A Studio Made for Musicians: Enter Magic Door Recording

New sounds are busy being born on a regular basis – however the place do they arrive from?

For many who crave recent sonic experiences, look to this dependable supply: Magic Door Recording. An elite audio facility in Montclair, NJ, creativity takes high precedence right here.

Surely, Magic Door is technically sound. However that’s not the distinctive promoting proposition put forth by its founder, Ray Ketchem. A drummer, producer, and mixer, in addition to a industrial illustrator, Ketchem designed Magic Door to be a spot of musical inspiration, firstly.

Artists from world famend to strictly indie agree. Because it opened in 2017, this New Jersey recording studio has been attracting well-known names like Guided by Voices, Luna, Versus, Leslie Odom Jr., the Kinks’ Dave Davies, Kenny Garrett, WFMU, and producer/mixer/A&R exec David Bendeth. Ketchem’s personal acclaimed outfit Elk Metropolis works there recurrently, plus an extended listing of bands and performers spanning a number of genres. (Go to right here for the studio’s newest Spotify playlist.)

Guests are drawn to Magic Door by a number of enticements. Acoustics have been architected by loudspeaker legend George Augspurger, whereas the distinct visible aesthetic – soothing greys shot by way of with bursts of coloration – comes from Ketchem. A graduate of the Artwork Institute of Pittsburgh, Ketchem made certain his studio mirrored a artistic headspace.

As you’ll see, Ketchem eschewed an analog console, choosing a streamlined workflow and thoroughly curated gear. Sporting his producer hat, he de-emphasizes polish and perfection in favor of the emotional highs that emerge from musical spontaneity. All made potential by way of severe listening – an exercise that takes on new which means at Magic Door.

Learn on for Ray Ketchem’s various tackle audio and the studio enterprise. Producers, engineers, mixers, and musicians alike are certain to get new concepts from this SonicScoop interview.

The George Augspurger-designed management room of Magic Door in Montclair, NJ. (Picture credit score: George Kopp)

My first query is: Let’s geek out on drums! For those who may have a celebration with a few of your all-time fave drummers, who would you invite?

Okay. Okay. Effectively, my all-time favourite drummer is John Bonham. The best way his groove was so robust, the way in which he makes use of the kick drum was simply so unbelievable and really influential to me. As a result of I’m primarily a rock fan, I’m obliged to say Keith Moon as a result of he’s so unorthodox and what he’s enjoying shouldn’t work as you perceive. And but, nobody appeared like him ever. He’s such a novel drummer.

Most likely my favourite drummer so far as influencing me although can be Charlie Watts. I like his really feel and his simplicity. And Stan Lynch, who was once in The Heartbreakers. I’ve at all times thought his drumming was nice. I may go on all day.

With studios like Sound on Sound additionally on the town, Montclair appears to be a quiet sizzling spot for recording. What’s making that space place to file?

The explanation I selected the situation is I’m solely a few blocks from Bay Avenue practice station, so folks popping out from New York or Brooklyn can get right here simply. And the studio is correct within the downtown space so that you’re simply a few blocks away from all of the eating places and bars and theaters, museums, and all that stuff. If bands are right here for a short while they usually’ve obtained a while off, they will wander up the road and discover some nice meals, and locations to hang around. They don’t have to hold within the studio on a regular basis.

Geographically, the place are your purchasers coming from? What number of are coming from New York Metropolis versus New Jersey versus different places?

I might say New York and New Jersey is about half and half between these two. Some bands have come from LA, a band got here from Detroit. And (A&R exec/producer/mixer) David Bendeth may have folks are available from nearly all over the place to work with him.

What’s nice about having him as a consumer is he’ll normally e-book the studio for months at a time. He’ll do an enormous block of time and say, “I want 40 days or 60 days,” or one thing like that. It’s that old fashioned – he works very slowly and meticulously, and the tip outcome could be very polished. His tasks aren’t rushed.

Studio Design: A Musical Perspective

You’re a drummer and producer, in addition to a studio proprietor. How did your personal musical experiences form the way in which that you just approached the design for Magic Door?

