WHITEFISH, MT—You might imagine that after nearly 38 years working on the road and in the studio with Bruce Springsteen, Grammy Award-winner Toby Scott would be happy to spend his newfound leisure time in the scenic wilderness of northwest Montana, where he’s lived since 1991. But since parting ways with the Boss’ Thrill Hill Recording organization in late 2017, Scott has stayed busy working with local talent and is now keen to expand his horizons.
With a population of just over 7,000 people, Whitefish is a far cry from Hollywood, where Scott started his engineering career at Clover Studio in 1975, working with producers such as Tom Dowd, Steve Cropper and Ron Nevison, and studio owner Chuck Plotkin. But there have been plenty of projects, from local artists to visitors from far afield, to keep him busy at his Cabin 6 studio this past year, and for some time before that.
Scott climbed aboard the Springsteen train in 1980 after he worked with Plotkin on the mixes for The River, Springsteen’s fifth studio album, and clicked with the team. Before long, he was recording Springsteen’s shows in the Record Plant Remote. Next thing Scott knew, he was in New York starting the two-year recording project that would become Born in the USA, one of the best-selling albums ever. A few years later, Scott designed a “studio in a box”—actually, about 20 road cases—that recorded hundreds of Springsteen’s live shows and numerous home studio projects.
One project that recently landed on Scott’s desk was, appropriately enough, a jazz remake of Springsteen’s Born to Run album by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Paul Jost and his band. “This is one of my pride and joys,” says Scott. “He asked me how they should record it and I said, do it in a club.” The album was recorded in New York at The Bottom Line in Greenwich Village. “They sent it to me and I mixed the whole thing.”
Scott’s studio features Avid Pro Tools 12.8 and an Artist Mix. “I’m old school; I like to put my fingers on faders and be able to move them up and down,” he says. “I’ve learned to mix by mouse, but it’s handy to have the faders. You can move two faders in different directions; you can’t do that with a mouse.”
He says, “I still use my Yamaha NS10s. I had to replace the tweeters. These are original NS10s that were supposed to sit vertically. I probably bought them in 1978. A producer who used to work with [engineer/producer] Val Garay and me came in with a pair. I thought they were great and got a pair. When I get a mix on the Yamahas, I know it’s going to sound good everywhere.”
Scott starts by putting up a static mix with no fader moves. “I get a balance. If something needs EQ to fit better, I do that. I listen, and then I start doing moves.”
He also has a pair of Auratone speakers. “When I start mixing, I put the speakers in mono. I tell people, get it together so that you hear all the instruments in mono through a single Auratone. I don’t mix loud—maybe 90 dB—and also so quiet that you can hardly hear it. Then you put it into stereo and it sounds great. That’s just my thing,” he says.
When it comes to panning, “It’s either left, right or center. I will go to three-quarters between left or right and center, but I don’t do a lot of stereo, like pianos. I went through that in the '70s.”
To help spread the word that he’s available for projects, Scott is working with Super Secret Agents. Music producer, composer and songwriter Jason Dragon and Tony Drootin, studio manager of New Jersey’s Sound On Sound Studios, founded the audio production talent agency.
“I want to get back into recording and mixing, and, of course, I love to do live stuff, but the other thing I like to do is pass it on. I’ve spoken at Berklee a couple of times and at recording schools in Seattle and near me,” says Scott, who will also be doing a class at Sound On Sound.
Few big name acts pass through his area, says Scott, but it has produced some homegrown talent, including Ethan Thompson. Scott took Thompson under his wing when the performer was 14 years old, mentoring the teenager on songwriting and rudimentary recording techniques.
“He played me a few songs and I gave him some advice,” Scott recalls. “There are loads of people who need help in the music business. I generally help people who are young and need guidance.”
Fast-forward 14 years and Scott recently arranged for Thompson’s band, Ocean Park Standoff, which includes English DJ/songwriter Samantha Ronson and drummer Pete Nappi, to perform at a fundraiser for the local North Valley Music School. Thompson took voice and instrument lessons at the school before going on to Berklee College of Music, meantime winning a Folger’s jingle contest and later competing on 2014’s American Idol.
The opening band for the fundraiser, also at Scott’s recommendation, was Gimmic, a jazz fusion quartet of high school seniors. “They’re excellent players,” says Scott, who recorded the musicians for an album. “It came out great,” he says.
Other recent projects have included mixes for several songs by two Colorado pop acts for a producer who relocated to Montana from Denver, as well as recording and mixing a seven-piece country band from Nashville and an X-rated Christmas parody song album for a local vocal acting group. Scott has also been working with a singer from Iceland who regularly visits his daughter, who lives in the area.
But a highlight for Scott was being able to travel to Skywalker Sound to see a film scoring project he worked on with a flute player with Native American roots get fully realized with an orchestra replacing the virtual instruments. Leslie Ann Jones did the recording and mixing, he says. “It was great at Skywalker; that place is fabulous.”
Toby Scott • www.tobyscottaudio.com