Mark Goodman - New Man at E-town's Alpha Recording

By Paul Moffett

Alpha Recording Chief Engineer Mark Goodman likes to sit with his back to the large JBL studio monitors, his stocking feet resting on the console behind the main board. When the phone rings, or someone enters the control room, he carefully puts his loafers back on before responding to the interruption.

Such precise attention to detail, combined with a relaxed country attitude, defines the ambiance at Alpha, if such a word is not too yuppiefied for the place.

"Also,we're next door to CrackerBarrel (a chain restaurant)," noted Goodman. "That's pretty important."

A year and a half into his shift as studio manager and engineer at Alpha, Goodman seems to have gotten solidly into the groove he set out to find when he came to Elizabethtown.

"I grew up in Memphis and worked in Memphis at the largest jingle company in the world," Goodman said. While in Memphis, he got to work with some of the best session players in the country, plus doing occasional work with the likes of Booker T and the MGs, Jerry Lee Lewis and other notables of the Memphis scene.

Then came a move to Canada, where he opened his own business. He worked with a company that owned a chain of radio stations, helping them to upgrade their production facilities. While he was there, he met Jeff Edmunds, brother of "Rocking Dave" Edmunds. Edmunds wanted to make an album, so Goodman and he got together and produced one.

The album was sent down to a Columbia Records promotion man, who loved it. Columbia didn't want it but the promo man knew a label that did, so he sent it along to them.

The folks at that label fell in love with the album. Company officials flew up to Canada, bringing "a ton of money," with the result that another album was cut and released in Canada, where it did very well.

The outcome of that successful production was an offer to move to California and run the label's studio. Goodman accepted. He left his family in Calgary and moved to California, where he assumed his new job running the studio.

Then came the day in July when the FBI walked into the studio and seized it. One of the owners, it developed, had been quietly funnelling some money from the Hughes Aircraft company, where he worked, into the studio.

"It was a huge embezzlement. The FBI had an obvious interest," Goodman chuckled. "They didn't take kindly to that, government money going to a rock and roll studio."

"Lots of people went to jail. I stayed on as court-appointed studio manager and ran it for another two months until they got a receiver in place."

That experience finally led him to leave the production business and go into sales. It turned out, however, that he was not happy with selling. He and his family wound up in Louisville, where his wife had relatives. He began to look for a studio where he might feel comfortable, specifically a Christian studio.

"I didn't know if that was a dichotomy in terms or not, an oxymoron," commented Goodman. A friend introduced him to Alpha. Goodman and the owners of the company, Don and Jim Cottrell, hit it off and he joined them in March of 1989.

The new studio was still in a state of disarray, so Goodman took the opportunity to rewire it, including enough wiring for a twenty-four track format down the line, if that should come about.

"They always tell you to envision what you want when you're installing your current gear," Goodman commented. "One-inch sixteen-track tape is not a standard format. I knew that at some point if we were going to get touring gospel groups who don't settle in one place and who wanted to come here, we had to have a format that would fit them."

"It took me a year and change to talk the owners into purchasing a 70-80 thousand dollar piece of gear. I had prewired the studio, so we were ready. When it came in, all we had to do was plug it in and we had twenty-four tracks."

The studio is equipped with a sixteen-track British-made Trident board. Goodman thinks that Nashville is increasingly moving to Trident and other British boards.

"They sound great. They've got the best front end in the business. They're also extremely flexible," he asserts. "I designed the patch bay so that I can handle twenty-four tracks very well. There's [also] the possibility of up to forty-four returns on a sixteen-channel board."

On the matter of having to have lots of equipment to make a hit record, Goodman said, "I worked on hit records out of Memphis that were cut on four- and eight-track machines. If it were [a matter] of how much equipment you had, the Eurhythmics first album would have never gone double platinum. They cut that on an eight-track Tascam and Annie [Lennox] sang back-up vocals as they did the final mixdown."

When asked about his Grammy awards, Goodman laughed and said "I've found that everybody likes to hear about the Grammys except the grocery store and the bank."

