Project Studio: Pan American Sound

Jan 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Barbara Schultz


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Paul Burch ( is one of those D.I.Y. types who embodies the indie spirit in Nashville. This singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist has recorded six albums of his own (the last two for Bloodshot Records), and has performed with Mark Knopfler, Ralph Stanley, Ryan Adams, Vic Chesnutt and Charlie Louvin, as well as labelmate Jon Langford of The Mekons and the Waco Brothers. His music has been used in productions from Disney, the Sundance Channel and PBS. In October 2008, one of his tracks was selected for HBO's new series True Blood.

“But as an indie artist, I never had the budget to record in proper studios,” Burch says. “The one time I did record in a proper studio was for my last album [East to West], when Mark Knopfler invited me to see British Grove Studios [London]. I came back to Nashville wanting to have a bit more control over my sound.”

Burch wanted a dedicated but affordable space where he could take his time recording, and where the room had its own vibe.

“I found a small building, about 26-by-26, with a high, pitched roof and concrete floors. The echo was terrific but a bit of a nightmare. Gradually, I've tamed it with cloth-covered Homasote planks in the corners, homemade partitions and gobos. I bought the cheapest Oriental rugs from eBay and put them down until I started to get a good tone.”

Burch began working on his next release, recording to his Tascam 88 half-inch machine. He gradually brought in more gear: a 1-inch MCI 8-track, his collection of amps (Gibson, Vox, small Fenders), his grandmother's piano and an upright bass that had been a gift from in-demand session bassist Dennis Crouch.

Paul Burch uses his Pan American Sound studio for his own projects and local singer/songwriters and bands.

Paul Burch uses his Pan American Sound studio for his own projects and local singer/songwriters and bands.

Experimenting with room acoustics, mic placement and baffling became part of the process of recording Burch's upcoming seventh album (Still Your Man), as he set about applying all that he's learned from engineers and producers he's known. Another early project done at the studio was the soundtrack to a trailer for a videogame based on a comic book called Redball 6.

“Friends of mine wrote the comic book, and it became so popular that they decided to try to get it made into a videogame. I offered to record the soundtrack for the trailer. That enabled me to try a lot of instruments and work with different volumes and see how things were spilling all over the room.”

Burch says he also tried a “zillion different things” equipment-wise through rentals from Blackbird Audio before developing his own feel for what works in the room. He uses primarily ribbon and tube mics (Coles 4038, MXL V69, Neumann U47 RCA 77DX, 44A, Varicoustic). Ribbons are recorded through an AEA pre, and tubes through a Pendulum Audio pre. “I go straight to tape, no EQ or compression,” Burch says. “I mix either through a Yamaha PM1000 with some Neve-like output transformers that Mercenary Audio put in or through a Mackie Onyx, which, if you're careful, is terrific for giving you exactly what you put in.” Monitoring is via powered ADAM A7s.

With the kinks worked out of his setup, Burch has completed his next release (due this year), as well as projects for singer/songwriters Claire Small and Will Kimbrough, and ongoing work for CMT-comedy program Concrete Country.

“One of the things this studio provides,” Burch says, “is it really has an environment, meaning it has a sound to it. It's just one room, but it's an inviting place to make music.”

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