Yaroslav Tseluiko: How to open a music business in Prague and keep in touch with the homeland
The owner of Jaro Sound studio Yaroslav Tseluiko moved from Ukraine when he was 11 because of his father’s serious work and was put inside the music world thanks to his music-connected family. Both facts became decisive circumstances in his life, which Yaroslav took advantage of to create his own musical environ in the neighbor country. So we took the opportunity too to look at some nuances of the work Yaroslav performs, musical business of Europe and cultural difference as well.
— The obvious things first. You are from Ukraine but, somehow, you’ve found yourself in Prague and founded own studio there. How did it happen?
— The story began back in 2004 — that’s when my father was directed to the diplomatic mission in Prague, he worked there as a counselor at the Embassy of Ukraine in the Czech Republic. I was 11 when we moved. The parents had to choose between Russian and Czech schools for me and preferred the last one to integrate me into the local culture.
Thanks to my mom, who is an Honored Worker of Culture of Ukraine, I’ve been in for music since I was five, my father has musical past, too (so as my grandfather and my brother have:). That’s why when I said that I want to try to earn money by doing music production my parents understood that and supported me.
At first, I worked at the sound recording studios in Stockholm where we lived for a while, too, and collected the contacts of potential clients for future. In about 2-3 years I got how this business works, had the fond base of clients, and had a regular income. But Sweden is a country with a very specific lifestyle, so I’ve decided to move to Czech Republic from there, again.
— Was it difficult to open a studio in Czech Republic?
— Not at all — I rented the room and became an entrepreneur, it is as easy in Czech Republic as in Ukraine. But it needs to be underlined that my specialization is postproduction only. Such choice was conditioned by high competition among recording studios, also the latter type of business needs much more money invested and it turns into income very slowly. I record an artist on whatever studio he/she wants, depends on a budget, and not always on the territory of Czech — sometimes I have to go, for example, to Germany, because my clientele embraces the whole world.
I rent a moderate room, about 25 square meters, where the acoustic design is made, and all needed equipment is set. There were the times when I worked from home and was a so called ‘bedroom producer, by the way, that’s how many outstanding producers work. But soon I’ve decided to create a separate workspace, to which you come, and your thoughts are redirected to production process automatically. And home is home, let it remain for the domesticity.
Yaroslav while working at one of the Czech studios
— Did you learn working with the sound yourself or studied it somewhere?
— By myself. I started to pay interest to this when I was 15-16 years old, that’s when I recorded the first demos for my bands, helped my friends and so on. Also I gained some experience while working on studios. Parallelly I actively continued to learn more on the topic. It is not difficult to start, especially now, when there’s so much information, literature and so many videos on the internet where professionals give you tips. It is such accessibility exactly, by the way, causes the growth of competition in this sphere.
— Do you mean competition in Czech Republic or in the world in general?
— In the whole world, because this profession is no longer depends on a place. Thus, there are many freelancers who earn money this way, and many of them can really give you a high-quality result (ed. — earlier we wrote about an american Will Killingsworth from Dead Air Studio, who works with our local bands from the distance).
— And how do you find your clients?
— Word-of-mouth works the best as I’m into this business for 10 years already. Also targeting helps, though it depends on many circumstances. But I’ve never sent cold spam — I always look for the bands I may like, discover their discography and only then I write to them something like "I’ve listened to your music and got interested in you, so I would like to propose my services on such conditions...", and about 7-8% of those bands worked with me as a result.
The most important thing in this profession is to have portfolio and feedbacks from the clients, then leave it all to the bands — they share among each other.
These are feedbacks from the Ukrainian bands on Yaroslav’s website. There are such bands within his list of clients: After Ego, Atlantic Wiz, Azathoth Circle, Dark Parade, Elephant Opinions, Love'n'Joy, Megapolis Witches, Peach Blossoms, Radio Plush, Siberian Sun, Somali Yacht Club, Sorrow Leads To Salvation, Shiva the Destructor and others
— It is understandable from your website that you are have experience of working in different genres. But do you have directions you find the most pleasant or interesting to work with?
— Genre is not that important as our mutual understanding with the client, in the meanings of art and general ones. Production, sound one or musical, is a very creative work, and taste presence is decisive. That is what helps to imagine the final result. And technical skills only help to bring it to life.
There is a difference between two kinds of production: musical one is when you have an undone composition, for example, and our task is to finish its structure, work on the arrangements (also there are cases when a producer writes music totally him/herself, and it is musical production, too); sound production is when a material is fully finished musically, composition is ready, but we need to work on sound exactly to help it sound better.
Of course, musical production is more interesting to me, because I become one more member of the band — we create together. And the most unpleasant part for me is recording process because I have no patience, and the last one, unfortunately, is often needed during recording.
— Which story of a successful collaboration comes to your mind first if we ask?
