Below is the results of an interview between Jamie Nelson, an Entertainment Management student at Missouri State University and Brad Edwards, record producer at Audio Loft Recording Studios. The interview was conducted in the fall of 2001.
JN: What is your title?
BE: Oh, course I am the owner of the studio, but my background is in the engineering part. I actually started as a musician. I’ve been playing guitar since I was at least thirteen or fourteen years old. And through friends and acquaintances I met the founder of this place and we played music together. Then we built this place together in the late 70s. This actually was a real barn. It is probably about seventy years old. The first time I saw it, there was actually hay upstairs. So we started remodeling and it took us about a year to do it.
JN: Not that any day is ever the same, but what is an average day around Audio Loft like?
BE: I am usually here about 8:30 in the morning. But that usually depends on my schedule for the rest of the day. If I have late evening sessions, I kind of adjust my schedule. On a typical day I might be editing masters till about noon. And then most of the recording we do would be in the afternoon or evening. Most people don’t like to work in the mornings. We might have a group come in the afternoon and work late into the evening or any combination of things. We may have sessions that last an hour or if we are working on album projects, we may be working six or eight or ten hours at a stretch. So it is kind of a day-by-day thing. You know everyday is a little bit different.
JN: Do you do all the mixing yourself?
BE: I do all the mixing that we do here. You know we work on a lot of projects that have been started elsewhere. That is pretty common anymore. Somebody might bring in tracks where they have done the rhythm tracks in another studio and then for convenience sake or whatever, they’ll do overdubs here. Sometimes they’ll mix the project here and sometimes they’ll go somewhere else to mix it. But if it’s done here I do all the mixing.
JN: What do you really enjoy about this job and what tends to bring you down? (Pros and Cons)
BE: What I enjoy about it I guess, like I said, I started as a musician so I do play on a lot of sessions and I produce a lot of sessions. So I guess it gives my creative side kind of an outlet. I do enjoy that. Putting arrangements together and that sort of thing. It’s not boring at all. Well, it usually isn’t. The negative side would probably be the hours sometimes. I’ve had sessions start at midnight and go till eight in the morning. You have to be really flexible with creative people and artistic people. Musicians are a little bit off the wall you know. So you sort of have to go with the flow of what they want. If it’s a session that just goes on and on and on, and you physically are to the point where you feel like you are not doing anything that you want to keep, you know, then you have to shut things down. Say, “I’m tired, we gotta quit, we gotta stop.” I’ve done that.
JN: What does an average session cost?
BE: Well, there is an hourly charge for the time and of course the supplies, which would be tape or blank CDRs. We do a lot of packages, which might include studio time, mixing and say a couple thousand CDs. We do some in-house CD duplication of quantities up to a hundred or so. So we do packages like that as well.
JN: What is your best selling package?
BE: Mostly the commercial things. You know, a thousand or more CDs. The average amount of time to record an album here, and it varies tremendously, is about thirty or forty hours. Some are lots, lots more.
JN: What is your hourly rate?
BE: It’s fifty-five dollars an hour.
JN: What kind of profits does the company turn off of that?
BE: The way we charge is a little hard to explain. Our studio time is fifty?five dollars an hour. But as I said a while ago, a typical day for me might be five or six hours studio, and then a mastering project, which is a different rate not charged by the hour. Or in-house duplication, which is not charged by the hour. So it’s hard to figure how much of the hourly rate is profit. At least not off the top of my head. It’s a combination of a lot of different things.
JN: What is a benchmark salary for your position as an engineer/producer?
BE: I think the national averages, which would pertain more to recording centers and not a place like this in Macks Creek, Missouri, senior engineers might make anywhere from like $23-$35 dollars an hour on up. Highly sought after engineers that do major work and spend a month or two on a project might get a $150- $200 dollars an hour.
JN: What is the difference between an engineer and a producer?
