HEATHER & JASON
PROJECT LYME & HEARSTUDIOS
San Francisco & Boston to Mid Coast, Maine
Heather and Jason Hearst considered many cities before taking a leap of faith and moving to coastal Maine. Jason, an audio engineer with a degree Berklee College of Music, knew that it would be nearly impossible to find any recording studio work outside of the city, but the couple ultimately decided that living in a place where their kids could have an idyllic childhood, complete with the freedoms associated with living in a small town, outweighed working in the music industry hubs of Los Angeles, Nashville or New York City. With the mantra, “If you build it, they will come,” Jason set out to transform a barn on their property into a state-of-the-art recording studio. After several years of construction and a lot of troubleshooting, Hearstudios opened its doors in 2013. Beyond serving a need for local musicians in his community, Hearstudios has also worked with a number of national musical acts. It is dreamy story for musicians thinking about cutting an album – writing and recording in a historic barn in Maine during a snowstorm. Heather previously worked in tech in the San Francisco Bay Area and found herself in a bit of an identity crisis when she moved, as there weren’t any job opportunities available in their tiny community. She spent her first few years staying at home with her two young children and volunteering for a number of local area non-profits. Heather discovered a newfound passion for working with, and promoting, Maine artists while serving on the board of a contemporary arts organization. She launched her art consultant business two years ago and hasn’t looked back. She hosts a pop-up art show every year and partners with interior designers and clients looking to fill their blank walls with beautiful work. Her latest venture is establishing tick and Lyme disease awareness through her non-profit Project Lyme. Heather and Jason, by building their own businesses and supporting a number of local non-profits, have been able to firmly plant roots and help make their small community a better place. Their children, Tigger and Tate, are able to grow up surrounded by nature and the time they used to spend commuting to work and school is now reserved for spending time as a family. (Click to jump to their interview)
What inspired you to move to the country?
Heather: Jason grew up in this area and has always wanted to come back here. He was finishing school at Berklee College of Music and we were trying to figure out where to go. It had to be a place where he could find work as a sound engineer. We considered Los Angeles and New York City and strongly considered Nashville. While we were trying to figure it out, Jason’s mom passed away and that really made him want to move back to this area. It was beautiful in Maine but it seemed very remote and isolating. I was honestly a little scared to move up here initially. I had my own preconceived notions about the country, like does everyone just knit, make jam and farm? I was a big mountain biker and loved the outdoors but I was concerned about fitting in and I really worried about my career. I was in tech in San Francisco and when I moved to Boston I started my career-counseling practice for executive-level professionals and elite athletes. I knew that what I had spent so much time building wouldn’t translate in a small town in Maine. I was also worried about being exposed here. Living in a city you are kind of invisible and have a lot more privacy. I was really freaked out about losing my anonymity.
When I was pregnant with our second child we sold our place in Boston and moved to the suburb of Wesley. It was a temporarily lease and I was grateful for that. I immediately knew that suburban life was not for me. It felt like we were in the witness protection program. Everyone would come home from work and drive straight into their garages and we never saw or met anyone. We couldn’t walk anywhere, except for around the development; it felt like purgatory. There were nice people there but it seemed homogenous and hard to break into the social scene. I missed the city but I didn’t want to go back because I loved having a garage and space for our two kids. So…I can’t live in a city and I can’t live in a suburb, what am I left with? I came to the conclusion that I actually could move to Maine. I wanted to live in-town so we still could walk to everything and we wouldn’t feel as isolated as living outside of the town center. To me, this town was the perfect place to raise our kids. It seemed safe, people's values were in line with my own and I could actually get my kids into school without needing to be on a wait list. We could buy a nicer house here, something that we actually wanted. No traffic. No pollution. In San Francisco you could easily leave the city but in Boston it is a full-day adventure to go hiking. Living here you can just walk out the door and go for a hike.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
Heather: The hardest part initially was feeling isolated and fitting in with people here. In the city I had a successful career and moving here I had a bit of an identity crisis because I didn’t know how I would be able to continue exceling professionally. Also, my husband has a recognizable last name and grew up here, so I was worried that people would have a lot of preconceived ideas about me. Fortunately, once I started making friends a lot of that anxiety left.
