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Adam Weitner – Founder of Astrolab Studios (Ep33)

October 23, 2021

In this episode we hear from the founder of Toronto’s Astrolab Studios – one of the most popular boutique studios for commercial film and photography located on the Revival Film Studios lot in the city’s downtown neighbourhood of Leslieville.

Adam found his way into studio ownership from a previous career in Press Relations and has since begun developing is talents behind the decks as a house music DJ and behind the lens as a still photographer becoming commercially sought after for his work with professional athletes.

Links:
StartWell Podcasts on the Web: https://startwell.co/magazine/podcasts/
On iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/startwell/id1391959054
On Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/3mZuqf6L5g1fUJRTSttVQs
Astrolab Studios: https://astrolab.studio

Podcast Transcript

Qasim Virjee 0:29
All right, welcome back to another episode of the start well, Podcast. I’m Qasim and this time in studio with my friend Adam wiener wiener whitener? Yeah, it’s a German name. Yeah, you got it. That’s it awesome.

Qasim Virjee 0:45
Adam is going to be telling us all sorts of magical stories about his wonderful life in creative stuff. And I’m excited to dig into all that his adventures yield in terms of inspiration for anyone considering paths, you know, in their career in, in the arts, in culture, in business, and all that together. So, welcome to the studio. Adam. Thank you very much. Thank you, Qasim for having me here. Of course, pleasure to have you here. Man. I don’t know how magical the stories will be. But I’ll I’ll do my best to fill them with as much wimzie as I can. Absolutely. You know, I’m not gonna hold you against any particular measure of magic. My daughter is not in studio with us today. So she’s not gonna be you know, expecting unicorns.

Qasim Virjee 1:30
Go for it. Perfect. Let’s start with an introduction cake. Because I know you. We haven’t known each other that long. But, but it’s been really cool. Because my take on who you are is probably a limited slice of who you think you are? Of course. Sure. Yeah. So why don’t why don’t you tell our audience and tell me a little bit of a little bit of who the the Adam Vianna Yeah. You know, story, how that story unfolded? And brought you sure

Adam Weitner 1:57
Well, yeah, I’ll start with just a quick who I am. So again, my name is Adam Whitener. And, you know, you might know me as the owner of a studio called astrolabe Studios, which is a studio. And this is how Qasim really knows me. You know, it’s a studio setup to support Toronto’s creative community, predominantly commercials, corporate videos,

Adam Weitner 2:21
music videos, sort of anything greater than visual, basically, that’s sort of what we’re set up to support. So we’re a facility a space, you know, we’ve got like the white site coves and we’ve got lots of gear lighting, etc, etc, etc. So that’s kind of how I’d say most how most people know me, because that’s the business that I created the brand and I created astrolabe studios, right. That’s what I’m really known for. But I’m also a photographer, and that’s really been taking off for me. That’s been something I would have called like, a side passion hobby thing for many, many years.

Qasim Virjee 3:04
We all felt like pros, right? Totally. Yeah, the power in your head.

Adam Weitner 3:07
Absolutely. And learning to shoot manual. You know, that was my first camera where I learned to shoot manual. Anyway. So I’m a photographer as well. And I’m sure we’ll talk more about that. Sure. And then I’m also now this is just kind of funny to me. But I guess you could say, I’m technically a DJ, I’ve actually been paid and had real gigs with audiences. But you’re official when you take the money. That’s right. As soon as exactly right. I remember, like my first career out of college, which was in basically public relations. I remember asking a mentor like, hey, like, am I can I call myself a PR pro now? And he’s like, Well, do you get paid for it? And I was like, Yeah. And he’s like, Well, then I think so. Yeah. And I’m like, Huh, that’s an interesting measure. So that’s how I’ve kind of always been, it’s like, it’s a hobby until you get paid for it. And then it becomes actually worked. It’s like, holy people are paying me to do this. So anyway, that’s still just like a side hustle thing. I best but yeah, it was a pandemic hobby. You know, something I always wanted to learn to DJ. And so during the pandemic, I had the time, I bought a controller, and I got well first I got a lesson to make sure it was something I was actually into who taught you how to do my dear friend Patrick Wynn, who, I He inspired me to DJ from the first place because he would always play our house parties. And everybody loved him. And I was like, This guy’s amazing. The music so good. And I was like, one day, I want to DJ my own house party. Like I like to host I love having people. I want to entertain them to I want to like play me I love music and I want to play music for my guests. That was like my, my real ambition and motivation to do it. But it just kind of took on a life of its own. Really. I mean, that first lesson I had. Yeah, and he’s obviously my friend but he wasn’t bullshitting you and he’s like, Dude, I give a like I’ve taught a lot of people how to DJ. He’s like you’re a natural like you’ve got there’s something you’ve got like a knack for

Adam Weitner 5:00
right away, you understood it immediately. And you just started going. So I got pretty hooked on it. I bought my first controller. And I just basically started playing all the time because I was just loving it in something to do. Yeah. But I was recording my sets so that I could learn and listen to them back into like, oh, that really big mistake there, whatever. You heard it. And yeah, I can identify. Yeah, absolutely. I remember those days. So that’s in a nutshell who I am. So I’m,

Adam Weitner 5:30
you know, my business is a studio owner. Yep. And then my hobby slash careers are photography and DJing. Which ultimately do as much as they may seem like completely separate things. Yeah, something’s visual and something’s audible, you know, music, you don’t see music. But something I’m really interested in doing now that I’m getting my feet and my confidence out of myself in each of these different areas, is to marry the two things and like, how can I make my photography? More audible, right, like, how can I bring the vibe and the feeling of music into my work as a photographer? And that’s how I know that’s an interesting thought. Right? It is, that’s the way that I think I can find my own little niche if I can somehow bring the idea of sound into my pictures, right? And similarily How can I invoke images with the music? Right? Okay, the flip side of that rewind.