"We won in 1980 and 1981, Best Gospel Performance, traditional category, the Blackwood Brothers. Usually, everybody gets certificates, but the Blackwood brothers felt that for my efforts on the projects, I deserved an award. I produced and engineered on those projects."

"I thought that was magnanimous of them."

The matter of producers naturally followed and Goodman had a "Memphis" comment about projects by groups who spend a lot of money on expensive studio time and musicians but won't hire a producer:

"Big car, no driver."

"The producer is the guy who keeps you out of trouble," he continued. "Sometimes that means telling the client that his band is no good, that his drummer is a bar drummer, not a session drummer."

"It doesn't always go over very well."

"What people really enjoy about Alpha is that we absolutely do care about your project," Goodman explained. "We have to make you sound like what you think you sound like," even when it means having to say something that might not be complimentary.

"I've done it and it doesn't always go over very well. Still, a studio is like a mirror _ don't look in it unless you want to know what you look like. Don't sing into a studio mic unless you're prepared to hear what you sound like."

Asked about the focus of the studio, he said that Alpha was just not geared towards jingles because "jingles are such media-support animals, you have to have the print behind you, you have to have the video behind you, so until we have the video lock-up with other units, we're into making records."

"We want to be the very best demo studio Nashville can find and we want to be your local studio. And by local, I hope Louisville will consider us."

"There's so much business, there's plenty of business for everybody. We are averaging about a project a week at the moment, mostly Christian music."

"Let me emphasize, it is a Christian studio _ there's no drinking in the studio, there's no smoking in the studio. We're not going to cut records that have bad language in them. It's our prerogative. We choose to do it that way."

"Secular tunes? You bet. Come cut all the secular songs you want. Come cut your country albums. You want to talk about whiskey and women, we understand that's what sells, but just don't talk about personal parts of your body or use obscene language and we'll be okay."

The very relaxed atmosphere of the place led to storytelling and ruminating. Goodman is a man who likes to talk and particularly likes to talk about music. He related several stories about players he's worked with and then discussed what he'd like to do in the future.

"I'd really like to get back to working on some blues projects. I've worked with Booker T and some of those other guys and I'd like to get back to doing some of that stuff."

The conversation turned to the available session players.

"I have right now more depth in my individual players than I had in Memphis. I'm three deep in really good studio drummers. I'm five or six deep in bass players."

Asked who he uses, he mentioned four or five keyboard players, including Louisville's Steve Crews and J. D. Miller from Allen-Martin, and several drummers from the E-town area.

As for guitar players, he said, "If I don't get Vince [Emmett, formerly with Shaking Family], I probably don't do the date. Otherwise, if I have enough time, I'll call Barry 'Byrd' Burton (of the Amazing Rhythm Aces) up from Nashville. 'Byrd' and I used to room together and we're great friends."

Goodman said that projects with "modest" budgets fit in well at Alpha. The "top of the rate card" is $65 for twenty-four track time and drops for longer periods. After three hours, it's $60 an hour. Most projects last a couple of days, Goodman says, although longer projects are welcome. He noted that most groups spend less than $2,000 and walk out with a hundred cassettes or more, with full-color inserts.

The studio is also equipped for MIDI setups and outside projects can be brought in and completed.

"We welcome outside engineers here. I've become one of the best second engineers in the world. I can get coffee and pizza with the best of them. There aren't any egos walking around here."

Asked what he would most like to say to folks thinking about doing some recording, he was adamant:

"Shop your studio. We're not the studio for every cutting musician in North America, but then again, every other studio in North America doesn't offer what we offer either. We have our own sound, a good sound, it's a good project studio."

"I would encourage anyone looking to do even demo work or thinking about cutting a master to come check our place out."

The morning turned to afternoon and finally it was time to leave. Goodman made one last comment, for anybody thinking about recording.

"Come on down and let's talk music."

He likes to talk about and make it and it shows.

Alpha Recording is located at 129 Howell Drive, Elizabethtown, Ky., just off Interstate 65 at the Highway 62 exit. In addition to studio recording, the company does tape duplication, both real time and high-speed. The company can be reached at (502) 765-7899.