Inside Arlyn Studios
A group of music biz power houses come together with the red-headed stranger himself for a new television project sure to dazzle audiences everywhere
By Emily Boyd
Photography by LeAnn Mueller
A group of music biz power houses come together with the red-headed stranger himself for a new television project sure to dazzle audiences everywhere.
To Austin, it is the city’s music history incarnate, where platinum records hang nonchalantly from exposed brick walls and Willie Nelson’s personal parking space waits out front. To Freddy Fletcher, Willie’s nephew and the studio’s owner, it is a part of his family history, going back to 1966 when his mother played piano in a restaurant dining room that now acts as one of the studio’s three recording spaces. To Jacob Sciba, Arlyn’s lead engineer, it is a masterpiece, a recording haven, and home to his pride and joy — a custom made vintage NEVE/API hybrid console. To marketing wizard Nick Shuley, it is a time capsule, preserving the way Austin used to look, with its pared back, welcoming atmosphere, ceilings of bold wooden beams and sparkling chandeliers that swing above a vintage acoustic guitar and a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels. To event gurus Lisa Hickey and Autumn Rich, it is a groundbreaking chance to pull back the curtain of the music world, giving people a privileged glimpse inside, as Lisa Fletcher would call it, just everyday life. To Jeff Muckleroy, the richness of its music history seeps through the walls. Vibrations left by artists like Neil Young, Sublime, Merle Haggard and Bonnie Rait still echo through the wooden rafters, and you feel them from the moment you set foot in the door. Over the course of its existence, Arlyn Studios has been many things — a family restaurant, an extension of the Austin Opera House, a renowned recording studio and now, the home of Austin’s next music phenomenon.
For months, the city of Austin has been buzzing about Inside Arlyn, a new television project hosted by Willie Nelson that will feature various guest artists and an intimate performance inside the studio itself. Although still dating around for the perfect network, the show is already off the ground running with two pilot episodes and two freshly made records under its belt. And with Merle Haggard and Gary Clark, Jr. as the show’s first two headliners, it’s safe to say that Inside Arlyn will play host to some of music’s finest.
Arlyn Studios breathes life into the music created inside it, and it draws people into it that share a same, deeply rooted passion for music. After meeting with the team that creates the magic behind the scenes, that fact could not be more evident.
Sitting down to interview Arlyn’s founders, managers and partners was like sitting down with old friends. And that’s exactly what the eight people behind Inside Arlyn are…old friends. “None of this would work if we didn’t like each other,” Autumn Rich says with a laugh. And as I sat listening to their stories, it sounds like they have had plenty to laugh about. The group has worked together in a myriad of ways over the years, culminating in this long-awaited project that finally brings them all together. The amount of interaction and overlap in their individual careers is enough to make your head spin. After searching through various descriptors that accurately portrayed this eclectic crew, we landed on the word “tribe.”
Lauren Bissell started as an intern for Freddy and Lisa Fletcher during their band management days, and followed along into the Arlyn family. Freddy moonlights as a partner at ACL Live, where he and Lauren have a video production company and regularly work with major artists. Jacob Sciba has been working as the studio’s engineer since he was seventeen, and he and Lisa Fletcher now run the day-to-day studio management. Jeff Muckleroy has a small side job as he calls producing the Houston Rodeo, and Lisa Hickey and Autumn Rich are the studio’s event masterminds, coming from a background with C3 Presents and currently running their own marketing firm. Nick Shuley worked with them while at C3, and Nick and Lisa now run the marketing and branding efforts for Arlyn.
“It’s literally about, you know, just doing business with the people you’d want to have a drink with,” Muckleroy says. The table nods in universal agreement. Sciba chimes in, “Yeah, when all your friends are bad-asses in their industry, it’s not hard to put a project together.” He’s not exaggerating. From the moment the team cracked open their contact books to garner supporters, they were all shocked by the overwhelming eagerness awaiting them at the end of each phone line.
“It really was so organic,” Rich says. “We just went around to all the people we knew were music lovers and said, you will love this, and they trusted us.” The “tribe’s” main priority was finding partners who believed in the project, and who were as passionate about the concept as those who started it. They found that passion in partners like Tito’s and Ranch 616, who were simply eager to be a part of the project. And the support continues to roll in. No strict partnerships with endless qualifiers, just an ever-growing list of people that cannot wait to hop on board. “And that’s what we don’t ever want to change, no matter who we pick up as a distributor,” Lisa Fletcher says. “It’s organic, it’s Austin, it’s family, it’s real.”
There is certainly something novel about Inside Arlyn that instantly draws people in. The show pulls back the curtain on a world music lovers have long wondered about. The studio world, cloaked in mystery, is finally revealed, and puts on a show like no other. Studio B, or as the Arlyn tribe refers to it, “the Living Room,” is designed to make the artists feel right at home. In these intimate performances, 70 people sit on floor cushions, surrounded by candles and old oriental rugs, mere feet away from where Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson stand strumming along to Poncho and Lefty.
As viewers will see once it airs, Haggard stops the audience halfway through his performance of “Okie from Muscogee,” and says — “How ‘bout a little more reaction?” He prompts the crowd, according to Muckleroy, and starts the song again, this time to ample hoots and hollers. That’s the goal of Inside Arlyn, creating an atmosphere of comfort and ease, allowing the viewers to see these music legends in their natural state. Absent of stiff staging and murky scripts, the artists are simply allowed to be themselves. The magic shines through when you capture these genuine moments. Moments that happen all the time but no one gets to see.
If you’re searching for any clues as to the show’s lineup, just take a look at Willie’s own music history. No matter the genre, from reggae and pop to hip hop and jazz, the team will always be searching to book an artist that can bring more. “The show is a lot about Willie, but it’s a lot about the guest,” Freddy says. “They bring the flavor to each episode.”
There is a saying at Arlyn Studios, coined by Willie, that goes: “If it ain’t fun, don’t do it.” From my time spent with the Arlyn team, and the brief introduction they shared on this incredible project, this is just the beginning for Inside Arlyn, and we are behind anything this tribe collaborates on.