Qasim Virjee 6:25
Yeah, rewind selector. Pull it back. Um, the question I have, or at least, there’s lots of questions. But the theme that I want to explore as the basis of this kind of like, how do you pursue multiple interests, passions, abilities, so on and creative stuff? Yeah. You know, paid or unpaid?

Qasim Virjee 6:48
Is this, you know, we don’t live, of course, in a time where it’s not the Renaissance. Okay. We don’t have patrons. And so I think, you know, this idea that you’ve kind of cooked up, which is cool is like, the, you know, run a business that is creative and its own nature. You’re dealing with creative people that acts as inspiration. Yeah. Do risks you investing time, effort, money into your pursuits in these different mediums? That’s true. As an artist. Yeah. And then that gives you the ability to have a launchpad. Right? Yeah. But before we dig into the kind of the future and merging these these things, and exploring them, give me some of the backstory like how did you? What was the inspiration A? And where were you comfortable enough? Or where do you think, what do you think in your history made you comfortable enough? To say, I am going to open a media studio soundstage, it’s just like one of those things that, you know, again, because your boutique size at Astra labs. Yeah. You know, if you’re not 30,000 square foot corporate venue, there’s very few people in Toronto that open these spaces as entrepreneurs saying, I’m going to undertake this entry into this really difficult, crazy, weird business.

Adam Weitner 8:05
Yeah. Well, that’s a really big question to answer for sure. You know, I’d say there’s basically two main motivators that sort of drove me throughout the whole thing. One of them being that I’d hated the career path and progression that I was on, which was, so I was working in public relations agencies, which are a fantastic environment, we work with amazing clients, like the brand names that I always wanted to work on, I got to work on. And, you know, it was my dream job, like my dream come true. Everything was going exactly the plan. Except that, like, my first big agency job, I got to do I was basically like a content creator role, okay. And so I was writing all the mostly it was Facebook, at that time, I was writing all the posts that like the captions, I was even shooting and one of my clients was jello, I used to make things that a jello, and then take photos of them and post them and I love you know, my job, that part of my job I loved. But back then, you also would be like an account person, too. They didn’t really like, right, you know, I was so I was technically an account person. And one problem I had was that I guess I was too good with people and clients. And they identified that within me pretty early and, like, kind of pushed me toward more client I got brought up

Qasim Virjee 9:29
So it was like stop creating things and start managing these relationships.

Adam Weitner 9:33
Yeah, I think that’s where they saw my real value. And it’s not to say that I wasn’t creative, or I wasn’t creating cool shit, but I think they felt like and I’m not, I’m only assuming that just based on the way my career went very quickly. Again, I got promoted quickly, which was nice. And it was like, Wow, I’m making more money. You know, every year is more and more. I’m getting promotions. And this is awesome, right? It felt like Yeah, but what I realized eventually was that less and less I was getting to do those fun things I loved, right. And so I tried switching agencies to another fantastic agency, with great clients and really cool opportunities. And again, it was kind of like they really didn’t want me to, as much as I express that I want to be able to flex my creative muscles, so to speak, and, you know, actually pick up a camera once in a while, and like lead the creative on things. And they did say like, Yeah, well, you know, we do have those opportunities. Again, I think pretty quickly, they were like, you’re good with the clients, like when a client’s kind of going off the rails, like, you’re the kind of guy we can throw in that, you know, so ultimately, I kept ending up being the client guy all the time, right? Yeah. Which I do like parts of too, don’t get me wrong, like, I love people. I love working with people. I love the challenges that clients throw at you, it’s as stressful as it is, it’s also develops you and makes you better at what you do. So, you know, like everything that I knew, and the ability to start my own business came from working in these agencies like they train you for, essentially, because you’re really your own boss, like at the end of the day, you’ve you represent these clients, these are you, you have to sell, you’re always selling, you know, and either selling ideas or trying to get even more money growing the budgets. Right, right. So you’re a salesperson, you’re like you wear many hats. So it’s all good stuff. But needless to say, I know I’m getting long winded here. It’s a long story. But needless to say is that you’re working in PR. Yeah, it was taking social media, but in PR agencies

Qasim Virjee 11:37
and taking you on a path that explored your talents, but not the ones that were Yeah, calling to you.