BE: Well, the engineer handles the technical side of the session. They mock everything up with an assistant sometimes. Get sounds, place everybody in the studio, wire in effects, and basically record the session. The producer is sort of like a movie director. They usually sit beside the engineer and they’re function really is to bring out the best of the players and make something out of what they are doing. They’re an extra set of ears where their job is just to listen to what?s going on and kind of direct the session really. The producer is usually in charge of the session. Now that’s a loose term. They have different functions. A lot of bands are self-producing and even if they bring a producer in, usually the client is the ultimate decision maker. But typically the producer is in charge of everything. If he doesn’t like the way the guitar sounds, you know, he’s usually sitting beside the engineer and they work together to change the sound of the guitar. If a vocalist is off key, then they’re gonna do the communication to try and fix that. They just sort of direct everything and try to make the session into a finished product and get the most out of the players and singers.
JN: What keeps people excited about the job?
BE: I don’t know. It’s just like anything I suppose any career. You have to love what you are doing. And everybody doesn’t love what they are doing. And there are days when I hate what I am doing, but by large I love the music business as a whole. The studio end, I dabbled in the publishing end of it and several different things, even promotion a bit. And I just enjoy it all. It’s kind of a new world everyday.
JN: What skills, qualifications, education or background do you feel is necessary to make it in this area of entertainment?
BE: When I started in the business there were virtually no recording studios. Now there are a lot of major places around. Even universities have degree programs and things like that. Basically, programs like that are preparing you to enter the studio as an apprentice. So it really doesn’t matter too much what your education is as far as studios are concerned. You only enter a studio sweeping the floors and making coffee unfortunately. But the educational background nowadays I think is very important, especially because of technology. We’ve gone from almost primitive twenty years ago by today’s standards, into a lot of digital things like processors that we didn’t have to deal with back then. We’re still trying to make the same music, but we do it differently. So, I think you have to have some basic education on how say a microphone works. Some mathematics is helpful depending on how technical you get and what you’re doing. The more education you get in that aspect is going to be helpful. Personality wise, you have to be able to deal with a lot of different problems and everything from egos to personality conflicts. I’ve actually had to break up fights in the studio. You don’t know what kinds of situations you are going to get into when you are working with, like I said, creative and artistic people. Sometimes things happen and you have to kind of know how to stroke egos and read people. You have to sometimes translate what somebody is saying into what they really mean. You have to be somewhat of a diplomat. Sometimes you are listening and dealing with things that you don’t particularly like, but an engineer’s job from the studio perspective is “All you’re selling is time.” If you’re not producing the session you just give them what they want and they’re happy, so you’re happy. Now if you are producing the session then that?s a different thing. You have to be happy.
JN: What opportunities are there for advancement?
BE: Well I guess the obvious place would be as a senior engineer. Course this doesn’t apply to this facility necessarily because we are in what some would call a remote place. But, I spoke about an hour ago with a guy that plays drums for us sometimes and he’s actually gonna start as a second here. Now he’s got a musical background, but he’s not done a lot of engineering. So he’s gonna start working with me. His ultimate goal is to engineer without any help from anyone else. And I guess that’s anyone goal.
JN: Where are the big industries?
BE: If you are a serious engineer, if it’s your goal to be in a world-class studio, it would need to be in a recording center, which would be New York, L.A. and Nashville. Nashville, strangely enough, people associate with country music but actually there are a lot of L.A. studios that have built satellite studios there. Ocean Way out of California has a huge studio in Nashville that does all kinds of work that isn’t country. Course there are recording studios everywhere. Kansas City, there’s a lot of large studios in St. Louis. And a lot of the larger facilities are multi-room. You might have a staff of three or four senior engineers or part time depending on when they are needed. Some studios, especially the larger commercial studios have fewer engineers. A lot of their clients bring engineers with them, which is another option. I would say the biggest opportunities are in the larger cities where there is a larger concentration of studios.
JN: Is there anything else that you feel is pertinent to the career?
BE: I don’t know. People ask me about qualifications a lot and actually the biggest asset I think is just a love for music and a good set of ears. You can learn everything else.