Velvet Echo Studios | Buzz Blog

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Velvet Echo Studios

Posted By on November 11, 2014, 11:00 AM

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Watching the Utah County music scene grow over the past decade has been a thing of beauty. I can clearly remember a time when people would still say “Provo? Isn't that where The Used came from?” (Technically it was Orem, but you get the idea.) With 2014 coming to a close, we're at a point where Utah County is seeing one of the biggest influxes of musicians and album releases since names like Joshua James and Neon Trees helped make the area boom. With the expansion comes more opportunities to make that music heard, which includes the work of the producing duo at Velvet Echo Studios, who have been helping fuel the fire with new albums being recorded in their space. Today we chat with founders Steve Newman and Mike McClellan about forming the recording space and the impact they're having on the local music. (All pictures courtesy of Velvet Echo.)

Mike McClellan & Steve Newman
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Gavin: Hey guys, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Steve: Mike and I are actually cousins, we grew up with him driving from Oregon once a year to visit in the summer for about a week. We'd stay up late listening to music, playing Nintendo, and teaching each other stuff we'd learned on guitar.

Gavin: What first got you interested in music and what were your favorite acts growing up?

Mike: When I was a kid, my older brothers used to have this old Casio keyboard. They used to make these MIDI sequences that were so cool. So I started messing around with it,  and that's pretty much what I've been doing with my life ever since.

Steve: I grew up with a dad who loved playing electric guitar. So music was always around in the house. What really got me hooked was when my parents let me have this terrible old record player. It had one tiny speaker built-in and came with a small children's record. (Something about teddy bears having a picnic.) I was fascinated by it from a mechanical standpoint, watching the arm move and hearing the pitch go up and down as the table had trouble keeping the same speed. Eventually, I found my parents' old records (Full LP's barely fit, and you couldn't close the lid because the record stuck out too far) and starting listening to The Beatles. I've been hooked on them ever since.

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Gavin: Both of you went through the BYU Media Music program, what made you choose BYU and what was it like going through that program?

Steve: BYU just felt like a good idea at the time. As for music, I eventually stopped trying to talk myself out of it and started learning classical guitar. I loved it, but over time found myself reading about microphones and amps when I should have been practicing. The change to media music came soon after.

Mike: I think I had a somewhat unique experience in the BYU Media Music program because I was fortunate enough to land a job as a TA for the songwriting classes, and MIDI studio for almost the entire time I was there. Because of that, I got to spend a lot of one on one time with Ron Simpson just before he retired and that was a really great experience for me with a really great mentor. In a way, I feel like I caught the end of an era, learning a very classic and timeless approach to songwriting. I also credit a great deal of my education to Dave Zimmerman who really showed me the ropes in terms of MIDI sequencing and learning my way around a recording studio. I'll always have more to learn, but I really loved my experience in BYU's program.

Gavin: At the time, what were your impressions of the local music scene?

Steve: To me the local scene was exciting and surprising. There were always new acts coming you'd never heard of, and the sense of community was pretty cool.

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Gavin: What got you interested in doing studio recordings and becoming producers?

Mike: I've always known I wanted to compose and produce, but the path for me was looking a little unclear after graduation until Steve approached me about the joint venture. The way we've set it up has given us the tools to get involved in all kinds of projects. It's been amazing.

Steve: Playing in bands makes you want to record. Once we saw the advantages of being able to record ourselves, the progression was natural. Once we got good enough to start recording other people, it was really fun to take part in projects that showcased other people's creative styles. I think it's really energizing to see so many different approaches to music, even with artists who play similar styles. Producing is now one of my favorite things.

Gavin: What was it like for each of you learning the ropes and figuring out how to create a great recording?

Steve: Mike started learning it, and it was just too cool to not start learning too. We did a lot of personal projects that really helped us learn some basics, and like any other skill you get better the more you practice and the more you learn.

Mike: It's an ongoing process. I think when I'm 60 I'll be listening to recordings I made when I was 59 and thinking to myself, "Man, I've sure improved." I think the main thing is to keep refining your ear. Keep listening. The more detail you can hear in the great recordings out there, the better you'll be able to use the instruments and equipment you have to capture the sound you want.

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Gavin: How did the idea come about to start-up your own studio, and where did the name come from?

Steve: I was in a music business class, and we had a guest speaker come in who talked about how you can make things happen in your life if you just get over being afraid of failing and move ahead full steam. For whatever reason, it really set me on fire, so I started getting the money together to get better recording equipment. Up till then, recording had been a way to get our own projects laid down. I invited Mike to take the plunge with me in making it a business.

