Taking a general look back.

Just thinking back to my early recording experiences and where I’m at now. I’ll pass over some of the drama so as not to go down a rabbit hole. My early exposure to recording came from cassette recorder experiments with blank and commercial cassettes. Multitrack recording did not enter my consciousness until I was high school age. By that time I had played drums for many years. I had a job and was saving up to buy a car. I almost sabotaged that purchase of a car by buying a Fostex multitrack set up that was considered to be rather inferior to 2 inch 24 track. On the advice of our local recording guru I held back, bought the car and continued to play drums. Fast forward to 1994. I had moved from New Mexico to California (San Francisco) and was on my second band and second record label deal. I had taken part in the record making process at a time when the budgets were six figures, tape was the primary medium and the Internet had not even begun to affect our lives. That same year a band I really enjoyed called Spackle approached me to produce their record. I scrounged together a couple of ADATS (new at the time) a Mackie board and some borrowed microphones we recorded at a rehearsal facility that used to be called Bay Area Rehearsal Studios or BARS. Overdubs and mixing were done at Studio 684 in San Francisco. 684 had been previously known as Sound and Vision and run by Michael Melinda and Neal Breitbarth. Michael and Neal had played a role in the early recording development of one my bands, The Sextants. The studio had changed ownership to Buddy Saleman, another engineer and early mentor to me. I mixed the record on a small Trident board with minimal outboard gear. Studio 684 became my main recording home. I recorded many bands there and met another mentor and friend Jerry Stucker. In 1998 I decided to take the plunge into the new world of Pro Tools; expensive as hell and capable at the time of only 16 bit in 44.1 or 48k. It was known as the Pro Tools 3 system. I later “upgraded” to a Pro Tools Mix Plus system. (Bigger, better faster, more…. expensive.). In 2000 I moved to a shared co-op studio in Emeryville with engineers Lisa Richmond and Josh Roberts. I met Josh a few years back when he was the tour manager and FOH guy for my band Seven Day Diary. Eventually Lisa moved and Josh and I took over the studio. Another Pro Tools upgrade to PTHD and we had a nice little place. Life at this little studio in Emeryville was pretty great. The overhead was low and the gear was appropriate.

The Emeryville studio.

A highlight and strange scenario was recording what would be The Samples last record, “Rehearsing for Life” in 2005. Katrina had hit New Orleans during the making of the record. The TV was on a bit so that between overdubs we could check out the news and stare in awe at the damage and bitch about Bush’s weak ass response. In 2007 I got an opportunity to take over the former Coast Recorders Studio in San Francisco and share a building with my mastering engineer friend Michael Romanowski. I changed the

Live room at Broken Radio.

name to Broken Radio Studios (We’ll discuss that later) and I opened in June of 2007. I then moved out December 31st, 2011. I couldn’t have picked a worse time to open a big studio. The economy was in the toilet. I didn’t pay attention, I just kept up a good attitude and proceeded to spend thousands redoing the control room and buying up more gear. Life became quite stressful. My second child was born in

Keith Urban and Justin Niebank stopping in a for a day of tracking for an iTunes exclusive.

June of 2008. I had 3 credit cards maxed out and very little business on top of a large amount of rent and bills. I had basically jumped into the deep end and was unable to leave the pool. I had to stay in and keep my head above the water. I took almost anything that came in the door. The positive side was that I really upped my recording game. The lease was coming up for renewal in a year. I came to Michael and let him know I would not be able to handle it any longer and he graciously helped me get off of the lease with the landlord. I was free; it was time to get out of the pool. The sadness about the situation I had put myself into had passed long before that point. After I signed off the lease, I was so anxious to go that I felt like I had given notice at a job and couldn’t wait to leave the building. January 1st, 2012 I woke up relieved not to be a studio owner. I had to reinvent and reconfigure my audio world. I made the decision to focus on mixing. All this time I had mixed in studios, controlled environments. Now here I was in a suburban home trying to make it work. I started off in one bedroom in the house but eventually ended up taking over my kids’ playroom since my wife wanted to use the room I had chosen for her office. I felt guilty about taking over this room and asked my wife what to do about the boys play room; her response was “I didn’t grow up with the playroom did you?” The acoustics of the playroom we’re good from the start due to the walls that were not exactly parallel, a ceiling that sloped and a general odd shape. It was a humbling situation but based on the economics of my previous studio it was the right and smart thing to do. I also needed to change my methods of tracking since I no longer had my own studio. I made friends with studios that I thought would be useful and proceeded to take my clients there then bring them home to mix. One studio in particular really was up for the task; Sharkbite Studios run by Ryan Massey in Oakland, which has a fantastic infrastructure. There is enough space to accommodate most bands, the live room is excellent for getting drum sounds I approve of and unlike my old studio situation, it has a dedicated parking lot. It’s now August of 2014. I’ve mixed at home for a couple of years and the mixes I do now blow away the mixes I was doing in studios in the past. I can attribute that to maturity and skill level but also a desire to make it work.  When I removed the preconceived notion that you had to be in a studio to mix properly, I was able to actually sit down and get work done. I ended up selling my last in Pro Tools HD rig and I put together the cheapest rig I’ve ever had that turned into the best most reliable rig I’ve had. I’ll do a separate post on that later. No board, no hybrid approach but instead 100% mixing in the box. When tracking, If I need to do simple overdubs I just have people over to the house, and if I need to track a band I take them to Sharkbite, Tiny Telephone or Studio Trilogy. I’ve gotten over the idea that working out of your home in this business is a stigma. I think I’m doing great work and really taking care of my clients. I also get to be around when I need to go pick my kids up from school or go to events for them. The money picture is looking brighter as well. More posts on that to come for sure! Thanks for reading.

One thought on “Taking a general look back.

  1. Matt Qualls

    This is so very encouraging to read. As a guy that tried to start his own studio and went thorugh some of the same feelings you have, I am also now a freelance guy. I track at Ardent Studios here in Memphis and will actually be moving the Bay Area in a few months, so seeing that you bring bands into studios like Sharkbite and Tiny Telephone is very comforting. I’m glad I stumbled on this site.

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