RSR037 – Tommy Wiggins – Tommy’s Tracks - Recording Studio Rockstars

RSR037 – Tommy Wiggins – Tommy’s Tracks

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

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RSR037 - Tommy Wiggins - Tommy's Tracks

My guest today is Tommy Wiggins a singer/songwriter, producer, educator, and mastering engineer now living in Nashville TN. He began his career in Minneapolis as an award winning recording artist releasing many records through the 80s and 90s, and even establishing his own record label called Chilidog Records to focus on alternative music.

With his experience in recording music, Tommy then added teaching audio to his resume at the Minneapolis Hennepin Technical College and later as the program director for Cuyahoga Community College's department of recording arts in Ohio.

Tommy is also creator, host and artistic director of five-time Emmy® winning music interview program “Words & Music” and concert performance program “Crooked River Groove” with 400 episodes since 2001.

More recently Tommy lives here in Nashville TN and records and masters music from his own studio, Tommy’s Tracks.


Tommy is always writing, recording and performing his music, as a solo artist, with the Americana vocal duo “Wiggins and Haack” and with his Baja band “Los Hombres Del Norte.”

Check out his solo Album Cool Saturdays

“You record because it’s coming out of your soul”

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Mastering Engineer

I’ve been mastering records since the early 90’s. I remember buying my first 1GB, used hard drive for $1,000 and a 5 pack of CDRs for $150. If you screwed up you had the world’s most expensive coaster. Mastering really is a niche that not everybody can do. My ears have really refined and tuned so I’m thinking in half DB increments, and its not what frequency but how wide of a curve (Q) you have or how narrow. To me I want to make records that I would want to listen to, so what I do is really have the artists and the producers back. What is the intent of the record? You have to try to make a really great listening experience for the listener. You want them to put the headphones on and to defy the norm of today of being able to shuffle through your day on your phone. I want to take them away on an experience. You shouldn’t be mastering with that L2 plugin you have because you don’t know where your frequencies are. I have speakers that cost probably more than your car, and I know exactly what the frequency response should sound like. It's a thing where you really have to give up your control at a certain point in order to make a better sounding record.

“The best way to be a producer is to be prepared”

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Tommy's Tracks

Tommy's Tracks was designed for Tommy. The whole idea is to be able to record a five piece band and a vocalist at once. I’ve always wanted to put together a studio band and be able to make music whether it's mine or me producing someone else. The space is like a clubhouse with a spa. The idea is to create a nice space where people can come and hang, that sounds good, and everything is there. The keyboard part of me is well represented as well with “20 feet of keyboards,” all plugged in and ready to go.

“There’s two kinds of recording: you’re either documenting or you’re creating. Choose one”

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Jam Session 

Q - What was holding you back at the start?
A - Myself. I was holding myself back because I was insecure with the technology. There's a book called Modern Recording Techniques and I had it by my bedside for several years. I’m the kind of learner that can only read so much, but I need to get in there and do it. Knowing what my brain is like and finally coming to grips to say I’m going to make a bunch of mistakes and I’m just going to do it until I think it sounds good and then remember what I did.

Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?

A- To be prepared. Go in and know your song, you’ll waste less time in the studio; practice your butt off. Being in Nashville as a musician, I look at myself as the luckiest guy in the room because to be better, I can hire and work with people better than me and then I aspire to be better than what I am. So I’ll rehearse and rehearse and have that song down cold. No matter who you have in the session, you’re the cat on the date right now. They are going to play the songs because they are professionals. You have to meet the expectations of them.

“Everybody in the world wants to belong to something bigger than they are”

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Q- Share with us a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.

A - A secret sauce is: less is more. The less you play the more space you're going to create and the more drama you can create. Eventually, the easier it's going to be to mix. One thing I learned early on, if it's not going right, I’d try to add another instrument. Instead, get the best sound you can out of each instruments and all of a sudden you can have less instruments and each one sounds like a million bucks.

Q - Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
1176. I bought my first one for $250, I still have it 30 years later. I have had the same vocal chain for 20 years. Which is Neumann 582 with a large capsule (its an east german Ghelffly thing) into an API preamp 512 into an API 560 EQ, into 1176 into the channel.

“We used to have to arrange our song because we only had so many tracks”

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Q - Share a favorite software tool for the studio

A - I use Wavelab for mastering and its really a great DAW, but I’ll also use ProTools. I used to be the director of the school we had 80 Protool systems and you had to deal with all the changes with computers and everything so I totally respect the modern DAW and totally respect the trouble you can get into from using it. Wavelab is designed specifically as a mastering software, but it can do other things.

Q -Share with us a tip for the business side of the recording studio

A - No matter who you are, if you're just starting out a really good resource is someone who’s been doing it longer than you that you can play yours stuff to and ask for advice, and have it come back where it's not a criticism but a critique. You can learn from that and do better work from. Everyone needs mentors. I think you need to find mentors whether they are online or not.

“Everyone needs mentors”

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Q - If you had to start over what gear would you need? How would you find people to record? And how would you make ends meet while you got started?

A - In terms of recording, you need to figure out if you’re a documenter of two track, but chances are you aren't. If you’re a multitrack recorder find yourself a really good 8 channel interface that has really good converters built in, get yourself a laptop, and then use the best cable you can. Buy yourself some good cables or learn how to solder, buy as good of a mic as you can buy: condenser, ribbon, dynamic. For years and years I had a RE20 and a 57 then I bought my first 414 condenser. Then I’d get yourself a good chain and that will take you years to put together. Money doesn’t grow on trees and that stuff costs a lot of money one channel of anything costs $500 and that's buying used stuff. Really its your ears and ability to identify what something is going to sound like recorded in a certain room. So if you don’t have all these plugins, you probably have different rooms in your house that each sound different. Finding people to play music with can come from anywhere.

“If you want to be a better engineer, record better musicians”

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Q - What is the single most important thing a listener can do to become a rockstar of the recording studio?

A - I would say you need to surround yourself the best musicians you possibly can because by recording them you’re going to be better at being an engineer.

Facebook: Tommy Wiggins 
Wiggins & Haack

Big Thanks to Tyler Cuidon & Merissa Marx for this week's episode!!

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