New recording studio opens in Willis church

Two Ann Arbor tech entrepreneurs and musicians have combined their passions to open a new recording studio, Willis Sound, in an 1880s church in Willis.


Ben Lorenz and Jason Magee are the owners of Ann Arbor software firm Human Element, and they've played in notable local bands including the October Babies and Restroom Poets. They knew the full-time musician life wasn't for them, but they still wanted to be involved in the music industry. The two had been recording private projects at a studio in Ann Arbor and they wanted a recording space they owned, rather than leased, so they could modify it for their needs.


Lorenz says that if you ask a group of musicians where they'd like to record, many times they'll say a church would be ideal.


"The acoustical space is geared toward being open and having a wonderful reverb sound in the main sanctuary," Lorenz says. "So many positive, serious experiences have occurred there, and that energy gets into a space. When you walk in, you feel it and can vibe off it."


They started talking about buying a church and found a realtor who took them on a tour of three potential studio sites.


"We walked into this place, and knew this was the one," Lorenz says.


Despite the church's great aesthetic and acoustics, the basement was full of mold and the wiring had to be completely redone in order to accommodate the studio's high-end recording equipment and musical gear. Renovations took more than a year and a half, and the studio finally opened up for business in July.


The owners plan to treat it as a gathering place for local musicians. They recently hosted a grand opening that combined an open house with a swap meet where musicians could trade and barter instruments, microphones, and other equipment. About 200 people toured the space that day, Lorenz says.


Lorenz and Magee market the studio as "full-service." That includes access not only to rehearsal, recording space, and high-end equipment, but also video capture of all recording sessions.


"The heartbeat of the recording studio is the ability to do two-inch tape, analog recording, like they used to," Lorenz says. "We also have an API 1608 console, a really nice analog console, and that sets Willis Sound apart from most recording studios in the area."


Also available are a Steinway grand piano, a Hammond organ, and classic drum kits most aspiring musicians can't afford to buy, Lorens says.


Another amenity that makes the recording space unique is a house on the same property as the church where musicians can stay overnight. Lorenz says this type of studio exists on the East and West Coasts, but there's no recording studio like Willis Sound anywhere else around southeast Michigan.


"Our idea was to get a band into a situation where they could focus on the music and on their bandmates and have a recording vacation," Lorenz says. "It's been used several times already. A band will come in, spend a night, connect, and hang out, and then go in the next day and cut a record."


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at


Photos courtesy of Willis Sound.