Based outside of Wilmington, North Carolina in New Hanover County, Big Rude Recording was founded by Chase O’Neal, an energetic young engineer keenly aware of the importance of vibe in recording environments. As such, Big Rude was conceived to have plenty of it.
“The studio is about 75 yards away from the Cape Fear River,” says O’Neal, “where there is an decommissioned Civil War-era swing bridge. During the war, this was the exact spot where the North and South would trade prisoners of war. During [studio] construction, we found old ammunition from the war all around this huge 300-year-old live oak. In the Muscle Shoals documentary, Rick Hall—who co-owned FAME Studios—made a statement about ‘songs in the river,’ and how people were coming there for a particular vibe. Well, when I came up here to see this property for the very first time, the reason why I got past the fact that the building was borderline dilapidated was the vibe of this location. There’s a good feeling where the studio is, with the river and a boat ramp right beside it. If [a client] is frustrated and they need to clear their head for a few minutes, there’s the river. There’s an old tavern across the road, too.
“This feeling was further entrenched when our current clients, a group from Israel, arrived,” O’Neal continues. “Their producer told us that in his studio, there’s a hole in the wall that Napoleon crawled through to conquer the town of Jaffa. He’s coming from this major multimillion-dollar complex with a story, and he’s talking about how great our room sounds and how good it feels to be here. They’re getting the vibe they wanted for the record, and coming from a place with no lack of vibe. With that, I felt like all the work had paid off.”
O’Neal grew up in the foothills town of Mount Airy, NC—the model for Mayberry in the classic Andy Griffith Show series, a longstanding hotbed of bluegrass musicians, various acoustic pickers and other rural creative types. A musician himself, O’Neal attended the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNC-W) after high school, eventually switching his major to music after first pursuing a more pedestrian baccalaureate degree. “They didn’t offer any recording programs at that time, so my senior project was a recording project,” explains O’Neal. “Growing up back home, a lot of our family friends had studios in their homes. One of my closest long-term friends in the world is producer/engineer Jamie King (Between The Buried And Me, Swift), who became well known in the extreme metal world and lives nearby in Winston-Salem. So I’ve always been around recording.”
As O’Neal became ingrained as a musician in the Wilmington scene, he was eventually invited to join North Star Post and Sound, located on the 50-acre EUE Screen Gems studio lot where countless television shows and feature films have been produced since 1995. “John Loudermilk, who had equipped North Star with a bunch of gear to cater to music clients rather than film clients, invited me to join the studio to bring in music projects,” tells O’Neal. “In being there, I learned about the audio post production process, doing voiceovers, ADR and so on. It was a great opportunity and I was able to get experience and credits with every major network you could name and tons of features films from Warner Bros., Universal, Sony and so on. It was the first time I ever had the chance to work in a real-deal commercial studio, not just an upgraded project studio.”
Approximately 1,200 square feet, the Big Rude facility was a rarity in New Hanover County—a cinderblock structure that had sat vacant for 12 years. “The roof was rotted, windows were busted, and it was just a shell of a building,” O’Neal recalls. “It was one big open room that used to be a bait shop. So I bought a blank slate. In addition to making it a recording studio, we had to completely rehabilitate the property. And with limited space, I tried to maximize the space.”
O’Neal is a notably unique DIY guy and made Big Rude happen through careful and disciplined independent study. “I bought Rod Gervais’ book, Home Recording Studio: Build It Like The Pros, and spoke with Rod several times,” he explains. “I was also fortunate enough to be consulted by John Storyk over the phone, who had looked at plans I had sketched. I could not afford an acoustician or studio designer, nor could I afford to buy plans. So I bought a lot of doctorate-level books and I had several eureka moments late at night, reading BBC acoustics research papers and figuring out how to reverse-engineer the mathematics to understand how to get some of these numbers. Because of space restrictions, I ended up with a rectangular room and really relied upon my calculations for treatment, my cloud, and different angles and such to get the flatness I was looking for in the control room.”
After considering a wide range of acoustic treatment manufacturers, O’Neal discovered Next Generation Acoustics, an eco-friendly sound treatment product company located in relatively nearby Elon, NC. “They gave me a quote on what I needed far better than any other company I had found, and even offered to install it for me,” offers O’Neal. “So it was a win/win. The build quality is superb and all done by hand.”
Gearwise, Big Rude offers classic analog outboard, including preamplifiers from API, Focusrite, Shadow Hills, Universal Audio and Vintech; and compression from dbx, Empirical Labs, SSL and Warm Audio, etc. “It’s all the good flavor we could squeeze into the racks we currently have,” says O’Neal, “with everything captured into Pro Tools HD.”
This article originally appeared as "Studio Showcase: Abundant Vibe Rules at Big Rude Recording" in the April 2017 issue of Pro Sound News.