— I worked with a quite popular, though niche, British band Savage Messiah, they play contemporary thrash-metal. Guys needed to record the material, so they did it by one take — and all is done. They’ve been in this world for about 15 years already. It is always a pleasure to work with the professionals.
Also they were satisfied with my mix-master, which I did for their live concert, at the first onset. Despite the fact they worked with really huge producers. Particularly, their first album was produced by the same person who worked on "Painkiller" by Judas Priest, also they worked with Jens Bogren — a famous Sweden producer who collaborates with top bands in metal genre and similar. And if we take newbies-musicians in general — they all have too many abitions which bring as many problems during producing/recording, I often remake something for them.
— You work with bands of different origin, have you noticed some special difference between Ukrainian, Czech and European artists in general?
— This might sound not that patriotically, but Ukrainian artists are used to the high-level service. And that is because services in any Kyiv restaurants comparing to Czech ones are like heaven and Earth, where Kyiv is heaven for sure. That’s why Ukrainian artists are a bit spoiled, they want the best service for little money. They are demanding, don’t compromise and it’s not always good.
Czechs are calmer, even phlegmatic, and not demanding at all. I guess, it’s more an advantage for creative processes, because when people of art are too emotional which may become an obstacle during working.
I also worked with Germans — those are very scrupulous and alike Ukrainians in this, I was very surprised to find it out. Cannot comment on other nations in general.
— Physically, your studio is more a part of Czech music industry. How would you describe it? Meaning how bands work, what is local music culture, are there enough labels and what is their level?
— From my point of view, the situation with music in Ukraine and in Czech Republic are similar. But as I think, there are more talented musicians in Ukraine, and also more labels. Czech bands prefer to release their music on major labels, which have their branch office in the country, or on any foreign labels, there’s such a tendency I’ve noticed.
About music culture — Czech feels better, the clubs and concert activity are on the higher level than in Ukraine. After Czech Republic freed from communism, Václav Havel began evolving the local cultural field. So in 90s already he invited really big bands, for example Pink Floyd, there also were The Rolling Stones, U2, Michael Jackson, Guns N' Roses etc. That’s why the culture of visiting concerts has formed better here. At the same time, the local public is very conservative — many people listen to hard rock, heavy metal which are old-fashioned and not interesting to the Ukrainian audience, among which contemporary music is on top. As an example, I’ve been to the concert of Slayer, which took place about two years ago in Prague, and all public there was 45+ years old —that means something.
— How COVID impacted Czech music industry, artists, clubs and whole situation in the country?
— It had a very bad impact on everything. First of all, we had big life losses — 30 thousand of people died of 10 million population. Secondly, unlike Germany, there were no money compensations for people of art in Czech Republic. Two big clubs at minimum had closed. The cult hardcore / punk club "007" barely survived! To let you know, it’s a place where Black Flag and many other big bands from 80s and 90s gave concerts. By the way, our Jinjer performed there, too.
Now Czech culture slowly gets back to life, the concerts became regular, again, but no one knows what to expect. For example, the biggest metal-festival Brutal Assault had no chance to happen during these two years, and it’s one of the large-scale events in Europe which gains 30-40 thousand of people.
— And did pandemic influence your business particularly?
— Unfortunately, it did. Many deals and contracts I had planned on this period of time were cancelled. Clients got scared and decided to save money for living and leave music for later. But everything stabilized by last summer.
— Have you applied for financial help for entrepreneurs?
— Yes, and I got it. This category of people was supported as it should be, but musicians... the other question is why musicians do not register themselves as entrepreneurs.
— You say, musicians in Czech do not rush themselves to be registered juridically?
— Nope, it is not monitored at all here unlike in aforementioned Germany, where government attentively follows your actions. Musicians do not earn much money here, so they see no need to think about it. Actually, if you’re not into music non-stop and do not take risks all the time — you cannot make big money. I do make living by music, but I’m not an artist, who faces all those difficulties, especially in niche genres.
— So we’ve touched this topic, tell us about your project: what it is, what about, how you work on it.
— Our project is a band called Chernaa, it was formed about 6 years ago. It is mostly Czech formation, but I am the Ukrainian and also, we have the vocalist from Russia on our album. We recorded our first album, after what I got in touch with my old friend, the director of Noizr label. It happened so that our album got onto the pages of different big resources and was warmly accepted. I cannot say that we became the stars, but we gave interviews, we were written about — it was unexpected for us as it was only the first album!
We haven’t planned to perform at the beginning, always delayed this decision. Finally, we were going to show our rehearsed material in Prague, a year ago, on the big concert, but COVID happened. And we decided not to tour either until it has financial sense.
Now we are finishing our next album and I hope we’ll record it in the end of winter / in the beginning of summer. Perhaps, we’ll release it a year after, though at first, we wanted to give out one album a year. As the result, we thought it would be right to work on it longer to make it of a better quality. This is going to be a diverse material, and this album will be deeper than our previous one.
