John Macy of Macy Sound Studios is providing 15 hours of quality studio recording time for the DOM’s recent 3Q winner. He has worked on several high profile projects in the past, including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Los Lobos. John is also an accomplished musician with a deep history in our local music scene.
I recently asked him for a little background and reflection on his musical career…
Q: John, how did you get your start in the world of recording?
John: It was kind of a sideways entrance into the business. My family moved from Texas to Boston just before my senior year of high school. I had graduated from high school and was killing time before heading to U Mass Amherst for an English Lit major when a friend invited me to visit a session at Intermedia Studios in downtown Boston. Great studio—the early Aerosmith stuff was done there. Anyway, it took about thirty seconds for a career change…never made it to school and have been in the business ever since. I have been very fortunate to live in a state I love, and still manage to have worked on gold, platinum and Grammy winning records.
Q: Who were some of your mentors?
John: One of my earliest was a guy named Rick McCollister who worked out of Applewood Studios in Golden when I first moved out here. He taught me a lot about microphone selection and placement, stuff I use everyday…the other was a guy named Paul DeVillers, who did a lot of great records like Yes’ Big Generator and Mister Mister…he camped out in the Iliff street studio during the 90’s with us, and is a master of layering tracks in the studio—you could be working on a mix and having trouble getting something to poke through the mix, and he would move down the console and eq something totally unrelated and your part would just pop right out…a true master…
Q: How about your background as a musician?
John: I started playing steel guitar right as I started in the studio, and it is a major part of my life. Actually, playing steel is what brought me to Colorado. I took a job playing with Michael Martin Murphey in 1976 and moved to Colorado for it. I pretty much quit the road in the early eighties, but carried on a lot of session work all along. I play a lot these days, primarily with Casey James Prestwood and the Burning Angels, and do plenty of session work for clients all over the country.
Q: Your new studio was built in the back of the Park House on Colfax – why did you decide to leave your old set up [22 years on Iliff]?
John: Well, being in one facility for over 20 years is a part of it — sometimes you just need a change and reinvention to keep yourself inspired and moving forward. I am so excited to be a part of East Colfax and the Bluebird District. I felt right at home the first time I walked into the Park House, and Drew and Evan, the owners, are true music fans and very into helping the scene grow out there. Plus it is so great to be surrounded with music venues, great restaurants, a brand new Sprouts Market, and a daily cast of colorful characters that make East Colfax what it is.
Interestingly enough, we are adding a second location that is just across the street from the old facility on Iliff, geared up more for tracking. It is in the site of a previous studio, and it is fun to breathe new life into an existing facility. This studio should be online in the next month or so. And Silo [Studio] is continuing on in our old facility—it’s nice to see rooms continue on and so sad to see so many studios in other cities being torn down for new development.
Q: How does the new studio compare to the old place?
John: This studio is smaller and more intimate. It is primarily geared for mixing and overdubs, though it is an excellent fit for tracking the right project. Comparison wise, it has all the same great gear, mics and piano etc. that I had at the old space, so nothing has changed in that manner. I like the sound of the new control room better, and the place has a vibe I really like.
One unique aspect is we are adding tie lines to the stage of the Park House to facilitate live recording and future webcasting with high quality audio. Part of our uniqueness is our ability to merge classic analog technology with modern digital techniques to have the best of both worlds. We have a lot of classic gear you can’t find at many studios. Not to mention you can stroll down the hall, grab dinner and a cocktail and hear some music…
Our second location, Studio B, has a completely different vibe, tied together with certain elements that will let you know you are still at Macy Sound Studios.
We also have the capacity to take a recording rig anywhere you might want to record. I have been doing this for years, from live records recorded at the BlueBird, Boulder and Fox Theaters, to location recordings for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in an Aspen house to Casey Prestwood’s new record done in a country house outside Nashville.
