Popular local music engineer Dale Price has built his dream studio in Butte Creek Canyon
On an overcast morning, I recently drove the largely scenic and winding half-hour or so that it takes to get from south Chico to audio/ recording engineer Dale Price’s Electric Canyon Studios in Butte Creek Canyon.
Designed by well-known Chapel Hill, N.C., producer/architect/acoustics expert Wes Lachot (whose many credits include designing R.E.M. producer Mitch Easter’s state-of-the-art recording studio, The Fidelitorium, in Kernersville, N.C.), Electric Canyon is a thing of beauty, both inside and out. Price’s recording studio occupies the entire bottom floor of “an expansive log chateau … with 270-degree views of the surrounding cliffs,” as Lachot describes it on his Web site (www.overdublane.com/wes/). Inside, the studio is a beautiful amalgamation of big windows, blond wood and top-notch recording gear.
“It’s a great room,” Price says proudly. “I spend a lot of time in here. It’s like driving a Cadillac every day!” We are sitting comfortably in the large “sound booth” half of the studio, facing a huge mixing board and surrounded by numerous black pieces of recording equipment dotted with colored lights. Playing in the background as we talk is a compilation CD that this in-demand engineer has put together of a number of the many artists that he has recorded, both at Electric Canyon and live for such high-profile gigs as those in the PBS Sierra Center Stage series and for Blind Pig Records at the Sierra Nevada Brewery Big Room. They range from various local musicians like The Asskickers, women’s church choir Harmonia, Queer Nazi Cowboys, Electric Circus and the late Danny West, to big-name performers like W.C. Handy Award-winning blues artist Marcia Ball, Aussie super-guitarist Tommy Emmanuel and young hot-shot blues guitarist Deborah Coleman.
The amiable Price, who also runs the popular live sound company ProSound Audio Services, got his feet wet in the sound industry when he was a junior-high kid down in San Carlos “mixing [sound for] Cole Porter-style theater” with his father for a heavily attended three-week-long community fund-raiser called the Chicken’s Ball. It was assumed that since Price’s dad was an electrical engineer, father and son should know how to do sound, and so they were recruited.
“We just learned on the job,” Price reflects. “The band director’s brother was sound engineer for the Grateful Dead, Ron Wickersham. He was helping us sometimes.”
Price went on to get a BA in music/recording arts from Chico State University in 1989 but feels that much of what he knows about the sound/recording industry comes from on-the-job experience, such as his time as boom operator and audio engineer on the 1996 CBS mini-series Ruby Ridge: An American Tragedy, filmed in the Chico area; his live sound work at New York’s Lincoln Center in the summer of 1997; and his ongoing Sierra Center Stage work. “If I’d gone on to get a master’s [degree], I wouldn’t have all the necessary real-life experience that I’ve gotten,” Price explains.
Price makes himself available to record “everyone [from seasoned professionals] down to young kids, regardless if it’s their first time or 50th time in the studio,” and he advocates a “collaborative hands-on approach” to recording, encouraging musicians to be actively involved (“please touch the dials”) in the recording process. “I’m here for them, to facilitate their sonic view.”
“I have a little contingency of Oroville kids coming over to record demos,” Price mentioned. One “Oroville kid,” 16-year-old rapper Lance Hartland, a.k.a. Verbal Assassin, showed up at Electric Canyon that afternoon to do some work on his third CD with Price in a year and a half. The two conversed enthusiastically in front of a computer screen, as Price manipulated variously colored blips and lines representing Hartland’s rhythmic vocals and beats coming from the speakers in the room as part of the mixing process.
“Make that …” and “Get rid of …” the young, animated musician enthused, turning to this reporter at one point and explaining, “I’m a perfectionist.”
Hartland began again: “What do you think about…” in reference to how much and what kind of reverb to add to one section of the recording.
“This is … where the artist gives me discretion to have fun with it,” Price smiled.