You know a business is from New Jersey when it’s named for an exit off the Turnpike.
That would be Exit 7A Creative Services and Studios, on West Front Street in Trenton, managed and masterminded by owner/producer Scott Miller, who lives on the second floor of the 1873 building.
The business provides custom audio and video productions, studios, and technology and support services for performers, businesses, campaigns, and events. Since 2003 Exit 7A has been creating professional media for promotions, product and client development, fundraising, social media, websites, training, and sales presentations.
Nationally and internationally, clients include small and large businesses, media outlets such as CNN, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), National Public Radio (NPR), and USA Track and Field. The studio has also assisted politicians, labor unions, and municipal governments, as well as other media professionals.
Locally, Exit 7A and Miller have done sound, recording, and other technical support for Art All Night, as well as the Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market, the Trenton Farmer’s Market, the Capitol Philharmonic of New Jersey, the Trenton Half Marathon, and the Trenton Pork Roll Festival, which Miller produces.
The company supports all kinds of musicians and bands, students, indie filmmakers, and other performing and creative artists, including Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa.
“One simple project we did (recently), which I’m really proud of, was an audio recording for the newly remodeled MoMA in New York,” Miller says. “It’s a recording of Yusef Komunyakaa reciting a poem he wrote for the museum tour of Wifredo Lam’s famous painting ‘The Jungle.’”
Exit 7A is a bustling place for local and regional photographers as well. In fact, on a recent socially distanced interview, Miller had to end the conversation to open the backyard barn, which is being used as a photography studio.
Will Foskey, Ebony Johnson, and Habiyb Shu’Aib, among others professional photographers, use the studio for their client photo shoots.
As soon as conditions allow, Miller says Exit 7A will be opening its large studio building for monthly indie film screenings, open mic events, podcasts and talk shows, indie film productions, and private events.
To help run Exit 7A, Miller sometimes utilizes the services of interns from Rider University or the College of New Jersey. Otherwise, he likes to keep the business lean with only one other regular employee, Tony Catanese (Tony Goggles), a graphic artist and drummer for Trenton-based hard rock band Honah Lee.
(As a filmmaker, Catanese has had success with his exploitation Trenton vampire film “Girls Just Wanna Have Blood” — originally titled “Teenage Bloodsuckin’ Bimbos” — a hit at the New Jersey film festival in the winter of 2019.)
“Tony does most our graphic design, but I’ve also helped him make feature films — in fact we just spent 40 hours in the freezing cold working on a short film,” Miller says. “He’s very creative, and I think he’s the only (filmmaker) in Trenton who ever got a distribution deal, and not just with independent films, there’s interest from the ‘majors’ for Tony. He’s latched onto some great connections.”
One of Exit 7A’s latest productions was a live gospel concert video for the Bishop’s Choir of the Grace Cathedral in Trenton, which was streamed live in late January to rave reviews and more than 25,000 views. Take a look at https://fb.watch/3tavsqQCRe and you can see how the expert camera work and audio capture the moving sound and spirit of this ensemble.
At the same time, Miller has been working with June Ballinger, playwright, producer, actor, and former producing artistic director of the Passage Theatre, whose recent one-woman play “Remembrance Day” is an homage to her late mother, Nancy Annan, a Bletchley Park code breaker during World War II.
“Before she was married, June’s mother was code breaker with Alan Turing (and others) in England,” Miller says. “So parts of the play have her dating airmen in the U.K., then moving to New Jersey to have a family, etc., and June plays each role (in each time period). We’ve made a film out of that, and it’s in the final editing stages.”
Reflecting on the end of 2020, Miller says Exit 7A had a good year, even though the COVID-19 pandemic put a real damper on business at first.
“When the pandemic hit last spring, we got wiped out; there was no business at all in Trenton,” Miller says. “But a couple of months later, things started trickling back. We were still doing vocal recordings. It’s a separate booth, so it’s a very safe operation.”
“It seems like during the pandemic people revisited their creative side, and we started to get all kinds of projects,” he adds. “People were stuck at home and needed to create something.”
