In Studio A, head engineer/producer Phil Schlemmer, left, and producer/owner Don Salter.
About 30 seconds into a conversation with Don Salter it’s clear that this guy knows old-school—the vintage discrete 36-channel custom Neve with an additional 12-channel discrete Melbourne; the restored and revered SSL 6064 E/G+ from Ben Grosse’s The Mix Room; David Foster’s SSL 4056 G Plus.
Then after a couple of minutes he starts talking about a facility-wide Avid Pro Tools HDX upgrade on brand-new 12-core Mac Pros, and Gold and Platinum plaques from Lil’ Wayne, G-Unit, Swizz Beatz, Jonas Brothers, MGK and Bone Thugs, along with recent visits from Kelly Rowland and Ludacris. He’s excited about EDM mixes at his studio The Saltmine, led by Mickey “Mixin” Oliver. He talks about expanding his in-house video production to Live Streaming of a Master Class Series. He does ADR, VO and custom compositions for various commercial purposes, as well as making “beats” for local and national rappers.
One foot in tradition, one foot into the unknown. It’s the new commercial studio business model he’s figuring out on a daily basis, and this being his 25th year, he seems here to stay.
Producer/general manager/owner Don Salter opened The Saltmine in a garage, then moved to an industrial area, then 10 years ago settled into his current historic downtown Mesa, Ariz., location. “We re-developed a compound,” Salter explains, “and we remodeled a historic 1914 building to class A standards, slicing concrete floors and erecting 14-foot walls filled with sand and concrete, isolating floating floors and interior walls with mass and diffusion. New electrical and plumbing and AC to exacting studio standards. These rooms translate perfectly.”
Studio A’s live recording space.
Salter’s language is peppered with Vibe, Magic and Music. He confessed more excitement to meet Rick Rubin than even a favorite Sheryl Crow when they recorded some of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” more than a dozen years ago, which garnered Song of the Year. Being a guitarist, flutist, songwriter himself, he shares his lifetime collection of 75-plus guitars, endless vintage amps, keyboards, a C-7 Grand Piano and C3 Hammond Organ with Leslie 122 speaker, Farfisa, Contempo, Wurlitzer and most modern keyboards with visiting artists.
He has Studios, five of them, with a capital S. Surrounding the beautiful Oasis Venue Courtyard (500 capacity) sit three Mexican fountains, towering palm trees lining 10-foot walls and an outdoor stage within its 16,000-square-foot Spanish-style private, gated compound. They also have exclusive residential accommodations in their commercial “Studio Oasis.”
The recording industry of 2013 is much different from the recording industry of 1988 when he started, and Salter is fully aware of that. He can’t compete with the laptop or home recording studio-producers price-wise, but he can give them a place to land for a couple of days.
He doesn’t fill all his rooms all the time he admits as, “It ebbs and flows.” But he books The Saltmine as both a physical artistic environment, for live events or as a soundstage or by providing recording, mixing or mastering services or making music videos and using his creative space and team to inspire his artists and his “in-house” producers alike.
“We’ve created something so unique, so beyond what could ever be realistically financially duplicated in the future, that we expect to continue to be around for a long time,” he concludes. “Our philosophy of combining vintage old-school analog classic tools with modern, new-world digital, housed in a private, vibe-rich, creative environment with a gluttonous supply of gear, tools and instruments, will always be in demand by the true artist that demands nothing less. We invite all artists and producers with any budgets in any genre to experience what The Saltmine has to offer.” For complete equipment lists and some stunning photos, visit thesaltmine.com.