From left, Jeremy Lemos, Elliott Dicks, Sanford Parker and Eric Block, the engineer/owners of Semaphore Recording
Photo: Eric Block
Situated in Chicago's Ukrainian Village, Semaphore Recording is a comfortable, homey studio housed in a former church youth facility. In the wake of its church days, the building became a hardcore venue, and eventually transformed into the studio roughly eight years ago. The current business is the result of a merger between two previous studios, with its four on-site engineer/owners — Eric Block, Elliott Dicks, Jeremy Lemos and Sanford Parker — deciding to combine gear and work collectively.
Semaphore's engineers are active in and out of the studio. Dicks often mixes live sound for Shellac; Lemos does the same for both Sonic Youth and Iron and Wine. Parker records and tours with Relapse Records artist Minsk. Another partner, Scott Adamson, has moved to New York, but returns occasionally for sessions; recently, he spent six days working with Ted Leo & The Pharmacists on new material for Touch and Go records.
Upon acquiring the space, the engineers were fortunate that the building layout already fit the parameters of a studio, with a spacious control room in the rear and a larger live room next door. A hallway running the length of the building allows for iso rooms, a lounge and a kitchen. According to Lemos, “When we moved in, we signed a one-year lease and we had no idea if we'd be here one year or 10 years.” Block continues the thought: “So we didn't want to spend $3,000 on a control-room window. All of the money that we had went into gear. But it turns out a lot of bands like the fact that there's no window.”
Because the owners pooled their gear, few things had to be purchased. Among the big-ticket items was an '80s 36-channel Neotek Series IIIC console. Semaphore sports an Otari MTR-90 with 16- and 24-track headstacks, and Digidesign Pro Tools HD. There is also a ½-inch Ampex ATR-102 2-track machine. Mics include RØDE Classic IIs, Coles 4038s, Norelco-branded AKG C12-As, Beyer M160s and M500s, and a range of dynamic models.
Semaphore started as an all-analog enterprise, but with the rising cost of tape and the time benefits of digital, many clients now prefer to use its Pro Tools HD system. “We still mix to the ATR-102 quite a bit,” Block says, “especially when tracking in digital. In contrast, I'm doing this hip-hop/R&B record right now [Derek “Drop” Braxton producing Jessica Tonder], and we're bouncing back and forth between digital and the 2-inch, and putting beats from the MPC-1000 to tape.”
Lemos sums up the reasons for this change in medium: “I just felt like HD had finally gotten to the point where the sound of it didn't bum me out. And with tape being so expensive, getting the tape sound is not as worthwhile as being able to have the band spend another day or two in the studio.”