Inner Vu – Don Thompson / STUDIO 84

by Johnny Martin

How long have you been making your services available?
Since 1991 although I’ve been recording since the 70’s

What is the goal of your studio?
To be a blank sheet of paper & let the artist make art

What do you mix down to?
Whatever the project requires- CDR, DAT, 2track analog

Do you have time for experimentation?
All the time. I’m constantly questioning my own axioms

What type of music have you yet to record?
I guess orchestra and Celtic come to mind

What is your current fav preamp?
I don’t have one favorite. Also, the preamps in my console
are fantastic.

What do you monitor on?
Speakers of my own design & small radio shack speakers.
I also double check on the studio monitors at PCC Cascade where I teach
recording engineering.

What do you look for on each?
good balance on my own system and mid-bass & hi end on the radio shack
as well as a second octave check on kick-drum & bass.

Can you share a moment that elevated your engineering skills?
In the early 90’s the bassist on my first grunge session insisted on playing certain notes ½ step off the rest of the band because it shook the room. We used the mixing aspect to make it work, breaking all the so-called music rules, and I use the dissonance thing occasionally to this day.

Which part of your studio are you hoping to upgrade soon?
The computer part. I’m in the middle of a full Mac upgrade.

Any favorite ref CD’s you like for comparative listening?
I do exactly the opposite of what most do. I use bad examples and carry those with me to check other systems. Certain Heart, Quarterflash, early Robert Cray recordings. And good examples would include recent Eagles, Bonnie Raitt and Harry Connick Jr.

How did you arrive at this location?
I was looking for a large house with a dry basement.
It was quite the hunt

Any trouble with your neighbors?
Not for noise, no. It’s a brick house and I have the isolation really well done

Have you remodeled this recording space more than once?
Yes

Name 2 pieces of gear you’ve got your eye on.
I’m looking at plug-ins right now, & we have a huge selection at PCC for me to give a spin. I’m looking at outboard reverbs and retro compressors. I find myself falling back on my analog past, going out and back in the DAW. My rule is if I borrow a piece of gear more than once, then I buy it.

Can you recommend some websites for info & reviews?
Harmony Central. I do a lot of old amp stuff and there’s good info on the site

Any favorite publications you enjoy besides Buko Mag?
Mix, Electronic Musician, and EQ when I have time

What’s your headphone mix system?
It’s my own design, the amp and the system. I built a line voltage amp and ran the lines out thru the ceiling and all the controls for mix are overhead

Can you recommend any closed or open headphones?
Whatever works for you. I still like the basic AKG141

What’s your oldest piece of gear?
A couple Sony analog tape machines from the 60’s and 70’s

Does your studio have flexible hours?
It used to be more flexible before I got married (laughter)

Is there a mic that you reach for quite often?
My favorites are the AKG414’s and an old C50

How young were you when you started recording?
My first official recording was in 1977.

What made you want to be an engineer?
I couldn’t get a decent recording done in town.

How do you approach a session?
With an open mind. If it’s a band, one of my rules is to go see them live. Then I know who they think they are and I know who I think they are, and I have a really good idea of what they’re going for.

What’s your basic drum miking set up?
It’s never the same. I try to give the drummer or producer what they want.

What’s your current back-up system?
Right now I’m writing data and archiving to hard drives.

Do you do much ambient miking?
Yes. A lot of it

Have you had good luck with any local mastering houses?
In the old days, no. But things have gotten better

What’s your computer, operating system and recording software?
Right now it’s a hot-rodded G4 and DP 5.1.1

Any favorite plug-ins?
Plug-ins are just usable to me. Coming from the old analog world, the digital stuff just doesn’t knock my socks off

What’s your best sounding mic pre?
Hard to say. I do like the UA 610

What signs tell you that you’ve been mixing too long?
Barking at my wife, my stomach’s growling and I can’t hear anything (laughter)

Any mixes you’d like to have back?
Every single one

If so, what would you have done differently?
Every one has something different that you could improve because you’re on a path- a journey

Do you recall a favorite project?
Yes. For the music I liked the best, that would be Maggie Sayles.
For just being pleasant and organized, I would say Lizzy Tanzer from the punk band Stink & Linger. She brought her cat in and made it growl too.

Can you recommend any books to would-be-engineers?
I’ve been reading like a monster lately…maybe Modern Recording Techniques, something about acoustics.

Can you mention a piece of low-cost gear that surprised you?
Radio Shack electric condenser mic that you use for tape recorders. They have the on/off switch and plastic stand, and I use them for hi-hat. $20 microphone- it’ll smoke your brain! (laughter)

What kind of hospitality do you offer here?
Shower, Bathroom and refrigerator etc

How are you currently approaching compression on drums?
If I know I’m going to use compression during tracking, I almost always choose analog tape for natural tape compression. It fattens everything up and it’s really transparent. I love the shimmer from the analog high-end.

Any advice for young engineers in bedroom studios?
Learn acoustics and know what you’re listening to

We’re almost done. I have three more questions for you. Name one or two engineers you really admire and why?
The Bobs (Ludwig & Clearmountain) Because they’re old farts like me that are still at the top of the market. Who knows, maybe they can still hear too.

What’s the contact phone number to book STUDIO 84?
Studio 84 – 503-771-6001

Could you explain briefly the course you teach and how to enroll etc? (Buko’s really into mentoring young musicians)
PCC Cascade – Recording Technologies MUC 222 > 228 –
Recording technologies classes at PCC are geared toward DIY musicians and recordists. It is an intensive fast paced look into the physics and art of making and recording music. My goal is to give students the tools to work in any situation, on any equipment. The labs and lectures are designed to ground students in the core physics and operations while focusing on the artistry of what they do. There are many sources for the “how” of recording but few convey the “why” effectively. Knowing why allows the students to extend their understanding into new uncharted territory.

We have a new facility with a studio and 2 controls rooms, analog + digital and digital + analog. The analog room has a Soundworkshop console, MCI 1” 8trk MTR with classic reverbs, delays and compression supplemented by Digital Performer. The digital control room sports PT 7.1, Control|24, UA, TC outboard gear with an Otari MX70 16trk analog machine. Also DP 5.11 and a Panasonic Da7 console. In the digital realm I teach in a multi-platform style. I want students to be editors and mixers first and software wranglers second. I think the art of what we do is being usurped by the technology and its demands on the user. Personally, I feel technology is a barrier between my creative ideas and the realization of same. The more time between inspiration and feedback, the more an idea or feeling fades away. Training students to work quickly and efficiently also helps to make them more creative. Every student should leave PCC able to generate predictable repeatable results in terms of sonic quality and integrity of their work. Signing up for classes at PCC is simple. Register at any location or online. Enroll for classes via the same method. If you decide not to take the Intro to Recording (MUC 222) be aware that a good amount of experience is required and you will have to schedule an appointment (call 503-978-5226) to go through a screening process. My goal is not to make it hard to get in but provide students with the tools for success.

Don Thompson worked at Sunn Musical Instruments 1983-85 and is former owner/engineer of DB Sound Northwest. A guitar player, family man and current owner/engineer of Studio 84 in southeast Portland. Don currently teaches Recording Technologies at PCC Cascade Campus.
He instructs on all phases of acoustic engineering and mixing in both analog and digital domains, and has launched the career of many local engineers.

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