Once, back when he working as an assistant engineer in a major New York recording studio, an old industry hand gave Devon Kirkpatrick an ominous prediction: He’d be divorced before he made it. “If I’d have gone by his definition of making it, I might have been,” Devon says.
It was the late ’90s, and Devon was hustling at Sony Music Studios NYC, one of the biggest and most renowned facilities of the era (it closed in 2007), which had a stage large enough to hold a 90-plus-piece orchestra and virtually every piece of equipment known to music at its engineers’ fingertips. He worked on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and other Grammy-winning and multiplatinum projects. Being just five years out of Full Sail’s Recording Arts program (where he’d graduated as valedictorian) – and a thousand-plus miles from his hometown of Baton Rouge – he was doing well for himself. The next step, he thought, was to become a full-time freelance engineer.
And yet, the industry’s requisite craziness was eating at him. “I had an opportunity to see what that was like at that level,” he says. “The experience was something that was eye-opening.”
Back in those days, before cell phones, assistant engineers were issued pagers. When those pagers went off, they went in. There were no days off. No vacations. They were permanently on call. “That’s how the industry works, and that’s great,” he says, but it wasn’t the life he wanted to live.
Devon wanted this to be his career, but he didn’t want to burn out. Nor did he want to get a divorce, which seemed the logical consequence of his brutal schedule.
The answer, as it turned out, was back at that place he’d sworn he’d never go back to: Baton Rouge. His hometown, as it turned out, was lacking the kind of big, professional studios he’d worked for in New York. Despite its relatively small size, Baton Rouge has several things going for it: proximity to Louisiana State University, Southern University, and New Orleans, as well as Louisiana’s primacy in the film industry (thanks to generous tax credits, it’s only behind New York and California), as well as the state’s rich blues and gospel history. In other words, thought Devon, there would be a demand for a high-quality studio.
“If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have done it,” Devon says.
In 1999, Devon opened Sockit Studio, a self-contained 3,900-square-foot building. The goal was to bring the professionalism of New York City to an environment Devon could better control. And it’s paid off, both professionally and personally. He’s still married, for starters, and he and his wife now have two daughters, ages 6 and 8, whom he actually gets to see: He rarely works past 9 p.m., or on Fridays or Saturdays.
Sockit, meanwhile, is thriving. There are two studios now, and Devon’s roster of clients is as long as it is impressive. The facility has done Grammy-nominated work with the Williams Brothers and Mystikal, in addition to working with an assortment of record companies, films, spoken-word projects, and even video games.
For the first four or five years, Devon says, he took whatever came through the door. Today, he can be more selective with his schedule.
“Now that I can control my schedule better, I have a few more goals to reach before I start a label. To me that is the ultimate working luxury, being able to work on the projects I choose and not have to take whatever, whenever. I’m slowly getting there while having a great life balance along the way. ”