John Diaz remembers the day when local indie band Cannibal Kids approached him at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown with a very tricky assignment.
The band wanted to play an online concert featuring giant Japanese monsters and a cardboard city built to scale. And, oh yeah, it had to be cheap.
With just government stimulus checks to back them, Diaz and his partners at Miami Gardens Sentient Sound and Ionit Studios sat the band down and gave them the only answer he could think of.
“Okay,” said Diaz. “Let’s get scrappy.”
Welcome to the Sentient Sound and Ionit Studios ethos.
Established in October 2019, the businesses are a music and video production creative collective that is quickly establishing itself as the backbone of Miami’s local music scene. They’ve fleshed out over 100 projects and have worked with more than 60 artists across the indie, rock, alternative and rap genres, building a community of South Florida creatives along the way.
The venture is spearheaded by four creatives in their twenties, Bradley James Gagné, Christian Yanes, John Diaz, and John Bryson, whose personalities seep into every aspect of the companies’ policies.
Down to make virtually every vision a reality, they tout their ambition and commitment to their artists as their greatest strength. They do everything from taking on the role of a therapist in the sound booth to inviting clients turned friends to livestream with them.
In their world, it’s okay to mix business with pleasure. Business can be pleasure.
Hailing from the small world of Miami Springs where “everybody knows fu**in’ everybody,” according to Bryson, the four unknowingly honed their crafts adjacent to one another years before their paths crossed.
“I’ve been a musician my whole life,” said Gagné who participated in his church choir and marching band throughout middle and high school. After discovering a love for sound recording while studying classical music at Miami Dade College, he began mixing and recording out of his home studio.
Yanes admittedly did not take on any creative endeavors until late in high school. But he began rapping with a friend and then approached Gagné to record some of their songs. The two continued to work together the following year and became close friends as well as collaborators.
Diaz, who met Yanes through childhood sports teams, caught wind of the studio being run out of Gagné’s family home.
He figured they were running into the same obstacles he and Bryson were facing hosting the media production studio they had started out of an old boss’ cramped storage space.
Soon the idea to combine forces for a new collaborative space was born.
“Fates just collided when they were like ‘We want a music studio in the space we’re making,’” said Yanes, recalling the merge of the two spaces. “We took that leap together, all of us.”
In October 2019, just a few miles from home, a warehouse district in Miami Gardens just off the Palmetto became where Sentient Sound and Ionit Studios officially began their journeys.
If the team’s invitingly vibrant personalities and personable business approach don’t capture their essence, the warehouse sure does. Think the BBC’s “Live Lounge” meets Spencer Shay meets the indie teenage bedroom of your dreams.
It’s a creative nirvana with a designated “shoes off” loft and lush pink couches that practically beg for great ideas to be birthed on.
After months of restoration to make the warehouse feel like home, a small business’ nightmare hit in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
With no day jobs and little to no clientele, they had to think quickly on their feet. How would they keep their skills sharp, make connections, and not die of boredom?
An online TV variety show.
“We came up with this concept to fill the void of live shows and streamed it on Twitch,” said Ionit’s Bryson. “Not only would we bring bands in to record them do crazy-ass sets, but in between we’d do sketch comedy. It would all feel like an SNL mixed with NPR Tiny Desk in our own style.”
They contacted well-known local bands such as Cannibal Kids, Mustard Service and Frogs Show Mercy whose tours had been unexpectedly canceled. They would produce and then post these high-quality live performances on Ionit Studio’s IOTV YouTube channel, reaching both dedicated fans and new listeners of the artists.
Though they were tight on funds, they capitalized on living at home, made the most of connections and favors, and ultimately prioritized community over cash.
“How to stay afloat?” chuckled Bryson. “We weren’t really. It didn’t blow up . . . but it did create super important relationships with people.”
One of many such relationships was Sentient Sound producer, mixer and sound engineer Yucky Poor, born Jordan Abramowitz. He originally started out as an IOTV headliner with his then band, The Sellouts, but was quickly embraced as a friend and collaborator by the collective.
“We bonded a lot,” shared Poor, highlighting the spark felt throughout the process of his debut IOTV episode. “What makes them great collaborators is they are never people to shut down ideas; everyone is really, really open to everyone’s creativity.”
Just as the companies settled into a rhythm, lockdown regulations lifted and posed a new challenge. Artists itching to get back in the studio post-quarantine helped stoke a large client list and a booked schedule.
Alongside previous client and current collaborator Javier Nin of Frogs Show Mercy, the team debated ideas for the reformatting of their stream. Their shared love of music and comedy landed them on the concept of a freestyle rap show.
Diaz recalled Bryson’s initial skepticism to the idea, “No one wants to see some dudes freestyling!”
Unless, maybe, they dressed up as fish.
In 2021, a weekly Twitch stream titled Fishdip Freestyle was born. In it Yanes, Diaz, Nin, collaborator Wilmer Nuñez, and Damian Gutierrez of Cannibal Kids assume ocean-themed personae to perform comedic freestyle rap performances. The stream now boasts 40K followers and over 700K likes on TikTok.
“Together I feel we make magic, truly. It’s an alchemical bond we share,” said Nin on the team’s synergy while livestreaming. “As we always say, ‘Our greatest asset is that we have each other.’”
It’s this relational approach to their artists and collaborators, combined with a “say the word” attitude, that has kept clients coming.
“We had an incident where someone we had asked to do sound dipped on us,” shared Michael Moreno of Serviette Love. The local band had been scheduled to play a set at South Miami music venue Tea & Poets when a last-minute cancellation from their audio engineer led them to reach out to Gagne and Yanes two days before the performance.
The duo quickly took on the challenge of cramming a 200+ audience in the small space with virtually no time to set up or survey the acoustics of the venue.
“Till this day that has been my favorite concert,” raved Moreno. “They weren’t flustered by anything, they were super professional . . . it felt like they’d done it 60 different times.”
By day, Sentient Sound and Ionit Studios offer professional-grade services including recording, mixing & mastering, production, live recording, music videos, live streams, content creation, and brand advertising.
By night, they blow off steam and sharpen skills through creative outlets that double as a community hub for Miami creatives.
“What matters is your approach and having grace and some sense of perspective,” remarked Gagne. “You’re gonna hold their hand and make sure they can do it the best they can f**king do it. That’s ultimately what it comes down to.”