How does a wedding DJ end up touring the world, curating a mid-century modern furniture rental business, and managing a complex of warehouse spaces in LA?
Meet Michael Antonia, the brains and beat behind Mission Road Studio – LA’s cool industrial warehouse complex for film production, fashion shoots, parties, and more.
Just a stone’s throw from LA’s Arts District, Mission Road Studio is a group of seven renovated warehouse spaces (200,000 square feet indoor/outdoor). A thriving production complex for everything from photo shoots to weddings to TV series locations, Mission Road Studio is just the tip of the iceberg for this savvy, optimistic artist/entrepreneur who has built a successful career doing what he loves providing niche services and building community.
Michael and his business partner, fellow DJ Matthew Rubino, met with me on Zoom to talk about Mission Road Studio, COVID-19, and how their two other businesses—The Flashdance and YEAH! Rentals—led them to managing the warehouse complex.
Tell me about yourselves and how Mission Road came to be.
Well, music has been my thing—sort of my heart and soul—for my whole life. When I was in my early twenties, I started DJing in clubs and festivals, which quickly turned into a crazy obsession that took me all over the world. But 12 years ago, when I moved from New York to LA, I thought I should settle down, start a family, and maybe DJ on the side. So, I started a private DJ event company, and it ended up blowing up. I was super busy traveling all over the place to play events and parties that I could barely keep up. Eventually, I decided to hire some other DJs to work with me, which is how I met Matthew. That company, called The Flashdance, has turned into a big brand, and we are still—aside from this pandemic—traveling a lot and doing a lot of events and parties around the world.
Can you explain how a wedding DJ ends up traveling the world? I mean, if I were a DJ, I imagine I might have trouble getting work outside my county.
Right. So, normally when you have a wedding, there is a quiet, nerdy guy in the corner who is the DJ. He plays the music but is otherwise behind the scenes and not interacting with anyone. What we do, coming from a club background, is put on a really big show. It’s a whole performance that is very specific. People knew of me from my club days and would fly me out to their weddings, social events, fashion shows, etc. It’s a niche thing that people who are into that stuff will pay a good amount of money for. It’s how I prefer to work, anyway. You know, provide a unique high-ticket service for the people who appreciate it and can afford it, and work less than you would otherwise.
That’s amazing. So how did this lead you to starting YEAH! Rentals?
I realized that in addition to hiring us, most people were renting furniture for their events. I have a long history working in interior design—specifically furniture—so I decided to start a mid-century modern furniture rental company for the events I was DJing. I thought what people were renting wasn’t all that great—or, at least, it wasn’t my style—and I thought I could provide something better.
What is your interior design background?
I used to work, for like 20 years, for this guy Alex Calderwood, who started off as a night club owner, then owned a production company, and eventually went on to build Ace Hotels. I worked for Ace for a long time, and gained a lot of experience with furniture there. And Alex just taught me a lot about what makes a business work.
Can you talk about that?
Sure. At his core, Alex’s real strength was marketing—telling a good story, building a brand—and hiring really talented people to do super niche-specific work for him to continue to tell that story. Like he’d hire gutter punk skate kids to make street art on the side of his hotels. People thought he was nuts, but that approach ended up resonating with a certain type of client who thought it was cool. From watching him for 20 years, I learned that you can do well in business if you offer a niche service that you think is cool and then accept nothing less than excellence. When you do that, people who like what you do will pay you good money to do it. And that’s really my whole approach.
And how’s YEAH! Rentals going?
Well, that business became so busy that I decided to hand over the management of Flash Dance to Matthew while I did the furniture thing. People really like it, especially because LA is kind of the mecca of mid-century modern, and no one else is offering what I am.
I think I am beginning to see how all this might lead to owning warehouse spaces.
Yeah. I didn’t start out thinking about warehouses spaces. In fact, what was happening was that I kept having to move locations for the furniture business because my leases would run out or landlords wanted the spaces back or were selling the buildings. It became so problematic that I decided to just buy a building. So, I bought and rehabbed a cool building, which is not part of the Mission Road complex, but which we still have, and before I knew it, people were asking to use the space for parties, and another side business was born. That too, became so popular that I had to move out of that building and into one here at Mission Road, which we lease. Once at Mission Road, we rehabbed the space and rented it out for productions, and when we did, the owners of the building were so impressed, they asked if we could do it with the other spaces in this complex.
