artist (a sound effects producer) to take part in its productions.

Tapeworks' Hartford location has always been a draw for the state's celebrity population well-known actors and musicians who "don't always want to make the trip to Boston or New York," Kupper said.

But in the 1990s, the development of the Integrated Services Digital Network gave Tapeworks and other studios like it global access to clients. The technology allows the digital transmission of audio and other data over the phone. As a result, professional recordings can be made from almost any location that has access to the proper equipment.

Until its advent, an actor or musician had to sit in the studio to participate in a professional sound recording. Now, a musician seated at the Tapeworks concert grand piano can be paired with a singer in New Zealand or an actor in the Netherlands, said Bill Ahearn, the company's chief engineer.

When Neon Studios, a German company, needed an intricate soundtrack for its video game, "The Legend of Kay," it hired Tapeworks to assemble a cast of 28 distinct character voices, including a rat with a lisp, a chorus of Jamaican frogs and a gang of gorilla henchmen, said Erin Paul, 21, the company's studio manager and a French horn player.

On a more local note, when state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal teamed up with The Humane Society of the United States last year to denounce dog-fighting, Tapeworks produced the public service announcement.

And last month, Tapeworks completed a series of Mercedes-Benz television commercials that feature the voice of actor Richard Thomas, who played "John Boy" in the 1970s television series "The Waltons."

"We compete on a level playing field with anybody," Kupper said. "Our work stands up against New York and Los Angeles. That keeps clients like Lego and the top local agencies coming back."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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