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Larry Crane

RSR051 – Larry Crane – Tape Op Magazine and Jackpot! Recording Studio

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

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RSR051 - Larry Crane - Tape Op Magazine and Jackpot! Recording Studio

My guest today is Larry Crane, editor and founder of Tape Op Magazine (started in 1996). He is also owner of Portland’s Jackpot! Recording Studio (since 1997).

Larry is a freelance producer/engineer who’s worked nationwide, and is also the archivist for the Estate of Elliott Smith. His career has taken him down many paths working as a record label owner, radio station music director, DJ, record distributor in sales, freelance music journalist, book editor, and bass player playing in bands since 1984, including Elephant Factory, Vomit Launch and the Sunbirds.

He's spoken on and moderated panels about recording for TapeOpCon, SXSW, NXNW, NARAS, AES, and CMJ. And has worked with many artists including Sleater-Kinney, The Decemberists, Jenny Lewis, M. Ward, Go-Betweens, Elliott Smith, Stephen Malkmus, Quasi, David J, She & Him, Richmond Fontaine, and more.

I remember back in 1996 when my mentor Brad Jones (also a guest on the podcast in episode 34) came back from making a record out on the west coast and handed me a small xeroxed folded “zine” that he said some kid was making out of his bedroom in Portland.

It was full of interviews from the alternative side of recording, and shared the perspective of the record producer underdog. It was aptly named “TapeOp” which was traditionally the first role of a new engineer in the big old school studios. But in 1996 a Tape Op represented those of us with a four track making our own records on cassette tapes and home studios. It was the coolest thing I had seen in recording culture back then, and has never let me down in 20 years.

Larry Crane

As a music fan you go, why are some records better than others? 99% of the time it has nothing to do with sounding better, it has something that cuts across and feeds emotion to you and there are a million different ways to do that. As a fan you analyze all those different ways, an an artist you pick some things and focus on that, and as a record producer you try to know more than your clients know and have a huge well to draw from.

TapeOp Started as a "Zine"

I think people have a hard time understanding if they were raised where the internet was always around why you would xerox, staple, and mail something to people. But for people to connect back then about esoteric topics like recording at home or small recording studio stuff, that was the way you had to do it otherwise you just had no voice. When the magazine started I was doing the magazine layouts on cardboard. Using glue sticks, paper, printing things out and gluing them in place. 

How Did You Record Miss Misery by Elliott Smith?

The best thing was to get out of the way. He was this personal who had very strong musical arrangements kind of finished in his head, you just had to facilitate and get really straightforward sounds. I miced the kick, snare, overheads, done. We didn’t have very many mics for that record. I think the overhead mics are audio technica 37R’s, the kick drum an RE20, the snare was a 57. It was simple! 16 track 2in, a Mackie Console, and a Langevin c3a for the vocal. There’s a piano and we used Pro37s (small diaphragm condenser). Those are great mics $130 a piece. They don’t have a shrill top end so they record well. The thing that was amazing is when you track stuff like that and push the faders up it sounded great because the arrangements were so concise. - Online Courses

This has been really cool. For years I’ve done workshops at my studio and I had happened to be in a meeting with David Franz who runs the part of that. It was a meeting for TapeOp and I said I’d love to do something like that because I was thinking of doing some of my little bits as videos. The great thing about doing Lynda is that it’s for a school so when people watch them you get royalties. I can do concise comprehensive courses have them them up there! For the initial start they sent a 4 person crew up with a producer and a couple cameras and it was just awesome they take and edit it and finish all the stuff for it. The platform Linda is great. It’s $25 a month and you can watch every video that’s on there.


I know you’ve interviewed some of the greatest producers and engineers that exist. Do you have any favorite guests?

Some of them have been lifetime goals like even just to meet Brian Eno was amazing. Along the way even hanging out with Robyn Hitchcock backstage or people like that was such a treat. It’s nice to meet people on a professional level and sit down and talk about them and their music.

What are things you learned from Brian Eno?

I always have been into his work for years, I love the intellectual creativity of it. He looks at everything like a way to learn and a way to explore and see something fresh and new. I think that’s a very important thing to keep in mind that music is art and it doesn’t have to be constructed in any certain way and it doesn’t have to follow any rules. Sitting and talking with him, we ended up talking about a lot of different stuff, it was enlightening.
One of the things we was talking about at the end of the interview was the song The Streets Have No Name by U2 and it kept morphing to the point where by the end all the original parts were gone and were replaced by something else and it was no longer working in some sort of way. He wanted to go and erase the whole song. In some ways I wondered what would have happened if he did, but it was also probably an instigation to get the band to wrap it up.

What are things you learned from Robyn Hitchcock?

The nice part about talking to him was about how much he didn’t know or care about the recording process. He would just try to be in situations that feel comfortable to him where I would have his often dreamed of trains album has a certain vibe to it where he went in and recorded late at night with candles and he’s like nope.. just went in and knocked the songs down. It was fun to talk to him about that and different scenarios of things that had gone right or wrong. It's fun to talk to artists about that and get out of this engineer producer hell hole

“At the end of the day, I’m just a music fan” - Larry Crane

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Jam Session 

Q- What was holding you back at the start?
A -I think knowledge. I needed to learn what a mic pre was and how you set those things. That was the hard part. Today is very different, but I still think if you start with a very good book or something that goes through the fundamentals is good. The most important thing is to get some gear and start messing around with that.

Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?
A - Probably to do TapeOp and go interview all these people making good records. The magazine started because I had been writing for a couple of different magazines and a local weekly and everything went defunct right about the same time. I wanted to keep doing interviews and things like that and I thought if I was going to do a music magazine they all have the same format. So I thought about doing a small zene and threw that idea at friends and they all liked it.

“To me the one thing you can do if you love an art form is to put something back in” - Larry Crane

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Q - Q- Share with us a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.
I’d say just cutting things. Arranging, cutting things out, cutting frequencies out, just don’t put as much into the final mix as you think it needs.

Q -Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
The Tama Rhythm watch is a metronome that you can tap along and figure out a bpm of something. The great thing about it is even if you’re working in ProTools, using your own metronome you can start and stop and do stuff in the middle of a song. I love having the independent metronome.

Q -Share a favorite software tool for the studio
Isotope RX5. I think it’s pretty amazing and once you get comfortable using it you can match room ambiences and things like that. You can reduce reverb on a track, all kinds of stuff.

“There’s a desire for musicians to fill up space” - Larry Crane

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

A - Quickbooks online is my favorite way of keeping track of our books and doing our billing and stuff because we can send someone an email of their invoice as a button to just click to go to their bank transfer or pay with a credit card. So for our deposits or billing after a session we just send the email and it notifies me if it’s paid or if it’s overdue.

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

A I think listen to a lot of other music. I think listening and analyzing other people's records that you admire and noting what makes them good and what you don’t like about them and just formulating a taste that guides you. Listen and listen and break down the instrumentation, what makes this song feel special, just listening critically all the time knowing how things were created. If you really like a record, learn more about it and you’ll gain something from it.

“Don’t kill it with precision” - Larry Crane 

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Big Thanks to Alex Skelton & Merissa Marx for this week's episode!!