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Chris Mara

RSR027 – Chris Mara – Welcome to 1979

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

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RSR027 - Chris Mara - Welcome to 1979

My guest today is Chris Mara owner of Nashville’s Welcome To 1979 recording studio, and owner of Mara Machines; the largest analog tape machine restoration company in the world.

Chris’s passion for recording led to founding the analog-centric Welcome To 1979; which has clients such as Pete Townshend, Eric Burdon, Brendan Benson, The Features, North Mississippi Allstars, The Protomen, John Oats, and Jack White’s Third Man Records among many.

Welcome To 1979

Chris shared the journey he took to start his own unique analog tracking facility. Located in an old record pressing plant, his control room is a whopping 1,200 sq ft featuring an MCI-428 built in 1987.

Welcome to 1979 Control Room 

“The epiphany was: The thing I don’t have will be my greatest asset” @Welcometo1979

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Vinyl Mastering 

Welcome to 1979 also has a beautiful cutting lathe and vinyl mastering department, making masters for Sony Records, Warner Records, Compass Records and Concord Records, along with many independent artists. 

Chris learned from Hank Williams what the vinyl mastering process is and what a cutting lathe is. His studio now uses a Neumann VMS70 to master vinyls in real time. The masters are turned into metal and hot pressed into the vinyl record.

Neumann VMS70

Vinyl master your album at 1979

YOU can send WAV files or tapes to Welcome to 1979, and they’ll send the lacquer master off for metal stamper for you to send to a vinyl pressing plant of your choosing.​

“We’re the only place in the country that you can send a WAV file to and we can ship a metal stamper to a pressing plant of your choice” 

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Mara Machines restores analog MCI tape machines in use all over the world: Canada, Mexico, Greece, Vietnam, England, Brazil and of course, the United States. Mara Machines clients include Pete Townshend, Arcade Fire, Live, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Ryan Freeland, Greg Wells & Justin Niebank.

“I think the coolest thing about a tape machine, is it changes your workflow” @Welcometo1979

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Recording Summit 

Rockstars this is something really cool that you will want to know about. Welcome To 1979 is also ground zero for a yearly Recording Summit inviting you to meet panels of experts that have included inspiring producers like Vance Powell, Richard Dodd, Mitch Easter, Gary Paczosa, Larry Crane, and mastering engineer Hank Williams during previous years.

Chris wanted to bring "AES" and "Potluck" to a more intimate level. His summit has 60 spots consisting of business and music panels, that talks a lot about day to day challenges such as  “the art of production and taxes."

“I decided to have a small, yet high impact summit here” @Welcometo1979

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Tape Camp

Chris also hosts a regular event called Tape Camp where you can spend a weekend in the studio learning all about analog tape, from aligning the machines right through recording a session. He shares how people would email him asking to learn more about tape machines, so he started a camp twice a year where they invite ten people the weekend to come get hands on learning experience recording to tape. A special third day set aside for tape alignment. 

Student at Tape Camp

“My dad taught me, when you’re fixing something, don’t look at your tool box for 10 minutes. Take a look and see what’s going on” @Welcometo1979

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Jam Session 

Q - What was holding you back at the start?
A - I’d say Wisconsin. Being 7 hours North of Chicago, there was no industry or connections, so I moved here (to Nashville).

Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?
A -Larry Crane is a good friend of mine, and in one of his issues of Tape Op he talks about photography which is a hobby of mine. He had this saying, “if there’s something cool happening, don’t go back to your car to get the better camera, because when you get back the elk is done doing what it’s doing.” So it’s kind of like shooting the shot with what you have. That has helped me very well. If someone is singing and jamming, throw the mic up and go.

“You can’t unring a bell” @Welcometo1979

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

A - So a friend of mine who attended tape camp, we both have a BlueStripe 1176. I went to his studio and he’s like check this out. If you turn this attack knob, it clicks off, and it’ll distort. The very next week Eric Burdon comes here and the producer's like, “man we need a little hair on this” and I had just the right thing. Dare I say the student became the teacher.

Q - Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
I rarely record without a DBX 160. They make sense to me. I love to use them on kick, snare, guitars vocals, bass, background vocals. Lately I’ve been putting one behind another compressor as a limiter on a vocal especially. When I first started recording, I just became fond of the sound.

Q - Share a favorite software tool for the studio

A - The Sans Amp has pulled me out of a lot of fires. Echoboy... I started mixing in the box once I found Echoboy. 

“If you’re seeking out instant gratification, you're in the wrong business” @Welcometo1979

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

A - Yoli, my wife, runs the business side. She’s brilliantly smart and financially conservative. She's the one that grew Mara Machines. I just backed into being a business owner. I’ve got a lot of friends and neighbors that are a lot smarter than me. We sit and drink wine and I play golf with them and they teach me things on their business and how they think of things.

“Get to the point, whatever your career is, to be able to choose your tools” @Welcometo1979

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Q- How do you find a great business partner? What should you look out for?

A - Flashy is not the answer. Everyone that I look up to is very unassuming. The best engineers won't tell you what they worked on, you have to pull it out of them.

“If you’re motivated and you can hustle, you can make money” @Welcometo1979

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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 - I think what I would do is find bands and retain a good vocal chain something that I could use on guitars and vocals. 

Q - What if somebody wanted to start with an all analog setup?

A - I would say a one-inch 8 track machine and a small console like a Machey 16 channel, and a 8 channel one for return and a slew of 57’s

“Especially in the studio, listen more than you talk” @Welcometo1979

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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 - Be nice, work hard. Especially in the studio, listen more than you talk