Nick Stevens & Downtown Recording

By John Bohannon

Since 1993, Nick Stevens has worked at making Downtown Recording (formerly VML) Louisville's premier studio. In March of this year, Downtown Recording moved from their 2000 sq ft. Main Street location to their new 5000 sq ft location at 515 South Fourth Street, just a stone's throw from Fourth Street Live! When walking into this beautiful studio (designed by Orlando studio designer Neils Kastor), it's like walking into another world. The environment has an extremely elegant feel, but Nick and his staff are very welcoming and humble.

A diverse crowd of artists including Black Cross, Emmanuel, Peter Searcy, Waterproof Blonde, Static, Breather Resist, Native, The Merediths, Cabin, Digital Black, The Lords, Goodfella and Jamison Taylor French have all either recorded or plan to record at the studio. Even My Morning Jacket spent a week at DTR, rehearsing for their part in Cameron Crowe's "Elizabethtown" flick. Nick and his staff have a continuously busy schedule and strive to make the best recordings in the area.

Nick ventured to Louisville from New York City after a recording career with his band, 3-D (Polydor) and then later owned his own recording facility there. He made his decision to come to Louisville because of the high problem rate in NYC and for the basic need of a change of scenery. Stevens has worked extremely hard to get his studio to the position it is in today and is a very determined and forthright person.

His philosophy on music and the Louisville scene holds a genuine amount of truth and is quite extraordinary. When I asked Nick about his views on the Louisville music scene, he made a positive point that local artists should take into consideration. He said, "I would like to think that Louisville could realize this "dream" of being the next great music place. Louisville has a tremendous amount of talented people and more places to play than just about any town I have ever been to. There are so many venues for musicians to express themselves in and this offers a great opportunity to develop a musical concept. But I think this opportunity is often squandered. I go out a lot to hear music and I am continually disappointed because the bands haven't worked at all at connecting with their audience. Music is our universal language; it's the ultimate form of communication. We write songs and play music because we want everyone to listen, sing along and love us. As a group, musicians are, deep down, terribly insecure. We need the love and attention of others. So in the end, it's really all about the audience. If you have chosen to present your music to an audience, then you are not just an artist anymore, but you are also an entertainer. You must never forget that the audience has ventured out of their homes into the cold night, to wherever you are playing and has paid money to see you. Now it's your job to blow them away. There are no excuses. If they don't leave lovin' you, then you've failed and you need to figure out why. Usually that translates down to the fundamentals: being well-rehearsed, having a set that is structured and paced well and making sure the sound is right (that's spelled s-o-u-n-d c-h-e-c-k). Sometimes it's as simple as that."

"But the bottom line is, it's the dream of making records that drives us all. It's about making records. You have to get your music to "tape." The process of doing that is difficult at best."

Stevens' beliefs stand high on the fact that the skill set needed to make music in the studio are unique. "The studio has little relationship to playing live. Playing live you play something and it's gone forever; the music you make in the studio lasts forever. In a live performance you have the instant gratification of an audience, along with the energy that an audience generates, the lights, the volume, the beer and so on. It's totally different from being in the studio, where none of those things are there to contribute to your performance. It's just you, a microphone and an engineer. The goal in making a record is to have the best performance of your life, alone, in a room where there is no one but you and the producer and commit that performance to a tangible medium that endures, forever and that takes some practice." Nick emphasizes. To do it right takes talented people who understand the process. There is reason why there are "record producers."

When an artist comes in with an idea, it is the producer/engineer's job to get that idea on tape. Nick, his partner Mark Noderer and engineers Chris Greenwell and Brian Haulter are just as important to the music as the musicians themselves and that can be an awesome responsibility. The New York Times once published an article on the "ten most stressful jobs" and clocking in at number 2 was, sure enough, a recording engineer, right behind an air traffic controller! This gives you a brief idea of the day-to-day process that Nick and his crew maintain at Downtown Recording.

Nick's understanding of music is beyond the mass majority of our society and his outlook to the future stays positive. If you want to talk to a man with his priorities straight, come see Mr. Stevens.

Downtown Recording's new location is open for business. They invite you by anytime to take a peak at Louisville's `premier' studio.