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Studio Showcase: Modern Electric Sound Recorders

By Steve Harvey. Modern Electric Sound Recorders has revitalized the advertising market in Dallas.

Dallas, TX—For a couple of decades beginning in the 1950s, Dallas was the radio jingle capital of the world. The global leader, PAMS Productions, closed its studios in 1978, but 40 years later, the facility’s current occupant, Modern Electric Sound Recorders, has brought things full circle, opening a new room to serve Dallas’ still vibrant advertising market.

“I was looking on Craigslist and found a posting with some pretty terrible pictures,” recalls owner Jeffrey Saenz, who relocated to Dallas from Los Angeles in 2010 and moved into the facility in 2012. “I was really surprised when I came to check the place out that it was in such proximity to some key parts of the city, and so near the center and the heartbeat of Dallas.” Located in Upper Dallas, Modern Electric Sound is a stone’s throw from Cityplace Market.

The big live room was built in 1968 and echoes West Coast studio designs of that era. It was instantly familiar to Saenz, who has worked in many classic Hollywood facilities. “When I walked into this room … it really captured my heart,” he says.

The building had been neglected by successive previous owners and was in disrepair when Saenz took it over. “You could tell people were wasting this beautiful tracking room,” he says.

But he soon had the place fixed up and rewired and was able to move his gear in. “I’d been collecting for quite some time,” says Saenz, who’d had a small overdub studio in California, “and I worked for a producer, Dave Cobb, who is constantly trading gear, so I was picking up things whenever I could from him.”

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The period-appropriate 24-channel MCI JH-416A—the desk that helped popularize the inline monitoring design—was purchased specifically for the A room, Saenz says, as was the Studer A80 MKII 24-track 2-inch tape machine. “But most of the outboard, a good amount of the mics and a large portion of the instrument collection came with me from California.”

Although a Pro Tools HDX rig is the studio workhorse, the Studer machine, recently refurbished, does get used for basic tracking, he reports. “We’ll run takes to tape and dump to Pro Tools. We all love the way it sounds.”

There is a second Studer 2-inch: “We have an A820 that we need to get serviced and figure out what to do with.”

Above: The Texas Gentlemen, filmed in Modern Electric Sound Recorders’ A room

Modern Electric serves as home base for a group of producers, engineers and musicians who frequently play on each other’s records and in each other’s bands. Most notable, perhaps, is Beau Bedford, ringleader of the Texas Gentlemen, the facility’s Wrecking Crew—or, more aptly, Muscle Shoals Swampers. Another resident producer, Jason Burt, is part of Medicine Man Revival. The studio’s client list also includes Leon Bridges, Reverend Horton Heat, Nikki Lane and Paul Cauthen.

Saenz brought Bedford on as a creative partner a while back and has played guitar with the Texas Gentlemen, but he isn’t in the current slimmed-down touring lineup—someone has to mind the store, he says. Bedford’s family started the Bedford Advertising firm in the ’80s, which helped inspire the build-out of the new B room for voiceover recording.

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But, as Saenz explains, “The main motivation was to help keep everyone here as prolific as possible with their workflow.” The calendar is so full, he says, that the addition of the B room, in combination with a small C room, an editing suite, “allows us to decide what projects belong where. It gives us a lot more flexibility.”

That said, “I know by talking to people at Dallas ad firms that there’s quite a bit of work they’re having to turn down, because they can only take on so much. We’re hoping to catch some of that spillover,” he says—especially weekday mornings, before the rockers roll into work.

The B room, unveiled in late January, is outfitted with an MCI JH-428B mixing console and racks of classic outboard gear, and offers tielines to studio A. But Saenz is looking for one more piece. “I need to shop for a really clean channel strip for our voiceover side because most everything we have here is colorful,” he says. Current contenders include a Grace Design Channel Strip, Avalon 737 or Manley VoxBox.

Directly below the B room, in A’s control room, Saentz has just added some mic preamps and EQs that have been racked from an old Quad Eight console. “We also have some Warm Audio stuff that one of the guys brought in and have been trying out, a pair of their Pultec-style EQs. We have some real Pultecs, so we’ve been having fun A/B-ing them. I also have the Purple Audio MC77s, which I’ve loved for years. It’s been fun hearing those against the Warm Audio interpretation of probably a different circuit of the 1176,” he says.

The main live room, with its 20-foot ceiling and decades-old acoustic treatments, is great for tracking, he says. “I can’t say that it’s dead, but it’s tight and controlled. Drums sound great in there; any acoustic instrument sounds fantastic. You can put a singer just about anywhere in that room and you’re ready to go.”

The room lends itself to tracking a group live, he says. “We have such control from source to source with how the room is naturally that it allows us to get the most out of those takes and still be able to punch in or do an edit. There’s an energy about catching a take of, say, a keyboard player, bass player and a drummer just locking together. And one thing I learned from Dave Cobb is [to not be] afraid to comp full band takes—say, a section from take three into take seven—with no click track.”

Sure, there’s bleed between mics, he says, “But the right kind of bleed, for me, is like glue; it pulls everything together. I’m of the mind to track everything with as much vibe as possible.”

Modern Electric Sound Recorders •

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