One of the more satisfying aspects of working in a large studio complex for me was the opportunity to be a fly on the wall as sessions went down. For instance, sitting in the back of the control room at the Tracking Room in Nashville when we hosted our first orchestra date, hearing the lush tones as the room performed as designed by Tom Hidley, giving audible confirmation that the year of construction was worthwhile. That date was part of a Beach Boys tribute album, with covers of classic Beach Boy tunes covered by Nashville artists. Mike Love was sitting on the other end of the couch, and Brian Wilson was directing the show from the producer’s desk at the console. The core of the Nashville Symphony filled the main tracking space, and glorious tone filled the air.
There were a number of such moments in my time at Masterfonics. The first session in Studio Six had Roger Nichols at the console cutting Roseanne Cash’s Interiors, her last Nashville album and her first without the constraints of her country label contract. Watching Roseanne define her voice, discovering Stuart Smith’s fabulous picking (just hearing him warm up was a treat — pure joy). That room went on to host Vince Gill’s first two albums to go gold, John Anderson’s Seminole Wind, and countless other projects from Barry Beckett producing British artist, William Topley, to Phil Ramone remotely producing duets of contemporary artists singing along with classic Sinatra tracks.
The days of the classic large studio anchored by a big iron console are not completely behind us. By way of example, we offer this month’s cover story, a studio review of the spectacular new Manifold Studios (our thanks to the owners and staff of Manifold for being gracious hosts and to Dan Zimbelman of API for his help in facilitating the project). The review is the second of this type of coverage we’ve attempted.
A different kind of coverage than the traditional studio profile, PAR Facility Reviews are an ambitious fresh approach pioneered by editor Strother Bullins in concert with PAR contributor Alex Oana. From the engineer’s chair, Alex puts the facility through its paces, not simply recounting the contents of the mic locker, but telling you how he put the collection to work in a tracking session. Not just describing the spaces available, but using them, and using them innovatively. Not just spec’ing the consoles, but telling how they sound and function.
Strother joined Alex for the sessions, as a performer and to chronicle the process in video (you’ll find links inside to both the videos from Manifold and audio clips from the sessions). We hope you’ll enjoy your opportunity to be a fly on the wall.