Like Jeff Powell, who was featured in this space last week, engineer Kevin Houston appreciates the combination of old and new gear. "The convenience of computer editing [on Pro Tools] makes things quick, but to get the sound, you have to have the old stuff," the freelance engineer says. "I've always had mobile gear, so I can bring the studio wherever. Of course, being in a real studio is even easier."
Houston got his initial experience via the University of Memphis' music program. "I started out in performance, but I quickly realized that I wasn't gonna make any money as a saxophone player," he says. "But they had a studio and I knew plenty of musicians, so I started a secret laboratory." In the summer of 1995, his senior year, Houston began an internship at The Powerhouse studio, where he wrote, mixed, and edited advertising jingles. "It was a great learning ground," Houston says. "I also had an A-DAT machine, and I'd do guerrilla recording for bands like Straight Up Buzz."
Houston cites the Dickinson family as his biggest influence. "My first recording experience was with Luther and Cody on a four-track making funny sounds," he recalls. "I was 15, Luther was 13, and Cody was 10. My first time in a studio was recording Pigs In Space, the Dickinsons' punk band, at Sam Phillips' Studio with Roland Janes -- the Yoda of recording. Then, at the U of M, I recorded DDT late at night. When I was dreaming of a way to make a living in music, Jim Dickinson was a real mentor to me. Here was a man in my community who was able to support a family with music."
"I'm most proud of the Othar Turner recordings I did with Luther," Houston continues. His work can be heard on Turner's two Birdman Records releases, Everybody Hollerin' Goat and From Senegal to Senatobia. "Taking the recording studio out to Gravel Springs was amazing. That's the most important thing I've ever done," Houston insists, although he's worked with everyone from Edwin McCain to Irma Thomas in recent years.
Although he spent much of 2002 at Ardent engineering The North Mississippi Allstars' Polaris (out next month), Houston considers Sounds Unreel Studios in Cooper-Young his home base these days. Most recently, he's worked on an Adelayda album with producer Greg Archilla (Matchbox 20, Collective Soul) at Sounds Unreel. "It's more of a pop-rock radio record," Houston says.
For engineer and producer Posey Hedges, it's all about "working with people who have a creative idea and need help bringing it to light." The self-described tinkerer started out recording his own material on a cheap cassette-driven four-track machine. "I found myself more fascinated with creating a good recording than writing a good song," Hedges says with a laugh. "I still play my guitar, but the recording thing really took over."
"I was the first person in town to have Pro Tools," says Hedges, who brought the technology home after programming drum tracks on computer at a Nashville recording studio. "As much as I like analog recording, a lot of bands can't afford to roll tape, which costs at least $160 a reel. This is a lot more compact -- and affordable -- than tape."
After Big Ass Truck recorded "Live from the Intifada Lounge" in his dining room, "I started getting busy," Hedges recalls. "I'd have dishes in the sink and socks on the floor, so I decided to find a place for a studio. I found a house that was in rough shape, and I spent four months renovating it." Hedges' Cooper Street studio, Memphis SoundWorks, has been in business since autumn 1994.
Hedges' first paying gig came from a local ad agency, which hired him to do the music for a TV commercial. Today, his business is "50-50" between corporate clients and working musicians. "On the corporate side, it's great," Hedges says, adding that a typical day might run from guitar overdubs to an interview for a medical client to a jazz session with Di Anne Price. "This is a great career to have," he says softly.
When asked to state his opinion on the current analog-versus-digital argument, Hedges echoes the other engineers. "We have some old British equalizers and some tube mics here at Memphis SoundWorks," he says, crediting eBay for most of his finds. "There's been a craze for vintage gear, but just because something's older it's not necessarily better. At the end of it all, there's no argument between analog and digital now. Unfortunately, digital won. But it's fortunate too. We can experiment cheaper and faster."
"It's still a very precarious market," Hedges says. "Cheap technology is a double-edged sword. People can do it at home, so why come into a studio?" But, as Hedges maintains, "the tools don't know how to make talent. You have to know how to use the tools and how to bring the best out in people."
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