By DAVE DELUCA
For the Star Beacon
When Josh Maunus first started playing keyboards and recording sound he was just an Ashtabula Harbor kid.
At age 11 in the 5th grade, he was recording his friends for small change and experimenting with digital sound and computers as a hobby.
Almost 25 years later, he owns Top of the World Music Studios, one of the most popular recording studios in Cleveland, and a favorite destination for Hip-Hop music stars from around the country.
Maunus was born and raised in Ashtabula Harbor. He grew up near Lake Avenue and graduated from Harbor High School in 1997. The oldest of four children, his father was a mailman.
He remembers working at Lakeway and restaurants on Lake Avenue and at the Zip-Zap Car Wash and other places where he got jobs based on a good word from his dad.
But Maunus wasn’t destined to wash cars and stack dishes for long. He saved his money to move to Cleveland to pursue his goal of professional recording, and that dream came true.
“I moved to Cleveland at age 25 in 2003 or ’04,” Maunus said. “I now have my own independent recording studio in Parma Heights. I built an addition to my house and work out of my own home.”
Maunus said he wasn’t a performer, although he does play piano and keyboards.
“I’m a studio engineer providing samples and tracks and computer-based music,” he said. “I’m pretty good at it, and it’s taken a while to get to this level of proficiency.”
Home recording studios are plentiful in Cleveland, and around the world. But few have managed to become as successful based on rates that are economically friendly to the average Hip-Hop musician or rapper.
“My dream was always to offer professional recording to everyday artists who had a hard time affording the big name studios,” he said. “I started off providing the same services for around half the cost of upscale studios.”
That formula has proven remarkably successful for Maunus, whose clients now include both well-known Hip-Hop stars and so many up and coming northeast Ohio talents he has a hard time keeping track of them.
“I have time booked for every day from now until mid-September,” he said. “It’s gotten so hectic I had to hire my brother Matt to help me.”
Maunus decided to officially become a business three years ago. It was the kind of situation where commitment led to commitment, and eventually full-time work.
“I was a bar tender for a while and was in other work,” he said. “I kept buying computers and microphones and other recording equipment and eventually had to put something together to pay for the outlay. I realized it was time to ‘stand out’ of the crowd and do it for real. I had to break in fast.”
Luckily for Maunus his fast break into the biz caught the attention of the Cleveland – and national – Hip-Hop music scene. One of them was ‘Young Yonny,’ the Grammy-nominated producer of the Hip-Hop tune “Say Ahh.” Young Yonny has also produced multiple tracks for Hip-Hop stars like ‘Lil Wayne’ and recently a collaboration with Justin Bieber.
Through producer Young Yonny, other Hip-Hop stars have found out about Maunus’s recording and track-building wizardry.
He has worked with Grammy Award winner Layzie Bone, and Bone Thugs in Harmony and many other nationally known artists.
“Young Yonny is out in LA now, but he’s originally a kid from Cleveland,” Maunus said. “I’m currently doing some work for him right now.”
In today’s world of computer based recording, a person no longer has to be in the studio to complete tracks
Maunus gets an assignment via a music file sent on the internet, completes his parts and then e-mails back the finished track on a new file. Even track mixing and balancing can be done electronically.
Maunus’s home studio and strong work ethic have become so well-known that the organizers of the Ohio Hip-Hop Music Awards decided to invite him to the week-long symposium and festivities to be held at the Ohio Theatre in Playhouse Square in Cleveland this September. He will be speaking and giving professional tips to both nationally known professionals and up-and-coming kids.
In the past the awards ceremony and symposium has included names like Machine Gun Kelly (MGK), Krayzie Bone, Chip the Ripper, M&M, 50 Cent and others. This year there will be speeches and demonstrations provided by Hip-Hop recording labels like Innerscope and Atlantic Records.
Derrick McKenzie is one of the organizers of the Ohio Hip-Hop Awards, as well as the Cleveland Litterbugs Clean-up Campaign. He is a big fan of Maunus’s professional work and dedication to young Hip-Hop musicians.
“Josh is an inspiration to lots of people and has provided a lot of motivation to younger artists,” McKenzie said. “It’s only fitting he gets some of the credit due him by including him in the awards program.”
Maunus doesn’t have time to bask in the sunshine of his success. He’s currently working too hard. But he still has time to motivate and help young northeast Ohio Hip-Hop artists get off the ground.
“There are so many talented people in Ashtabula,” Maunus said. “I am pushing Ali the Prince and Lorenz Scruggs from Ashtabula right now. These talents really need a good break.”
Of his success, Josh Maunus said he wants to impart the same spirit that got him into the ‘biz’ to others.
“You’ve got to go for it,” he said. “Nothing’s going to be dumped in your lap. It takes work.”