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Realizing A Dream: Addiction Sound

While music happens in abundance on Nashville’s Music Row, a creative conclave has also thrived for decades 10 minutes south of the Row in Berry Hill.

Control Room A at Addiction Sound, with the main studio beyond. While music happens in abundance on Nashville’s Music Row, a creative conclave has also thrived for decades 10 minutes south of the Row in Berry Hill. Within a few residential blocks are top-notch commercial recording facilities (House Of Blues, Blackbird Studios), retail sales (Pepper’s Pro Shop, Vintage King Nashville, GC Pro), world-renowned talent (Glenn Meadows and John Mayfield at Mayfield Mastering) and a number of quasi-private facilities owned by producers, engineers and artists alike (Bob Ezrin, Randy Scruggs, Mitch Dane and Vance Powell)—and that’s but a sampling.

Into the latter category falls Addiction Sound, a two-room, private recording and production facility co-owned and developed by guitarslinger/ engineer/producer David Kalmusky and Jonathan Cain, bestknown as the keyboard player and lead songwriter for the band Journey. The studio was built from the ground up, specified by Cain and Kalmusky, working closely with acoustic designer Chris Huston. Cain’s wife, Elizabeth, developed the interior décor, and the aesthetic result is visually stunning while being warm and inviting (including amenities like a chef’s kitchen, patio, writing room and lounges). The sonic and technical environment is the stuff dreams are made of—fulfilling the vision of Cain and Kalmusky.

Having met when Kalmusky produced a project for Cain’s daughter Madison (who, with Miles Schon, opened for Journey in Japan this year), Kalmusky went on to help record, and fully mix and master, the last Journey album. After a solid career as a musician (in his last two years of touring, he did 217 shows around the world as a guitar player for The Wilkinsons, who he also produced and recorded), Kalmusky had weaned himself off the road and set up shop in a small Berry Hill room. Cain, still performing some 200 dates a year, had relocated his base to Nashville. “It’s not that we’re the busiest guys in the world,” says Kalmusky. “It’s just that we both owned studios. I had a little mix room and Jon had a big cutting room, so we actually put our stuff together and decided to be in the building together.”

The studio is designed and intended foremost for Cain and Kalmusky’s projects. “In this economy and this day and age, we didn’t build a studio to have a commercial source of making income necessarily, because that’s a little ridiculous,” explains Kalmusky. “This is mostly a private studio; it’s not really a commercial studio, so we actually have it set up as a production space. We leave the [drum] kit miked up—a couple of kits miked up—the piano miked up. [In] my room, I’ve got guitar cabinets and heads, and I’ve retired my guitar cartage…it’s sort of like a creative space where we can just unmute something and hit tape.”

The two core studio spaces are A, the tracking room, and B, Kalmusky’s personal playground. It’s a hybrid facility, blending ample outboard gear, vintage consoles, Avid Pro Tools and SSL Nucleus console/ controllers. Both rooms feature refurbished Trident TSM consoles. Kalmusky reveals, “On vocals, I shoot out a lot of stuff…We’ll do it blind and we’ll listen and I’ll sit with an artist that likes doing that kind of thing, that’s very meticulous about listening to different microphones and pres—and these TSM pres, for vocals, for me, for whatever reason, seem to win a lot.” Studio A also features an MCI JH 24 analog deck, easily routed to be used standalone, on the way to Pro Tools or bypassed entirely. Analog outboard includes Empirical Labs Distressors and an EL7 Fatso; additional dynamics processing from Neve, SSL, Universal Audio, Tube Tech, Joe Meek and dbx; EQs from Neve, BAE, API, Pultec and Purple; and mic pres from Grace Designs, Neve, BAE and Manley Labs.

