Inspired by his love of music, John Hegner created a recording studio on his family’s land north of Woodstock.
The studio and its view of a 12-acre lake, trees and wildlife is now inspiring the music of others.
“There’s one note not quite right,” Hegner said as he edited a song with jazz artist, drummer and composer David Jennings on a recent snowy day.
“Sounds like he’s a little ahead,” Jennings said of one of the instrumentalists.
Moving from Chicago to Lakemoor, Jennings sought out a nearby recording studio to create his fifth CD. He stopped by Hegner’s Starbell Hatchery almost on a whim.
Enveloped by vast windows and equipped with enough studio space to record five or six individual artists at a time, as well as a fully rebuilt 1926 Mason & Hamlin grand piano, the studio has emerged slowly as Hegner renovated his father’s former real estate office. The office had been abandoned for nearly two years.
“It was a gut renovation,” Hegner said of how Starbell emerged. “This happened step-by-step.”
The studio sits at the edge of a 500-acre tree farm in a remote area off of Route 14, the kind of obscure place likely passed often without much thought.
“I came out here and was blown away,” Jennings said. “It’s an incredible studio, but he’s an incredible engineer. It’s the last thing I expected out here.”
Named after an old wooden sign Hegner and a childhood friend found years ago on his family’s farmland, Starbell Hatchery is also Hegner’s home, complete with a loft and living area. He can see the farmhouse where he grew up from his windows. His mother still lives there.
“It’s a beautiful spot to be creative in,” he said.
Before Starbell, Hegner performed, wrote, composed and produced music for about a decade.
Over the years, he’s worked with commercial clients, such as Reebok, Cellular One, the Discovery Channel, K-Mart and numerous others. He also composed the score for the feature film “Macbeth in Manhattan,” released in 1999.
Having begun piano lessons at age 6 and composed his first song at age 12, Hegner studied at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., as well as Berklee College of Music in Boston.
He also learned to play the accordion, an instrument he says not many artists play, he said. Because of that, he’s gotten more work.
In 2003, Hegner decide to come home, but he didn’t leave his passion for music behind him.
Along with running Starbell Hatchery, he still writes and performs, both as a soloist artist and with others, often joining contemporary vocalist Cassandra Vohs-Demann on stage.
Hegner would like to start hosting events at Starbell, collaborating with other artists, even those in other fields of creativity, such as artists and chefs.
But his focus never leaves the artist in front of him, as he plays and replays portion after portion of Jennings’ song.
“Is that OK?” he asked after each bit was edited.
“Sounds good. That was a tough one,” Jennings said.
Influenced by jazz artists such as Pat Methane, Jennings’ work combines elements of mainstream and free jazz as well as Latin and 20th century classical music. Along with the drums, the music includes trumpet, sax, piano and bass all recorded individually.
It’s intricate, tough to play, Hegner said.
A bit more than half done with Jennings’ album, the two have been working together for a couple of years, with Jennings composing and arranging the entire CD.
“That’s when you’re passionate for it,” Hegner said. “Once it becomes that labor of love, you just do what you’ve got to do to make it something you love.”
People either overestimate or underestimate the work that goes into recording a song, he said.
Technology has made it easier, but perhaps too easy.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” said Hegner, who prefers a more natural sound with the dynamics that often are missing from today’s CDs.
“There is a point where you edit or sculpt too much, and it takes the life out of it,” he said. “It’s like polishing a gold plate until the gold’s gone.”