Petaluma’s Joel Lance Lunenfeld always dreamed of a career in music, but after “failing miserably” he decided such dreams were out of reach and pursued a career in business marketing and advertising. At age 30 he was named the CEO of the digital marketing company Moxie, and eventually became Vice President of Global Brand Strategy at Twitter. Now, after a death in his family inspired some serious introspection, he’s not only returned to music, but has built a high-tech recording studio to record an album and establish a place where local musicians can record their own projects. Under the name of Storyteller Studios, he’s even offering artists assistance in producing and marketing their music.
“It was an amazing career,” Lunenfeld said. “It was the most incredible experience of my life. But I woke up at 40 and I decided to leave. I wasn’t in great health. I was very stressed.”
The intensity of that career, along with the challenges of raising a family, had been taking a toll. Then his father died at the young age of 62, prompting Lunenfeld to evaluate his own life. So he left his job to do what he truly loved: make music and help others to do the same.
“I tell my daughters all the time that you don’t have to just be one thing, you can be lots of things in life,” he said.
Following a move to Sonoma County and immersing himself in Petaluma’s music scene, Lunenfeld’s earliest aspirations finally began coming to life. In early 2020, he and his wife bought a ranch in Petaluma, dubbed it “Storyteller Ranch” – in light of the couple’s love of stories – and eventually built a recording studio on the property. From the start, her knew he wanted to provide a supportive environment for other local musicians to make music and follow their dreams.
“My biggest motivator for one, recording an album and two opening a studio, was that my dad was an incredible singer and I never recorded him,” Lunenfeld said. “That was really the motivation to get serious about music again and launch a new career.”
The legacy of singers in Lunenfeld’s family goes back to his grandfather. Not only was music prevalent growing up, but Lunenfeld’s father sang everywhere.
“He would sing in any restaurant, anytime there was a band, I was so embarrassed when I was little. My brother, sister and I would hide under the table,” Lunenfeld laughed. “So it’s been in my blood and that’s what really inspired me to be a musician.”
The artist took producing and engineering classes at Santa Rosa Junior College, where he connected with his professor, Dave Greenberg. The two began writing music together, and have now recorded a new album, “Lives of the Hunted,” which was released this past December. The album is Lunenfeld’s reflections on life, his past relationships, fatherhood, marriage and self-compassion – a musical reminder to be kind to yourself and not your own worst enemy.
“There’s an expression I like, ‘Learn to take the boot off your own neck,’” Lunenfeld said. “It’s really about that, about learning to understand you’re human. We all make mistakes. We all have the chance to be forgiven and move on.”
The musician now says he has enjoyed discovering his new sound. From playing rock music to performing in a metal band at age 16, Lunenfeld’s tone has changed over the years. Today, his work reflects the music he loved growing up.
“A lot of soul, funk, and some country. It sounds a lot like people I admire such as Bill Withers or James Taylor,” the singer songwriter said. “That was a nice surprise for me, to hear the new sound I have today which is kind of a throwback.”
Lunenfeld held an opening party to kick off Storyteller Studios, inviting local musicians who play all kinds of music.
“Similar to what the Beatles did in their recording studio, they’d invite musicians like Eric Clapton, Buddy Rich and all these people,” Lunenfeld said. “They’d just write and record. We did that the night of the party.”
Lunenfeld says Storyteller Studios is about building a community of musicians who support one another and less about the genre. His goal is to help individuals get their music out but also to advise them in business and marketing.
“Talent doesn’t always mean success,“ he said. ”I’ve seen this in my career in advertising, in business, that sometimes the most creatively talented people aren’t seeing commercial success.”
Lunenfeld does not see Storyteller Studios as a commercial endeavor, but rather a safe haven for friends and the local music community. Eventually, the studio may be the home of a record label for such musicians. SRJC’s student-run label “Don’t Flunk Me Records,” founded in 2021, has already begun recording an album in the studio.
“Sometimes,” Lunenfeld said, “you should revisit your dreams, even ones you think are long gone, because it’s never to late to start again.”
Emma Molloy is an intern for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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