Adam Weitner 11:43
Exactly. I basically saw where my career was going. And I looked at my superiors that were within the same career path that I was on, right. And I saw that I didn’t want to be doing what they were doing, right. And if that was my future, I was in the wrong field. So that was a realization that came long before I actually started the business or made the leap to leave and get out of like, quit my job. But that was a big motivator for me. And then another one was just that I had identified that there was a lack of space that supported. Now keep in mind what I ended up creating and what you know, of astral lab. Yeah, is actually much even bigger than what I set out to create. Okay, so what was the initial hurdle, the initial idea was to have like a turnkey studio, kind of pre lit, for the most part. You know, you might have to come in and tweak the lighting a little bit, but there’d be lighting all in the grid, there’d be lighting ready to go right there on the floor, small space tabletop ready to move in and out easily. Because a lot of that would be product and we would have all different surfaces, like different types of wood and barn board and things like that marble, different shooting surfaces, we would have backdrops galore, props, and we would really be set up for you could come in for three hours with your product, bing, bang, boom, you got your social content out the door, you go product photography, for social photography, and like gifts and you know, like, little bite sized pieces of content, basically, for social media, where you wouldn’t have a huge budget to be able to rent a studio for a day plus get a driver to go get gear and bring gear wrench gear, bah, bah, bah, bah, all these things. Yeah. So and it would be in Liberty Village because there are so many creative agencies there that need that. Like, they’re shooting stuff in their boardrooms. I know because that’s what we did.

Qasim Virjee 13:33
Yeah, like and I know a lot when as a photographer to come and do it. Or you know, so

Adam Weitner 13:37
yesterday at the agency, I wasn’t being hired as a photographer at that time, right? This is before me being able to call myself really legitimately a photographer at that time, I was more I was more of a hobby. Really? Yeah, I still felt that way. Even in my career, even when I was shooting stuff, like I shot posts for like Tim Hortons even that ended up on their social media. But I didn’t still didn’t think of myself at that time as a photographer, it was because you weren’t being paid for that I wasn’t being paid. Not specifically for that. I know. I was being I was on salary. And my role was really the account management side of things, which I was doing well, I think and working hard at, but at the odd time, they’d throw me a bone and they go here, you want to shoot this thing? And I’d be like, yes, absolutely. I do. Yeah. And I obviously didn’t get paid extra anyway, it was a job, but I didn’t look at it that way. I’m going off.

Qasim Virjee 14:22
No, it’s an interesting point, though. Because I have I have a weird anecdote from my own history that yeah, that dovetails into this, this weird thing of business in general. You know, whether your small business medium size or large, no matter what your politic is, there’s always going to be and it could be because of the competitive nature of business. There’s always going to be this kind of like question people have at all levels of management, or superiority to use that word, right that you were saying, of kind of like people questioning whether they’re doing a good job Managing Resources, and whether resources should be these things that go into spreadsheets. And that kind of like X Factor of like, What can a smart person do at this organization that affects the bottom line and adds to future revenue, expand a relationship with a client, whatever that could be, that could be monetizable or not, but adds benefit to the value expresses value for the company sounds like a risk to a lot of people, you know, and then that holds them back. And a lot of companies get held back that way. And so small business owners is cautious of kind of like stepping on the toes of their big competitors to be wiped out. And then big companies are suffering the same problem for their internal human resources. And people not want to get shanked and fired, you know, yeah. And yeah, I’ve been through this loop many times myself, I once had a corporate job. Can you imagine, I worked at IBM, which was like, hilarious. I guess it’s, it’s like trial by fire. And that house is constantly burning down. But I was working in IBM, and I was running their startup program across Canada, which was this like, fledgling thing that, you know, tried to do things but didn’t really have goodwill? Because like, everyone’s like, Fuck IBM, you know, and startups where anyway, they’re very mistrustful of the one of the world’s largest employers, 400,000 staff, we’re gonna come, you know, help you great. It’s scary. It’s an army. And so it’s really funny, because I remember this one time I built, I rolled up my sleeves for a week, because I can code and I built a platform that would bring together a social network that would bring together 1000s of startups that were in our database, our member companies, and give them access to IBM resources. And it was this beautiful, private kind of intranet solution. And I wrote a message I unveiled it in, in San Francisco at one of our big meetings, annual meetings. And everyone was aghast, because they were like, you didn’t get approvals on the 5000 things. And normally, you get approval sore. So we can’t roll this out. And I’m like, nobody works. And I’ve already beta tested it with 300 people, 300 startups, and they love it. And it’s great, we’re gonna do it. And it was just shocking, you know, shortly after, I was no longer an employee of IBM. But But it’s funny, you know, this, you know, the, the idea that expectations are upon your performance within manageable boundaries. And that can cause friction, like, as an employee, as someone who’s part of a team, you want to kind of express yourself and add value and do things and that shouldn’t necessarily be at odds with belonging. Right? For sure.

