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Project Studio: S.S.R. Recording


Bob Fowler in the control room of S.S.R. Recording, which includes a balanced complement of analog and digital gear

Photo: Kathy Wilson Fowler

Bob Fowler has persevered in the music industry for 40 years while wearing a number of hats — as a veteran gigging bassist in the Atlantic City, N.J., area, and a recording artist with the world beat/contemporary jazz duo Fowler & Branca. He currently serves as the musical director for Las Vegas-based entertainer Jimmy Hopper and is employed by the Atlantic City Hilton as a front-of-house engineer, where he operates a Yamaha PM5D console. “It’s a fun gig, but I consider myself more of a studio rat than a live engineer,” Fowler says.

For the past 35 years, this self-taught recording engineer/producer has worked in project studios that he himself designed. “When I was young, I realized I loved writing, but I had this need to record at the same time,” Fowler recalls. “Home studios [were] extremely rare in this tri-state area, so I would hang out with people that were doing what I wanted to do eventually. Since I was 15, I’ve never lived in a home or been anywhere that didn’t have a studio.”

In the 1990s, Silver Wave Records released four Fowler & Branca CDs. The proceeds helped Fowler and Stephen Branca to build and open S.S.R. Recording in Galloway, N.J. “I had the home built with the studio in mind,” Fowler says. “I worked with a guy named Mike Kehr, who had his own studio. We did blueprints and wiring schematics. At the time, [Fowler & Branca] were doing quite well on the radio. We built the entire room on royalty checks.”

Today, S.S.R. Recording offers tracking, editing, mixing and mastering services. “I don’t advertise too much,” Fowler says. “I mostly do word-of-mouth, and since I’ve been here for such a long time I have a decent client list in this area.” Fowler also composes for music production library companies such as FirstCom, Sound Ideas’ BMG FX and Music One, and often works with UK-based entertainment company Spirit Productions as an editor and remixer.

He notes that the rise of personal studios allowed him to cultivate a newly specialized niche. “Ten years ago, I was doing a lot of live tracking, but now I’m doing more sweetening and EQ’ing. I get a lot of people who are looking to better their projects. People are finding that they can get what they want in their house, until they can’t. [Laughs] And then they’ll call me, and say, ‘It’s just not happening.’”

Fowler describes his studio space as a “half-basement” that’s submerged about five feet into the ground. “The windows are actually at ground level,” he describes. S.S.R. Recording comprises a 15×14-foot control room, a 15×14-foot tracking room and a 12×12-foot drum room. He was meticulous in planning acoustic treatment and soundproofing. “We did isolated walls and floating floors, and all the wiring is under the floor. Ceilings are floating on a resilient [sound-isolation] clip. And I had the home designed with silent floor joists; I still haven’t heard footsteps [from above].”

Fowler’s DAW of choice is Apple Logic Pro 8, which runs on a dual-processor, 1.8GHz Power Mac G5 with two Universal Audio PCI expansion cards. He uses plug-ins from Waves, Universal Audio and Metric Halo, and soft synths/samplers from Spectrasonics, Native Instruments and IK Multimedia. Digital hardware includes a 16-channel Lynx Aurora 16 AD/DA converter, Apogee Big Ben master clock, TC Electronic M3000 reverb and an Ensoniq DP4 effects processor.

Analog outboard gear includes an SPL Transient Designer, Jensen Twin Servo 990 mic preamps, six channels of FMR RNP8380 mic preamps, and two Avalon U5 DI/preamps and an VT-747SP compressor. S.S.R.’s analog centerpiece is a 24-channel Toft ATB24 console. “The sound of the [console’s] EQ is something that I’m not able to get in the DAW system,” Fowler says. “During [a project’s] sweetening phase, I’ll stay within the box and try to get a good, solid sound. Once I feel like we’re happy, I’ll usually output the majority of tracks through the Aurora and bring them into the console. From there, I use primarily outboard gear. Going analog has been making such a difference. People are really noticing that.”

S.S.R.’s mic closet includes Neumann U87s, AKG C 535 EBs, an Electro-Voice RE20, and Apex 460 and 210 models. Fowler uses seven sets of monitors: ADAM Audio S3As, Genelec 2029s, Yamaha NS-10s, Alesis Monitor Ones, JBL 4312s, Auratones and the (consumer) Mirage M-490s. “I have a mix position in front of the DAW and a mix position in front of the console,” Fowler says.

In operating S.S.R. over the past 12 years, Fowler has responded to his clients’ needs with care. “To me, it’s all about building a reputation on what walks out of the room. I’ve listened to and played enough music my whole life to know what a good track sounds like.”

Matt Gallagher is an assistant editor at Mix.