I think inspired performances in inspiring places are way more important than studios and gear for the right artist. I also have a place right on the bay in Rockport, Texas that can be the ultimate getaway for recording vocals. If you have ever sung at sea level, with all the extra oxygen and humidity, you know what I am talking about. There are guest accommodations for six, amazing kitchen and awesome views for inspiration.
One last thing is we have been able to build relationships over the years with other engineers and studios in places like Nashville, Texas, Los Angeles and Atlanta, so it is very easy to access musicians that were previously unattainable with local budgets. I just did a Skype session a few days ago with Sam Bush on mandolin in Nashville and one with Hank Singer on fiddle from Dallas the same week—makes the world a lot smaller!
There are also a couple of guys working out of the studio with me who round everything out. Ken Koroshetz, who worked with us in the original facility on Iliff just happened to move back from LA at the time I was moving and is awesome. He has worked on projects from Fleetwood Mac to Mac 10 during his LA tenure, and it is wonderful to have him back. Clark Hagan is also making the studios his home, and has Grammy and Platinum credits from his time working in Nashville and really rounds out the team. And of course, we welcome outside engineers and producers seeking to work in a killer facility.
Q: You’ve had some pretty significant local clients. What have been some of the highlights for you?
John: My favorite project tends to be the one I am working on at the moment…I love real music played by great musicians, live if possible. I love working on country, blues, bluegrass, jazz, rootsy rock and roll, anything with feel. I’m definitely the wrong guy to call for a hip hop or a metal record…
There are a lot of highlights, and I almost hesitate for leaving someone out. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Richie Furay comes to mind first—I have recorded and produced his entire catalog since his returning to the scene in the mid ‘90’s…Jeff Hanna from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band says the record “Acoustic” that we cut on Iliff a few years back is one of his favorite records they have made…Matt Morris was incredible, and even more so since I got my first gold record playing steel for his father, Gary…John Common, The Congress, Boulder Acoustic Society, Danielle Ate the Sandwich, The Railbenders—the list goes on and on. I am starting a new record for the Congress next week, and I just can’t get enough of those guys—amazingly soulful players and great people!
Q: What have been some of the biggest challenges to date?
John: There are so many challenges these days, sales are in the tank, and so are the budgets that follow, everyone wants the newest gear while asking for lower rates, everyone has a studio at home, and so on…
I think the answer to these challenges is to bring something unique to the table that enhances a project, through experience, gear, whatever. Working to help interface with an artist through all phases of the project, whether it be in our studio or the artist’s…creating a vibe in the studio that brings out the best in the artist…sharing your knowledge—all this adds up to creating the word of mouth that keeps you busy.
Q: What advice would you give to musicians preparing to enter the studio?
John: These words to the wise from Cowboy Jack Clement are posted at Johnny Cash’s cabin and at Jack’s Tracks (where Garth Brooks made history) as well as other discerning recording studios. These are his ten rules for recording…
1. Be alert.
2. Be on time.
3. Don’t bring or invite anyone.
4. Don’t talk about your troubles.
5. Don’t mention the words “earphones”, “headphones”, “cans”, “earmuffs” or the like.
6. Be quiet when the Cowboy is speaking.
7. Don’t be timid or shy with your playing.
8. Have a good day.
10. Remember that it only takes three minutes to cut a hit record.
Q: Yes, sir! And what are some of the best recording tips you’ve personally gotten over the years?
John: There are so many…
Be ready: The ‘wrong’ gear choice that is ready beats waiting past the ‘best available performance window.’
Change, don’t ‘tweak;’ no one hears ‘tweaks.’
Cowboy Jack Clement is a wealth of tips — some of my faves are his take on Pro Tools editing (“I hate to be fixing the airplane after its taken off”), perfection (“Perfect equates to shit”) and playing it great (“It only takes three minutes to cut a hit song”)…and my favorite “The music business is not so bad if you’re not in it”…
“The producer is always, or at least usually, partially right” John Boylan
Know when to call it a day…
AIR–Always In Record—you never know what might happen…
Great stuff there. John, thanks for your time and thanks again for supporting Denver Original Music!