Qasim Virjee 17:40
Okay, so now back

Adam Weitner 17:41
to you. Well, now, so I yeah, I think just as far as I forget where I was going exactly, I think we were looking at sort of my motivations, I guess, for starting Aster lab, and oh, yeah, essentially, I was trying to create something much smaller than what it is yes. And basically, by virtue of not being able to find in a lease that fit the size of what I needed, and the sort of specs I needed, and was at a rate that made sense on paper. Like, if I looked at what can I reasonably charge people, you know, and versus my cost. And it’s like, it didn’t really make sense. So I was kind of abandoning the idea. Just on that basis alone. It was like, maybe the Id actually isn’t as good as I thought, like, maybe there’s a reason there aren’t these studios. They don’t exist, right. But my real estate agent who’s a sharp guy said, let me just throw a Hail Mary here. He’s like, there’s a number of film studios in town like bigger studios, maybe they have a space they a smaller space or something they’d be down to rent out. I’m like, Okay, go for it. ends up calling me back saying there’s a spot revival six to nine. It used to be Toronto Film Studios. It’s on Eastern, just car la, basically. So just almost right in the city. Great location. I said, Sure. Oh, let’s go check it out. As soon as we got there, I was like, wow, like, I kind of knew there was something within me that was like, Yeah, this is I got to do this. I have to go for this. But I knew nothing. Like I was on a film lot. For real, like a legit one with star trailers and actors and crew around and stuff. And they I went in and it was like a fairly luck. It’s not huge, but but just but by the standards of my time, like my context. At that time, it was huge, because I had been thinking much smaller. And I felt like I don’t have a clue. But based on like, the fantastic per square foot price that they were offering this base for. Yeah. And the numbers that I was crunching even just in my head at that time, I was like, this could really work. And it was your feeling that and when was this what year that was in 2016. Like July I think I toured in and by August. We have a signed lease for five years done. I got the keys like August 13th I think actually

Qasim Virjee 19:59
Do you remember the feeling that you had that night when you like you went to the space you saw for the first time and you went home? And like, were you thinking about that space? Was it like, yeah, blowing your brain up?

Adam Weitner 20:09
Well, yeah, I mean, I’m sure it consumed my every thought pretty much. Once I knew that, like, yeah, I want to do this, this is what I’m going to do, because then I had now like a real, I guess, foundation to build the rest of my planning around like I already had a business plan at that point, obviously, yeah. But it was based loosely around an idea. Whereas like, now, there’s actually a physical structure to start building my idea around for real and start looking at some real costs of because you know, I want to do some renovation and I need to purchase equipment, and I want this place to be everything it could be. Right. And I don’t want to have acid, that’s not the way I do things. So yeah, yeah. So anyway, I just knew and I loved the really interesting point for anyone listening is that I didn’t really know anything. Like I honestly, that’s a very interesting point, like, all I knew at that time was that there was demand and that this type of space didn’t exist to serve this type of market. I knew it and right, I had gut instincts on it. I did obviously speak with people in the industry, trusted colleagues and people that I had, through six degrees of separation could get insights from. And those insights were pretty clear to, but honestly, most of it was like a hunch. And I just kind of knew I did a lot of Googling and just like going around talking to people going and checking out the other students in the city touring them. Right, which is how we met. Well, we met you came after I’d open. Yeah, so I guess you were probably doing the same thing. Exactly. Right. So that’s what you do. It’s like you’ve got to research, figure it all out, figure out is this viable? What can we do? How can we approach this? Like, there’s just so much to think about, obviously, but, again, again, the point is, is that I didn’t know. And that’s okay. Because, through my further research and my day to day activities, I slowly but surely figured it out. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Like, you don’t have to have every answer, because you usually won’t. And if you wait until you have every answer, you’re probably too late. Because if I waited on this idea, until I had the answers, which would have taken another year or two, at least till I felt like very confident about okay, I know how this works, right. And to be honest, I wouldn’t even be able to like the experiences I gained, I only gained because doing it personally, the point is, if I waited two years, I would have been too late, like too many new studios came on the market.

Qasim Virjee 22:28
Yeah, cuz the whole studio thing is blowing up on the bigger studios. Even small stuff. It’s just like, there’s

Adam Weitner 22:33
Yeah, but like, I don’t think I would have if I didn’t get my lease when I did. Yeah, if I came two years later, revival wouldn’t have taken me I don’t think because their business went nuts. So because of all the Amazon and the Netflix and blah, blah, blah, right series content that shooting in Toronto, it’s bananas. So like, our industry is booming, like crazy. It’s all high level all time highs. I don’t think they would have given me the space then. Now they’ve allowed me to renew for five more years, because they like having me and they see the benefit of having me there. Right. But if I’d come in, they didn’t know who I am. And their business is booming. They’re not going to give me some of their space. There’s no way they’re like some no name guy. He’s never even run a studio before like they wouldn’t trusted in me. At the time, there was a slow sort of a lull in the industry and wasn’t booming as big as it is right now. It’s interesting. My timing was perfect. Honestly,

Qasim Virjee 23:27
it’s a fascinating thing, because I tell a lot of people this because this same story for us in terms of co working right now all the locations that have opened, the buildings have opened, it’s been serendipitous when, you know, there was that connection of like, vision, like I see this property wasn’t supposed to be part of my plan. It changes the business model. But figuring it out, has to be part of the process of implementation. Well, at least that’s a bootstrap kind of mentality, right? Like, because if I figure it like, I’m one of those people, I’m an entrepreneur who can sit there and strategize and create a business plan on anyone’s business, I can break your business down, and I can hand you your numbers. Yeah. And they’ll shock you because they’re not only on point, but they’ll be better than your numbers. And I mean, that’s part of why I mentor a lot of startups and stuff. Right? Right. But it’s funny because I am not at this point in my life and even the last five years since I found it start well, while you were founding your companies. Yeah. I’m, I’m less interested these days in businesses that I can do that for. I’m really interested in like the stuff that’s like I can throw myself into at least for my time, and, and figure it out along the way. Because that’s like so much. There’s so much fulfillment.

