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When did you start your career in recording and mixing?
Like a lot of guys, I started off as a musician and the initial priority was to make some recordings via my old Tascam Portastudio, just to get my own music down. I started to record my own stuff, bought a Digi 002, and got a Mac and some decent monitors, and that kind of started the process for me. This would’ve been about 2000. At some point, a great friend of mine knew someone who worked at Pearl Sound and basically told the owner that I’d be very excited to come clean the toilets and vacuum the floors. Turns out, that’s the kind of thing a studio owner wants to hear [laughs]. So I got started there, and that really was the root of where I met a lot of the people that I still work with today. It was really inspiring to me to be around some of the producers there, and they really got me excited about the magic that you can create in the studio.
What was it like moving into the space you're in now?
I met a guy at Pearl Sound named Peter Keys, who was someone I became good friends with through the course of being an intern at a studio that he frequented. Now, he's the keyboardist for Lynyrd Skynyrd. I started getting calls from him asking particular recording questions—things like room questions and mic choices. He was working with an artist, and I asked, “Where are you at, what are you working on?” He said, “I’m at this old church that I found in Plymouth.” I was born and raised in Plymouth, so when I heard he had a bunch of instruments in an old church over there I was immediately interested. So I showed up, and at the time, it was a residence being used by the son of the church’s former pastor. They were renting out the upstairs to a guy who ended up being one of our business partners, Doug Moore.
I showed up and met Doug, who had a bunch of gear in the church. There was a lot to like, in the sense that it was this great-sounding old church with all these gear pieces and instruments in it. So I got involved and was coming around there as often as I could. Myself, Doug, and Peter started working out of there as a makeshift collective.
At some point, we struck a deal with the owners of the building, and Pete and I moved into the basement of the studio. We had really communal living spaces and shared a shower and kitchen and all that. It was great, we had a blast. Everything we’ve built here started out with that.
What were some of the initial challenges of setting up in an old church?
From an infrastructure standpoint, there were a ton of problematic things. Churches are usually maintained by volunteers and members of the church, so a lot of things are repaired in DIY fashion at various skill levels. All the windows were pretty much boarded up and busted, the roof initially had a leak, and the furnace would rumble as rust would fall into the igniter assembly. The initial wiring was really challenging to work with, and we didn’t have a lot of capital upfront, so a lot of things were fixed piecemeal over the early years. In 2006, we started really addressing those things. We fixed the windows, fixed the HVAC, built out two rooms, all of that.
The facility now has two large format studios, one we call the Church Studio and the other we call the Diamond Studio. The Diamond Studio is called that because it’s the newer, nicer room. So there’s those two, and then there are three project studios that are on the north wall upstairs, that we rent out on a monthly basis. The upstairs has a large, couple-thousand-square-foot live room and attached control room, iso booth, etc. Those tend to be the spaces we use when we’re tracking a band live, and want to have everybody in the same room. We have a large format console up there, a Neve Custom 75.
The downstairs facility has a higher design element to it. It’s broken up into smaller studios, but the control room is actually larger than the upstairs one. We do a lot of mix-to-picture and post-production stuff down there, so between the two facilities, we’re kind of set up to address a variety of needs. The two main studios serve complimentary audio production needs. Overall, the two rooms allow us to have a lot of options and flexibility, and every room here can be reached by any of the control rooms, connection-wise.
Let’s talk about the console you’re outfitted with, and what drew you to that.
We were one of the first to commission one of the Neve Custom 75 desks—I think ours is console #11 or something. At the time (around 2009), trying to find a large format console with a relatively reasonable price tag was not easy to do. It was being built by a company in Australia that was relatively new at the time, so it felt like a bit of a gamble. It was licensed by Neve, but the actual construction and buildout were being done in Australia by a separate company. I believe it’s got 1081 EQs and pre’s outfitted. It’s 32 channels, and it utilized common 110v power, which surprisingly was important. As a business owner, you have to care about things like energy consumption [laughs].
It’s been really convenient during large sessions, and it just gets a ton of use around here. Some of the more traditional engineers want a large format desk, so it really fits that need. Downstairs is fully hybrid, so we have a lot of outboard gear, but there’s no traditional console. We have an Avid S3 that we utilize sometimes.
What are some of your favorite outboard pieces?
We have a lot of the Chandler TG stuff, as well as a ton of the Thermionic Culture pieces. The Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor we have truly is an amazing piece. One of the earliest things that caught my eye with Shadow Hills was the Equinox, and early on in the studio one of the big steps for us was to upgrade to a front end like the Equinox. It was one of those things where we wired it right up, and it immediately made a huge difference. It was crazy the minute we started summing stuff out through it. Otherwise, we’ve got a pair of real Siemens V72s that sound super cool. We love our Retro 176, and of course, the LA-2A in our rack gets used a lot.
How did you choose your monitoring rig?
