Soyuz Spotlight: Willis Sound

Willis Sound is a recording studio just outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan that’s enshrined in timeless character. When co-founders Ben Lorenz and Jason Magee found the building — a church built in the mid-1800s — it had been abandoned for years. They teamed up with Vintage King to design and integrate a studio that combines convenient functionality and a collaborative, vintage-style workflow. Bands recording at Willis Sound typically congregate in the live room and play together, just like they would have in the sixties or seventies — before the advent of digital recording and isolated tracks recorded to a click. There’s bleed. There’s a ‘live’ room sound. And there’s an authentic creative energy as a result.

Tell us a bit about the people behind Willis Sound and how the studio came to be.

Jason and I have been in a band together since age 14. After high school we both toured locally with a band called the Restroom Poets until the prospect of making 10K a year with no health insurance smacked us in the face. From there, we spent a little time apart, but soon found ourselves in the tech industry and founded a company called Human Element in Ann Arbor, MI. We also began playing music together again. Our first office space had a small studio in the middle of it and made for some confusing client meetings. Eventually, our tech company grew and now twenty years later we’ve separated the two businesses.

Willis Sound was inspired by our dedication to our local music community and we’ve partnered with so many wonderful people to make the project happen. If you can imagine, turning a run-down church into a world class recording studio is not for the faint of heart. It took a village — this space reflects the efforts of so many of our friends. We filmed a few videos with some of those folks who shared their experiences helping us put this place together.

You’re in a pretty unique location. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Willis Sound is in a church that was built in the late 1800s. We found it in an abandoned state and were quick to strike a deal with the pastor. It was a perfect location for artists from Detroit, Ann Arbor and those traveling from far away. The Detroit airport is about 15 min away. With our onsite lodging options, it’s perfect for a BAND-CACTION (a vacation for bands). Some bands stay for a weekend, some stay for a week.

Vintage King did a great video documenting the process of buying the church and building out the studio.

Could you tell us about a couple of your favorite projects since moving in?

My favorites are always the ones where the bands play live. Let it rip! I’m currently recording a project with Jason Magee where we’ve brought in some of our favorite area players to do a bit of a soul project where it’s all live. It gets me excited to see players communicate in real time, let their ears produce as they go and craft the ensemble in real-time.

How did you decide what gear and instruments to fill it with? What are some of your favorite pieces around the studio?

We wanted a blend of analog and digital from the start. We grew up with tape and I’ve loved the punch of API. After a long talk with Vintage King, we settled on the API 3208 (an API 1608 with a 16-channel expansion). Some more of my favorite gear…

  • We have two EMT 140 plate reverbs in the basement. One is an OG tube and one has the martech stereo system. We love them and they get used on nearly everything.
  • We also have an RCA 44 ribbon that is just gold. Anything we stick in front of it sounds better. It’s tough to explain but it’s just one of the pieces that’s not replaceable.
  • Drums are my thing and we’ve got a kit for every situation. A 60’s Gretsch round badge for jazz, an 80’s era Nobel and Cooley Horizon kit for open full on tom-tom goodness and a sweet 1951 Radioking with 14X14, 16X16, and 20X20 sizes. It’s awesome for Americana and indie rock. And yes, we’ve got a 70’s Rodgers that is about as dead and fat sounding as you can get. Awesome for dry short decay and 70’s tone.
  • Our late 1800s Steinway Model A is perfect for the types of projects we work on. It blends so nicely with jazz, singer/songwriter, or rock music.

What drew you to Soyuz? 

Soyuz mics make it on all of our projects. The 017 Tube and 013 FETs are absolute go to mics for so many different sound sources. We use two 013 Tubes and a single 013 FET to record the Steinway, which makes for an incredible sound. The tone and quality are insane and we love that the brand pushes beyond traditional designs and makes equipment that speaks to a modern studio owner.

Our philosophy on mics is that the big names are not always the right choice for a working studio. Soyuz are rock solid in quality and we’ve never needed support.

From day one, when we reached out to Soyuz with feedback and questions, they were so responsive and didn’t hesitate to develop a real relationship with Willis Sound. They’ve invested their time with us and we feel the partnership. We would bend over backwards for the brand and are always singing the praises of Soyuz to other studios and on socials because beyond the fact that the people at Soyuz rock, our recordings with your microphones speak louder than any word or picture. Our collection will surely grow. 

What’s your average clientele looking like these days?

Local bands doing rock, indie and a fair amount of bluegrass and singer/songwriter.  We even have our own house band that backs up writers when they want to go full-band. We are also dedicated to finding jazz projects with up and coming artists from Detroit, like Allen Dennard — a wonderful Trumpet player. He just released a great record and we are all very proud of it.

We’ve also been getting some larger orchestral projects lately from a local arranger in the Detroit area. So it’s not out of character for us to be setting up for 30+ string players in the sanctuary.

So to qualify the average is difficult. It’s always a very fun blend of various styles, characters and processes.  

Where can we stay up to date with the goings-on at Willis Sound?

We’re active on Instagram and YouTube at @willissoundandrecording

You can also visit our website to view services, our gear list, and start the booking process at

Inside Willis Sound: A Video Walkthrough

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