Born and raised in Queens, NY, Anthony Fernandez, Founder and CEO of Pro Audio Nerds, was impacted at an early age by entrepreneurship. His mother and father, originally from the Dominican Republic, owned a small sewing machine repair and arts and crafts shop. He often started his days at 4am, picking up materials for his parents in Manhattan and dropping them off in Queens before school started.
After his father suffered a stroke, the family relocated to South Florida where Fernandez worked at Miami International Airport before joining the military in July, 1997. As Fernandez shared, this experience set the stage for his future success and the launch of Pro Audio Nerds.
“At the time, I wasn’t really sure what to do, so I joined the US Air Force,” he said. “As an Electrical and Environmental Specialist, I worked on the C-141 aircraft. I served four years active duty and was based out of McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. It was a great experience that equipped me with a unique skill set. I was originally planning on serving for more than four years but, after a conflict with a civilian employee, I left and went straight to college.”
Fernandez moved home to attend Florida International University (FIU) where he earned a degree in Electrical Engineering in 2005. After he graduated, he got a job as a Recording Studio Technician with The Hit Factory. According to Fernandez, it wasn’t the exact position he wanted, but it turned out to be a great fit.
“I originally wanted to do recording engineering and mixing type work,” he said. “However, that position wasn’t available. I ended up taking whatever I could get with the mindset that I’d work my way up. By keeping an open mind, it drove me in the right direction. After being a technician for a year or so, and helping with equipment maintenance and set up, I realized it was the best thing ever. I had direct access to the clients.”
As a Recording Studio Technician for The Hit Factory, Fernandez met and worked with artists such as Justin Timberlake, Timbaland and Black Eye Peas. He learned the ins and outs of the business and after three and a half years, he was asked by Timbaland to build him a recording bus.
“That’s when I quit The Hit Factory,” Fernandez said. “When Timbaland’s camp asked if I could do the project, I knew I could, but I also knew I couldn’t continue my full-time job. I figured I had absolutely nothing to lose. I gave my notice and spent the next three months in Alabama building a recording studio on a touring bus. From that opportunity came another with Cash Money Records and then I picked up Little Wayne as a client.”
Fernandez spent the first five or six years working out of his house. He was usually on the road, often for four months at a time, but his operations were based in Miami. Pushing through challenges that included a lack of capital and team members with the technical talent needed to scale, he managed to create and maintain a solid reputation in the industry. Through word-of-mouth referrals, his business took off and diversified into other projects.
He built and re-furbished recording studios, built and deployed 3D audio environments, worked on large-scale website projects and, as Fernandez shared, was asked to work on some pretty unique projects.
“In 2016, I was given an opportunity to build a mobile TV studio for CNNE,” he said. “I beat out a $100 Million company for the contract. CNNE was looking for something different and they heard, through an agency, that this ‘crazy guy’ could give them what they wanted. With that, I became a vendor for Turner Broadcasting. I built two one-of-a-kind vehicles for CNNE to live broadcast TV and social media using IP Protocol. The technology uses iPhones and GoPros to broadcast. That was an amazing project to work on.”
Fernandez also partnered with a boutique construction firm, McKenzie Construction, for three projects that brought him to areas outside of Miami. The first was a project at the Glazer Children’s Museum in Tampa that focused on incorporating technology and lighting to encourage interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) fields. The second project was a ‘meditation bus’ for a client in New York City.
“Meditation is a hot topic these days,” Fernandez said. “The military is even deploying meditative practices for soldiers. For the project in New York, I was contracted by Mckenzie to do the technology portion of the bus. I did the lighting, audio and the power plant and McKenzie did the physical structure and project management. The company we worked with, BEtime Mobile Meditation Studio, now has other companies that lease the bus for their employees. From that opportunity, came another to work on ‘meditation pods’ for OpenSeed. We incorporated 3D audio technology and improved their prototype.”
Over the years, Fernandez has recognized the importance of educating our youth about STEAM related careers. He’s working on a partnership with the City of Miami and FIU on several projects to accomplish his objectives.
“We just closed a deal to build a 3D audio recording studio on the campus of FIU,” he said. “The studio will be used to better prepare students for the future. We’re also doing some consulting work and designing a curriculum around the topics of movie production, virtual reality, augmented reality and 3D audio. Along with leadership and coaching, there’s hope that more kids will go into STEAM fields and remain in South Florida instead of graduating and moving to other areas.”
Looking ahead, Fernandez is focused on expanding his operations to New York City. He’s also interested in working with additional universities as part of a ‘national tour’ with major brands to find and identify college students interested in STEAM related fields. He wants a fleet of vehicles to visit schools, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs and other non-profits.
“We’re in the process of building our own bus for two purposes,” Fernandez said. “First of all, we want to bring tech awareness to South Florida. Second of all, we want a place for organizations with kids to see firsthand what we can do and how we can improve their programs. You have a lot of nonprofits that fall short of building them up to anything useful. Instead of doing another nonprofit, we decided to focus on the nonprofits that do exist and provide them with consultations and ways to learn about improving their curriculum.”
What advice does Fernandez have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “Take an objective view of your ‘stuff’,” he said. “When I left hit factory, it was during economic crisis. I wasn’t making a lot of money. I had a degree, work experience and military experience. I looked at my situation objectively. I had nothing to lose, but everything to gain. I could work at Costco if I failed. Also, I was always prepared and willing to pay the price to succeed.”
Fernandez continued, “I also put things down on paper. It’s powerful to take an objective stance and to see things on paper. Looking at your options that way will put things into perspective. Lastly, it’s always important to do things for the right reasons, no matter what. Do things for the right reasons or don’t do them at all.”