Adam Weitner 24:39
Absolutely. Right. Yeah. That’s part of what drives me even like I you know, I have a thing like always be learning, right? Like, that’s a big part of my sort of life and who I am. Yeah. Comes from stems from my desire to always be learning something new. And that comes from, I guess, probably just my add in the future. I get bored. And if something becomes repetitive to me, I can’t do I don’t like repetitive and I don’t like just sitting around I need to be constantly engaged and challenged. Right. So yeah, I mean, that’s, that’s why it thrills me. But there I meet a lot of people that they think I’m crazy, or they’re like, how the hell like I could never do it. I had people that I want to involve who are very smart people, but they were too afraid because they’re like, when are you sure? Is this even gonna work? And I’m like, I’m not sure No, right? Not

Qasim Virjee 25:29
The unknowns seem too large. Right? Yeah, but this industry? And like, can you prove it? And yeah.

Adam Weitner 25:34
So, you know, I think if you let that hold you back then, you know, you’ll never, you’re going to be stuck forever, you kind of have to just say, I’m gonna take a chance, you know, like, I don’t know, and I’ll figure it out as I go. Yeah. And if you put in the effort, and you take the steps required to learn and figure it out, you will, and you’ll succeed, probably because you’re coming at it from the right place. And even if it morphs along the way and your idea ends up being something different than you set out to create. That’s good, because that means you adapted as you learned and figured it out. And that will, again, aid in it being successful. Just the very fact that you were adaptable. And you did figure out, Okay, what does the market really need, and you’ve shifted, I’ve shifted number, my business is constantly shifting, yeah, my target audience and who I was, like, really selling to when we first open is completely different than who I’m selling to now. And the types of clients I’m attracting now, and not like the same, it’s the same facility, we’ve you know, we have added a bunch more gear. And we’ve, we’ve changed the layout, a little bit of some of the rooms and things and, but really, not a lot has changed. But it’s just been about figuring out, who are we really good for? And what client is the best suited to work with us? And that’s been like, the next part of the challenge once I figured out okay, now how do I run a studio got that down? That was figuring out who my clients were. And it’s like, it’s always changing. Yeah, the market, sweet spot that to write the needs of the client sort of changing to Yeah, so you kind of have to just like, adapt and follow along with them on that journey. You can’t just be like, Oh, no, this is how we do things here at Astra lab, we’re set in our ways, then that’s it, you won’t you know, you won’t be successful that way. I don’t think you have to be adaptable. And part of that which is so gray, is that that means you don’t have to know everything because what you know, today means shit for tomorrow, right? So it’s like, it’s okay, if you don’t know anything. Because each day you’re gonna be learning something new anyway, and it’s gonna be constant changing anyway.

Qasim Virjee 27:40
So it’s like you you have to always be prepared to jump into it to learn something. Not be afraid of like the new Oh, man. One more thing. Oh, yeah, this isn’t my job. Oh, you can’t have that mentality has to be like, bring it. Yeah, it’d be fun. Let’s figure it out. And a good team obviously helps.

Adam Weitner 27:57
Yeah. Oh, for sure. Yes, surrounded and having people you trust around you is absolutely the most important thing ever.

Qasim Virjee 28:03
I choose trust over skills a lot of the time Yeah, you know, for sure,

Adam Weitner 28:06
you can teach most things like most skills can be taught, you know, I think there’s certain personality traits and qualities that maybe not so much but right. If you have people that you gel with and trust, absolutely that comes before anything that you could teach them along the way. And those are the people to keep around and it’s definitely important right? Because you know, for me, like for example, if I want to be a DJ and photographer, which by the way are each could be their own full time careers, photography. Alright, it’s taking off for me. I’m doing next week three gigs so at three days, next week, I will be shooting on busy high like high pressure stress jobs, okay. And then I’m also running a studio and I’m also putting out a weekly radio show right for my DJ sets just to keep me active and keep me on top of new music and because I love to share music and it’s fun for me. Yeah. And you know, hopefully I’ll get some gigs here and there. The point is, is that not that oh, look at me I’m awesome doing all these things. The point is, is that the reason I can do it is because I have a team yes at the studio yes I have my my studio manager Jesse who I very much trust as you mentioned. And he you know, I have someone in him who’s very invested in the business and treats it like his own as well. So that leaves me lots of freedom and then we have some great part time staff as well by the way that he manages and I work with them as well. But because of that, that frees me up to then be able to take on these photography gigs and be on set all day and not be like stressed the hell out like what’s going on at Astor lab. Yeah, I don’t really have to worry about it. When it comes to the day to day functionality of the place and the comings and goings I like to be part of it because I enjoy the creative process fear in the process and the networking and all that great stuff but at the same time I don’t have to be there. I can remove myself from it and it will run just as successfully Yeah, I I basically just have to make sure to get the clients in there. Yeah, that’s my role as you know, as the owner and sort of lead of all the marketing and sales. It’s like, I’ll fill the place and then But then I don’t have to worry about it.

