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The music man

Passion, diversity spur growth of Scappoose recording studio
by: Rick Swart, Bart Hafeman tests some new recording 
equipment at his music studio in Scappoose. Hafeman has built a 
successful music-based business by branching out into several 
services, 
including 
making CDs, teaching music lessons and 
performing with his band, Hit Machine.

Dropping out of college isn't always the best career move for an aspiring businessman, but it worked for Bart Hafeman.

It only took Hafeman two weeks to figure out that the time it would take to earn a bachelor's degree in music from Portland State University could be better utilized starting his own recording studio.

'I didn't want to teach and I didn't want to be an opera singer,' said Hafeman, 38, owner of the Scappoose-based Bartholomew Productions. So he dropped out of school. For Hafeman, the real clincher in his decision to give up a drum and vocals scholarship at PSU was parking - or, more specifically, the hassle of finding it at the university in the heart of downtown Portland. 'I didn't want the headache,' he said.

And so it was that Hafeman began a career path grounded in a passion for music, a strong entrepreneurial spirit and a throw-fate-to-the-wind belief that if he worked hard and applied himself he would be successful.

That was 15 years ago, and what started out as a college kid, an 8-track tape deck and a dream has morphed into a diversified multimedia company with half-a-dozen profit centers.

Hafeman's studio, at 51895 Columbia River Hwy., is a combination of pop culture, digital electronics and acoustical engineering that together look like it was inspired by an Apple computer store - neat, clean, compact and contemporary.

Sixty-four original CD labels neatly displayed in jewel cases greet customers as they walk through the front door of Bartholomew

Productions. This portfolio includes everything from simple audition cuts to elaborate commercial CDs mixed for bands and individual artists who sell them at live performances or pitch them to major music labels.

A skilled arranger and technician, Hafeman can take a simple song, performed by a singer playing a single instrument, and build in an entire orchestra, electronically, with advanced sound editing software and equipment. He also helps these customers structure their compositions to be more viable in the marketplace.

'Nobody wants to listen to a 45-second instrumental introduction unless the musician is known for that kind of thing,' he explains. Part music editor, some of what Hafeman does is make candid suggestions on how to cut or modify a piece for best results.

Around the corner is a shiny baby grand piano where the music man loves to sit and play. The piano is one of several instruments he's mastered - his repertoire also includes drums, guitar, mandolin and bass. It is on the keyboard where his lifelong love affair with music began, in the second grade, when his mom made him take piano lessons from Dorothy Olsen.

Mrs. Olsen passed away a few years ago but not without making an impression on Hafeman. 'She was a great little old lady,' he said.

At the time, Hafeman was playing all his tunes by ear - a common practice among beginning music students - instead of reading notes on sheets of paper. Eventually the music became too complex to play by ear.

'She called me out on it, and I had to learn to read music,' he said. Hafeman says that to this day he still plays by ear, which is OK, he says, because he spends a lot of time creating music … so there is literally no music to read.

Hafeman teaches piano lessons himself nowadays, and plays a 61-key electric keyboard in his band 'Hit Machine,' a four-person ensemble that specializes in '70s and '80s retro dance music, mostly for corporate parties, weddings and a few public venues. Hafeman, who also sings lead vocals, is the only fulltime musician in the group. The other three members - Dave Karn on guitar, Jason Martinez on drums and Sean Foot on bass - have day jobs in the Portland area. The foursome is represented by a Portland booking agency and gets two or three calls a week.

'The key to success in this business is to wear a lot of hats,' said Hafeman, who also has a commercial DJ service, builds Web sites, puts music to pictures and videos for weddings and funerals, and copies LP record albums to digital CDs.

'You've really got to adapt to new technology to stay alive,' said Hafeman, who recently upgraded his music editing software and added a state of the art Apple computer. He considers himself a 'jack of all trades' - musician, teacher, technician. 'I don't claim to be a master of any of them,' he said, 'but I'm getting close.'

Hafeman doesn't maintain set office hours, but 'is working all the time' from his cell phone, car or recording studio. Business is good enough that it provides a comfortable living for his wife, Thea, who is a stay-at-home mom, and their four children.

'I have to work hard to make it,' he said, adding, 'But I absolutely love what I do.'