Down here in the Diamond Studio, we have JBL M2s. They’re reference grade, top of the line. In conjunction with them, we’re using Genelec nearfields—we’ve got those in both of our studios, for some continuity. In our upstairs, we’ve got CLA-10s too, those remakes of the NS-10s. It’s just nice to have that different perspective on your mixes, to check with.
You also work on a lot of video work, in addition to studio work. Can you tell me about what inspired you to jump into that line of work as well?
When I left school, I went to work on a movie called “The Brewster Project” in Detroit. It won a couple of awards in New York years later. It was really my first opportunity to cut my teeth working on that film and just started doing it. I did a lot of learning in the process, which is how most people in my world did those kinds of things. I started working on movies in 2004 or so, and a couple of years later, I had a budget and bought a Fostex FR-2. It was an upgrade for me, but it still didn’t have all the bells and whistles of say, a Sound Devices 688 or 888 unit.
I steadily acquired things over the years, and the opportunities got bigger as well—I was just out on a project with Cadillac and Lenny Kravitz. I’ve really been able to travel and be around some crazy talented people, and I like the experience of getting out of the studio environment as well. In my life, those two worlds coexist. As the studio’s gotten more refined, we’ve been able to offer post-production services at Plymouth Rock for a lot of these projects that I go out and work on now.
What are some of the mics you always find yourself reaching for?
In the production sound mixing world, my Schoeps CMIT sees a ton of use, and we actually really like it a lot in the studio for voiceover tasks as well. I just recently acquired an AEA R88a too—I came across it while working on a film at Orchestra Hall in Detroit and the recording crew had brought one in. We got it here in the studio, and we use it all the time—drum overheads, percussion, on piano—the list goes on. They’re a lot less fragile than old ribbon mics, so you really get to explore more territory with the AEA too.
The Chandler REDD and TG mics are both phenomenal, and they’re honestly my favorite pick out of the newer high-end mic segment. We use both of them often. We just got one of our old U87s back in from repairs, and we use it a lot—but the Chandler mics are just amazing.
How about plug-ins? Are there any you’re always using?
I think such one invaluable plugin is just the iZotope RX stuff. You can use it to really fix so many problems. It’s so valuable—whether you’re on a movie set or in a control room, the RX stuff makes it onto everything. It helps in a ton of applications. We use it in audio forensics often, as well. The other guys here are really loving using oeksound Soothe on stuff at the moment, too.
You’re also a director at Lawrence Tech—how does that crossover with what you do here at Plymouth Rock?
That relationship with Lawrence Technological University has been really fruitful. I got to be a part of the inception of the program, and it’s been really great to be there since the beginning. I sat next to a lady on a plane one time and tossed her a business card like I had done plenty of times before. As it turned out, that one was an important one. She sent me an email months later saying “We’re thinking about starting a program at the university, and I remembered you. Would you want to sit on this advisory board that we’re convening?” I went and sat on the board, and there were these crazy high-up guys, and then there was me—some guy with a studio in a church [laughs]. After that, we talked more and they enabled me to be more a part of their development process. They listened amazingly to a lot of my ideas, and we started this Bachelors of Science program in Audio Engineering Technology.
The first time these guys came out to my studio, I figured they’d be done with it as soon as they saw the old church. They had the complete opposite reaction—they thought it was awesome. We started running the classes out of here, so we designed a curriculum based on what was actually going on in studios and production environments. That program slowly developed, and our first graduate completed in 2013—they’ve done really well at Harman. What’s really important to me is the outcomes—do the students find meaningful jobs? What are the long-term benefits after kids invest at Lawrence Tech? That’s what it’s all about to me.
Do you have a go-to signal chain when you’re tracking at Plymouth Rock?
I would say we often go with the TG2 into the 176 and then into an LA-2A, that’s sort of our classic formula here. I really spend a lot of time at the moment just focusing on capturing the source really well and clean before we hit all the fun stuff downstream. Our Neve Custom 75 has preamps that get tons of use upstairs. But we all love our TG-2s—we used it a ton on the Royce Da 5’9” records that we did here.
Are you working on any exciting projects that you’re able to talk about? What’s next for you? Anything you want to highlight?
One thing I’m able to talk about was getting to work on this project with Jack Douglas (Aerosmith, John Lennon, NY Dolls) and the Detroit Youth Choir (America's Got Talent runner-ups). They just submitted it for GRAMMY consideration and we made the initial ballot in like six categories. It was an amazing experience having the Detroit Youth Choir here and then having a bunch of legendary rock musicians come in and lay down these eclectic pieces together. We did a Stevie Wonder cover and these other tracks that are stylistically all over the place, in the best way. That was an amazing experience.
We have a really great team here, and we finally got a great studio manager which has brought a lot of stability to the business. It’s really been a great upgrade for us. Our engineers here, Ryan Hyland, Haruki Hakoyama, and Nick Small are really great at what they do, and I’m just really excited about the team we’ve built here. Developing a great team here has been instrumental for us, and it feels really validating.
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