Nashville Skyline

Last month, I paid an overdue visit to MTSU and the Murfreesboro scene. Originally, I went down for what I thought was going to be a rather quick day

Paradox Productions' Brian Carter (in glasses) with The Features (L-R): Roger Dabbs, Rollum Haas, Parrish Yaw and Matt Pelham

Last month, I paid an overdue visit to MTSU and the Murfreesboro scene. Originally, I went down for what I thought was going to be a rather quick day trip in the “'Boro” (local shorthand for the town), but I ended up with way more information and insights on this creative community.

According to guitarist Jeremiah Scott of Destroy Destroy Destroy — one of the local bands — “We are very proud to be a part of the scene fueled by the draw of the MTSU recording program. Without it, many of us would never have met or come here in the first place. The 'Boro is 100-percent loyal and supportive. Even the venues help a great bit, as well as the MTSU radio station. This is not just a fun thing to do after school; this is what we love more than anything.”

MTSU alum John Baldwin (who runs Lake Fever Productions and is a mastering engineer at Georgetown Masters in Nashville) adds, “Murfreesboro has such great music because it's a place where people of the same age with the same interests are all in the same place with the same goal. At MTSU, I remember tracking bass guitar in the dorms from the third floor via tielines running out the window and down the side of the building to a ‘studio’ on the first floor. There are so many people there eager and ready to learn, and willing to try anything. It's a community that fosters cooperation and creativity. Although I live and work in Nashville, I still work with many Murfreesboro bands like How I Became the Bomb, Feable Weiner, Ghostfinger, the Juan Prophet Organization and the Velcro Stars.”

In addition to MTSU's facilities, Murfreesboro is also home to a handful of dedicated recording studios that serve local bands and singer/songwriters. Among the more visible facilities are Brian Carter's Paradox Productions, Alex Norfleet's Grand Palace and Jason Dietz's Twin Oaks Productions.

Paradox Productions has been a favorite destination for such local bands as Glossary, Jetpack, The Katies, the Good Gospel Truth, Scott Carney, Michael Acree, Sour Puss, Prismatics, Spread Eagle and The Features. “Paradox Productions is dedicated to recording bands the way they practice: in a room playing together, without isolation booths and at full blast,” says Carter. “Hardwood floors sound good, so we have those. We use both old and new vacuum tube mic preamps going straight into a 16-track, 2-inch Ampex MM1000 tape machine. We also use a 32-track E-mu PARIS system as our digital arm, but, in general, things start and end on the 16-track with not much digital transfer. I'm glad to have digital because it's obviously great for lots of things, but I much prefer analog recording, and I think the studio has become known for its straight-ahead recording approach, great-sounding individual headphone mixes and its growing collection of gear.

“It always bothered me that newer recordings didn't have that depth and sense of being enveloped by the music when compared to older recordings,” Carter continues. “I remember going up to my friend's house when I was five and listening to old Elvis records on his mom's vacuum tube RCA record player that only played 45s. I thought the records were the greatest things I'd ever heard, even though it was a crappy little record player.

“I liked that older sound, but I later realized that it had a lot to do with the gear the studios used back then. When prices started coming down on old Ampex tape recorders — and going up on old tube gear — I started grabbing all that stuff. I didn't know as much about design back then, so some of it is long-gone, but I got some good deals, like my Altec 1567A and some of my Ampex 600, 601 and 602 preamps. Later, I had them modified extensively. I got my first Ampex — an AG-440 8-track 1-inch — from a music store in Gallatin [Tenn.]. I learned how to align and maintain it with lots of help from the Ampex Mailing List. Thank God for those guys!”

When I talk to Carter about the studio scene, he is quick to point out, “This town is full of recordists, but Alex Norfleet [over at Grand Palace] and Jason Dietz [of Twin Oaks Productions] stand out. We learn from each other and, of course, borrow each other's gear. There's also a new collective of artists, engineers and producers doing some pretty serious work with hip hop, trip hop and acid jazz.”

Grand Palace's Alx Norfleet awaiting his "new" Amek 2002A

Grand Palace is located in downtown Murfreesboro above a flower shop in an 1843 building that was formerly a Methodist church and a house of ill-repute (complete with bullet holes in the walls). The five-year-old creative compound includes a record shop, a screen-printing shop and a studio. Currently, the studio is finishing up a complete overhaul, including acoustic room treatments in its 36x22-foot tracking room and iso booths, new wiring and a “new” 1978 Amek 2002A console that is being rebuilt by Primal Gear in Nashville. His studio is also outfitted with analog Otari and Studer machines and a large complement of outboard gear and microphones. “Only four of those were ever produced,” Norfleet says of the Amek. “It was the prototype to the 2500 Series — a beautiful-sounding desk some refer to as the ‘poor man's Neve.’”

When I ask Norfleet for some thoughts on the Murfreesboro scene and why it seems to generate so much music, he notes, “So many folks saw a chance to create it and then proceeded to put their hearts, minds, money and brains behind it every day. It seems that one is free to do here what one wants to do, and that there is a community of dedicated artists who are more than willing to help one do that.”

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