Athens, GA—“We’re going to teach you everything you need to know about engineering and about sound. We’re also going to teach you life lessons,” says Andrew Ratcliffe of his newly opened Tweed Recording Audio Production Academy.
Ratcliffe, recording instructor and CEO, may not have trained as an educator, but he knows whereof he speaks. For 22 years, he ran a studio, Tweed Recording, in northern Mississippi, working with the likes of Jars of Clay, Blue Mountain, The Damnwells and Cedric Burnside. But, he says, “To use someone else’s phrase, I had a major-league studio in a minor-league building.”
Initially Ratcliffe wanted to build the mega-studio that he’d been designing in his head for years in Athens, where he, his wife and two young daughters had relocated. “I went, uh oh, this is going to cost some money. What are some ways I could help offset that?”
Having trained at the university of life, working alongside engineers and producers such as Ken Scott and Danny Jones, the answer soon presented itself: Bring together other industry veterans and build a recording academy. “We decided to put together a curriculum to teach young people what we know about the industry, whether that’s intellectual property or recording studios, vintage gear or just how to be a good person,” says Ratcliffe.
Speaking from long experience, psychology is a big part of the gig, he adds. “The battle is herding feral cats that hate each other in a live room.”
The staff at Tweed, which occupies the historic former Lamar Lewis Shoe Company in downtown Athens, also represent a deep bench of experience. Faculty includes legendary tour engineer Buford Jones (Pink Floyd, David Bowie) as adjunct live sound instructor; Timothy Hall, recording and live sound instructor and faculty leader; Nate Nelson, recording instructor; and Joe Bleakley, live sound instructor. John Snyder, with five Grammys and 32 nominations to his name, is business of music instructor and president. Athens native David S. Dwyer, from the world of business start-ups and finance, is chief operating officer.
“It’s a 17-week, 580-contact-hour semester—two and a half college semesters in one,” explains Ratcliffe. “The folks across the street at UGA [University of Georgia] said, ‘You can’t do that!’ I said, ‘You’ve never worked in a studio, my friend.’ If you’re not prepared for a 15- or 18-hour day, you’re not going to make it.”
Ratcliffe has long been a Trident console fan, and had a Trident A Range desk, since sold, at his former location. The night he loaded that desk into the studio, he remembered, some kids broke in and stole a random assortment of things, throwing them into a convenient box. Unfortunately, the box contained four of the desk’s monitor modules. Searching for replacements, which are rare as hen’s teeth, he spoke with Danny White, a former A Range owner. “He asked, ‘Are you familiar with Sound Techniques?’ I’d been in the industry for 20 years and had no clue about the company and the history.”
Sound Techniques was a London studio, built in the mid-’60s by Geoff Frost and John Wood, that manufactured mixing desks for their own rooms and other facilities, including Trident. The desk would later inspire Malcolm Toft and Barry Porter to design and build the Trident A Range.
White explains, “Pretty much every record they did at Trident that everybody thought was mixed on an A Range was actually mixed on a Sound Techniques,” since the console sat in the upstairs remix room until 1977. That includes projects by The Beatles, David Bowie, Elton John and others.
In 2015, White partnered with longtime rhythm section partner PH Naffah (bass and drums, respectively) and bought the company from Frost. With veteran UK audio electronics designers Graham Milnes and Gareth Connor also on board, they have started producing Sound Techniques consoles for the first time since the 1970s.
Ratcliffe, now also a partner in the company, ordered the first production Sound Techniques ZR desk for Tweed. The console, configured with 48 input channels, was displayed at the 2018 NAMM Show. Prior to installation, Ratcliffe had the console reduced to 32 inputs after plans changed and space became an issue. He also ordered seven 8×2 ZR sidecars for the teaching spaces.
Ratcliffe sees Tweed potentially extending a music legacy in Athens that stretches from R.E.M. and The B-52s through the artists of the Elephant 6 collective, such as Neutral Milk Hotel. “It has the promise to help reinvigorate Athens, which is already on the map, but it’s teaching young people the history of recording in the South.”
On that theme, Tweed recently announced that it will hold its first-ever Saturday Session for high school students at the beginning of January. The idea is to introduce students to the recording studio and make them aware of the career opportunities in audio engineering and music production.
Ratcliffe had originally planned to install a 48-input ZR at Pinewood Atlanta Studios, but has now moved his concept closer to home. “We’re going to open a 16,000-square-foot facility two miles from here,” he reveals. “It’ll be for sound for cinematic arts—ADR, Foley, scoring—as well as a commercial studio that also doubles as a greenscreen and a chamber orchestra soundstage.”
Meanwhile, Tweed has opened a 106-seat performance hall with a 264-square-foot stage in its building. Outfitted with Danley Sound Labs speakers and d&b audiotechnik monitors, the space is intended for stripped-down performances by artists passing through town to play just around the corner at the Georgia Theater or 40 Watt Club.
“You can come in, put down your phone, shut up and listen to some music, and enjoy talking to people. We want to do that at 5:30 to 7:30 in the evening,” he says, before bands play their big show elsewhere.
Ratcliffe would also like to host events for the local community. For instance, he says, there is a local resource center offering support for the well-being of the music community. The owner’s son, Nuçi Phillips, a musician, killed himself in 1996 while studying at UGA after losing his battle with depression. “We’re partnering with them to bring in people and talk about wellness,” he says.
“We’re about community, about helping people,” he says of Tweed and its faculty. “We’ve lost friends, kids and loved ones. We didn’t know how to talk about that 20 years ago. But it’s okay to sit down and say, can I talk to you about this?”
Tweed Recording • www.tweedrecording.com