For the record
You don’t have to travel to Los Angeles or Chicago to record your magnum opus, there are great professional recording studios in Northern Nevada
So you’ve got a band, huh? Got a pretty decent batch of songs you’ve been working on and some tight bros to play with? Well, it’s probably time to get yourself recorded—but not so fast. From the seasoned veteran to the out-of-the-gate novice who just learned “Come as You Are” in 5th period guitar class, stepping into a recording studio can be the most rewarding and/or frustrating experience you can have with music. You are going to need some sort of compass to navigate these waters, and hopefully this article can help you in that endeavor, while maintaining your focus on local sights.
A good document of your music is essential in reflecting the artistic merit of your work—even if the artistic merits don’t extend beyond “Time to get fucked up.” A recording studio can be a stimulating and impressive place. It can also be a sterile, bizarre world where creating music seems as likely as teaching a ham sandwich to say “good morning, sir” in Cantonese. Whatever the artistic merits of the music, recording studios definitely are accessible to musicians in the Reno area. There are plenty of great studios with the ability to make kick-ass records right here under your nose.Room service
“There has been this myth, especially with young bands, that you have to spend X amount of money and travel this far to get a great sounding record,” says Colin Christian, owner of StretchWire Sound Group. “And for about 15 years, that’s just not been true.”
Christian opened StretchWire in March 2009 in a warehouse in Sparks. It’s one of a handful of studios in the area making a name for itself by turning out records that sound just as good as anything done in San Francisco or Los Angeles.
“I’m trying to create an atmosphere similar to what I envisioned studios of the ’60s or ’70s to be like,” says Christian. “I want the musicians to feel comfortable and the sessions to have almost a hang-out vibe. I’d like this place to be a hub for musicians. I like to focus on more than just the process, not just recording, but getting into the best aspects of the song and helping the bands really push it and make it as special as possible. That’s not something you can get at every studio.”
The tracking room at StretchWire is cavernous. The ceilings are easily 25 feet high, and there is a huge amount of space from wall to wall. The studio affords a whole assortment of preamps and really good mics. Christian runs Pro Tools and has a smorgasbord of instruments laying around, from drums, percussion and acoustic guitars to a Gul Bransen piano and Lowery organ.
“Plus the big-ass room,” Christian adds, “which really helps.”Local legacy
Right up the street from StretchWire sits a real Reno legacy, Imirage Studios, run by Tom Gordon, who is himself a bit of a legacy. Imirage is the oldest studio in the area, operating for some 26 years and boasting clientele from The Beach Boys and Lionel Ritchie to E40 and Digital Underground. Gordon says it’s not the roster of artists on a studio’s list that makes the experience worthwhile so much as the fit of the studio and the engineer to the band and their desired sound.
“So many people don’t do their homework,” says Gordon. “They just call a studio and get the price. They don’t check the place out or meet the engineer. They don’t get a feel for it.”
Imirage, while architecturally quite different from StretchWire, strives for a similar atmosphere of comfort and creativity for the musician. Gordon is a very likeable guy, and a great deal of conversation with him descends into jokes and anecdotes. The Studio is split between one large live tracking room and two smaller—albeit much bigger sounding—drum tracking rooms. Imirage has both digital and analog capabilities—Pro Tools or an Ampex 1200 2 inch Tape Machine, possibly the only one in Reno—a fair amount of preamps and outboard compressors, some amazing instruments, including a Hammond B3 with working Leslie, working Echoplex, DW Recording Customs drum kit, and a 40-inch gong, and all sorts of hidden gems of the esoteric gear variety. Ultimately, though, Gordon argues that doing enough prep work and finding the right engineer is far more important to a great recording than the gear.
“The producer is essentially a quality control guy,” says Gordon. “I’m a huge proponent of pre-production. I like to meet with the bands beforehand, really try to understand what they are going for. It makes the process move so much smoother. The motto around here is, ‘You’re not here to do it wrong.’ ”
Gordon also says that when you do the math, out-of-town recording sessions aren’t really the bargain they seem to be.
“A lot of times, the learning curve is so high, especially for first-timers, that you’ll quickly find yourself running out of time. It sort of becomes a mad panic to finish the record because you’ve traveled all this way, and you want to get it done in the time you’ve allotted. You then end up with a record that you aren’t particularly happy with. When you factor in the cost of gas, lodging and food, you find out you’re not saving money at all.”Tune up
Echoing the “keep local musicians recording local” sentiments held by Gordon and Christian, Thad Peterson and Scott Curtis of 505 Studios have an open invitation to local bands looking to make a record.
“This is our garage,” says Curtis. “And we help the band build a race car.”
Peterson opened the doors to his studio in May 2009. Curtis came on board as chief engineer soon after. Their modest two-room facility is smaller than some recording studios, but it’s a clean, sharp-looking space that carries a confident vibe the same way a cool bar would. The studio is strictly digital, recording with Pro Tools, and like many others, it has a wide array of microphones. There is also a myriad of in-house instruments for use.
“My goal is for the band to forget they’re even paying us money,” Curtis says. “Recording should be the best time of their lives.”
“We’re basically all about local artists,” says Peterson. “We’re not trying to compete with other studios, we’re just trying to build a connection and get a music scene thriving.”
The Reno area is littered with high-quality recording studios and a stable of engineers that are just as dedicated and into music as you are. Take Gordon’s advice: Do your homework. Visit the studios and talk to the engineers. Chances are there is someone perfect for the job in your backyard.