Miller says 2020 was an especially busy year for collaborations on new music projects with Michael Ray, long-term trumpeter with Kool and The Gang, for Ray’s own band, the Cosmic Krewe.
“These include a few sessions with 96-year-old sax player Marshall Allen and other members of the legendary Sun Ra Arkestra — who themselves currently have an album on the international jazz charts,” Miller says. “We also did trumpet recordings for five songs with Michael, for Kevin Hearn and the Canadian band the Barenaked Ladies for their new album, coming later in 2021.”
It’s not the first time Miller and Exit 7A has collaborated with the Canadian super band. “We also did the horn recordings for the Barenaked Ladies’ 2018 album ‘Fake Nudes,’” he says.
One of the highlights of 2020 for Miller and Exit 7A was last summer’s production of a 75th birthday tribute for funk, soul, and disco legend Sarah Dash, the iconic Trenton-born singer who was, of course, one third of Labelle.
“Sarah’s concert was supposed to be part of the Levitt AMP concert series, so (the organization) had money but no concerts to spend it on,” Miller says. “Instead, the funds were put towards creating this birthday tribute, which we figured we could stream, so everyone could see it.”
“We got birthday greetings from all kinds of celebrities, including the Rolling Stones,” he adds. “We staged a concert at the 1867 Sanctuary with a live band, Sarah did two numbers solo, then her friends came on and sang.”
Growing up in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, Miller is the son of an engineer father, while his grandfather was an enthusiastic collector of Edison cylinder recordings.
“He had different machines to play them all, even the Edison Victrolas with the big cone amplifier, and I used to help him fix them,” Miller says.
“I think it was my second grade field trip to the Thomas Edison Museum that really put the idea in my brain about media creation,” he adds. “When I saw all those great inventions of Edison’s, it really resonated for me.”
Miller reflects that he strayed from his first love when he studied engineering management, environmental engineering, and business, earning a B.S. from Wilkes University in 1990. He also studied art and audio engineering there.
After graduation Miller worked on complex soil and groundwater remediation projects in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and California. He began his career in environmental services as a field engineer and left as a senior design and project engineer.
He was starting to hate his work and daydreamed about running his own multi-media studio. Miller had dipped his toe into sound production, providing audio equipment and services for area bands and events (helping out at the Mill Hill Saloon in Trenton, for one thing) and wondered how he could make the jump and do it full time.
“I was living on the other side of the river in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, when I saw the Trenton Downtown Association had a business plan competition to entice people to move to the New Jersey side of the river,” Miller says. “Funny thing was, the deadline for the proposals was the next day.”
“I wrote a business plan, they liked it, and they gave me about $3,000 in seed money,” he says. “The revitalization of downtown Trenton had a lot of energy and money behind it at the time.”
He notes that in the early 2000s Front Street had been redone in cobblestone, the Trenton Marriott at Lafayette Yard opened, Maxine’s restaurant had been rehabbed, and the Patriots Theatre at the War Memorial was going strong with concerts.
“I was friends with J.R. Capasso (Brownfields coordinator for the city of Trenton), and he said, ‘take a look at downtown, things are moving and shaking.’ He showed me this property, which had been abandoned for 30 years,” Miller says. “I didn’t know anything about rehabbing a house, but everything else around here was looking real good.”
“I thought, ‘wow, I could put a studio in here,’ so I made the decision to buy the abandoned building, which also had this barn in the backyard,” he continues.
Although Exit 7A’s official address is on West Front Street, Miller says that the house and barn are situated on tiny Howell’s Alley, “which dates back to the 1700s. This neighborhood is one of the oldest parts of Trenton, and it’s really unusual.”
“The Old Barracks is only about 100 yards from my house, so reenactments and other events spill out of there,” he says. “Several buildings within a block are on the National Historical Register, including the Masonic Temple. There’s a real 18th-century flavor to this part of Trenton, and it’s turning me into a history buff.”
Exit 7A Creative Services and Studios, 9 West Front Street, Trenton. 609-815-1343. www.exit7a.com.