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All Music, No Distractions

By the time I joined Mix in 1988, the heyday of true “residential recording” seemed to have passed.

By the time I joined Mix in 1988, the heyday of true “residential recording” seemed to have passed. I was treated to a few stories about the legendary Caribou Ranch, hosting the likes of Chicago and Dan Fogelberg for months on end back in the ’70s, as told by the great engineering team of Jerry Mahler and Rich Markowitz, now of NFL Films. But by and large the idea of a band spending months in isolation, working on music and partying like rock stars, had gone underground and was no longer promoted as a commercial option. More like friends and family.

It’s not that residential recording facilities don’t exist; they do, in every state. But as the industry morphed, and producers and engineers put facilities in at home (think Rick Rubin bringing the Peppers to Malibu), the promotion and mystique about them shifted, and they largely became a word-of-mouth phenomenon, whether on a regional or national level. The budget cutbacks didn’t help, in that a one-month stay might now be two weeks.

Still, the concept never died: Artists, producers and engineers locked out, away from the distractions and routines of the everyday world, doing nothing but making music, often from songwriting on through to the final mix. It’s a great concept, and yet it’s hard to do. Even with good cell reception, it’s hard to disappear for any length of time these days.

On my trip these past few months around the country, however, I’ve witnessed something of a rebirth in residential recording facilities. I’ve already stayed at two such places, and the third, Will Schillinger’s Pilot Recording Studios in Housatonic, Mass., two hours outside of New York City, is pictured on this month’s cover. I’ll be headed there in October, right before AES. He tells me that the foliage is spectacular that time of year, especially with his 60-mile view.

My first stop in late July was Saltmine Studios, in Mesa, an Audio Oasis in the Arizona desert, as owner Don Salter bills it. And it is, with a gated compound, three dynamite studios featuring Dusty Wakeman’s former Neve 8068, classic SSL 4000 G and a two-bedroom bungalow with a writer’s studio. Now with a massive new set of custom monitors. DMX has recorded there, Al Jourgensen, Yes on their last record. It has a vibe, and Salter is a born music promoter. On the last night there, producer/engineer Neil Dorfsman stopped in for an overnight, on his road trip from New York to San Diego.

In August I pulled in to the granddaddy of them all, Sonic Ranch, about 20 miles east of El Paso on a 2,400-acre pecan orchard along the Rio Grande. It was on the cover of Mix in April 2014, so you can read all about it there. Tony Rancich has created something truly special, attracting an international clientele to an environment unmatched by anything in the States. This time around I got to watch a psychedelic Moscow rock band in one studio, then spend a week in the Adobe Studio with a sure-to-break Mexican rock band from Sonora, the Mud Howlers, being produced by two of the finest producers/artists in Latin America, Camilo Froideval and Tito Fuentes of the band Molotov, engineered by Ricardo Acasuso. What an education. What a great time. Old-school recording, with an incredibly inventive approach. Look out for this band. The boys rock it.

And in October I’ll be visiting Will Schillinger, a producer/engineer who lived the New York City recording life from the late 1970s on up until 2007, when he packed up Pilot Recording Studios and moved to the Berkshires. He’s maintained many of his former relationships with artists and producers, and still works occasionally in the city, but he has met new artists, too, including the great Ahmad Jamal, and has settled comfortably into his recording paradise. Read all about it in this issue.

I don’t know if this all means there’s a return of true residential recording. But it sure is nice to see the concept in action, and seeing great songs being recorded. Thanks, Don, Tony and Will.

Tom Kenny, Editor