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by Chris Kies
Fantasy then carved a place for themselves in the realm of jazz recordings during the seventies, and in the course of the following decades, has branched out to include acts like Green Day, the Allman Brothers, Phish, Clapton, Bowie, John Lee Hooker, Neil Young and countless others. In 2000, the studio hit a pinnacle, recording Santana’s “comeback” album Supernatural, and becoming Billboard magazine’s #1 Recording Studio in America. We caught up with engineer Jesse Nichols to talk about what a place like Fantasy has to offer, and some tips for those trying maximize limited recording budgets.
What are some unique things about Fantasy Studios?
Our ridiculously large collection of old and new mics, condenser and ribbon, but basically people come here for the big, open rooms—hardly seen anymore—and (recording) gear, because we have a lot of vintage EQs, compressors and a lot of original tube stuff. We have huge analog consoles that are still used regularly. It’s a collision of both worlds of recording: digital and analog. We run Pro Tools in every room, but we also have Studer 24-track tape machines in the rooms, too. We can bounce around from Pro Tools and mix down to a 1/2” 2-track. This is a world-class, old-school place that just draws all types of musicians for those reasons.
We talked to a singer-songwriter from Nashville, and she said that she does as much as possible on GarageBand prior to coming to a studio. What’s your experience with this?
She’s right, I suggest to anybody to do as much pre-production and other type of business before stepping into a recording space. Demo and rehearse everything until you’re sick of it, to maximize your time and money when dealing with recording projects.
And specifically for guitarists?
Have all your guitar parts worked out and nailed to a “T,” do all your solo variations at home. You don’t want to come here and find out that your other guitarist was playing a weird chord you couldn’t hear live, or rehearsing that just doesn’t work with the harmonies or arrangement. Just iron out all those variables and shortcomings, because you don’t want surprises to creep up when entering the studio that can kill the vibe, a song’s momentum and overall group mojo.
What do people prefer to record with?
It’s almost always going to be digital… sometimes people want to track drums and do the rest in smaller areas or at home because you don’t necessarily need a big studio for that. This saves money for mixing and that is when you need a big studio for their outboard gear, consoles and professionals. It’s a different world than when Fantasy first opened— bands don’t have the big advance checks to afford them months at a time in the studio. Also, most people are far more comfortable with digital interfaces and can do so much more on their own because of ridiculous editing capabilities. Both anaglog and digital sound great and have their own pros and cons, but it’s kind of a budget, and people want things done fast—that’s not analog.
Is there anything architecturally special about Fantasy’s initial setup?
It was originally laid out and built by Joseph Delaney from 1967–71 and re-designed in 1981 by George Augsberger, a famous acoustical engineering from the 70s and 80s. All the rooms are completely built with acoustics in front of mind. Studio D is a milder, isolated studio that is pretty big, but these rooms don’t have a specific purpose or genre preference. I can do the same session in all the rooms, even though they are all different animals.
Is all the gear included within a rate package, or are things charged by usage and gear grouping?
[Answered by Studio Director, Jeffrey Wood]
How do you guys approach genre-specific recording?
I’m so lucky to have a job here, since I don’t want to be pigeonholed into a specific genre. It’s a quirky place to work, because you can walk down the hallway and you can have traditional Hawaiian music in one room, jazz ensemble in one and punk rock guitar overdubs in the other—we’re just a music studio. You got to stay on your toes though as there are precise differences in recording, room setups and micing that weigh heavily between the different musical genres.
Do artists spend a lot of time incorporating your house gear on their songs, instead of their own gear?
Here’s the thing, we don’t have that many guitars or amps. We have some original Fender Princetons, a Bassman, and a Super Reverb. We also got a Hammond B-3 organ and various effects. However, if they have an idea going into the session what they may want, we can usually find it around town and have it in-house for them. Generally, people use their own gear because they know and love it so much—as they should.
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