Qasim Virjee 30:10
Right? Yeah. Cuz you don’t want to be stuck in that ops mode? You know? No, which is like, it’s it’s a it’s a double edged sword, right? You don’t want to it can very quickly, at least in my business can very quickly. My business funny, I keep saying that, you know, to all sorts of people my my business, yeah, what the hell is my business? My business is space. You know, it’s like, we met because the studio stuff, we do studio stuff, co working, we do meetings, we do everything right. It’s if you’re not sleeping here, and, you know, yeah, we do, we will give you a place to do whatever else you’re doing. Anyway. But yeah, this is the nature of being a host of any space based business. Right, is that it can quickly become Fawlty Towers. You know, that show? I’ve never seen it now. Oh, my God, you know, Monty Python? Yeah. Okay, John Cleese, the tall chap from, from that show, had a show called Fawlty Towers, where he basically, he is so funny. He runs this bed and breakfast sort of hotel near his wife. And it’s literally like a bootstrap thing they live, I think in it, there’s always something going wrong. And you know, you can fall into that trap very easily, where it’s like, you’re either over designing your product. Yeah, you’re talking about configuring rooms and stuff. And yeah, keeping a pulse on who you’re changing what the changing needs of your customer base are, yeah, they change. You could go to the full nine every time that you see those an indication, you know, as someone who’s running a space that like, oh, people really want this kind of functionality. I’m going to get this equipment. Yeah. And then no one uses it or, you know, there’s so many rabbit holes, but I find that I fall into those rabbit holes. If I’m over involving myself in operations, instead of just saying that’s true. I’m gonna just, you know, yeah, stick to the greeter role. You’ve got a great team kind of like running the day to day helping you keeping you away from operations nightmares. The question is, you know, how you manage your, your time and effort? And also how deep in the water you’re going with your photography stuff?

Adam Weitner 32:08
Yeah. Well, I think, as far as it will go, really is the answer to that question. And, you know, if I have to hire a replacement, or bring my studio manager who’s currently focused on operations, more so than sales and sort of groom him, maybe bring him up into my role and to take over for me, if the opportunity is there, that is what I will do. Right. So like, right now, I’m still fairly connected to Astro lab. You know, obviously, I, as I said, I have a great team, so I can step away, but at the same time, on the flip side, I am still very connected to it. And a huge part of my day to day, right. And it has to be right as I have to make sure it stays successful and grows and continues to get more success successful. Sure. But if there comes a time, where it’s like, wow, I’ve got so much opportunity to shoot, and it’s all gigs that I want to be doing. So I’m gonna keep saying yes to them, because I want to do them, then eventually, the dream would be to hire a replacement for myself, and not even have to even think about the sales side of astral lab in the like, day to day client relationship as much either. And then I can still be the face, I can still lead things from the top down, but step away even further from it, and allow it to, you know, continue to be successful. And, and also, at the same time get to do what I really love to do, which is why I created Astro lab in the first place. I didn’t create it because I well, okay, I saw the need, right, as I mentioned, so I knew there was a need. And that’s really why I created it, because I knew there was a business there. But why I really did it was that I wanted to have a platform, a foundation for myself to be creative, and pursue these creative things. Right. And it’s now doing that completely 100%. So it’s working. Right. So there’s no, as far as I’m concerned, there’s no stopping. You know,

Qasim Virjee 34:01
you’re not switching carts. You know, it’s like it’s part of the whole journey that you’ve planned. Yeah.

Adam Weitner 34:07
To a degree. Yeah. And I’m this kind of at the same time going with the flow. I’m not like nothing’s predetermined and nothing certain. Right? I take things day to day, always. But the trajectory that it’s on certainly is is going the way that I hoped that it would, in that. Yeah, I’ve the opportunities that I’ve had. I mean, I only got them because of the people that I know because I had the studio, right? They got to know me and got to see that. Oh, wow, you’re actually a talented photographer. I got to ask you, you shoot and I’m like, Well, you know, shoot for fun. They’re like, Oh, would you be interested in shooting on this job? And I’m like, sure. That’s how this all started for me. Really?

Qasim Virjee 34:43
Uh, why have you chosen to separate? Adam the photographer from yet? Let’s say the studio’s Professional Services Division.

Adam Weitner 34:53
Well, I’m not necessarily choosing to separate them. I mean, my overall brand Because I now have, I have to have my own brand, right, especially if I’m going to be a DJ and photographer too, I think most successful photographers have their own brand. And so I just taken my last name, it’s just Whitener. And I’ve had an really nice logo design that I think really suits my personality and who I am is very fun and creative and young at heart totally fun as I always will be. And that serves for everything that I do. Right I’m whitener across the board, for all of them. It’s the same logo I use on my phone, my photo, Instagram is the same logo I use on my music, Instagram, they’re both the same thing, different colors, but the same logo, and same overall brand. So I’m hoping to not have them be two separate Yeah, by any means. But I do definitely see my role at the studio, still being more of a functional role and less of a creative role. Even though I’m definitely always looking to find creative ways to grow the business and creative ways to make the amazing. There’s, you know, creativity somewhat in all of it, it’s more of a business thing. And it’s, I don’t see it as much as just like a fully creative thing. Whereas with the music and the photography, those are purely creative pursuits for me, and I don’t really look at them as much as businesses, even though they have the potential to be fantastic businesses. i That’s not the approach I’m taking.