Jason: From an emotional standpoint, there were no challenges moving to the country. I was happy to get here and get away from the crush of humanity. From a business standpoint, a destination recording studio was a roll of the dice – would it work? Can I build a nice enough studio that will bring people here from outside of the area? We had to crack into the larger market because keeping it entirely local wasn’t work long term. The hardest part of coming to Maine was not having a group of professional peers that I could collaborate with.
What surprised you most about country living? Did it meet your expectations?
Heather: I was pleasantly surprised that there were so many creative and interesting people in the country who came to live here for the same reasons I chose to move. Also, because it is so small you end up being friends with all different ages and socio-economic levels, everyone intermingles. When we were in the city we really only hung out with people who were the same as us, same age, same amount of kids, same everything. I feel really lucky to have friends here from all walks of life and am not stuck hanging out with only people who are exactly like me. Also, I was able to get involved in the community and make a difference. I immediately joined several local non-profit boards and was able to meet so many wonderful people volunteering.
What were the hardest things to get used to? What do you miss the most about the city?
Heather: There is no public transportation here, which is insane. There is only one cab company and it is located in the town over. We can’t go out to dinner, have a few drinks and get a cab home. Because I live in-town I still can walk for some of my errands but I don’t take the same joy in walking that I did in the city. Sometimes in San Francisco I would just go walking to explore a new neighborhood; I could walk for hours. Here there aren’t lots of place to walk to with a sidewalk or safe shoulder. Also, the medical offerings aren’t totally lacking but we don’t have the same facilities and doctors as in Boston. I miss being close to an international airport and I miss daylight in the winters – the winters here are way too long.
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
Heather: Not full time. I would love to have a pied-a-terre someday but it would never be my main residence.
Jason: I would say yes but it would have to be when my kids are grown and out of the house. Raising kids up here can’t be beat. My mom used to say, “It is a lot easier to grow up in the country and learn how to live in a city, than to grow up in the city and learn how to exist in the country.”
What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?
Heather: I appreciate the beauty, the outdoors, the pace of life and the people. The slower pace is wonderful because the kids here are a bit more naïve, which allows them to live in their childhood years longer than kids in the city. We are living in a bit of a bubble but I am okay with that. It is not utopia but it is close to it.
Jason: There is so much I appreciate. I think it is a tie between the slower pace of life and getting to be part of a community where you can make a difference. People here are kind, real and they are willing to help when you’re in a bind. There is an underlying calm that you get living here that isn’t attainable in the city.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?
Heather: Make sure you can find a job that can pay the bills. Also, you have to give the place time to find your people and your community. Things in the country are not immediate and you have to be more patient here. There is more efficiency in the city and things get done faster. Things are sort of back in time here, which is kind of amazing and also sometimes frustrating. The amenities of the city are gone. You aren’t going to be able to get takeout, order groceries or easily go to the airport. Everything is a little bit harder but you have to weigh the pros and cons. For instance, you can’t get decent Indian food within a 100-mile radius, but there is no light pollution or traffic. Also, there is a lot of poverty in the country and people get by with less. When you are a working professional in a city, you aren’t as in touch with the poverty, as poorer neighborhoods tend to be separated from wealthier neighborhoods. I feel closer to the issues and more motivated to get involved and help my fellow neighbors here.
Jason: You have to be pragmatic and weigh your pros and cons. What goals do you have in your life to give your life context? You could work your way up the corporate ladder, save a nice 401K and retire to a beach somewhere - if that is what will make you feel fulfilled. If you want to look back at your life and see the hard work of living in the country, do it. If you measure your worth on amassing wealth and power, maybe this life isn’t for you.
When you go back to visit the city, what are the first three things on your to-do list?
Heather: Live music, ethnic food and museums. It is worth noting that I can’t handle more than about 48 hours in a city now, after that, I am totally over it.
