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RSR052 – David Kalmusky – Recording Journey and Addiction Sound Studios

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

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RSR052 - David Kalmusky - Recording Journey and Addiction Sound Studios

My guest today is David Kalmusky, a Producer / Guitarist / Engineer / and Mixer. In 2012 David helped design and build Addiction Sound Studios in Nashville TN, along with Engineer / Studio Designer Chris Huston (whose credits include Led Zeppelin and The Who) and studio owner Jonathan Cain of Journey, Bad English, and The Babys. At Addiction Sound David and Jonathan host their shared tracking room, and individual production and mix rooms.

David is deeply involved in the local audio community, hosting Recording Academy, NAAM, and local manufacturer events. And has regularly appeared on top 10 Billboard charts, spanning several genres, including credits on 2 Billboard #1’s. David is also an expert with Pro Tools having worked with the Avid platform since its beginning. So we will dig into some great questions about that too.

His multi platinum, Grammy nominated work, includes Journey, Justin Bieber, Emerson Drive, The Fray, Shawn Mendes, Vince Gill, and John Oates, to name just a few of the hundreds of artists with which David has recorded and toured.

I have known David for years and owe a great deal of my own professional network to the connections that David has helped me create.

“It’s not about work ethic. If you aren’t compelled to do this, if this doesn't keep you up at night and wake you up in the morning because you’re excited and curious to hear something just in and of itself, not for the payoff, not for making hit records, for the results itself of what is obsessing you then find something else to do”

David Kalmusky

Biggest Failure?

You know in this business I think most of my personal failure is the fact that we’re all kind of freelance, we do work for a lot of different camps, teams, artists, diverse groups of people, and diverse groups of pay. When I started getting into some gigs that were more money than I ever made before, I’d spend it all. I found throughout the years to be in some really difficult predicaments. So I guess my failures were self management. I’d have to go out on the road, I’d have to leave the studio because I had to make some money and pay off debt. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re spending all your money, you’re going to find yourself always chasing the money. This is a really up and down industry. You’re a business person, you’re setting yourself up, you’re investing in yourself. Don’t think because you’ve made a certain amount that that is always the bar as to which you will be paid. You don’t need to do pro bono projects, you need to be involved in things because they’re amazing and there’s a pedigree of talent that you haven’t been invited to take part in and sometimes you’re not always invited to take partake in the monetization of that. We’re always interning on some level.

“I don’t believe about fitting in and conforming to any kind of standard” - David Kalmusky

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Co-Producing with John Oates

I got to do something cool which was co-produce with John Oates, from Hall and Oates, Christmas single with the Time Jumpers. So I got to record a Western swing with an 80s pop singer doing something really cool. It was in the month of July, 100 degrees out, and we had every room full, triple fiddles in here, Vince Gill and Paul Franklin, just every room filled.

I’m working constantly with very young people who haven’t necessarily gotten their break yet. In this town I’ve gotten to work with a young Lennon and Maisy and a very young Hunter Hayes long before he was signed, so I continue to have several people in my life like that as well. That’s the stuff I’m most excited about, the stuff that no one has heard yet and I hope that people do get to hear it. I love getting into a room with an artist who’s just found themselves and getting to make that debut record and get through that process. I think I’m valuable as a mentor and as a producer and an engineer. I don’t always get to do the record either, but anything goes, Nashville is not competitive that way. I don’t mope around going, “Well I developed material with that artist and when they got signed the label put them with another producer,” that’s life. You just stay in the game, keep your head down, and make a lot music.

“The best resource in the music industry is community” - David Kalmusky 

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Working with Jonathan Cain - Recording Journey

