“It all started when I quit my very good job”
I started taking guitar lessons when I was eight years old. I played guitar and was involved in bands. It became my obsession.
The whole recording studio thing started in the early 80’s, 1980 or 81 I think. I had a job as a mechanic/painter for a construction company for a few years. They had a fleet of trucks that I kept painted up and looking sharp. I was in the teamsters union at the time. I earned pretty good money for someone who wasn’t twenty years old yet.
The music bug had infested itself in me big time by that point, and I knew even then, music was going to be a big part of my life. I’m not sure why, but I had this desire to start recording some of the songs that I was writing at the time.
Being the ultimate DIY’er, I was not going to pay someone else to record me, I figured instead to buy the equipment and learn to do it myself. Kind of like investing the money in myself, because though I was writing quite a bit by then, I instinctively knew that my writing chops were not at a place where I was willing to spend 30 to 50 dollars an hour to experiment in a real recording studio.
I inquired into using funds from my union pension, which to my surprise had grown into quite a nest egg by that time. I was told, yes, you can access any amount of the funding that is in your account. Boom, took it all out and went shopping for recording gear.
By that time I had also been collecting sound equipment for the band I was in at the time, so I had a 16 channel soundboard, some rack mount effects and amplifiers and speakers.
I ended up purchasing the bulk of my first recording studio with those retirement funds. A Tascam 1/2” 8 track with DBX, a pair of JBL 4312 monitors (which I ended up using for 30+ years) an Ensoniq keyboard/sequencer and various mics, cords, headphones etc. I used a high end TEAC cassette deck and HQ metal cassettes for mastering.
So, I was off and running, little did I realize at the time how much a part of my life that purchase would become and how it galvanized a big chunk of my next 20 years.
Now owning a recording studio and equipment in those days was a fairly novel thing. Not many folks had their own eight track studios at that time. But owning the equipment and knowing how to use it were two different things. I messed around and recorded some of my own material in the early days, and when playing the material for others it became clear to me that I may have some talent in this area. While obviously crude (I wish I still had some of those first recordings) I developed a knack for feel, and though I really didn’t know technically what I was doing, it sounded and felt right.
I had rented the lower half of a duplex in town and turned it into my apartment slash recording studio. Fate would have it that the upstairs half of the duplex was occupied by the owner. They were a married couple that were close to my age, very young, and really never bothered me about the noise or the comings and goings.
The first real recording job I landed was for a local rock group. They wanted to record a batch of songs for possibly an album. I set up the drums in the basement, guitar in the kitchen and bathroom and bass and singer in the living room with me. We overdubbed final vocals and guitar leads. If my memory serves me correctly, I committed a stereo drum mix to two tracks, thus having to live with the drum mix forever more. I borrowed mic’s and cords. It was a seat of the pants deal.
The recording went well I thought and the band seemed happy. Fast forward about a year. I had moved to Minneapolis and set up my eight track studio (where else… in a house!) and one day received a call from that same band that I had first recorded… it had won a contest and the winning bands were all given recording time to record a song and all the bands (I think there were ten of them) would have their song put on a record (yes vinyl). Apparently, the band I had recorded went into a fully professional 24 track studio and recorded one of the songs we had recorded a year or so before. They called to tell me that they were using my eight track version because they liked it better. I was obviously flattered but wondered if the choice wasn’t more because they were more familiar with the recording I did with them. Hard to say.
It is interesting that I actually at one point recorded in that same 24 track studio, a person heard me sing with my band and wanted me to sing a jingle. Go figure.
I’ve always gravitated to recording solo musicians, mainly because as time went on, and I became more proficient in playing many different instruments, I kind of became a one person band. The biggest problem I had when recording bands (especially rock bands) is that come mix time everyone wanted their particular instrument to stand out. I actually saw fights between band members about this.
Next time I’ll talk about refining my recording studio and music skills.