A two-day visit to Sonic Ranch in West Texas, on the dry open lands of the Rio Grande Valley, got me thinking about source. There’s lots of time to think out there, amid the 2,000 acres of pecan trees, horse farm and star-loaded skies. It’s a completely turnkey production facility, what foodies might call farm-to-table but what we call source-to-distribution. But what exactly is “source”?
For manufacturers, source is all about getting audio into a computer, most often in a manner that imparts a certain character, whether you call it analog, warm or rounded. This is why we’ve seen a bevy of products in the mic/mic pre/converter/interface categories over the last ten years, ranging from desktop USB units to $8,000 single-channel, single-function handmade gear. It’s all about getting quality sound into the computer.
In talking to engineers and producers over the years, there have been countless times where, in response to a question about the vocal chain for XYZ artist, they run through the equipment list, make a brief pause, and say, “But of course it’s all about the singer and the song. You can’t do anything without a great voice and a great song.”
In walking the rooms at Sonic Ranch with owner/director Tony Rancich, he points to the seemingly limitless collection of vintage instruments and amplifiers, from 10 drum kits to suit any style, to rare custom guitars and combo amps, to his newest predilection for vintage synths and early drum machines. “You don’t have anything without the right source,” he says, “and the right instruments depend on the song and the style. We want to have all the colors here for a musician to create.” Source as instrument.
Then, in further discussions with Rancich as we drove around the property and talked about his fascination with world cultures and fabrics and art work, the definition expanded, so that source became vibe. Source became inspiration. In that sense, stepping back and looking at the recording process from a bird’s-eye view. Source is about the total recording environment, the place where an artist comes to create the song. It can be a single, favorite room at Record Plant where an artist feels at home, or a re-fitted house in upstate New York. It can be a converted garage in Austin or a hotel studio in Miami. Source is the place where an artist is inspired.
At Sonic Ranch, it involves the breakfast when you wake up, the interaction with artists and producers all around you, the pecan trees on the property and the bike ride down to the river to clear your head and come up with lyrics for the next verse. It’s about a rare and massive collection of outboard gear and classic instruments and consoles with stories behind them. It’s about the coolest coffee maker in the world and the 85-year-old exposed logs that form the beams and support in the Mix Room. It’s about Tony, Marco, Charles, Manny, Jerry, Zach and all the support staff that make the beds and cook the food and make sure that artists are free from distraction, energized and comfortable, and inspired to create.
So source isn’t just a front end for a computer. It’s about the creation of art, from soul to brain to mouth to mic, in whatever environment makes you comfortable. Source is vibe. Source is music.