David Kalmusky in front of the vintage Trident TSM in Addiction Sound Studio B. The main tracking space in A was designed specifically with the owners’ drum sound preferences in mind. “Jon and I both wanted a room that we could just pull the room mics up in without having to shelf [EQ] everything, and the cymbals just don’t take over,” Kalmusky explains. “We’ve worked with Chris really hard to achieve that, where there’s a really good balance in this room. It’s a little interesting to talk in the room because you can hear all the reflections and diffusion. I love recording drums in here.”

There are four iso booths for Studio A as well, including one designated for Cain’s Fazioli grand piano. In the back of the control room is a vocal booth, where Kalmusky says the artist gets “the best seat in the house. They get line of sight to the producer/engineer. They see the whole session go down, but nobody’s looking at them.”

The control room designs eschew the use of main monitors. In A, there’s a set of midfield Adam S4XVs with a sub, which Kalmusky says “are plenty powerful enough to blast our room with the ‘Big Thing;’ [we] really don’t imagine needing ‘Bigs’ in this room after hearing these.” A also features Dynaudio Professional BM6A Airs and Yamaha NS10s, while B is outfitted with BM6A MkIIs and NS10s.

The rooms also share access to a live reverb chamber, custom developed with advice from a group of kindred souls who followed the studio development online. The chamber is beneath the rear parking lot, requiring jackhammering in to the bedrock (an access hatch could actually allow its use as a small tornado shelter). “We put a set of Tannoy Passive V6 speakers,” Kalmusky describes, “in the center of the south wall, each one slightly fanned towards the North corners. [We] placed PVC cylinders filled with sand in front of each cabinet to deflect any direct sound from being aimed at the corners [where the microphones are placed] and one in the center, to avoid any direct sound, slapping off the back wall.” Fearful that humidity will destroy the mics over time, they looked for the “best sounding mics under $500” and “settled on the Cascade VIN-JET [long ribbons] and have them placed in the back corners of the chamber, the null’s of the figure 8 canceling the corner itself and directly in front (diffused path of the speaker), adding additional ‘less direct’ signal.” They are delighted with the design results.

Kalmusky’s Studio B is suited for overdubs (with its own vocal booth), mixing, production chores and specifically for guitar, there’s a second booth devoted to amps, cabinets and mics. “I keep everything completely hardwired…my mic inputs are all hardwired to vocal mics and cabinets, and if I get an idea, I can be hitting tape in 15 seconds. I’m not setting stuff up and it’s more to keep the creative workflow.” For self-recording, Kalmusky has Pro Tools set up for iPad control from the guitar booth and the mics in both booths are set up with quick mounts for fast swaps.

Alongside stacks of guitar heads and a diverse pedal-board, an eclectic collection of outboard processing graces the Studio B racks, with gear from Manley, Vintech, MAAG, Standard Audio, API, Universal Audio— some of recent design (and some very vintage, like the Gates Sta- Level that this author modified over 15 years ago for its then owner Mike Clute). “I don’t generally use plug-ins for EQs or compression,” explains Kalmusky. “When I mix, everything comes back in as a console insert back into Pro Tools.”

In fifteen months of operation, Addiction Sound has hosted a Journey live project, TV tracks for The Band Perry, Kalmusky’s continuing workload with Carolyn Dawn Johnson, John Oates (From Hall & Oates), Jerry Douglas, Jessie James, Alyssa Bonagura, Kat Higgins, American Beauty, Neal Schon (Guitarist from Journey, Santana), a duet mix with Marlee Scott and Vince Gill, work on a Small Town Pistols project and first project started and finished in the building is the new album from Emerson Drive. “We are here to integrate into Nashville as creative people,” says Kalmusky. “We’re mostly here for people that want to work with us in our creative space and workflow, to cut something with Jon or I. We’re just not going to book it out for a three-hour call for somebody to cut a vocal or a pile of demos. But, we’ll still block it off for special projects, friends, colleagues, who are making records.” As evidence, producer/engineers Ed Seay and Scott Hendrix have worked recently at the facility. Addiction Studios offers, in Kalmusky’s summation, “something I think is special for the records we make.”

Addiction Sound