The John Cain story is a tremendously long one, but I’ll try to condense it into the fact that I was actually working with his daughter. We were recording vocals together and she had worked with a lot of different people and we just hit it off. He loved the vocal sound we were getting so he decided to come into the studio and check it out. Immediately we had a Bearsville connection, he recorded his first solo record in Bearsville and I explained my father’s history. We were both gearheads and talked about the mic selection for his daughter and why I chose the one I did etc, and he was like, “Man do you want to record the vocals for the Journey Eclipse record?” Kevin Shirley had gotten very, very busy and had basically asked them to record some vocals on their own, so it was just the perfect timing and the perfect Nashville environment and of course I said yes! Eventually became friends with Neal Schon and Arnel Pineda and they came to Nashville and we recorded the vocals in my little studio. The whole time I was looking for a place, John was selling his home in California so we became great friends and would talk about well maybe we should build a studio together. John is not just a rich rockstar that just spends money and has everybody do stuff for him, we would sit around and audition pre-amps together and listen to gear. He’s one of us man, he really is. He is enamoured by engineering and acoustics and the room and we built an echo chamber together. We really became such tremendous friends through making that Journey record together. I ended up taking over recording overdubs, mixing the record, and supervising the mastering of it all with Kevin Shirley’s blessing. Fast forward years later the band flew me to Tokyo and I produced Journey live at Budokan, I did four solo Neal Schon records, three or four solo projects with Jonathan. It sounds like it happened overnight, but it didn’t.

                                            Journey - Eclipse Album

Addiction Sound Studio

I found a property in Berry Hill and called John up and said, “I found a little cottage maybe we could split it.” He said no, I sold my house and studio in California, if we’re doing to do it, let's build our dream studio. We wanted an echo chamber but knew there was no room in the blueprints of this building. One day I was out back and saw the Bobcat tractor start to dig up to pour concrete and they were digging pretty deep, so I sent John a text saying “underground echochamber, speak now or forever hold your peace,” and sure enough the phone rings and he’s like, “Let’s do it!!” So we rebuilt a replica of Abbey Roads Studios echochamber. It’s totally sealed off, it has a manhole, a sewer grate lid. Eventually we want to get a submarine hatch for it.

Jam Session 

Q- What was holding you back at the start?
A -I am a stubborn, persistent little bastard and there is nothing that has held me back. My advice is don’t wait for opportunity, there is no opportunity, just do everything that you want to do.

“Use your ears, not your gear” - David Kalmusky

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Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?
A - The best advice I received is probably what we touched on a little bit.. don’t use all your gear or all your plugins. The other best advice I got was from my dad and that was to stop and listen. Use your ears, not your gear.

Q - Q- Share with us a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.
Have fun and play with some weird, cool, cheap devices. Explore some weird, realtime analog things. You can get a little handheld recorder, bounce a track to it, then put it back into ProTools and line it up as close as you can with all the analog drift that doesn’t allow it to line up and use it as a double, it’s cool! Play with plugins, make your own presets. Don’t use stock reverbs, use them as a starting place and create your own sound. The coolest trick you could ever do is be unique.

“There’s a real psychology to making music with clients” - David Kalmusky

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Q -Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
My favorite cheap piece of gear I’ve used on every vocal I’ve put out for the past decade the $100 Orban 526A D-esser. It’s my favorite D-esser, it’s very natural and has one knob. You can generally rely on the commonality of choices and wisdom from studios. You see a lot of 1176’s and LA2A’s and they have their place for a reason.

Q -Share a favorite software tool for the studio
When it comes to plugins, it’s such an exciting time for audio to have the capability of doing things with look-ahead compression that is impossible to do in the analog world without actually really elaborately delaying tracks for side chain pre-emphasis. Nevertheless some tools that are in the box that are amazing for me is dynamic spectrum mapper, it’s like having a 40,000 multi-band dynamic EQ. For matching vocals and taking the bite out of a vocal, it will take it out of those moments but leave it completely untouched otherwise. The Fab Filter ProQ EQ is one of the greatest surgical and musical EQ’s like all in one thing. I put it across my two mix, it’s always on my two bus and I love it.

“There are no opportunities, you make your opportunities” - David Kalmusky 

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

A - Running a studio is actually running a personal career, it’s still a people business. People don’t come here to work with my gear. It’s about community, it’s about you. Be great at what you do, but join into the community. Don't hide in your studio or in your bedroom. Get out into the community and share your knowledge. Explore and see how others are doing things.

“We are in the atmosphere business where it’s all about the vibe” - David Kalmusky

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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 -  Learn what everybody else is doing, understand it, and then don’t fit in. You’re impossible to replace if you’re unique. It’s not about the place anymore, it’s about you. At the beginning learn what everyone else is doing because that’s the commonality of excellence, then start making interesting decisions to make you you. Just use your ears and react in the moment.

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