Qasim Virjee 36:22
Do you think that in creative services, yeah, that’s something that can lead people to success if they’re capable of doing it. The idea of like, not having to turn everything that they do for clients into its own business. And then you know, pigeon holed themselves or other, you know, downfalls that might come with that.

Adam Weitner 36:44
Well, I’m like you, no

Qasim Virjee 36:45
one wants to be stuck being a wedding photographer, no matter what they say.

Adam Weitner 36:48
Yeah, it’s, I mean, it’s tough, right? Because everyone’s got to eat. So right? If you’re in a position where you can either make rent and put food on the table, but it means you’re gonna have to take that next wedding gig again. Then, you know, I sympathize with that and do it. i Yeah, that’s what you gotta you gotta do what you got to do. And that’s the way I would approach anything like, like I said, I’m only lucky that I’m in this position, because afterlife is working. And since I can rely on Astro lab on its own, I don’t really need these other things. I get to be picky about the jobs that I do. And it’s not making me rich. But like I said, that’s okay, because that was never the goal. Anyway,

Qasim Virjee 37:33
yeah, we were talking offline about this idea of fulfillment and being able to find fulfillment creatively, by focusing on the gigs that you want to do, right, though, yeah, that you want it exactly. And so that being a huge plus and a recommendation that you made, you know, to people listening, or whatever, if they, if they’re able to focus on that, and not sacrifice their revenue, exactly, then it’s going to lead them down a path that’s their own.

Adam Weitner 37:58
Yeah. And I think for anyone, like, even, you know, someone who struggles the most with this, if they can just take on the odd side thing, maybe it’s slower pay, or it’s not paid or whatever. But it’s very, very in line with their passion. And like where they hope to go with their career. Yeah, they can start small. And maybe they’ll have to put in a little extra work, because they’re also taking on all the gigs that pay them, in addition to now doing this. And it might be a bit of a grind. But I do believe that if you’re really passionate about it, it will build momentum will build and eventually, the thing you are passionate about and doing on the side will become the main thing. And you will slowly be able to say no to the things you don’t want to do anymore. But it’s a process and it doesn’t happen overnight. And that’s why I say you just have to, you know, start small, if you’re not in position to just be like, right out of the gate. No, I’m going to be picky right now. Just start extending yourself onto some passion projects, here and there a little bit by bit, and establish yourself there, establish a name, establish some work, whatever, doing those things, and it will lead to the right opportunities coming your way.

Qasim Virjee 39:08
We were also talking offline about that, you know, in questioning how the different medium that you are mediums, media that you work with, right? play off each other, and enable your creative process with anything that you’re working on. Right. Music equals life, right? Whether you’re, you know, getting gigs, commercial gigs to DJ, or musics enabling the stylistic Yeah, production of a photo. Yeah. Or just simply having tunes on in the studio when you’re shooting something. Yeah.

Adam Weitner 39:43
I think it’s doing all those things. Yeah. It seems to be Yeah. So I just had to turn down a DJ gig a couple weeks ago because I had a photo gig. Then this goes back to an earlier question, I think about how balancing it all but right yeah, I had a photo gig in the morning which involved to Toronto Raptors. For very large to large, very recognizable brands. And so that’s a pretty high pressure shoot. I don’t get a lot of time with these guys either. It’s like they gave me like 15 minutes to watch them and a whole shot list of things I have to capture in that time.

Qasim Virjee 40:15
You either get it or you don’t you know,

Adam Weitner 40:17
you get it. There’s no don’t get, you get. And you probably hopefully you get something even different and more than what they were hoping for. You get them the base shortlist, but within there you find other opportunities. And anyway, that’s not the point. The point was, I got a late call to do this was for a wrap party from a production that was rapping, okay. I know this producer through the studio. She’s a client of mine there. And colleague and she reached out to me, she’s been following me and seeing all my DJ stuff. And she likes the music that I play. So she was like, Hey, can we hire you like, we’ll pay good money. But like the parties tonight, we want to throw a party tonight. And we just had this idea last minute, like we should get a DJ. And that’s why I’m calling you. And I was like, I want I would totally love to but I can’t because first thing in the morning tomorrow, I’m getting up bright and early. And I’m going to the shoot and it’s like a high pressure thing. I need to be in the right mindset and like, focus, I can’t be up all night DJing before going and doing this, like there’s just no way I can do it. So it’s about knowing like where what is at the end of the day, the priority, right? I I’m only one person. So right now the priority is definitely photography. And that’s more closely linked to the studio business. And it’s something I can actually utilize the studio to do. I can actually utilize studio for music and DJing too. That’s a whole, but it’s more closely related. So it’s a whole it’s only the priority for sure. Right now, but thinking like 10 years ahead. I could see it shifting. Where there, either equal or who knows. I don’t know. I don’t want to close any doors if things go in a certain way with the DJing I’m not I won’t say no to that. I have no intention of being like a touring DJ, by the way. Just to be clear.

Qasim Virjee 42:04
It’s grueling. I’ve done it.

Adam Weitner 42:05
Oh, really?

