Year of the Workhorse

Different Fur Studio owner Patrick Brown saddles up for 2014

Patrick Brown in Chinatown. Guardian photo by Erin Conger

Photos by Erin Conger

Patrick Brown, sound engineer and owner of the Mission's Different Fur Studios, is a busy guy — both literally a man about town, as well as on the internets. I've started calling him the Santa Claus of social medias — always watchin' his friends' web behaviors, good, bad, whatever. He's consistently first to like posts and favorite tweets, while simultaneously pulling off epic shifts in the studio.

But despite the screen-mediated chatter we had recently traded, I hadn't actually seen the guy in months. I wanted to interview him: I hoped for secrets, opinions about the SF music biz, and other pertinent wizardry. With this in mind, I got an insider tip from his girlfriend: the promise of dim sum could usually lure him out of the studio.

Our "date" landed on Superbowl Sunday, and we happily avoided sports fans by venturing to Chinatown. Beneath red lanterns and pouring rain, we pulled up barstools at the Buddha Lounge and ordered Lucky beers, listening to "PYT" on the jukebox and watching a regular sway his hips in the doorway.

"Is that some kind of fat joke?" he asked, when I 'fessed up to the social-media Santa nickname, as he nibbled on the bartender's gift of microwave popcorn. It was Chinese New Year; a celebratory firecracker screeched in the street.

"I regularly spend 12 hours a day in a room. I can't be out in the world, but I still want to exchange information out there," he explained. Social media is his way of showing support while buried beneath work, he said. He links people to projects, and projects to people, patting the community on the back with likes and re-tweets.

In the seven years that he's owned The Fur — he bought it from the previous owners in 2008, just four years after starting as an intern — it's become increasingly important for him to extend his love of the music scene beyond the studio. This means showing face at venues, promoting bands, and partnering with brands that share like-minded intent.

"It's important for people here to be building things versus bashing," he says, noting the city's current debate about tech and how it's affecting the SF music scene. (Brown recently spoke to the issue while seated on a panel of music industry folks at The Chapel, seeming relatively unfazed by the complaints and quandaries.)

"This is all awfully familiar," he says, recalling his experiences throughout the first dot-com boom — when, much like the current, monetarily-fueled tension, swarms of musicians and sound engineers left for the promised lands of LA and New York. The music biz ached with abandonment.

While things today may appear similar, he insists they're not the same.

"The culture of San Francisco has changed, but it doesn't mean the music business is suffering. It may mean musicians are suffering," he says, adding that this city isn't particularly fair to a lot of people and industries. "Sure, musicians should be able to make a living, but not everyone is gonna make it. It's no different with sound engineers. Do you know how many interns I've fired? It's really competitive out there."

When Brown himself began as an intern at Different Fur in 2004, the SF scene was still recouping from tech deflation. Business was dry, and Brown saw opportunity in the quiet: space to learn, fuck up, and grow. It worked. He took over as studio manager three years later, and then in 2008 he bought the whole damn rig.

"I decided to stay and make my own shit," he says. "And now I can do whatever I want. I know it sounds cliché, but it's true." At the time of our interview, the studio's calendar was booked through May, sometimes double-booked. Does The Fur hog too much of his time? He scoffs.

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