Smile Politely

From basement dreams to big beats reality: The Half House Studios story… so far

A rapper with a black hat with yellow flowers, a black t-shirt with a mouse logo with the word "mousepad" is performing onstage while a D.J. works the music on his computer in the background.
Derrick Philips

Within the heart of the ever-evolving hip-hop scene, there’s a creative force making waves: Half House Studios. At its helm are Joshua Harris (a.k.a. Mousepad) and David Counter (a.k.a. Whiptrip6), whose story is one of a shared passion for music, an indomitable spirit, and a relentless pursuit of nurturing talent. Our candid conversation revealed a vibrant picture of their journey, the lessons learned, and the hip-hop landscape they’re shaping here in Champaign-Urbana, one beat at a time.

Neither Harris nor Counter hail from traditional music backgrounds, yet their paths converged in the most unexpected of places, and a shared love for hip-hop emerged. “The hip-hop community is just a lot more inviting,” Harris mused, emphasizing the genre’s inherent inclusivity. Despite the difference in their upbringings, they both found solace in the rhythmic beats and bold narratives of hip-hop.

Half House Studios, as Harris explained, was born from a shared love for music production and an unwavering commitment to offering a platform for local talents. The concept behind Half House Studios is rooted in the idea of a co-op, inspired partly by the Mondragon Corporation, a conglomerate of co-ops based in Spain. As Harris and Counter described, a co-op operates with a focus on collective benefits rather than individual profits. “We want to not just give artists a space to create. We want to be able to give people ownership and to be able to own their masters,” Counter explained.

8 members of Half House looking down at the camera. They are standing in a circle.
Half House on Instagram

Through their efforts at Half House Studios, Harris and Counter are not just creating music, they are also nurturing a community of artists and making their mark on the music scene. By promoting collaboration and offering a wealth of resources to local artists, they are helping to ensure the future of hip-hop is brighter than ever.

This cooperative model, Harris continued, extends to the services they offer. “Everything is done in-house: we mix it, we record it, we master it. We have photographers, we have graphic designers, we have videographers. You can get it all done here.” Their primary aim is to provide artists with affordable, comprehensive music production and artist development services.

The pair recognize Champaign’s potential as a budding hotspot for music, particularly hip-hop. “Champaign is this perfect middle town, and between both Chicago and St. Louis, and even Indy,” Harris shared. They expressed their ambition to raise the city’s music bar, so artists don’t feel the need to move elsewhere to grow.

The journey has not been without its challenges. With no external funding, they’ve relied on a mix of traditional jobs, effective budgeting, and a barter system of sorts, where services can be paid for in kind. The end goal, they stress, is not to become rich, but to contribute to the growth of local talent while covering basic expenses, and building on the equipment and services the studio has to offer.

Despite the rich musical culture here in C-U, the pair identified a notable lack of venues that cater to hip-hop artists. “Hip hop-exclusive venues are not named exclusive,” says Harris, pointing to an issue that has been a significant stumbling block for the genre’s growth in the region. Yet, despite the challenging landscape, Half House Studios have forged their own path, leveraging venues like Canopy Club and creating a thriving hub of hip-hop creativity.

7 members of Half House performing onstage One member is dressed in birght yellow and has a microphone, another member is out front with a black hat with yellow flowers on it and another member is behind a table with DJ equipment.
Derrick Philips

Harris and Counter are particularly proud of their success in assembling groups of artists to work together. “Our biggest success story so far is the fact that we somehow got eight to 11 people together to make two albums together. We are able to create a collaborative enough space to get them to learn each other’s styles and meld with each other,” says Harris.

Even as they’re proud of their achievements, the duo also recognizes that Half House Studios’ existence plays a vital role in the evolution of the local hip-hop scene. “I think that Half House contributes by over saturating the hip-hop market but in the best way, because it’s challenged people that don’t work with us to work harder,” Harris reflects. This healthy competition, Harris believes, is pushing the local hip-hop scene to constantly evolve and improve. As they continue to champion hip-hop talent in Champaign and beyond, it’s clear that Harris and Counter are only just getting started.

Looking to the future, Harris envisages Half House running its own venue, thereby facilitating more shows for their artists. He believes that the hip-hop culture in Champaign, and globally, will continue to expand. As for how Half House will adapt, he stated, “Whatever you want to do, we attempt to make possible. If I don’t know it, if David doesn’t know it, we will find somebody who does know it for you.”

At its core, Half House Studios seeks to empower artists to own their work, dream big, and grow alongside their musical family. Harris and Counter remain committed to making a significant mark on Champaign’s music scene, fostering talent, and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible for hip-hop in the Midwest. Their relentless passion and entrepreneurial spirit are truly contagious. From reinventing a neglected basement into a humming hub of creativity, to scouting talent at local shows, they’re molding an innovative music scene that welcomes everyone. “People from completely different walks of life, who are now good friends and we collaborate just because we’ve met in the music scene,” Harris shared, illuminating the power of their inclusive ethos.

A D.J. raises his hands onstage while everyone else on stage points to him
Derrick Philips

However, the duo doesn’t just wish for opportunities, they are actively creating them. From participating in local events such as Friday Night Live to hosting their own shows, Harris and Counter are determined to carve out a space for hip-hop in the local music scene.

Fans and music enthusiasts looking to support the studio and its artists can do so through their Bandcamp page, where they can purchase music directly. Additionally, they also run merch orders every quarter, offering fans another way to support and represent their favorite artists. However, the duo also emphasizes that support extends beyond financial means. Simply engaging with them on social media, attending their shows, and streaming their music are equally significant. Harris adds, “following us, liking our things [on social media] helps support us.”

True to their inclusive philosophy, they extend an open invitation to artists and businesses alike to collaborate with them. Whether it’s a first-time artist looking to record a demo or an established musician seeking a new sound, Half House Studios promises a unique vibe, and a chance to become part of their ever-expanding musical family.

By all accounts, Harris and Counter are creating an enduring legacy with Half House Studios. Their drive and vision, grounded in the values of community, resilience, and inclusivity, are helping to reshape the local hip-hop scene. By nurturing talent and fostering a welcoming environment, they’re ensuring that the hip-hop music community continues to grow, flourish, and break boundaries here in C-U and beyond.

Music Editor

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