Producer For Hire (Don’t Try This At Home)

I was recently in Nashville and met with studio owner Chris Mara at his all-analog studio. As I drove up to the  facility, I noticed “NTC” on the side of the building. Coincidentally, his studio is located in the old National Tape Corporation building, which was the company we used at OnLine Audio back in the ’90’s for most of our record duplication.

MCI JH428 all-analog mixer

Chris works with MCI expert Randy Blevins, so as you could expect, his studio is rotten with vintage gear. The main board is a 400-series MCI, 28-channel frame, routed to a Sony/MCI JH24 2″ 24-track. He’s got just about every configuration of tape machine you can think of, including 1″ 8-track, 1/2″ 4-track, and several 1/4″ mastering machines. It’s an all-analog signal path, but he has a Mackie HDR 24-track and Pro Tools for transfer of session files. Chris was recording “The New Belgravians” when I was there, and they rocked. In QUAD, no less!

Chris' collection of analog tape machines... more are around the corner!

While I’m primarily a location sound mixer/recordist, I’ve got an extensive background as a producer and engineer in music production as well, and have been considering taking on a FEW music projects. If you have been thinking about doing some recording, consider doing it “old school.” I have contacts at several studios, both local and in Nashville. And even though I own and regularly use several DAW systems, I greatly prefer working in analog whenever I can, especially for music projects. There’s an advantage to using the real thing instead of simulated plug-ins… there’s no such thing as “latency,” for one. Latency refers to the delay in all digital equipment where the computer tries to catch up to the music being fed into it. More plug-ins usually means more delay, as your computer struggles to do the math that each piece of simulated equipment requires.  This doesn’t happen with analog… everything is processed real-time. And analog has an infinite sampling rate.

The tradeoff is self-noise, as each piece of analog gear in the recording chain adds a tiny bit of noise that can add up really fast if you’re not careful. Software simulations of  reverbs, compressors, delays, and gates have no self-noise.

But the biggest disadvantage is talent… in other words, you need it. Recording and mixing in a traditional studio, in analog, is a much more musical workflow than mixing on a computer, but it requires more musical skill and ability than the typical home-studio, cut-and-paste GarageBand demo record. (Errors and mistakes are easily eliminated with mouse clicks these days. We used punch-ins and punch-outs on a multitrack for similar corrections, but rarely did the sort of microsurgery edits that are common in contemporary music.) Software simulations of classic gear are cheaper than using the actual gear, but cheaper isn’t necessarily better.

One of several tracking rooms. Not shown is Chris' hammond B3 with Leslie cabinets, or his rather extensive collection of vintage mics.

If you have an ear for classic rock ‘n’ roll, you’ll like the results that a dedicated studio space can provide… it’s a big difference over the typical bedroom recording. Contact me for rates and more information

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