As the nation’s attention continues to focus on the burgeoning and fertile Alabama music scene, we take a look at a few of the studios documenting Birmingham’s most talented songwriters and bands.
Bates Brothers Recording Studio
Address: 3427 Davey Allison Blvd. Ste. 101, Hueytown, AL 35023
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org 205.491.4066
Major Equipment and Programs: Solid State Logic 6060 E/G with G PLUS center-section
upgrades, Total Recall, and Plasma Meters (loaded 52 mono and 4 stereo), Avid Pro Tools 10, MCI JH-24 analog 24 track w/Autolocator III, Alesis A-DAT digital tape recorders
Past Projects: Trace Adkins, Sara Evans, Ruben Studdard, Meatloaf, Train, Within Reason, Chad Robinson
Overview: Founded by a pair of songwriting brothers, Bates Brothers Recording has been operating out of their Hueytown location since 1985. Receiving their famous SSL console in 1999 (the only one in the state), Bates Brothers Recording has straddled the line between digital and analog with an ever-growing variety of equipment as they record everything from heavy metal to R&B. Their multiple tracking rooms along with with an array of guitars, amps, keyboards, and drums provide the perfect environment for the novice and the professional.
“To me, the bottom line is the performance,” Eric Bates said, regarding his recording techniques. “You’re making sure it sounds good, but you’re wanting to capture that moment when everyone is in the room and locked together. You don’t want to stifle someone’s creativity for the sake of something technical.”
Though Eric and his brother Eugene have seen many eras of the recording and music industry since founding Bates Brothers Recording, they continue to be amazed at the homegrown talent.
“The music scene in this town is incredible,” Bates said of Birmingham. “There are amazing singers, songwriters, and musicians. It’s kept us busy and has kept us here all these years.”
Address: 15 55th Pl. S., Birmingham, AL 35212
Major Equipment and Programs: Studer Recording Console, 24-Track Studer Tape Machine, ½-inch 2-Track Machine for Mastering, ProTools HD
Overview: After years of touring with and playing in bands such as Remy Zero, Jeffrey Cain had collected a vast amount of recording equipment. Though the original releases for his Communicating Vessels record label began in a home studio, Cain built a functioning studio within the Communicating Vessels headquarters in 2013 that had a garage-style vibe inspired by Motown.
“I love professional recording studios, but I have also made some of my favorite records in homes and in rehearsal spaces,” Cain said about his recording approach. “I think the marriage of the two helps make a place that is not sterile and making a place you want to be in for 15 hours. I want the studio to be somewhere you can get lost, get focused in and truly listen.”
Though the studio is mainly used for the label’s artists, Cain emphasizes that a wide variety of musicians, producers and engineers have recorded sessions. He also wants to do away with the image of the stereotypical recording engineer.
“I want to break down those barriers between the engineer behind the glass and the musicians,” Cain said. “I try to educate the musicians when they come in here and make them feel comfortable. I want them to be able to touch the faders and know how things work, so they feel that they’re really connected to the recording and the music.”
Address: 433 20th St. S., Birmingham, AL 35233
Major Equipment and Programs: ProTools HD X-Rig, Atari Radar, API, AVID C-24, Custom Microphones by Emanuel Ellinas, VU Compressor
Past Projects: Hexxus, Mandi Rae, Outlier, New Devils
Overview: The newest studio on this list, Magnetic Audio at the Syndicate Lounge is a combination of recording studio and rock club that has already started gaining traction in a short time. Though Aaron Greene and Emanuel Ellinas had both spent countless hours as audio engineers and had run their two businesses separately for several years, they began talking in earnest last year about bringing Ellinas’s studio into Greene’s venue.
“I ended up dabbling in studio recording and didn’t get serious until about eight years ago,” Ellinas said about his start. “Then my pedal company Sitori Sonics got a space. My friend gave me an eight-track tape machine, word got out that I was doing recording, and people started calling to do studio sessions. I had no idea this is what I’d be doing all these years later.”