The spaces themselves are stunning. Can you talk about any aesthetic choices you made when rehabbing them?
Well, I’ve found the Mission Road Studio spaces offer something I have been looking for my whole life, or at least from the time I was a punk kid breaking into places to go skateboarding, which is cool old bones. You know, a building that hasn’t been luxury-ized or affected by a certain style. No one’s been in here before trying to build a hotel or even a cool coffee shop. It’s just been left as is. I try to keep that super industrialized feeling, so film crews can come in and do what they want. But I also want people to know me as the guy who does raw industrialized commercial spaces of a certain era and not just a generic studio space. That’s my niche.
So you use the furniture to create the aesthetic/period feel of the spaces?
Yeah. We’re telling a fun story and building a brand around what we’re all about. Part of that is mid-century modern. When we do our marketing and photography, we use the furniture to set the stage, so people will be inspired by the era’s aesthetic and want to use our spaces for their stuff.
How has being close to the Arts District informed your business here?
We’re not in the Arts District per se, but we’re close enough to get our coffee there every day. That’s important. You want people to be able to have hotels nearby and good places to eat. But what the Arts District has done for us is it gave me a place to hang out and meet some people when we just moved in. I have some friends who own shops in the Arts District and they helped me meet the community, which I think was key. You know, it was about making friends with cool people, and the Arts District is full of that.
Let’s change our focus a bit and talk about how Covid-19 has affected your businesses.
Honestly, everything screeched to a devastating halt. It’s terrifying in some ways. No one is renting furniture right now and apart from some very small gatherings, we haven’t been doing many productions. What we have been doing is taking the time to really dig deep into tightening up what we have. You know, before Covid we didn’t have the time to do all the things we wanted to. We’re working on our marketing now, for example—building out the website, working on our funny Instagram posts. We’ve been making virtual dance parties and these funny goofy videos for the spaces. It’s been really cool in that way, concentrating on the brand, doing fun stuff, and also just reaching out to more people in the film industry and making contacts while we have the time. There’s a big backlog of TV show episodes that need to be shot in LA, so we’re gearing up for the big rush that will eventually hit.
What advice do you have for other studio owners during this time?
I think this time has been good for reflection to see what’s going on in your life and business and deciding what’s been working and what’s not been working. I think it’s given everyone, including us, a new perspective, and it’s taught us that it’s important to take advantage of the time to see what it is you really want to do.
Right. And I’ll just add to that and say no one can handle this pandemic thing alone really. You need people. You need your community. So, it’s a perfect time to reach out and ask for help if you need it—from colleagues, friends, family. When you ask for help, it’s surprising how many people step up. If you want to make a video, ask someone who knows how. If you want to learn something new or pivot your business in a certain direction, gather those folks around you who can help you make it happen. Your world only grows bigger that way.
I’d also caution businesses not to pivot in a direction that doesn’t fit who they are just so they can make a quick buck during the pandemic. You don’t want to diminish your brand by saying, we’re a company who chases a $5 bill down a windy street. I think that will hurt businesses in the end. I’m all for innovation, but choose something that really speaks to who you are.
And what about for people who are looking for production and event spaces?
One thing I think is super important to emphasize is that we’re here to help. I think it’s such a shame when someone comes into a space with something specific in mind and they don’t see it in our space right away, so they just walk away without saying what it is they were looking for. Ask us! Usually, I am either willing to help you make it happen in our spaces, or I might know of some other space that would work better. I don’t mind leading people to other businesses if it would be useful to someone. I think that’s the main message I’d like to get out. Ask for help.
What do you like about Space for Arts?
Well, what I love about the owners, Betsy and Van, is that they have this enthusiasm and desire to be helpful that’s totally genuine. In this business, people can be curmudgeonly and think there is only one way to do things. But Space for Arts is great for us because it’s run by people who aren’t stuck like that. They are trying to reach out and be a useful resource to people. They are the ones helping, and that’s really important to me.