The 500-square-foot control room
Photos: James Wilson
The week that we telephoned Blade Studios (Shreveport, La.), co-owner, producer and drummer Brady Blade and chief engineer Chris Bell were in Studio A with videogame developers Rob Atkins and Adrian Carmack (Doom and Quake Series) scoring the Fallen Shadows II videogame. Action in the second Fallen Shadows game takes place in New Orleans, and Blade says the score is generally “creepy.” Over the phone, Bell played back some music from the “All Saints Morgue” scene; it’s an eerie sequence of tones and percussive sounds, built around the ominous thump of a heartbeat.
“The heartbeat is a [music] library sound,” Blade explains. “Everything else we did in the studio with real instruments. The whole groove centers around that heartbeat.”
Blade knows a thing or two about laying down a steady beat. He’s perhaps best known as the touring drummer for Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Jewel, Indigo Girls, Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews and others. But a few years ago, he decided to spend more time close to his family and less on the road. He began focusing more on session work and producing, and re-settled in his hometown of Shreveport, which is where he met Scott Crompton, a marketing exec and guitarist, and now co-owner of Blade Studios.
“I had just moved to Shreveport; I got invited here to work in the film business, writing business plans for a Shreveport-based production company looking to expand their services,” Crompton explains. “Louisiana has the Number Three filmmaking market in the country. The state offers incentives here; if you make your film in Louisiana, you can earn up to a 35-percent tax credit [which includes scoring], and that’s one reason so many film productions come here.
From left: engineer Chris Bell, co-owner Scott Crompton and Brady Blade
“In August of 2005, they passed a similar incentive in Louisiana for sound recording,” Crompton continues. “And then, of course in September, Katrina came and wiped out almost every one of the meaningful studios in the state.”
Many of the beloved studios of New Orleans and beyond have rebuilt or relocated since then, but Crompton says he could see that with those incentives in place—a 25-percent rebate on every expense, including airfare and lodging, as well as studio, equipment, producer and musician fees—there would be plenty of room for a new, high-end commercial studio in Louisiana.
“I said, ‘I think we’ve got an opportunity here,’” Crompton says, “because not only is Brady very well-connected in the business, but people love him. He’s a shining soul and a great guy, and I thought that with his connections and a solid business plan, if we built the right kind of studio here, people would come.”
The 1,200-square-foot tracking room, built for drums
Crompton and Blade formed a partnership to build a top-end, multi-use recording studio to serve the music and film industries, and they brought in longtime engineer Chris Bell (Erykah Badu, The Eagles) to oversee the technical side. They found a former biotech-engineering building where they could develop 8,000 square feet into studio space, and they hired top studio designer Russ Berger to help realize their lofty goals. “I wanted a room that had the best of all the studios I’ve worked in all over the world,” Blade says.
“We just tried to think of everything we could do,” Crompton adds. “We wanted to be able to say, ‘Our studio is on a par with any of the great studios in the world.’ But we also knew we had to do something that made sense. One of the things I liked about Russ from day one was that his first question to me was, ‘What’s your business plan?’ He said, ‘Scott, most of the studios I’ve designed are still functioning, but the studio business is tough right now.’”
“Brady, Scott and Chris have the combined talent and experience needed for a successful business,” Berger says. “They decided to configure the studios to accommodate both music and film work, thereby capitalizing on Louisiana’s incentive programs for both media industries.”
Berger says that the facility’s design started with Blade: “With Brady being the driving force,” he says, “drums are at the heart of the design. The main room needed to allow the sounds from drums and percussion to fully form without choking off the decaying drop. The drummers out there know exactly what I mean.”
The two-studio complex combines solid infrastructure, state-of-the-art gear and a high-tech aesthetic. At the core is the studio wiring by L.A.-based technician Paul Cox, whom Bell can’t praise enough; Cox gave the entire facility a dependable core, including video capabilities in every room.
Studio A includes a 1,200-square-foot tracking room (large enough for film scoring, where Bell records almost all of Blade’s drums), connected to four iso rooms of varying sizes. Workflow in the 500-square-foot control room centers around a custom Ocean Way HR2 surround monitoring system and an SSL Duality console. Nearly the entire equipment package was brokered through Jeffrey McDaniel of GC Pro in Dallas.
“The way we work now, we use a computer and tape,” Bell says. “If a newer engineer comes in who doesn’t want to run anything through the console, the Duality operates as a control surface; we can flip one button, and he’s working in the box [Pro Tools|HD3 Accel]. We also have a Studer 827 tape machine and a CLASP system, which we’ve been using a lot. That’s been great, especially for tracking Brady’s drums—we can hit tape first before we go into the computer.”
The studio also offers loads of outboard gear, some of which Bell brought along from his personal supply: 32 channels of API, eight Neve 1081s, Telefunken V72 mic pre’s and more. Also on hand are the Yamaha C7 concert grand that Blade grew up playing and a treasure trove of other instruments—especially drums, as Blade is sponsored by DW and Zildjian.
Studio B (500-square-foot control room with two iso booths, equaling 250 square feet) was designed to serve as a mixing/overdub or post/ADR space. It features an Avid ICON D-Control ES system, as well as a 32-input Neve 8816 summing bus, and another pair of Ocean Way HR2s. But don’t bother trying to book that room any time soon—it has already been locked out for the next two years by CBS Sports. Meanwhile, “A” has been in heavy use, hosting Rolling Stones bassist Darryl Jones, who cut his debut solo album at Blade; and local artists Maggie Kerner, Moira Red and Daphne Mills, as well as Atkins and Carmack.
Crompton helps all of Blade Studios’ clients navigate the incentive program, booking travel and lodging, as well as any studio services, and handling all of the necessary paperwork. He and Blade have made it their mission to help musicians get everything they can out of recording in Shreveport and to spread the word about Louisiana’s entertainment business incentives. “Every client spends their time here inspired and making great music, not worrying about keeping up with accounting,” Crompton says. “Our mission is for everything recorded here to sound great, so we want artists comfortable and at ease.
“We helped with two tracks on an Eric Clapton record in 2009, before we were even open. Doyle Bramhall, Brady’s friend, was the producer. They had spent three weeks in New Orleans before coming here [to Shreveport], and we went to dinner, and I said, ‘Doyle, be sure to keep your receipt.’ And he said, ‘For what?’ Here was a guy who had been in New Orleans for three weeks, and he didn’t know about it. That’s why when I talk to people, I always say, ‘Hey, be sure to talk about the Louisiana incentives—not just for us, but for every studio because it’s a meaningful discount.’”