Life is simple in Austin, Texas, and that’s the way producer Daniel Barrett likes it; a dog on the floor, tubes in his gear and a French Press machine for making coffee. After spending years as an artist working in large-scale studios, Barrett took to creating a home recording space, Rubicon Studios, that better suited the Lone Star State's laidback vibe.
Since the birth of Rubicon, Barrett has put a major focus on fostering artists, helping them to develop their sonic visions over a longer period of time than typically available in most studios. "The best moment is when an artist realizes that we’ve tuned into them," Barrett says. "Not just when they say 'That’s me,' but 'That’s the 'me' that I’ve been hoping to share.' Even better, 'The 'me' I was hoping to share and the stuff I didn’t know I had in me.'"
Watch our latest Make Your Mark to discover how this native New Yorker made his way to Texas, persevered the life of a struggling artist, built a massive guitar collection and dove head first into an obsession with recording gear. After viewing the video below, read on to discover more about Daniel's daily life and how he has worked to match the sound of the big boys while also keeping the spirit of his studio intact.
How’d you get your start?
I’ve had about 11 starts. I’ve had just about every job in this industry. I was an artist, and I still am, but I was really focused on singing with my band porterdavis for 10 or 15 years. When I met my wife, I was bitching about some gig I had in Dallas and was like, “Well, I went up to Dallas and I came back with $47 and we bought doughnuts, so I came back with $38.” I was just bitching and we were dating and she was like, “Wow, I can tell you really love music, but you sure do complain about it a lot. What part of it do you love?” I said, “I do it all because I love to make records.” She said, “Is there a job where you can just make records? Why don’t you just do that?” That was my 11th start, the part that makes it all worth it and I can do that every day. That was some of the best advice I ever got, so I married her.
When you decided to start recording, what steps did you take to learn the craft?
I came up in a time where you could hire engineers, and that enabled me to produce. I was coming from the place of being an artist and songwriter, and I would hire great studios and the budgets were such that you could do that. I was a younger person too, so I didn’t have to make as much money.
At this point though, the industry was changing, everything was going digital, I was going to have to engineer myself to make it viable. Then it turns out it’s like the best thing ever and I was just blown away. I got completely immersed in learning about gear and learning about the art of recording itself. My first steps were with a first generation M-Box on the white Mac laptops that they don’t even make anymore. There was this progression of doing an album for next to nothing on next to nothing and then using what you made on the next album to pay for an upgrade. To go from one KSM32 to a stereo pair, it was crazy. It went on like that… It still goes on like that. The gear has been my recording school.
How did you come to work in your own house?
I was in this industrial space that I shared with a couple other engineers and I just realized a lot of my favorite records were done in houses. I liked to be in a homey environment and thought my artists might like it. I was living here at the time, I met my now-wife, and we moved in together and I was trying to figure out what to do with this house. So the idea to move the studio here occurred to me and it was a lot smaller, less than a third of the size of the space I was in, but it was more comfortable and had a great porch and seemed like a nice place to work.
What’s the vibe you’re trying to create here?
Homey. An artist here doesn’t feel like they have to do anything unnatural. They can just make themselves at home and kind of sink into who they actually are. I love recording in large recording facilities, I find them very sexy and cool, but sometimes for myself and others, they can make you feel like you’re supposed to do something now because you’re in a spaceship or some post-modern, apocalyptic dream. Here you just hope someone’s going to relax and be like they are at home, and that we are going to catch something authentic.
How does the sound of doing it yourself compare to some of the major studios that you’ve been in before?
Frankly, I was amazed what I could get done with one microphone. On the digital side of things, what I’m able to do with the plug-ins is really special. In certain cases, nothing beats an incredible old board and a Studer. I definitely respect that and would love that, but I’m amazed what’s possible with a very simple chain. I often use a U47 through a 1073 through a 1176 or a Tube-Tech with Apogee conversion and that’s kind of what I would do in a bigger room anyway. Yeah, maybe it’s not 100% as good as that stuff, but how close I’m able to get has been inspiring and allowed me to have a career.
What’s a typical day like for you here?
I go work out, I take my son to school, which is the biggest change now that I have a family. There is a whole day before I get here and then I come do my second day. I’ll get in, make the coffee, I’m fueled by the coffee, you have to pick what kind of beans and get the coffee going. One of the things most people don’t know when they get into this, is that you spend at least an hour on calls, emails and getting things set up. Finally by 10:30, I get some music up.
One of the differences here from some other places is that we have meetings for an hour or two, sometimes all day, because what we special in is artist development. We’ll do pre-production for a year sometimes before starting to record. Sometimes pre-production is just listening to records and talking about records we dig, so that by the time we record, it just falls off the bone. So there are days full of meetings and then there are days where we are cutting, which is just like anywhere else where you get in, get your sounds and you cut.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
A thousand places and it changes in waves. The first people that pop into my head are my heroes, the Rick Rubins and Daniel Lanois of the world, because those guys capture the essence of the people they work with and they work in houses, which is important to me. I like the idea of non-traditional studio spaces. As a kid, I watched this movie Funky Monks, which was the making of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and it ruined me. I couldn’t imagine anything that looked more fun that and I still feel that way.
Check out three projects that Daniel Barrett has been working on at Rubicon Studios, including music from Carry Illinois, Joe Vitale and Jana Pochop.