A conversation with local recording engineers
The garage-band model is rapidly changing. Technological advances in the last decade (such as Apple’s GarageBand audio recording software, for one) have not only made it possible for anyone with a computer to record at home, but also have made professional recording much more accessible.
Dale Price, Scott Barwick and Chris Keene are three engineers leading the recording revolution locally. Ask a local band who recorded their music, and the answer will almost always be one of those three. Combined, they have overseen sessions for more than 75 artists in 2010 alone. The CN&R caught up with them to talk about the state of local audio recording.
“I think it’s the best time to be recording in the history of recording,” said Price, engineer and proprietor of Electric Canyon Studios. Price’s sanctum of sound is a log building custom designed by acoustics/architecture auteur Wes Lachot and located about a half-hour out of town in Butte Creek Canyon. Since the mid-’90s, Price has recorded everyone from The Mother Hips to punk bands (Gruk, Fight Music) to current Chico faves MaMuse.
“The cost to get going in analog was so much that studios had to charge a lot and there were very few of them. For a small investment you can get going and then from there you can get the pieces to make it better and better.
“I have people sending me tracks all the time, and I’m sending people tracks, they might be recording with other studios or recording at home. It used to be people would come into the studio to record an album and pay the hourly rate for however long, but it’s not the way a lot of people would do it now.
“The average person is making some really good recordings now.”
Price said the way bands promote themselves also has an effect: “It seems like everyone, even if they’re not putting out a release … they’re at least doing songs to post to their website. I do live sound, too, and I’ll do a show at, say, a roller rink when a band is playing, and everyone knows the words. And that’s because of social networking, not because they’ve seen the band 20 times.”
Origami Lounge’s recent move from a house near downtown Chico to a cavernous storefront at Seventh and Cherry came at an opportune time: Owner/engineer Barwick needs the space to accommodate the barrage of local bands that continue to book time with him.
Barwick estimates he’s recorded more than 30 bands this year—from singer/songwriter Pat Hull to ska crew Brass Hysteria. “I have basically sacrificed everything, including my personal life, to make this happen. It seems like the past year I was recording something every day, weekdays and weekends. I had a late start, so there’s no better way to learn than to put in hours.”
Barwick’s “late start” began when he and former roommates Colby Barr and Evan Sanchez started acquiring equipment and learning to use it to record their own music: “Once Colby got into the coffee business [Naked Lounge, Verve Coffee] and Evan moved, I thought I would take the challenge and record other bands. So here I am.
“For sure it changes things,” Barwick said of accessible recording. “Everyone in a band has someone that records on some level, and if not their good buddy does. So I think it’s important to offer things that they don’t have in most cases, like a good room or equipment that is hard to come by, or simply an ear for mixing.
“My recording capabilities are always improving, meaning buying gear as much as possible and pushing to be and do the best I can.”
Like Barwick, Keene’s initial interest in recording came from wanting to self-record.
“I started recording in ’05 when I first started writing my own songs, most of which became the first Surrogate album.
“After I had completed about 30 songs, [Surrogate] got offered a modest record deal, and the label gave me the option of working with a producer or using the budget to buy gear and do it myself. So I took the money and bought some decent mics and pre-amps and a new interface. Since then I have just been collecting gear and working with as many bands as I can.”
Keene worked as an engineer at Heirloom Studios before striking out on his own about a month ago: “These days I do most of my recording at my home studio. I have a little room that I’ve acoustically treated and set up a Pro Tools in my house. When I need to track drums or loud guitar or bass I usually use Heirloom or the Origami Lounge.”
Bands other than his own that Keene has recorded include The Secret Stolen and Casing the Promisedland, among others.
“I think the fact that people can buy their own gear is contributing to a significant step up in the quality of local CDs. Bear Hunter spent a couple years on their record, and the end result was fantastic.
“I would have to say that there doesn’t necessarily seem to be more bands around than there was 10 or 15 years ago,” Keene said. “It’s just that every band in Chico at least has a GarageBand demo up on their websites.”