Gavin: How did you decide on the studio location and what was it like setting it up to handle recordings?

Mike: The home-studio setup made the most sense to us, and converting it into a good-sounding room was quite a lot of fun. We built custom diffusers and had a good time finding ways to vibe the place up in a functional, esthetically pleasing way. We get a lot of positive comments about the atmosphere when people walk in. We're also pretty proud of how much we've been able to eliminate outside noise. You gotta love that studio silence.

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Gavin: For those curious, what kind of equipment and instruments do you have?

Steve: We have some great mics from Neumann, Miktek and Royer to name a few. Mic pres from Neve and Universal Audio. We have an array of guitars and basses from Fender, Gibson and others. Some great tubes amps from Vox and Fender. Check our website for a more comprehensive gear listing.

Gavin: You opened up in 2012, what was your first-year operating like and how was the response from the music community?

Mike: The first year was really fun. There are a lot of great studios around here that have been going for a long time so we really tried to set ourselves apart from those more established studios. We've definitely developed some great relationships with some very talented artists and players.

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Gavin: Who are some of your favorite bands you've had a chance to work with since opening the studio?

Steve: The Arcadians was the first full album recorded in our studio, so there are lots of fond memories there. More recently, we did an EP with Kitfox that was a real pleasure to work on.

Mike: We've worked with a lot of really cool musicians. We really enjoyed producing No More Nightmares with The Arcadians (now RKDN). They're a really fun group of guys and we had a blast developing the sound of that record with them. That album gets played on KOHS quite a bit and it's always fun to hear it. Also, a personal favorite of mine is the EP we did with Jenessa Smith. Those tracks are so lovely and haunting in the best way.

Gavin: For those interested in recording anything at the studio, what other services are available for musicians to take advantage of?

Mike: One of the things that sets us apart is that when you book time at the studio, you have access to both me and Steve as producers and engineers and we make a great team. You know how they say two heads are better than one. That's definitely true here. Another thing some people might like to know is that both Steve and I are songwriters, and we've had songs of ours placed in quite a few national commercials. We love to write with the artists that come to the studio.

Steve: Aside from tracking and mixing, we produce. Also we are willing to play on the record as well. We do that mostly for singer/songwriters who don't have bands, but we get asked to play parts on recordings frequently.

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Gavin: Are there any plans to expand the studio beyond what you have now, or are you comfortable with the way you have everything set up?

Steve: We really enjoy the space we are in now, but who knows what the future holds. I'm a gear nut, so I know we'll continue to expand our equipment collection.

Gavin: What's your take on other studios in the area, and do you view them as competition or simply comrades working to the same goals?

Mike: If we could have our way, I think everyone we know around here could work together in a giant megalithic studio where we could all just make amazing things and have access to all the greatest gear and greatest talent. I personally don't see it as a competition. Everyone's got something a little different to offer and I just want to see everyone getting to do what they love.

Steve: Dave Zimmerman from Noisebox Studios, who taught me the ropes of Protools, really set the tone for how I view other studios. His philosophy was that there was plenty of work in the valley and that different studios and producers have different strengths that work well with certain groups of artists. He shares his knowledge with other studios in regards to cool tricks he learns, and is just the nicest dude. Because of him I believe that as we all get better the whole scene here just gets better.

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Gavin: Do you wish there were more areas available for bands to practice and record in, or are we pretty well set for what we have?

Steve: I think there is no shortage of studios, but I know people definitely wish there were more places to rehearse. I think that's one of the bigger challenges young bands face.

Gavin: What do you hope to achieve with the studio and where do you hope to take it in the next few years?

Steve: Onward and upward man. This is a rewarding way to make a living.

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Gavin: What can we expect from both yourselves and Velvet Echo over the rest of the year and going into next?

Mike: We're currently working on a record with Amy Whitcomb (The Sing-Off, The Voice) that's on track to be released early next year. These tracks are on another level. It's pretty exciting.

Steve: You probably won't know it if it happens, but you may hear some compositions of ours on TV randomly. We actually do a lot of composition work for TV commercials and other film projects.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Steve: Keep an eye out for Amy Whitcomb's new EP coming out in January. We recorded and produced the whole project at Velvet Echo, and even co-wrote some of the tunes. We're really excited for people to hear it.

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