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Chicago Recording Engineer Tim Butler, 1953-2008

The Chicago Recording Company (CRC) offered the following remembrance of longtime resident engineer Tim Butler to Mix magazine:

“Recording engineer Tim Butler passed away on Monday, September 29. Butler, 55, was a fixture at Chicago Recording Company for nearly 30 years. His studio, C2, next to the front door of CRC, was host to some of the greatest radio writers and voice actors of a generation. The reason was simple: Butler was one of the best audio production people in the business.

“He had an amazing ability to read a script and quickly figure out ways to make it come alive. Sounds, music, effects, ambience—whatever he heard for that spot in his head, he set out to create for the listeners. No matter what it took to achieve that. If he found a music track that was almost perfect, Tim would immediately place a call to a musician and bring him in to add guitar, keyboard or whatever he thought would make that track just right. If the spot needed a sound that wasn’t in the effect library, Tim would find a way to Foley that sound or send an assistant to a location where he could quickly record it. Theater of the mind requires that your brain believes what your ears are hearing. And Tim Butler would do whatever was necessary to make it all sound believable. He taught many young copywriters how to direct voice talent. After allowing the writer to do his best directing, Tim would often politely suggest an alternative performance—and have the writer give the direction, as if it were his or her idea. ‘Have him try it quieter, more intimate.’ ‘Tell her to turn her script over and do it from memory.’ In the end, the spot would be better and the writer would leave CRC armed with another directing weapon to use another day.

“Voice actors didn’t always like Tim, but they all respected him. They knew he made them work harder. And, that he wasn’t interested in excuses, only execution. There were times that a voice actor who had a slight cold would find an assistant presenting them with nasal spray to use. It wasn’t a suggestion. When Tim sent in the nasal spray it was an order. But, in the end, when Tim made a good spot great, it also reflected well on them.

“In a business where excellence and perfection are too often just clichés, Tim was one of the few who walked the walk. He didn’t just have a commitment to excellence, he also had an expectation of excellence. And no individuals were more aware of it than the young assistants who worked in his studio. Many fledgling engineers sat in the second chair in Tim’s studio, but few could handle the enormous expectations that Tim had for his assistants. In that position, they learned quickly to pay rapt attention to what was going on every minute and that often, doing their best simply wasn’t good enough.

“Part of it was Tim’s way of helping them handle the stress of sessions and clients they would encounter when they were on their own. But mostly, it was all about teaching and testing them on an almost constant basis to be smart, fast and good. Those who graduated from the ‘Tim Butler school of engineering’ left his studio with plenty of stories to tell, but more important, they left with great skills and understanding of the creative process, and a very successful career in the recording business.

“For Tim, it wasn’t enough that his clients be happy with the audio production, they had to feel completely comfortable and at home in his studio. For a client, being in studio C2 was like staying at the finest hotel in Chicago. Whatever a client wanted—food, drink, computer to check email or play games, massage, a sofa to nap on—Tim provided it. Happily. And quickly. For those he knew well, he often had their favorites waiting for them.

“Tim’s intelligence allowed him to talk about much more than the work in front of him. Films, music, literature, technology and politics were subjects he loved to discuss. He engaged others with difficult questions and challenged them with puzzling issues, just to have an interesting debate. He had an educated opinion about everything that was going on around him in the world. He wanted others to be as educated as he was. Show some interest in a book he spoke to you about and you might just find yourself getting a gift of that book a few days later.

“Tim’s family was his dog that he brought to work every day, and his co-workers at CRC. His work was his life. Inside and outside of CRC, Tim challenged everyone to do their best. And always stood up to do his.

“Those who worked with him will miss his passion, his knowledge, and his insight.”