“The stars just seemed to align once we started talking about it,” Greene said. “The club needed something to do during the day. The building housing Emanuel’s studio was having issues, so we decided to finalize the concept.”
Rooms in the club as well as the stage serve well for tracking. As Greene pointed out, bands can record their album on the same stage where they could eventually play their record release show.
“It’s a really great mix of vintage, tubes, and modern digital,” Ellinas said. “It’s a great hybrid setup.”
Address: 4129 North Cahaba Dr., Birmingham, AL 35243
Major Equipment and Programs: ProTools 10, Reason 6, 3 Nady RSM-4 “fat-heads”, API 3124+ (4 channels), Apple iMac i7 12 GB RAM w/ 2 17″ displays
Overview: After playing, recording and touring as lead guitarist for Birmingham alternative rock act Moses Mayfield, Will Mason returned home after the band was dropped from Sony and began investigating recording.
“I started messing around in GarageBand and started buying microphones,” Mason said. “I got the bug and knew I wanted to keep getting better, so that my knowledge of recording matched the quality of the equipment I was using.”
Mason and his wife Sarah soon founded Mason Music Studios that taught vocal and instrument lessons in spaces around Homewood, Cahaba Heights, Bluff Park, and Greystone. Meanwhile, they continue to improve the studio and brought in a Nashville design to make sure the tracking room, mixing room, vocal booth and iso booth were more than up to par. Though the recording studio produced several releases by professional musicians such as Matthew Mayfield and Sarah Simmons, Mason also saw students who grew up taking lessons from him and Sarah soon were taking the first steps towards their own musical careers and joining the Birmingham music scene in their own right.
Address: 2734 Central Ave., Homewood, AL 35209
Website: olelegante.com (Coming Soon)
Major Equipment and Programs: ProTools, Logic 10, API, Golden Age, Shadow Hills, Chandler
Past Projects: St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Vulture Whale, Wooden Wand, Beitthemeans, The Dirty Clergy, Fire Mountain, Perry Brown, The Heavy Hearts
Overview: Though originally built as a practice space and headquarters for Les Nuby (Verbena) and his Vulture Whale bandmates, Ol Elegante soon became a place for Nuby (and Daniel Farris a few years later) to document the ever-expanding Birmingham music scene. With a two-level studio (tracking on the bottom level, control room on the top), Nuby hopes to provide a space for artists of every genre.
“Being a touring drummer for over a decade, I knew that I wanted to have a space large enough to capture a lot of different types of drum sounds. All of the studios I’ve ever worked in had one thing in common: a comfortable place where you could create something. A mix between a sterile setting, but you also feel like you can touch anything you want! I think the key to it, is allowing the band to feel like the space belongs to them also.
“We’ve had our fair share of scoring for TV and film, audiobooks, plus commercial work for local businesses,” Nuby continued. “While I might be known for playing rock music, I firmly believe that anything can walk through our door.”
Address: 500 23rd Street S., Birmingham, AL 35233
Major Equipment and Programs: Avid’s Pro Tools HD 12.7 software with 48 inputs, Avid C-24 console, 16 vintage Automated Processes Inc. (API) mic preamplifiers, two channels of Neve and four channels of UAD Apollo
Past Projects: Phil Dudley, Gabriel Tajeu, Dionne Warwick, Jezebel Dogs
Overview: Located inside Birmingham’s long-standing theatre and soundstage, WorkPlay Studios is run by Tony Wachter, a recording veteran who has been involved in Boutwell Studios and Audiostate 55 as well as a home studio (Audio Czar Productions).
“These rooms are incredible,” Wachter said about WorkPlay’s Studio A. “The cool thing is that we have 40 isolated lines going out into the theatre. We have some incredible preamps from the ‘70s that we can use to enhance the sound.”
WorkPlay Studios is currently renovating Studio B, but has worked on several projects ranging from singer/songwriter to rap and hip-hop. Wachter has seen the landscape change in Birmingham as more studios pop up, creating a collaborative environment.
“I send referrals to Bates Brothers and some of the other studios around town,” Wachter said. “As a recording instructor for UAB, I am able to show my students several different recording atmospheres.”