I needed to make it comfy for musicians to be right here, so I attempted to design the studio as a spot that I might need to spend time. It needed to be a vibey, impressed area that didn’t fairly appear like a standard studio. So many studios have that Avatar/Energy Station look. And I used to be like, “I don’t need to do this. I need to do one thing completely different that appears distinctive.”

I additionally needed to keep in mind that I’m nonetheless an lively musician. I needed to have a spot the place I might play and the place my band would file, so I used to be additionally taking that into consideration. I assume I’ve actually considered it from the musician’s perspective the entire time.

That being stated, I employed George Augspurger who acoustically designed the entire place. The design is meticulous, the rooms all sound nice. He was unbelievable to work with. It’s all designed by a professional, after all, however then I selected the aesthetics after the rooms have been constructed.

What’s the function that visible aesthetics play in placing collectively a artistic and galvanizing setting?

The primary response I get from folks once they see the studio for the primary time is, “Wow, I need to hand around in right here. I need to file in right here.” That wow issue was actually essential to me. However I additionally was working inside finances constraints. I had to consider, “What can I obtain that’s going to look good that’s not going to price one million {dollars}?”

It additionally actually was an essential factor for me to really feel like, “What would I really feel like behind the drum package sitting in that room? Would I take pleasure in it? Would I feel it’s cool to be in there?”

Inventive headroom guidelines within the expansive stay room. (Picture credit score: George Kopp)

The Gear: Making Cautious Selections

What’s your method to the management room – inform me about what’s in there and what’s not in there?

Effectively, what’s not in right here is an analog console, and that was a choice I made when constructing. I (beforehand) had a console that was at all times in want of restore, and it was like coaxing an outdated automobile alongside or one thing, and the studio was expensive sufficient to construct, so I assumed, “Do I actually need a console?” And at that time, I used to be both mixing with a summing mixer, which I nonetheless do generally, or mixing within the field and utilizing principally outboard mic pres anyway.

So I invested in additional mic pres, and I like utilizing outboard mic pres so I can select flavors for recording. For mixing, I exploit the McDSP APB-16, that’s simply an unbelievable analog processing field. It’s a fairly fashionable setup. I normally will file straight from the mic to the mic pre proper into Burl converters. If I have to patch into an EQ or some compression when recording, I’ll. However I’m fairly pure in that manner. I attempt to get the supply to sound good on the mic.

Are you working in Professional Instruments, and do you have got a management floor?

I exploit the Softube Console 1, and I’ve the Harmful Monitor ST (monitor controller). And sure, it’s all Professional Instruments, which I’m entrance of on a regular basis. For converters I’ve obtained a Burl Mothership with 16 I/O and 16 out and in of Avid HD.

Are you able to inform me just a little extra in regards to the McDSP APB-16, and why that was best for you?

As quickly as I heard it, I used to be like, “Oh, I’ve to purchase this now!” It simply has an analog goodness to it that’s completely different from plugins. It’s one other taste. I apply it to my combine bus. I’ll apply it to lead vocals. I’ll apply it to the drum bus.

Basically what you’re doing is with one Thunderbolt cable, you’re sending as much as 16 channels out to D/A, and then you definately’re going into analog processing after which sending it again to A/D. It’s all in a cut up second, so that you’re controlling it as if it’s a plugin however you’re really processing within the analog area.

It was an enormous studio funding for me, however I used to be mixing quite a lot of information after I purchased it and I assumed, “That is going to make my work higher.”

Because you’re going console-less and relying on mic pres, inform me in regards to the unfold of mic pres that you just’ve gotten. How do you determine what will get into the studio?

Effectively, the outdated standbys, API and Neves. I’ve a Rupert Neve Designs 5025 Twin Shelford Mic Pre, which is a very lovely premium mic pre. I exploit that for lead vocals or perhaps the principle guitar monitor. After which I’ve obtained some BAE 1073s. I’ve obtained six channels of these, and people are simply unbelievable for guitars or drums or no matter you need to throw at them. I normally use them for guitars.

