By Katie Eubanks
Casey Combest takes flight at Blue Sky Studios
What if you could influence the songs that get stuck in a person’s head? That’s why Casey Combest does what he does at Blue Sky Studios in Jackson.
“I just think about people who walk around humming a tune by Nikki Minaj or Kanye West. Why wouldn’t I help (other) people who are believers get their messages out there? These are the melodies my kids will go around singing,” said Casey, a Vancleave native.
That’s why he left Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson when he was just 16 hours shy of a master of arts in 2009.
“(I asked myself), ‘Do I still think I could have more impact and enjoyment working at a church, or more impact and enjoyment doing this music (studio) thing?’”
Nine years later, he’s glad he chose the latter — though he realizes that might raise a few eyebrows.
“It sounds semantically weird to say I feel like I’m serving the Lord better than working at a church, but it’s a real thing,” he said, laughing.
“(I once heard there are) three areas you can apply Scripture: actions, emotions and reason. What’s so interesting about music is, it’s this emotional gateway because it opens (a person) up and you have this unique opportunity to ‘reason’ with somebody without being threatening.”
Before opening the studio, Casey had recorded as a musician at a handful of places from Jackson to Mobile, and none were ideal.
“It either sounded good (musically) but wasn’t done with integrity … or it was really straightforward but it didn’t sound good,” he said. “I really just saw that gap of what the Lord calls us to – to be excellent in our craft but full of integrity and kindness for those we work with.”
Though he knew nothing officially about running a business, he did have a certain kind of experience.
“Looking back, I’m like, ‘Ah, I was the kid selling baseball cards in elementary school.’ I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit.”
In the studio’s early days, not every song was something Casey would want stuck in his head.
“One of the things you (would) imagine that you have to do early on is work on things you don’t really agree with. Looking back, I might not have done those things,” he said.
“Over the last few years I’ve narrowed it down (to mostly) singer-songwriters and worship music. Those are kinda my two sweet spots.
“I’m not saying (my client list is) exclusively believers, but the main core of what I do is help believers record powerful worship music or music that’s mainstream but has a message of hope, a message of Christ and the metanarrative.”
Lately, he said, he’s been “jacked” (read: excited) about the future of Blue Sky.
“Recently I hit a goal that I kinda just didn’t think I would hit for a long time. And it did something weird to my head. If we really laser focus on a few things, there is just so much with the Lord’s blessings that we can accomplish.”
For one thing, this summer he and his family — wife Ryen and children Addison (3) and Clark (8 months) — moved out of the house that was serving as both home and studio. Now the studio is a standalone space, “and I have just seen this insane excitement about what’s possible.”
Also, he’s not just recording music anymore: He’s currently in the middle of the fourth season of his “Made in Mississippi” podcast, which features Magnolia State entrepreneurs.
“I began to grow numb to this same Silicon Valley, Nashville, New York mentality (that I was hearing on podcasts about entrepreneurs),” Casey said. “I think part of the problem (with young business owners leaving Mississippi) is, they don’t know the positive stories of those who’ve gone before them.”
Casey imagined he’d complete two seasons of “Made in Mississippi” and then hang it up. But C Spire caught wind of the show and has sponsored the second, third and fourth seasons.
“And in light of that, other people have called us to say, ‘We’d like to start a podcast.’ So we’ve started another company with a few people who work for me, Blue Sky Podcasting, to walk people through that.”
Finding a rhythm
Casey admits he’s not at home as much as he’d like to be.
“My goal this year is to be home a couple nights a week. I haven’t hit that yet, and the year’s winding down.”
But when he is home, he does his best to be fully present, he said.
“I heard Robert Green say this at Fondren Church … rhythm, rather than life balance. … I’ve tried the ‘balance’ thing and you’re always frustrated.”
For instance, the Combests spent a week “unplugged” at the beach, and Casey did not work at all. Then when they returned, he spent most evenings at the studio.
It’s kind of an all-or-nothing feel to the day. If you’re going to work 14 to 16 hours a day, just be there fully. And my wife is so completely understanding of that,” he said.
“But Sunday afternoon after I lead worship (at Livingston Fellowship in Madison County), I’m turning my phone off, and we might watch ‘Tangled’ for the 67th time and I’m going to relax and spend time with (my family).
“I’m not responding to emails while I’m talking to my kids. My phone is either off or out of sight.”
In this season of thankfulness, Casey said he’s “incredibly grateful” for his family. “But outside of that, I would say the second thing I’m most grateful for is just this renewed excitement about what’s possible with my career.”
He knows running his own music studio for the glory of God is going to present its challenges. But he’s pumped about taking it on.
“(And) if you’d talked to me 10 years ago, I would’ve said something pretty similar, but it was very naïve. I didn’t really know the cost. Now I have a much better perspective. This is going to take my life. This is going to take all my energy. But it’s worthwhile.”
Blue Sky artist spotlight: Sam Mooney
Casey Combest said to watch for the upcoming release of Brookhaven native Sam Mooney’s new album. “He’s doing pop stuff but it certainly all has a positive message, and there’s one song that’s overtly Christian on the record.” Sam, who counts John Mayor, Ben Rector and Maroon 5 among his influences, has already achieved several milestones in his career thus far — including hitting No. 1 on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter chart.