Qasim Virjee 42:06
Yeah, I used to have a music festival called the indie electronica festival that I produced. Wow. synonymously titled, with my record label. Yeah. Indian electronic records. Wow. And we partnered with a BBC Asian network out of Birmingham and did live broadcasts. When we produce these shows. And I did it annually for two years, then I couldn’t do it anymore. It’s too much now. But London, Bombay, New York, and Toronto. Nice. And then like, for example, in the London days like London 2006, we had taken over this old club in East London shortage. And it was a two floor venue. Yeah, I literally had planned I think 20 acts into one night. It was turnovers every 30 or 45 minutes, new band and we’re talking like bands with cat. You know, it was a crazy production given that like only 400 punters came through the door. There was no money involved. You know, it was a hole in my pocket, if anything, yeah, or, or my sponsoring brothers partners, you know, pocket. And, but it was at the time, it was just something that like, you know, I was pushing, because we needed dates to push the record label. And so we had to get performances and we had to, like, you know, keep in touch with the audiences all over the world, right. And the timeliness of it all was epic, because some of the guys that shared stage like I invited some people to the London stage and that year, and now I kid you not. I kid you not. There is one particular artist named nuclear. Nuclear is like the biggest electronic music artists in India, which means in the world. He plays out, right? We’re talking to like, okay, Glastonbury. mainstage is wonderful, right? You’ve got I don’t know how many people 40,000 30,000 people in the audience there. In India, there’s these festivals these days. And when we went there, there was like, 100 people in the audience and it was like very boutique and very cool and suave. Right? Everyone drinking martinis? Listen to electronic music was ahead of its time. Yeah. A couple years later nucleus playing to like 100,000 people. Yeah, they can’t see him. Right. But it’s just like series and series of sound systems set up in some like, mini like a chunk of land. That’s yeah, so you. Yeah, it boggles my mind the audience sizes in electronic music festivals over there now. Awesome. But yeah, of course, coming with all of that, whether it’s small or big is a lot of drama and sleepless nights and traveling and blah, blah, blah. Yeah, who wants that?

Adam Weitner 44:40
No, not me. Tool. What I would love though, is, you know, perhaps a residency like an awesome day party in Barcelona or something like that, or hear it start well in Toronto? Sure. Yeah. I mean, I love Toronto too. Don’t get me wrong, but just again, thinking long term, right, like thinking 10 years and that’s not a very long time at all, but I will We’ll be approaching 50 By that time, and if I can still have a business that essentially runs itself due to the great staff I have in place, and that’s all gravy, then, you know, I can hopefully take on something like that if the opportunity were to present itself. And so that’s why I just put that idea out there even. And that’s always what I’ve done is like, almost manifesting my destiny. And it’s not just like, think about it, and it will come, obviously, you have to take steps and put in work to make anything happen in life. But I think it all starts with having that dream and putting the dream out there. And then, slowly, but surely taking the steps to see that dream come to fruition, maybe along the way, the dream changes, and that’s okay. Adapt with the dream, right? And let it change. But ultimately, when you do that, you end up where you want to be, right, that’s been my experience, chasing a dream, not even chasing it. Creating it really like, knowing what it is. But then, like I said, taking the steps and doing the things. You’re not chasing a dream. You’re living. It’s one way I guess, to live in your dream, your dream and live the dream you’re making it and living it all at once. Right? So you

Qasim Virjee 46:13
didn’t that way at the beginning of this Didn’t I promise some some some stories of magical adventures? Yeah. Sounds Pretty Magical?

Adam Weitner 46:21
Yeah, I guess Oh, yeah. When you look at it that way it does. To me that just like normal daily life, you know, like, and speaking about, like, every day as an opportunity. You mentioned that earlier. Yes. I agree with that very strongly. Like I actually, I used to have a blog, like back when I was in college, I don’t know, it never went anywhere. But I’ve probably like one reader who wasn’t me, right? If I’m lucky, but I used to blog here and there. And one of the blogs that I wrote about was just like, thank goodness, it’s another day and it was all about really taking advantage of every single day. And every day can be Friday, and every day can be Saturday if you treat it that way, for sure. And that’s why when people asked me they’re like, Oh, you must work non stop, right? Because you’re running the studio. You’re doing this, you’re doing that? And I’m like, yes. If you look at it that way, like if you think of it as work like I never clock out, you know what I mean? work isn’t at odds with your life. You’re just exactly that’s right. Yeah. So in that sense, because of that. For me every day is Monday and every day is Saturday and it’s really mostly just a mindset and how I’m feeling that day some days do feel like Mondays for me you know, I sometimes just have shitty days or days where I’m not feeling my best whatever happens to all of us right? Yeah, so those days could feel like Mondays you could say and then there’s other days for me where I’m everything’s going well business is running so perfectly everything’s just kicking ass and then those are my Saturdays you know, but I think it’s ultimately comes to stems from your own mindset and you can make everyday Saturday if you want to.

Qasim Virjee 47:53
Thanks for joining me in studio Adam.

Adam Weitner 47:55
Thank you for having me Qasim

Qasim Virjee 47:56
It was a pleasure.

Adam Weitner 47:57
Likewise, sir

/ Business
Adam Weitner from Astrolab Studios on the StartWell Podcast

Adam Weitner from Astrolab Studios

In this film we meet Adam, the founder of one of Toronto's best boutique sound-stages who is also a professional photographer and DJ.