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RSR034 – Brad Jones – Alex The Great

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

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RSR034 - Brad Jones - Alex The Great

My guest today is Brad Jones a Producer, Engineer, Mixer, and Musician based in Nashville. With Robin Eaton he has co-owned the Alex the Great Recording where we are now since 1993. This is a particularly special episode today because Brad was also my mentor when I started out in recording. Alex The Great was the first studio where I learned how to record, and Brad was the one who taught me how to make the musicians feel at home to capture a great performance.

Brad’s production credits are extensive including Jill Sobule,

Bobby Bare Jr., Butterfly Boucher, Hayes Carll, Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell, Steve Forbert, Government Cheese, Jason And The Scorchers, Josh Rouse, and The Shazam to name just a few.

Brad is also a songwriter and performer. His solo record Gilt Flake released in 2000 was recognized as a master work of power pop, and I’ll include links in the show notes. He also plays regularly on Nashville stages with The Long Players, a group of musicians that recreate favorite albums in their entirety, everything from The Doors, and REM, to Cheap Trick or The Beatles. So as you can imagine Brad knows many of the classic records intimately, and understands how to create those sounds in the studio as well.

Check out Brad's Solo Record Gilt Flake!!

“We knew that we wanted to offer imagination to people and so that's why we called it a non studio name, Alex the Great.”

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Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'N' Roll

Brad raved about this Peter Guralnick book he just finished about the great Sam Phillips. Sam created Sun Records in 1950. He discovered a lot of the greats such as Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash! His whole life was centered around bringing about whatever was unique in each artist. 

Brad Jones - On Sam Phillips - 

There are some mistakes that are just bad mistakes but there’s others that if you just give it a moment and listen to it a second or a third time the beauty of that unexpected, unintended thing starts to come out and it starts to sound less like a mistake and more like an inspiration or a mutation. That is after all how the human race or any animal organism gets better over time is by mutating. So it could be that some of those mistakes are mutations and we should embrace them

“I spend all of day one listening to the artist, instead of the artist listening to me”

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Other Things We Talked About 

  • How Brad started his studio from nothing
  • Brad’s go to vocal mic and settings
  • Bobby Bare Jr.'s album “Longest Meow”
  • ​Mixing in stereo vs mono
  • ​Building Alex the Great
  • How coloring tracks influences your perception of the music 

Jam Session 

Q - What was holding you back at the start?
A - Well now you can get a studio in a box with your Mac. Back then you had to figure out how to get in a studio or how to buy gear and it was expensive! It’s not even inflation adjusted its the same or more back then as it is now per hour, plus I grew up in Iowa and there weren’t opportunities.

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

A- Just looking at this room, Bill Halverson when we were setting up the control room, I asked where we should put up the big speakers? He said put them in the back of the control room to get the artist out of your hair, lets you be up front actually getting some work done. That was his take on where you put your big speakers, which is why they are there right now!!

“We forget that the microphone is here to serve the music”

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

A - I recently got a shotgun mic. Shotgun mics are condenser mics that were used on movies so that you could have a mic picking up the dialog from 5 feet away and it wouldn’t show on the camera frame. It has such a tight pattern, without a lot of room bleed you can still hear the person talk 5 feet away. So I've been experimenting with those because my objective is to not have to mic an acoustic guitar at 12 inches anymore. To not have to mic an upright bass because there's other people playing and there's bleed. I want to hear what that bass sounds like a few feet away from it. The problem with all rooms that you're in is that there's going to be weird wall reflections. So if you use a U87 5 feet away, you’ll hear the bass in a way that sounds way more realistic than that bass would ever sound than if you were up close to it. But the downside is bringing all that weird splashy wall reflection, and that’s kind of an ugly meat-locker sound. So my shotgun mic has been a way for me to sort of hear that bass at 5 feet without the wall reflection.

Q - Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
A- I love my harmonica mic, my green bullet, I put on everything. Let me put in a pitch for the API 550 because there is some philosophy behind this. Everyone knows the API 550A is the original, great API 3 band EQ. The reason I think it's worthy to reach for in the studio, even the plugin version, there is not a half DB boost on it. If you choose 1.5k, which is the frequency I choose more than any of the others, it forces you to do either a 2 or a 4 DB boost or cut. There’s no little pansy half moves. It forces you to carve big and recklessly, and that's what I adore about it!

“Each record is its own puzzle, each record has it own set of problems and its own things. You have to approach each record that way”

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Q - Share a favorite software tool for the studio

A - I get so much use to this very day out of the most unsexy, oldest plugins that there are. I find that Digidesign lowly proprietary EQs are intensely usable. They are laid out not with vintage knobs, they are just dull grey backgrounds with a slider. That slider is so much quicker and easier to use. To be able to type in the exact threshold or time that I want rather than putz around with some knob that doesn’t work right. I think there's a lot of visual hocus pocus going into these newer plugin for eq and compression where the older ones are much easier to work. I’m a big believer of McDSP’s they are not sexy to look at, they look cheap. They do everything, and they do it really super well. I use the Digidesign pitch shift all day long.

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

A -  I don’t have a very good answer for that. We’ve never been very ambitious here, it’s always been word of mouth thing, but in today’s environment if you’re out with a studio from scratch you really want to carve out some niches for yourself. Be a studio that specializes in doing location recordings at megachurches or be a studio that specializes in jingles that are geared toward internet placement or be a studio that's geared towards unplugged and acoustic music. Give it a thrust, it might be harder than ever to be all purpose.

“Working in mono all day long causes you to carve harder and make bolder, bigger choices”

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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 - Back to what I was saying earlier, find your niche. Make your gig mobile, record church choirs or sporting events. If you're set up in your home become good at mixing a particular kind of music. On the production side of it, picking undervalued stock. If you’re a new and unknown guy in town go see music as many bands and singer-songwriters as you can. You’ll see the ones that have people hover over them because they are the current buzz band, you’re not going to get that band you need to make an approach to a band that’s being somewhat ignored and you think you know the reason why and the easy fix. You make your pitch to that band explaining why their message isn’t getting through and why you’re the guy to get their message to start coming through, or you have a whole new idea for them. Two things could happen, they think you’re crazy and fire you because they don’t want to hear it, or they think you’re crazy and they give you a shot! A couple months later, when the fans say they’ve never heard the band sound so good.. that's when you're the hero; that’s when you go from chump to champ.

“We don’t need music that is beautifully blended because there's enough of [it]. We need bolder moves”

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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 - Put in the time with understanding how music is put together. Put in the musical time. Learn a new instrument, analyze the musical structure and chords of a song. Figure out why a Beatles melody is so fresh and why others aren’t. Figure that stuff out, it takes thousand of hours to do it too.You have to put in the time.


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