Grass-Rooted Creativity

May 1, 2003 12:00 PM, BY MAUREEN DRONEY

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In Nashville, but off of the beaten path — both geographically and client-wise — is Alex the Great Recording, a residential, rock-oriented studio owned by Brad Jones and Robin Eaton. “Our strategy has been adaptability toward lower budgets,” says Jones. “Studios that have to make a monthly note on an expensive console are having a hard time. We have never bought a fancy console. We've just used a Mackie; now in the age of Pro Tools, we hardly even use that. We have bought fancy outboard mic pre's and microphones and vintage instruments. That's been our survival trick, coupled with the fact that we've always catered to indie rock bands. We're in Nashville, but not a part of Music Row. We don't do country. Actually, we're in Berry Hill, where the rent is a third of what it is on Music Row. All of these things have made us more resilient.”

Alex the Great is in a homey converted warehouse with a built-in apartment. “We offer a good rate that includes accommodations for a small band,” continues Jones. “Most studios with living accommodations are out in the country, but we're right in town. We have a big enclosed courtyard with lots of plants and no sign out front. The artists like that they can create their own world and not be bothered. Another edge is that we have all kinds of interesting vintage instruments. We want to seduce the musicians, as well as the engineers. And musicians like being surrounded by cool, old stuff. They all tell us they like our vibe.”

In Portland, Ore., Larry Crane publishes Tape Op magazine and runs Jackpot Studios, which specializes in analog tracking. “A lot of the work we do is rock 'n' roll-oriented,” he observes. “People come to us asking for ‘that tape sound.' I actually think that there's somewhat of a backlash to the proliferation of small digital studios. I wanted to do something different that would set us apart.”

Crane has added some digital gear because, “A lot of people are coming in to track drums and then taking the tracks home to a computer to add the rest of their parts. Sometimes they come back to mix, or sometimes they just rent gear from us to mix at home.”

Portland's lower cost of living has contributed to the growth of a lively music scene; it's also part of what's enabled Crane to carve out a niche. “There aren't a lot of studios in the Northwest,” he says with a laugh. “Here, my lease is super-affordable, and there's a good live music scene that keeps me busy.

“There is something about having a more personality-driven studio,” he admits. “If you have an engineer who builds a strong local reputation, the studio is more than just a studio: It's got a face to it. A lot of places that are put together as commercial studios — with an owner/manager who hires engineers — are a little more generic. Musicians and bands don't respond to that as well. There are studios here in town like that. They're great places with better gear than I have, but there's no buzz about them.”

In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Mission Sound, fitted with a Neve 8026 — a tracking console originally built for Air Studios — also specializes in live band recording. Recently, owner Oliver Straus increased the volume of his business by forging relationships with a number of publishing companies. “I'm happy to say that we do almost exclusively what I've always done, which is live bands,” says Straus. “What's different now is, we're working with publishing companies on a lot more of the initial, developing aspects. We're definitely doing more volume. Another benefit is that people tend to get ‘married’ to us. In many cases, we develop clients because, due to the quality of what we do, many of our demos go right to CD. We work very fast, and we get a good sound to tape or Pro Tools. The relationships we've developed with songwriters and publishers have also led to some soundtrack work for us.”

Straus comments on the trend for artists to present finished product to labels: “There's been a philosophical and strategic change with the producers and writers I work with. They want to get it right the first time. Except in a very few instances, there isn't the big payoff budget to be gotten anymore. And because of the way music is pigeonholed and how marketing departments can have final say, artists want to present who they are from the get-go. They don't have the luxury of figuring out who they are after they're signed. We're on a mission to preserve the integrity of the music, and it also helps keep the fun in the studio!”






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