Reelin' In The Ears:

Central Kentucky Studios

By Mary C. Smith

The Lexington-area recording scene is a diverse collection of studios with enough bells and whistles to satisfy the most technically demanding musician. Need an unusual instrument? No problem. Need FX or back-up singers? No problem. Want analog? A video? No problem. Want an easy choice? Problem. Ten different studios, running the gamut from a cozy home basement set-up to a multi-plex state-of-the-art complex, afford bands and artist a wide range of services, options, and prices.

The facilities and equipment aren't the only diverse elements in the local recording industry. The sound engineers range from show biz veterans with their own recording credits, to preachers' kids, who first learned sound mixing on the church PA. With few exceptions, the men at the boards are musicians themselves, who love music and love what they do.

Wil Freebody, the energetic founder and chief engineer at The Long Island Recording Company, comes to the scene from a background as a recording artist, complete with a hit record. The royalties from a 1972 hit were the seed money for his first recording studio in Miami, a studio that has grown into a mini-conglomerate of five separate entities, including the School for the Recording Arts. Freebody offers a five month course, complete with UK college credit, teaching every aspect of recording technology. Recording sound, says Freebody, is simply "the management of electricity sound to electricity to sound." Freebody also boasts the most "sophisticated and extensive" Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) equipment in the state. Long Island also has a satellite facility in Pikeville, which, though not as extensive as the Lexington complex, also houses videos production in addition to the school and several recording studios.

Two of the most publicly visible or audible, as it were studios in the area are also the homes for live radio shows. Planet III hosts Michael Jonathan's "Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour," which is taped before an audience on Monday afternoons and broadcast on Saturdays on WRVG, 89.9FM, and on the World Radio Network. "Woodsongs" features local, national and international acoustic artists, ranging from bluegrass to blues, and attracts an international audience as well. Wakefire Studios, in nearby Nicholasville, tapes WKQQ's (100.1) "Local Live" shows on Tuesday evenings for broadcast on Sunday nights. Featured guests are exclusively local and regional rock bands. The show is hosted by Shea Maddox, who can always be counted on to provide her own brand of excitement to the evening.

Planet III, housed in the former slave quarters and barn of one of Lexington's original homesteads, is a whirlwind of activity. Owner and chief engineer Kevin Johnson can be found at any given time mixing jingles, mastering national acts' mix-downs or designing the acoustic specs for radio stations. He remains constantly busy, relying on his innate sense of the music as much as he does his expertise on the technical end of the process.

"It's not the gear, it's the ear," says Kevin, who backs up his ear with a wide range of instruments and an impressive array of equipment. Kevin got his start in the business due to his willingness to manage the PA for his own band "way back when." Not surprisingly, this is how many sound engineers get their start.

Not so Richard Easterling of Wakefire Studios. He's the preacher's kid, who quickly moved on from hymns and the church PA to his own rock band and it's PA. Richard, Patrick Milholland and Aaron Atherton who is also CEO and marketing director for Wakefire founded the studio less that a year ago.. They haven't really had time to look back since due to the over whelming demand for their audio and digital graphics services. Involvement with WKQQ's "Local Live" and the QQ/Miller Lite "Decent Exposure Contests" has forged the way for the studio to get a solid lock on the local market. They recently mastered the additional tracks on Supafuzz's Gotham Records rerelease,Supafuzz (You might know the original titlePretty Blank Page.) Currently, the high tech studio is adding a blue screen room to enhance video productions and a major equipment upgrade is in the works. Easterling has been adding bands from the Cincinnati and Louisville areas to his roster and is eager for more. "We're in it for the long-haul," smiled Atherton.

Apparently the entire scene is booming and also in it for the long haul. None of the engineer/owners who were interviewed for this story feel any turndown in the industry, nor do they feel any negative repercussion from the advent of affordable home digital recording equipment. Johnson feels that the band who has its own DAT machine "comes in with a better knowledge of what I do" and is more willing to work with the studio to produce the desired effects.

"I do a lot of mastering - the final pre-duplication process of ‘leveling out' the sound and if a band has done the recording and mix-down, they have a better appreciation of my process," he notes.

The studios also agreed that the Lexington scene is still viable despite the recent closure of several original music clubs and mentioned the recent Supafuzz signing, plus the addition of Art Geko's "Bitter" into regular rotation on WKQQ, as signs of an upswing in original music. Wakefire Studio has plans to syndicate its "Local Live" production to the Louisville and Cincinnati markets, thereby expanding exposure of all three original music scenes. [Execution of these plans is now contingent upon the recent Clear Channel Broadcasting takeover of the region's Jacor Corporation radio stations keep your fingers crossed.]

None of the studios relies solely on original recordings for an income. Most do advertising jingles, corporate projects, and, bi-annually, campaign materials. Planet III even has the UK Basketball CD-Rom to its credits. Wakefire does video commercials for television broadcast. Long Island Recording, in addition to the School for Recording Arts, also has a School for Performing Arts, artist management, and the Simple Dreams Anti-Drug Foundation. Many of the studios will financially produce a disc, as well as engineer it. Again, the options and services vary widely from studio to studio.

According to Johnson, the Lexington recording engineers are a fairly close-knit group who get together once a month to swap tales, share ideas and keep each other informed of technical updates and the like. There seems to be an unusual spirit of brotherhood and camaraderie in what can be a very cutthroat industry. Indeed, the engineers advised that any would-be recording bands 'shop around' and spend time with as many different engineers, in as many different studios as possible.

"It's vitally important that a band or artist feel comfortable with the studio and the technicians," says Johnson, "and that everyone feels comfortable with the results." Easterling advises listening to samples "in your car. The product sounds a whole lot different in the studio than it does on a car stereo."

It was agreed that a choice based on price alone was not always the wisest choice, and all studios surveyed were willing to work with their pricing structure. Johnson offered this cost-cutting hint: "Practice, practice, practice before you get in the studio. Have every lick laid out and ready to record. It's a waste of money to wait until you get on the clock to work out the details."

So, all ready to go shopping? Here's a list of the Lexington area studios. Always, always, always make an appointment and be prepared to spend some time at each facility, getting to know the staff, listening to demos, watching the process and finding your comfort level.

Campbell Productions, Lexington (606-223-0410) Formerly "Tune Town," Les Campbell also offers desktop publishing and graphics.

Barrick Recording, Glascow (502-651-2712) okay, Dave's not very close to Lexington, but he does work with eight to ten Lexington bands a year, and who can forget his deal with the Kentucky Headhunters? Dave recently donated all of his time and talents to the upcoming ACE Magazine release,Holiday Party - Volume One a benefit compilation CD featuring local artists signing holiday favorites.

Dixon Digital Studios, Winchester (800-489-6639) also offers duplication, video services, studio musicians and a producer.

Good Old Boy's Music, Lexington (606-255-9872)

Grooves Recording Studio, Lexington (606-223-2222)

Lightyear Recording, Lexington (606-233-1418)

Long Island Recording, Lexington (606-224-2071) see article

Mainstreet Productions, Lexington (606-226-4678) also offers duplication and distribution

Planet III, Lexington (606-225-0333) see article

Track 16 Recording, Lexington (606-253-0588)

Wakefire Studios, Nicholasville (606- 881-0200) see article