‘Big studios are done,” says Geoff Hazelrigg, sitting in his apartment with his brother, George, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Beside them is a large metal box, a recording preamplifier prototype they created for their new electronics business, Hazelrigg Industries.
“We’re designing this for people like us, who are having to deliver recordings that sound as good as major label recordings without that kind of budget,” Geoff says.
For those not familiar with the world of audio engineering, a preamplifier, preamp for short, is an essential part of the recording process. It takes a microphone or instrument and makes it louder, amplifying it to the appropriate recording level.
The two brothers, both in their early 40s, are music industry professionals and have spent much of their careers working with artists in top recording studios. Now, however, advancement in technology, particularly in terms of portability, has made the studio system obsolete, the brothers say.
“If Alicia Keys wants to record a vocal, she does that in her house,” says George. “Why use a studio when you have a $5,000 microphone and our preamps, and a laptop? A producer can come over, and the artist can work on their own time. They don’t have to worry about the clock. It changes the whole workflow.”
In addition to recording with big name indie artists such as Autre Ne Veut and Shy Girls, the brothers also perform their own music, blending classical, rock, and jazz to create unique compositions (see below for upcoming performances).
The brothers are trying to close a gap they see in the music industry; their hope is that Hazelrigg Industries will provide people with affordable recording equipment without a loss of quality.
George and Geoff Hazelrigg currently live in Pennsylvania — George in Doylestown and Geoff in neighboring Chalfont with his wife and two kids. They grew up in Princeton and attended Princeton High School, where they both played in rock bands (Class of 1990 and 1994, respectively). Their father, George Sr., received a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from Princeton University and later started an aerospace engineering consulting company. Their mother, Lauretta, was a nurse in the Princeton hospital system, primarily at Merwick and Princeton House.
The two say they can trace their new business endeavor, and their involvement in the music world in general, back to their childhoods in Princeton. “It wouldn’t have happened anywhere else. I mean, it couldn’t have happened anywhere else,” said George, discussing the musical opportunities granted to him growing up. “The things that we were doing in Princeton didn’t happen anywhere else as far as I know, at least not in this country.”
In addition to playing in bands, the two sang in the Trinity Church choir from ages 7 to 18, and both were classically trained at the Westminster Choir College, George playing harpsichord and Geoff playing violin.
“There were several people in town with whom I could study [harpsichord],” says George. “I don’t know where else you could have gone to get that. I mean maybe New York City, but then you’re dealing with a whole other set of circumstances.”
George says the brothers’ musical educations were unconventional at the time. “I think the difference nowadays is it’s a more level playing field with YouTube and the internet and everything else. Everyone has access to everything,” he says. “I mean, if you want to see a double manual harpsichord in 1980 where do you go? Princeton.”
The Hazelriggs made the transition to contemporary music in the early 1980s, when MTV took over popular culture. “A lot of it also started when we got our first synthesizer,” says Geoff.
After college the two moved to Washington, D.C., where they composed music for several early 2000s television shows such as “The Real Gilligan’s Island.” They also recorded and performed with local artists, sometimes touring across the country to support them on stage.
Currently the two brothers perform in venues throughout the tri-state area. They are also part of an electronica group called Collective Acoustics whose music has been featured on a number of TV and radio programs including NPR’s “Freakonomics.”
The brothers recounted how much musical equipment has changed since they first began playing in bands in the ’80s. “That [synthesizer] cost around $800 back then, which is a tremendous amount of money. Now you can get enough software for free and you can produce a whole record,” says Geoff.
“Back then getting any piece of gear at all was cost prohibitive,” he says. “You could get a gig with somebody because you owned a piece of gear. That’s just how it was, because they were so hard to come by.”
Despite improvements made in terms of the portability of music technology and recording equipment, the Hazelriggs say the overall quality of these technologies has been less than impressive.
“When you think about how far your smartphone has come in the last few years, it’s amazing. But we’re still recording worse versions of audio than what we had 30 years ago,” says Geoff.
“Our goal [with Hazelrigg Industries] is to help people make better sounding records,” says George.
Much of the process of starting Hazelrigg industries has been second nature to the brothers. “We’ve had so many years of hands-on experience working in the trenches that we know what guys like us need, and we understand the economics of it all, and we can speak that language,” Geoff says.
Still, starting a business has not been easy. “So far the hardest part has been dealing with suppliers and getting the things that we need,” says Geoff. “And getting the word out.”
The brothers build the preamps from scratch, using parts from various suppliers. “We do all the parts acquisitions and do the assembly in our kitchen,” says George. “Because we have to wait on people for parts, it’s done in stages.” The Hazelrigg Industries preamp is currently being sold for $2,249.
In addition to performing music and running Hazelrigg Industries, George teaches private harpsichord lessons, while Geoff works for Pennsylvania-based audio company D.W. Fearn, the owner of which, Doug Fearn, designed the preamp the Hazelriggs sell.
Though the company is still in its infancy, the Hazelriggs say they have received positive feedback for their product. “Everyone who has heard [our preamps] goes nuts, and most people who do buy them. But in the grand scheme of things it’s not that many people,” says Geoff.
“For us this is much more personal; we have a personal mission to have a positive impact on the industry,” he added. “Maybe it’ll work out. We’ll see.”
Hazelrigg Brothers, Bowman’s Tavern, 1600 River Road, New Hope. Saturdays, July 9 and 30, 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. 215-862-2972. www.bowmanstavernrestaurant.com.
Plumsteadville Inn, 5902 Easton Road, Pipersville. Saturday, July 16, 7 to 11 p.m. 215-766-7500. www.plumsteadvilleinn.com.
Prallsville Mills, 33 Risler Street, Stockton. Labor Day celebration. Saturday, September 3, 6 to 9 p.m. 609-397-3586. www.prallsvillemills.org.
For more performance dates, go to www.hazelriggbrothers.com. For company information visit www.hazelriggindustries.com.