Jason: When I’m driving to the city – I have to put on my defensive driver hat; a hat not necessary on country roads in Maine. There are not a lot of things I feel like I have to do when I go back, which is why I don’t live in a city anymore. There’s nothing really in the city that pulls me in anymore. I might go for an event but I’m not dying to go unless there is something specific going on. There is a mindset that I have to get into just to deal with that many people.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
Heather: Going on studio visits and meeting artists is so inspiring because their passion for their work is contagious and I feel even more motivated to get their art in people’s homes or businesses. Helping and connecting people is my absolute driving force. I am a connector and I love making connections. I worked in tech for 10 years before getting my masters in career development. When trying to figure out how to make a living here I knew I had to do something connecting people. I am creative, I am not an artist but I love and appreciate art. I really had to recreate myself here and find my niche.
Jason: The musicians I get to work with at Hearstudios inspire me. I feel privileged to be a part of their creative process. Artists come in with work they have spent a lot of time developing and it is my job to ensure they leave with a recording they are really proud of. It is like capturing lightning in a jar – it is a total rush.
Have you noticed a change in yourself or your work since moving away from the city?
Heather: It is a less intimidating environment up here. I am a bit more confident because I worked in business for many years and have had great mentors. Those things have been very transferable, even though I am doing something totally different here.
Jason: It has been more of an evolution. I see my family happy and it feels right being in this place so that makes everything else easier in my life.
Walk us through a typical day in your country existence? How does it compare to the day to day in the city?
Heather: It is kind of all over the place. No two days are the same. In the morning I get my kids off to school, then work and do family stuff around the house, then maybe some exercise and then I pick the kids up and run around to their various practices and appointments. It is busy and varied, which I like, I don’t like monotony. My social time is just being out in the world, running errands. In the city I felt like I couldn’t get as much stuff done. Although it is hard to compare the two, as my life was so different then. Most of my city life was single and working and now with kids so much has changed.
Are there things that you are able to do here that you wouldn’t have dared to try before moving from the city?
Heather: Oh yeah, trying to be an art consultant. It boils down to the competition thing; you are able to be braver in a place without intense competition. There aren’t other art consultants here so it was easy to have immediate traction. Internally I feel less intimidated here so I am bolder to try new things and start my own business. Also, I have gotten really involved with some of the local area non-profit organizations and I feel like I am really helping make a difference in this wonderful community I call home.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
Heather: I really like being out on the lake here. I love to be on the water. I grew up sailing a lot on the ocean but nothing compares to the peaceful calm of the lake. Even though we live in a quiet community, going to out to our little cabin on the lake (only a 7-mile drive) I immediately feel like I am on vacation.
Jason: My studio. I still can’t believe how good my space is sounding now. You can throw a mic anywhere and it works really well. I feel like the luckiest guy I know because I have this amazing studio attached to my house.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
Heather: For my community specifically, there is a lot more culture here than people expect. There are a lot of creative people who have led big lives outside of this area and chose to settle here. So many people think that country life is slow and boring; although it is slower and there aren’t as many options, it is never boring. It is certainly not for everyone though, you have to make the life you want out here. There is always plenty going on, you just have to get involved, just like in a city.
Jason: You get a really interesting group of people who are making a conscious choice to be in the country. They might be sacrificing urban conveniences, higher incomes, etc. to live here but I would say that, on the whole, people are happier and kinder here. There is a different energy and vibe in the country. In a city you are anonymous, you can do whatever you want and no one is going to call you out for being terrible. In the country people treat others how they want to be treated. If you are a bad person here, you aren’t going to be well received.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
Heather: I really want to get good at riding a horse. I would also like to better figure out my balance of work and family. I know lots of people struggle with this delicate balancing act but this year I want to make sure I am making decisions for the right reasons.
Jason: Clean my basement (laughs). This year I want to take on some good projects that will help to grow my business but balancing that with my parenting, as that is my ultimate priority right now. I have a five to six year window before my kids are teenagers and don’t want to hang out with me anymore. I’m going to be running this studio my entire life, I’m never going to retire, so creating balance - weighting towards spending time with my family - is my goal for the year.