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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.

David Kalmusky Facebook
Addiction Sound Studio
Addiction Studios Facebook

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

RSR031 – Dave Tough – Producer’s Room

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

If you dig the show I would be honored if you would subscribe, and leave a rating, & review in iTunes.

RSR031 - Dave Tough - The Producer's Room

My guest today is Dave Tough, a Dove award-winning producer, engineer, and songwriter based here in Nashville, TN. He is also a music industry educator at Belmont University, and an active voting member of the Recording Academy (Grammy Awards).

Dave has won the Grand Prize in the John Lennon songwriting contest 2013 (Electronica Category) and in 2009 (Country Category). He has written and produced over 150 songs for major motion pictures and television including Pretty Little Liars, Empire, Glee, Nashville, and CSI.

And Rockstars, you may also enjoy his television show called Producer’s Room with Dave Tough, featuring interviews with music industry creators, and studio tours.

"The focus of the show is a little different, we talk more about the creative process rather than focusing on the technical side"

“It's not our job as engineers to judge the lyrics, we’re judging the tonal qualities of the recording” @DaveTough

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Writing for TV and Film

"Film is more emotion based meaning the texture and temporal quality of the recording has as much to do as the lyrical content. It's the antithesis of Nashville. In Nashville it's all about the lyrics. We are gonna look at the floor and say that's a red rug with purple flowers on it and we're really going to describe everything about it. In film and tv we leave it more ambiguous. We’d say that rug makes me feel delicious. It’s more of a John Lennon approach. It evokes an emotion, not only the lyric but the texture of the song."

Writing Tips for Electronica Pop:
"My wife and I have a band called Xavier & Ophelia. Our song “Falling Down” won the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in 2013. For this song we wanted to do a Hall and Oates chord progression to a dance beat. So when I sat down to record it, I used references, I like this high hit on this song and this drum beat on this song.. As far as tonality there aren’t any rules besides managing the low end. Side-chaining the bass to the kick."

Mixing Tips for Country Music: 
"The first thing is the lyric. Lyric’s got to be heard and cut through so vocal intelligibility is number one. Clearing out the low end besides for bass and drums. Making the others crosshatch together and finding little places in the spectrum that they’ll work together."

“If you’re going to record music.. you should understand music” @DaveTough

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Jam Session 

Q - What was holding you back at the start?
A - Two things, one I started from a musical perspective. But when I first said I’m going to be an engineer I thought it was a science. I thought man I can do a calculation to get from point A to point B if I once again do this compression ratio, but the more you live you realize it’s more of an art. The second thing was I had gear acquisition syndrome. I realized after a long time that you don’t have to have all of that.

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

A- It’s all about the song and the arrangement and all of that… With my students I’ll play them a really good song, and a really bad produced song and ask them which one they want to listen to. It really depends on their frame of mind, but they see that the production is not what it’s all about. So if you don’t start with a good song, good arrangement, good players, you’re not going to get too far in the engineering world.

“If you want to eat in this town, you’re going to be working on other genres that you may not be a huge fan of” @DaveTough

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

A - I would say a really solid signal chain on the front end. I’m all about the pre-production, good tones, good arrangement. If I’m speaking for producing I would say also keep a rolodex of musicians. What I typically like to do is if I go out and see a show I take a note on my iphone this drummer is good at rock. Being able to cast players for different kinds of records.

Q - Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
Favorite hardware would be a good instrument, and then my signal chain of choice would be something simple like a U87 a solid state condenser mic that has a flat response so I can tweak it later and a nice preamp.

“Engineering was only a function of composition for me” @DaveTough

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Q - Share a favorite software tool for the studio

A - Believe it or not, I actually dig the CLA bundles the Waves OneKnob. Everyone’s like you have the be a beginner engineer to use those. I think one of the most important things as an engineer is to capture your initial gut reaction and if I’m going through plugins and tweaking stuff for 30 min to get a bass sound.. I lost my gut reaction, I lost my initial impression. So with those types of tools the general CLAs, JJPs, Waves Bundle, that kind of stuff that has little pre-sets and their signal chain is built in, I can capture 90% of what I’m hearing within 3 minutes. Other stuff I was thinking about, I use Waves RVox I use a lot, of course everyone uses the UAD stuff. Another tool that changed my mixing was the oxford bundle by Sonnox's. The oxford limiter on the master bus, the oxford eq… One other piece is gear is the warm audio 1176. For $500 it’s pretty nice!

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

A - The problem with engineers, is they only want to hang with engineers. That’s totally the opposite of what you need to do if you are trying to start a business! You need to go hang out with the people that need you. So like here in Nashville you need to go to NSAI where all the songwriters hang out and they don’t have any technical chops. And those are the people you need to hang with because then it's a win win. They can use what you do, you can use what they do or their money.. Either way.

“That’s what I love about engineering and music in general.. There’s something to learn everyday” @DaveTough

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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 - First of all I would go out to the clubs and meet some of the musicians and pick their brains. After that, as far as a setup, when I worked with Bruce Swedien (Michael Jackson’s Engineer) one of his ten commandments was always mic in stereo. So maybe two U87’s, two LA 610’s and maybe some apogee converters and a laptop. As far as making ends meet, I heard a good piece of advice from a songwriter once to get a job at night so you can use all your fruitful energy during the day for your craft and then when you’re sleepy you go to work.

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

A - Find what your deep driving desire is and find your unique voice, I think that’s so important. It may take you not 10,000 hours but 20-40,000 hours to find your unique voice. If you think about all the great artists, Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius, George Massenburg, they all have a unique voice in their genre. On the flip side always try to work with an artist with a unique voice. When you can start becoming selective, dont record that guy that sounds like John Mayer, because we already have John Mayer. The label doesn’t need him, society doesn’t need him. You need to find someone with a unique voice that’s saying something unique lyrically but also sounds different and that’s where you’re going to have your best chance at success.

“You will become what you are...whatever’s in your heart, it will manifest itself” @DaveTough

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