— How is it for you to work on your own releases?
— It’s been difficult this time, because this is my first big release, I mean my own one, in about 7 years. I’ve had a period of disappointment in my own music writing, after what I decided to focus on production, but bang — there is something mine appeared again. I was a bit afraid to work on this material. If I usually produce someone’s album for a month, my one took me 3-4 month until I got satisfied by the result. Even now, two years later, I listen to it and like everything.
— You still have many clients from Ukraine. How do you keep in touch with bands?
— As everyone does — Facebook, Skype, sometimes we meet. Each year I try to come to Kyiv, and in free time we meet with some musicians as there are my friends among people I worked with. But I do not write to Ukrainian bands myself — they know about me, so they reach me when needed. By the way, recently I produced a new album by Azathoth Circle.
— Yes, and the work came out rather interesting, it was estimated by many, for example, by Dmytro Kumar of 1914. Tell us about the process, how it felt producing this album?
— I’ve been working with Azathoth Circle for 4 years already. I made the first release for them in 2017. At first, it was hard for us to understand each other, but working on the last album particularly was easy — the desired sound was clear for us. Though this album is more mature, the material has its similarities. We did everything for 2-3 mix iterations, which is very fast. So I’m glad with what we have, and I see how the band grew up by its ideas.
— Now you told us about one work, what else Ukrainian releases would you outstand?
— My Ukrainian favorites are Somali Yacht Club, with who we’ve been working for 8 years already. The first album I’ve done for them was "The Sun" (2014), in fact it’s their breakthrough awork. The guys contacted me themselves when heard that I’d mixed EP for one more band from Lviv — Mystic Shores (ed. now those musicians lead the Incomer band). They wanted me to do typical "gurgling" stoner-sound for them, but I said that I’ll better do it another way. I like clear, "assembled" and adjusted sound. They agreed, and really liked it, but they were not sure if their fans would also estimate such approach as the latter ones are rather conservative. In result it worked for all!
From that moment or so the specific relatively clear sound has become their schtick. So when I worked on their next works, I used the sound of "The Sun" as a base. Each song brought me so much enjoyment during those processes! By the way, insider information, I’ve recently finished working on guys’ new album. They haven’t even announced it yet, but I already recommend listening to it – this work seems to be their best one.
Also I have good memories of working on eponymous EP by Kyiv grunge / post-grunge band Radio Plush. We created a very cool and import-like work to which I still get back sometimes. To be told, my colleagues and mates from all about the Earth, to whom I played it, were excited by it, too.
And the third one to be named is the album "My Walls" by Megapolis Witches. Firstly, I have to say that Anton, the vocalist, has become the good friend of mine while we worked. That album was my first big release. Although I see now, how I could improve it technically, I still consider it a part of a popular then sound, mood. The material itself is great, so I advise paying attention to it.
Another album on which Yaroslav worked
— I’ve noticed that your website is quite comfortable and laconic, unlike some Czech ones. How important it is for the European studio to be practically and visually well-presented on the internet?
— Honestly, I looked at those Czech websites and decided to do right the opposite, to do a better place than my rivals created, because what some of them have is a nightmare (laughs — ed.)! I don’t understand, how people can be so irresponsible, nowadays your site is your face, the visit card of your business. There’s even such normality when the sites of top European banks look like MS-DOS. I can say that in Ukraine all digital services are few levels higher than here. Even Apple-Pay began to work here only in 2018.
— And we’re slowly moving to the specifics of living in Czech Republic. What is better there than here, and what would you like to bring to Prague from life in Ukraine?
— I really love that there are not so many people in Prague as in Kyiv, no rush, no pushing. The ecology is better here, not so many cars, astonishing architecture, well-planned transport system. But they should learn from Ukraine how to service.
— Lastly, name us, please, your personal top of Czech bands?
— Of course. I have four such. The first one is Master's Hammer — true black metal collective from 80s. Now such music is "cringy" to listen to, but you should understand it in the context of time. Recently their reunion has happened, and you may really feel some stir about it in Czech, despite the genre!
The second band is Modern Day Babylon — it’s such a mathcore, math-metal, djent. It’s founder is my mate, who has a very good studio on the South of the country. It is a very famous collective in certain circles, it had a world tour and is very original in general. To hear it live is pure pleasure.
The next band I’ll mention has two names, new one and old one, Fox Territory or Obligod. They began as something on the edge of jazz fusion and math-rock. Actually, it is hard to describe their sound, but it’s rather interesting, with elements of East. I experienced working with their founder, the guitarist, and it’s a very deep personality. When he sent me the project with more than 100 tracks — it was unbelievable, though everything sounded very cool.
The fourth collective I heard on the big festival "Rock For People", it is called The Truth is Out There – the words "X-files". It is contemporary post-hardcore / metalcore, and it’s very original.
Find out more about Jaro Sound here: