Categories: Podcasts

How One Man Built a Massive Production

Starting a one-person business is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of self-reliance and resourcefulness to run a company without the support of any additional staff members. So, how can you ensure the success of your small business as both its sole owner and employee? In this episode, Gene Marks and Matt Berky, the owner, engineer, and composer at Massive Productions, LLC, discuss the challenges of running a one-man business and the strategies he used to sustain his company for over 20 years.

Podcast Key Highlights

  • What Has Massive Productions Done Right as a Small Business?
    • Massive productions believes that connecting to a really reputable and skilled accounting firm was vital to its success as a small business, especially when it was starting out.
    • You need to develop your financial literacy if you want to generate enough profits to stay in business.
  • Where Does Massive Productions Find Its Customers?
    • The majority of their customers come from word of mouth and direct referrals. The most powerful thing a business owner can do is to really make their clients feel like they’re listening to them and that they’re friends with them because once someone offers them that type of client service, they’ll be sure to tell other people.
    • Matt also offered free and discounted services when he was first starting out.
    • Lastly, many of Matt’s current customers followed him from his previous job because of the quality of his work.
  • How Did Massive Productions Get Its Startup Capital?
    • Unlike other businesses, Massive Productions did not apply for any initial loan or financial assistance when it first opened. Matt just gradually acquired all the necessary equipment over the span of 20 years.
    • He did it one step at a time and kept building until he moved the studio out of his home to a new location. Then, about eight years later, he bought the building.
  • What Prompted Matt to Buy the Building for His Studio and What Was the Outcome?
    • Matt ended up buying their current location because he needed more space for his recording studio and he was given a great offer by his former landlord at the time.
    • After agreeing to a 10-year, seller-financed loan, he finally paid everything off. The building was recently appraised for almost double what it was originally.
  • What Is Matt’s Succession Plan for Massive Productions?
    • Because Matt himself makes up so much of the Massive Productions brand, it’s his hope that he can pass his legacy unto one of his kids and that they will take it to the next level.
    • However, Matt also wants his children to get some experience outside of Massive Productions prior to inheriting the family business just so that they really understand the value of a dollar and what it’s like to make a living.
  • What Role Does Social Media Play at Massive Productions?
    • As previously mentioned, most of their clients come from word of mouth rather than through social media.
    • Still, it’s important to have a strong online presence just to show people that you’re out there and you’re at the top of your game.
  • How Does Massive Productions Handle Payments?
    • Typically, Massive Productions will require an upfront deposit for the project and then, they will send another bill when the job is done.
    • Unfortunately, when a client is unable to pay, Massive Productions ends up treating it as a loss due to high litigation costs.
  • Who Are Matt Berky’s Ideal Clients?
    • Advertising Agencies
    • People Doing High-End Production Work
    • Jazz Groups



The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are for informational purposes only, and solely those of the podcast participants, contributors, and guests, and do not constitute an endorsement by or necessarily represent the views of The Hartford or its affiliates.

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Gene: Hey, everybody. It’s Gene Marks, and thanks again for joining us back here, on The Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. If you’re listening, or you are watching, you’re in for a lot of good information from our guest today, Matt Berky. Matt is the owner, engineer, and composer, I need to ask you a little bit more about that, Matt, of Massive Productions, LLC, which is based right outside of Hartford, Connecticut. What a coincidence. Matt, it’s great to have you on. So, thanks for joining me.

Matt: Happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

Gene: Yeah. So, what does Composer mean? Let’s start with this. Tell us about your company. Then, I got to hear what you’re talking about when you identify yourself as a composer.

Matt: Got it. Yeah. So, actually 20 years ago this November, I started a very small company called Massive Productions, actually out of my home. As a guy who owns a recording studio, I originally got a college degree in music and technology, and fell in love with that. Then of course, along 20 years of business, I’ve become a businessman. You know? So…

Gene: Yeah. By default.

Matt: I’ve had to get into that kicking and screaming. Right?

Gene: Right.

Matt: Learning the ins and outs of business and all that stuff. But, yeah. Mostly Massive Productions is a… I call it a corporate production studio, so a lot of radio commercials, TV mixing, and yes, scoring. So composer, I write music for radio, for TV, for films. I write any genre people need. It’s always something different here going on, as a production…

Gene: Yeah. It’s very cool. Sorry. What is The Inner Life of a Cell?

Matt: Very good. You did your research. Inner Life of a Cell, it was a piece done for Harvard University, for their biology department. It was literally an animation of what the inner life of a cell would look like.

Gene: Okay.

Matt: I wrote a piece of music that was kind of like new age classical, I guess. If people look up Inner Life of the Cell, you’ll find it. It’s all over the internet. A lot of people actually made their own versions of the music.

Gene: I see.

Matt: So…

Gene: Wait. Let me get this straight. So, Harvard University comes to you and says like, “We’re making an animation…

Matt: Yeah.

Gene:… that showed the inner life of a cell. We’d like you to compose some music for that.

Matt: Exactly.

Gene: That was your job.

Matt: Yeah.

Gene: Okay.

Matt: And, that’s my job…

Gene: All right.

Matt: That’s what I do every day.

Gene: All right. Well that’s great. So the business itself, Massive Productions, you said you started about 20 years ago. I’m assuming…

Matt: Right.

Gene:… it was just you and it was meant to be a recording studio, I guess…

Matt: Yeah.

Gene:… to begin with.

Matt: Right.

Gene: Where are we, now? Is it still just you? Do you have any employees in the business? How has it sort of scaled?

Matt: It is still just me. So, I am the very smallest of small business.

Gene: Good, good.

Matt: Over the years. I have obviously found people to do other things for me…

Gene: Yeah.

Matt:… accountants and lawyers, and all that kind of stuff, and insurance providers and that. But, it is still just me here, and…

Gene: Yup.

Matt:… I hope to keep it that way as long as I can.

Gene: Yeah. Good. I get fascinated by clients and readers. I do a lot of writing and interviewing. I meet business people that have been running businesses for a long time. So, you’ve been doing this for 20 years. You said, just at the beginning of our conversation, that you had to learn business. I mean, you weren’t a business major in college.

Matt: Correct.

Gene: How’d you do that? Why do you think you’re still around 20 years later? I’m sure you made tons of mistakes, and we can certainly talk about those, but…

Matt: Yeah.

Gene:… I’m kind of curious what you’ve done right, that you’re still here and still, you’re running a profitable business?

Matt: Right. Yeah. I mean, that’s a good question. Absolutely, I’ve made tons of mistakes. I’ve also made a lot of good choices and met a lot of really good people. Yeah. I mean, I have to say, owning a small business, a lot of it is accounting and making sure those quarterly taxes are being filed correctly and property taxes are being filed properly. So, I think early on I made a good connection with a really good accounting firm that’s stayed with me all of these years. That’s probably the most important thing, to have someone that knows numbers take care of…

Gene: Right.

Matt:… the numbers for you.

Gene: I can’t believe you said it because I didn’t even say this to you. I’m a CPA. You know? So…

Matt: Yeah.

Gene: Good for you, Matt, for saying that. You’re 100% right.

Matt: It is.

Gene: It’s funny. A lot of people that I’ve interviewed that are running much larger companies, or they’ve become known for their brands, or whatever. Daymond John’s good example. I’ve done a few things with him, the guy from Shark Tank. I remember him saying one of the things he had to learn was financial literacy, he called it. You have to learn how to buy something for a buck and sell it for three. You have to learn how to account for your money, otherwise you go out of business. Right?

Matt: Got to.

Gene: I guess you learn that.

Matt: Yup.

Gene: Yeah.

Matt: Yup. Yeah. I mean, as you know your business and grow your business, you have to know what it takes to not only make your clients happy, but also make yourself happy.

Gene: That’s good. That’s good advice. How do you find customers? How do you find them?

Matt: Over a 20-year lifespan of the business, I mean, it really, for me, has been word of mouth. I mean, I’ve done a lot of Facebook advertising and social media advertising, and that stuff gets attention. I’m not so convinced that it gets that much business. Really, the most powerful thing is to really make your clients feel not only like you gave them a great product, but that you listened to them, and you’re friends with them. If you offer that type of client service, they’re going to tell other people. An industry like this, where I’m dealing mostly with advertising agencies and corporate communications offices, names get passed along. People leave one agency, go to another agency. Over 20 years, I’ve spread out throughout New England quite well, where I have a pretty large client base.

Gene: Right. It’s funny because your business, again, it’s very similar to mine, as well. It’s hard at first, when you first start up.

Matt: Yeah.

Gene: I’ve realized that you actually need to give away… This is why you need capital when you start up a business. You do need to give away services almost for free, or at a much…

Matt: You do.

Gene:… greater big discount. Right?

Matt: You do.

Gene: That’s the only way you get customers. Then, once you start getting customers and you do a good job for them, that turns into referrals. Is that kind of the path that you followed when you first started up the business?

Matt: Absolutely, Gene. When I first started, well, right out of college I got a job at a recording studio in Hartford called Producers Two. They’re not there anymore.

Gene: Right.

Matt: I was the studio manager.

Gene: Right.

Matt: I pretty much just made coffee and kept track of the daily schedule. When I told him I was leaving, he was really kind to me. He let me work 20 hours at the studio and 20 hours at home. It was like a six-month transition. So, that gave me time to kind of really make some contacts. Actually when I left, a lot of clients came with me, that I was working with, at that studio.

Gene: Uh, oh.

Matt: Yeah. I mean sometimes it happens. I didn’t pursue anybody, but that’s the way it happened…

Gene: Yeah.

Matt:… a little bit. He really helped me kind of start the business slowly, where a lot of people are like, “I’m going to start a business.” Sometimes it could work, depending on the product. You really do need time to kind of grow relationships and like you said, give away things for free. When I first started, I was doing a lot of band work and…

Gene: Sure.

Matt:… choirs. Whatever I can record, I’d…

Gene: Right.

Matt:… record it, and I’d give them a fantastic deal. It would sound great. Over the years I’ve kind of shifted away from the music side more to kind of corporate production. I love it.

Gene: Your business is a pretty capital intensive business. Right?

Matt: Yeah.

Gene: I mean, you need equipment…

Matt: Yes.

Gene:… to do what you got to do. Where did your capital come from 20 years ago, when you were a lowly studio manager and trying to start up your own business?

Matt: Yeah.

Gene: Where’d you get the money to do it, if I can ask?

Matt: Yeah. Recording and music has always been a passion.

Gene: Yup.

Matt: So, when your hobby or your passion kind of becomes your profession, it’s a special thing because not only are equipment purchases write-offs, they’re also like Christmas presents.

Gene: True.

Matt: Again, I kind of did everything very slow. So when I first started off on my own, I had a computer, I had a couple microphones, equipment that I purchased and speakers, and all kinds of stuff. I did it one step at a time and kept building and building and building and building until we moved the studio out of the home, down to this facility here, in Rocky Hill, where I set up a 1,500 square foot studio. Then, just about eight years after that, we bought the building. I expanded the studio to about 3,000 square feet. So, it’s been this gradual progression. It wasn’t like I got a business loan and started off just… I did the best I could with what I had. I made a lot of good connections. I was kind to people, and I did it step by step.

Gene: Great. Yeah. That is great. You just mentioned that you bought the building, so.

Matt: Yes.

Gene: So, talk to me a little bit about that. What prompted you to buy it? I just read a piece just recently, this is a homeowner’s thing, not a business thing, but now is the worst time ever to buy a house, for example, because of interest rates the way they are. It’s much better to rent, right now. I’m curious, what prompted you to buy the building, and what has been the result of that? Is it good move, or not?

Matt: Sure. I think it was 2013. Yeah. So, about 10 years ago. I was kind of looking around for a bigger space. My landlord, back then, a really nice guy who was a great business owner in his own right, who kind of mentored me a little bit, he was like, “You know what?” He’s like, “Why don’t you buy this place?” I was like, “Okay.”

Gene: His place.

Matt: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Gene: Okay.

Matt: If you know my studio, it’s kind of split in half. There’s the music side over here. It’s a big music room with a big grand piano. Then this side, it’s smaller. I have two smaller recording rooms. So initially I just had these two rooms, and I wanted a bigger space, and he was very kind. We sat down with a lawyer. We drew up some terms. We did an agreement, a 10-year loan. No banks involved in this particular loan.

Gene: So, it’s seller financed. Wow. Okay.

Matt: Yep. Seller financed. Everything legitimate with a lawyer and everything. And, yeah. That was 2013, and now it’s November 2023. I think we paid it off in July. It was probably one of the smartest things we’ve ever done.

Gene: Why?

Matt: Well, we had renters, one continuous renter who rents upstairs, another renter that rents on the first floor, here. It’s not a terribly large building. It’s under 10,000 square feet. The renters paid for the mortgage, and after 10 years it’s paid for. The building’s appraised almost double what it was when we…

Gene: What?

Matt:… purchased it for.

Gene: Yeah.

Matt: So, yeah. It’s put us in a really good place as the business gets older and as I start thinking about the next step for me.

Gene: Right.

Matt: It’s just another notch in the belt. Something else we got.

Gene: I don’t know how old you are. I’m in my mid-50s. The average age of the U.S. small business owner is 55 years old, according to the Small Business Administration. So, I’m curious. I mean, you talk about next steps, what you’re going to do. You have a great asset in the building. Are you thinking, now, about succession planning, or exiting your business? I feel like your business is your brand. You know? If I’m going…

Matt: Yeah.

Gene: I want to do work with Matt…

Matt: Right.

Gene:… not necessarily Massive Productions.” By the way, that’s not a bad thing. Does that concern you, though, that when it comes time to exit your business, that there isn’t a business to sell, let alone just the building, or any assets, that you have?

Matt: Right. No. I think there is a business to sell. You know?

Gene: Okay.

Matt: You are correct. I think it’s one of my biggest strengths, that people come here for me, not necessarily for a recording studio. They come here for my take on how I make things sound, or the way I produce radio, things like that. I’m in my mid-40s, 20 years in business, yet I still love it every day. I am thinking more about, yeah, “What else can I be doing?”

Matt: So, my kids are very busy here. All my kids play music. They’re all very musical. I’ve always been joking with my daughter that someday she’ll fire me and take over here.

Gene: Right.

Matt: I do hope that maybe one of my children want to take the family business, here, and take it to a different place, take it to the next level. That’s my hope, is legacy. Not necessarily selling a business, but where my kids can take it.

Gene: I love that. It’s nice to be thinking about that in your mid-40s, as well, and maybe having a plan around that. If your kids…

Matt: Yeah.

Gene:… are already going down that road and they have musical background, I mean, they could very well have an interest in doing that.

Gene: It’s funny. You mentioned that you were a studio manager…

Matt: Yeah.

Gene:… before buying this business. Would you want your kids to get some experience outside of Massive Productions first, before they would take over, if that ultimately does happen?

Matt: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s very important. Not only just for experience, but to really understand what it’s like to make a living and to…

Gene: Right.

Matt:… understand the value of a dollar. I think it’s important to understand that. A lot of kids these days don’t. That’s why here, at Massive Productions, the janitorial department starts very young.

Gene: I get it. “We train them early.”

Matt: Yep.

Gene: But, we won’t tell anybody that’s defending child labor laws, or anything like that.

Matt: That’s right, that’s right.

Gene: Just between you and me, here.

Matt: My daughter is my social media manager, right now.

Gene: Ah.

Matt: So, she has to post every day, on multiple channels, with good pictures and some content that I feed her. But, yeah. Obviously, we have all our own first job kind of stories. I met my wife at my first job at a grocery store, so…

Gene: Okay.

Matt:… I think it’s good to get a little experience in other…

Gene: Yeah. I think so.

Matt:… not just around the family business.

Gene: Yeah. At the very least, they just might meet their eventual partners at their first job, so who knows? Right? Yeah. Just as much of your daughter’s doing social media for you…

Matt: Yeah.

Gene:… which is great. It’s obviously great to be out there and doing that. Then, you just said, earlier in our conversation, that most of your work comes from referrals. I mean, you’ve been running the business for 20 years, you’ve built a name and a brand, so why even do social media? Is it worth it?

Matt: I have a love/hate relationship with social, which I think a lot of people in my generation probably do, as well.

Gene: Yup.

Matt: I do see it as a valuable tool to show that you’re out there, you’re doing stuff. Whether, or not, it really drives results for my business, I’m not sold on that. I don’t get a lot of clicks from it. I don’t get a lot of new production jobs from it. Just showing people that you’re out there and you’re at the top of your game, and all that stuff. I think that’s important, whether or not I’m sitting around at night looking at all the comments. I don’t enjoy that, but it’s…

Gene: No.

Matt:… something that you kind of have to do a little bit, but.

Gene: Yeah. You got to keep an eye on it, and it’s good. At the same time, you can’t get too obsessed with…

Matt: Yeah.

Gene:… that stuff. You had mentioned, and thank you once again about the importance of having a good accountant, but…

Matt: Yes.

Gene: Do you do your own accounting work? Do you manage your own cashflow? Do you collect your own receivables? Who does that for you?

Matt: I do what I call the fun stuff. So, I do the estimates, invoicing, receivables, and a lot of bill pays. In terms of everything else…

Gene: The fun stuff.

Matt: Oh, yeah.

Gene: I wonder if all the fun stuff would be actually like producing the music. You know?

Matt: Yeah.

Gene: And, recording stuff.

Matt: Well…

Gene: But, okay. If you think…

Matt: No.

Gene:… that’s fun.

Matt: That’s true. I do enjoy that stuff, too. I mean, it’s funny. People are always like, “You must just live in the studio and just record guitar all day long.” It’s…

Gene: No.

Matt: I don’t. As soon as I can get out of here, I’m at home on the…

Gene: Yeah.

Matt:… couch, like everybody else. But, no. Really, the fun stuff, I mean in terms of the business side, I do love the estimates and invoicing and receiving, deposits and depositing. I love doing that stuff. That’s easy stuff. I mean, I enjoy that. When it comes to quarterly estimates and sales tax, usage…

Gene: Right.

Matt:… and federal payments and state payments…

Gene: Right. Yeah.

Matt: It’s just…

Gene: You have your accountant do that stuff.

Matt: Absolutely.

Gene: Yeah. You had mentioned about doing the invoicing. You do projects with clients. So, I’m assuming you get deposits upfront for some of these projects. Then, you bill when the job is done.

Matt: Correct.

Gene: In your 20 years, I mean, you must have had a couple of collection issues, or receivable issues, where people didn’t pay. I’ve had them.

Matt: Yeah.

Gene: I’m kind of curious how you’ve dealt with that in the past and how you avoid getting into those situations. You can do great work…

Matt: Right.

Gene:… and still not get paid. It’s…

Matt: Very true.

Gene:… one of the issues of running a business. So, I’m kind of curious how you handled that.

Matt: Yeah. I don’t have too many clients that haven’t paid. There’s been a couple companies that have gone out of business. One of my…

Gene: Yeah.

Matt: Some people in New England. Remember the appliance chain? Bernie’s. They were all over New England. They were one of my big radio clients way back when I first started. They went out of business, and they owed me plenty of…

Gene: Yeah.

Matt:… invoices. Yeah. I mean, it’s super frustrating. Especially as a very small business like myself, I don’t have the power to go out and litigate and try to…

Gene: Sure.

Matt:… recover that.

Gene: Sure.

Matt: So, it’s just a loss. Yeah. I mean, over the years there’s been some, but nothing major, nothing that’s been too troublesome, or would hurt us…

Gene: Okay.

Matt:… financially. It’s out there, and it happens.

Gene: You’ve been doing this for a while now, Matt. No one says, “It’s not like you’re living on a yacht.” You’re doing good. You’ve built a nice livelihood for your family, and that’s great. I’m assuming you’re at the stage, now, where you could pick and choose, and you probably do, some of the customers, or clients, that you can work with. You know? I’m wondering…

Matt: Yeah.

Gene:… is there any types of work, or any types of clients, that you would walk away from, or you wouldn’t want to work with, at this stage, now? I’m sure you were hungrier at the beginning of your career…

Matt: Yup.

Gene:… but now… You know? In other words, what’s a good customer for you?

Matt: For me, I like advertising agencies. I like people that are doing really good production work, people that are…

Gene: Okay.

Matt:… doing really high-end radio commercials, or now digital radio, that you’d hear on Spotify or Pandora, or something. Yeah. I mean, for my business, it’s kind of turning away music stuff that I’m not interested in. I went to school for jazz guitar, so I love to record a lot of jazz groups and things like that.

Gene: Yup.

Matt: I kind of try to stay away from types of music that I don’t like, where when I was younger, I would record everything from punk rock to hip hop, gospel music and whatever. Now, if I pick music, it’s going to be something that I enjoy and I want to do. That is something that I appreciate, that over these 20 years and the success I’ve had, that I’m able to kind of do what I like, do what I enjoy. Not every job is enjoyable, but you find joy in it. You know? You find something…

Gene: Yeah.

Matt:… you like to do.

Gene: Yeah. It’s a real perk of running a business. There’s a lot of downsides to running a business. This is lot of headaches to running a business. You’re in it long enough, and you put enough cash in the bank.

Matt: Yeah.

Gene: Different than an employee of a company who pretty much has to do whatever their boss tells them to do.

Matt: Right.

Gene: You can get to a point where you can pick and choose the kind of work you want to do.

Matt: Yeah.

Gene: You love jazz, and so you want to stick with that kind of work. I have no patience for jazz. I’m more of a classic rock guy, so I would probably be leaning towards that stuff.

Matt: Sure.

Gene: At least, it’s a point of your career where you can make those choices, and that’s really good.

Matt: Right. Yeah. I mean, owning a business offers you a lot of flexibility. You are working all the time, always thinking about it. It’s your baby. You’re always thinking about it.

Gene: Yup.

Matt: Sometimes I kind of think, instead of having a boss, you have 50 bosses.

Gene: Yeah.

Matt: You know?

Gene: Yeah.

Matt: But, it does offer you a lot of flexibility. I mean, sometimes when I want to go on a vacation, or something, that’s when I wish I had a corporate job, or something…

Gene: Right.

Matt: I could just sign off and take off, but…

Gene: I always laugh. I clearly have a lot of friends that work at corporations.

Matt: Yeah.

Gene: They go on vacation. You get the out of office message.

Matt: Right.

Gene: I’m like, “I have never left an out of office message in my life.”

Matt: Yup.

Gene: Can’t do it.

Matt: Can’t do it, either.

Gene: You can’t do it, either. Matt, well, thank you very much for talking with me. I learned a lot about your business. I think you showed some great advice for other people running businesses, as well. It’s just great to hear other people’s stories, their challenges, and some of the things they succeeded with. You’ve communicated that well. So, thank you very much.

Matt: My pleasure. Happy to be here.

Gene: Matt Berky is the owner, engineer, composer, of Massive Productions, LLC. Everybody, find the Inner Life of a Cell. I’m assuming Matt, is that on YouTube, somewhere, or Spotify?

Matt: Oh, it’s all over YouTube. Yeah. Yup.

Gene: All over YouTube. Sorry. Spotify this where you can listen to some of Matt’s compositions. Again, thank you.

Matt: Thank you.

Gene: It was a pleasure speaking with you. Everybody, you have been listening and/or watching The Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. My name is Gene Marks. Thank you so much for joining us. Hope you learned a little something. If you need any advice, or tips, or help, in running your business, please visit us at smallbizahead.com or sba at thehartford.com. Again, my name is Gene Marks. We’ll see you again next time. Take care.

Gene: Thanks so much for joining us on this week’s episode of The Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. If you like what you hear, please give us a shout-out on your favorite podcast platform. Your ratings, reviews, and your comments really help us formulate our topics and help us grow this podcast. So, thank you so much. It’s been great spending time with you. We’ll see you again, soon.

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