The RCA 44-BX ribbon is likely one of the studio’s prized mics. (Picture credit score: George Kopp)

After which I’ve eight channels of API 3124s, for drums after which some extra Rupert Neves, the 5024, which is a four-channel-in-a-single-rack unit. I’ve obtained 4 channels of the AEA Ribbon pre, the RPQ Ribbon. These are nice for the classic RCA 44-BXs, that are wonderful sounding mics.

What’s nice about these AEA ribbon pres is that they’ve obtained devoted outputs that don’t have phantom energy in any respect. So even when you’ve got an inexperienced engineer and also you have interaction phantom energy, I’ve obtained it hooked as much as the place you’ll be able to’t hit the classic ribbons with phantom.

“I Actually Simply Pay attention”

Let’s circle again then to your philosophy about getting the sound correct from the microphone moving into. Despite the fact that that appears apparent, some folks should be reminded that that’s a great way to go. Are you able to inform me extra in regards to the artwork and the science of with the ability to do this?

For me, it’s the artwork, not the science. I’m not a science man in any respect. I actually simply hear. And if I don’t like what I’m listening to from a mic on a supply, I’ll swap out the mic or I’ll go and transfer the mic till I like what I’m listening to. It’s actually years of expertise of selecting the best mics for the appropriate supply.

After which figuring out what it ought to sound like, going out and listening within the room, hearken to what the particular person feels like singing, after which selecting the best vocal mic for them. Do they sound like themselves once they’re singing into the microphone that you just put in entrance of them?

Shut up on the candy spot. (Picture credit score: George Kopp)

Otherwise you’re micing that guitar amp, does it sound good to you because it’s being picked up by the microphones that you just’re placing in entrance of it? Are you placing them in the appropriate spot? If there’s one thing mistaken instantly you’ll simply say, “Oh wait, one thing’s up. I’ve to go transfer a mic or swap a mic or go hearken to what this particular person is enjoying as a result of one thing doesn’t sound correct.”

I feel usually what must be carried out is simply listening to good, well-recorded or well-engineered information. You must know what the drums ought to sound like, or the guitar or the bass. You need to have an thought of what you’re making an attempt to dial in. And you need to be capable of get there with a microphone and mic preamp and converter with no EQ.

I like high-pass filters on my mic pres, as a result of I don’t need to have a bunch of mud within the low finish if I don’t want it. However low-end filtering is sort of all the EQing that I do when recording. I’d EQ the kick drum mics. These normally want just a little bit of affection, however aside from that, moving into, I’m not EQing so much.

On the superb 2022 Elk Metropolis file Above the Water, for instance, I heard some unconventional sound sources. I’m curious in case you can recall generally maybe the place you have been severely challenged within the studio to seize a sound the way in which you needed to, and the way did you deal with that?

I’ve realized that the room itself is only a large a part of the sound of the recordings you’re going to make.

For years, I labored at dwelling and I used to have my management room in the lounge of my home, and the basement was the stay room. I might experiment with issues I might examine, “Oh, this room mic or that room mic,” and I may by no means get it to sound correct since you’re coping with compromised acoustics. Whereas I’ve realized that if the stay room or the room you’re recording is effectively designed, you’ll be able to put a mic anyplace, it’s going to sound fascinating or good.

I like unconventional sounds. Generally I don’t like every little thing to be too polished or too excellent. I like when issues are bizarre, so if the artist is okay with it I’ll experiment with, “Let’s put a mic all the way in which over right here, or let’s strive placing a mic this low or no matter and see what we get.”

A number of Above the Water was carried out by recording the place we have been simply jamming actually, developing with stuff on the spot. It might need been issues the place it’s like, “Oh, we’re not likely arrange for an adventurous recording.” We’re really simply writing, after which we favored the efficiency effectively sufficient that we have been like, “Oh, let’s use that. Let’s flesh that out.”

Report Drums: “The Engineering is the Simple Half”

Let’s speak about among the artists you’ve labored with, Guided by Voices, Luna, Versus, amongst others. What’s the widespread thread among the many artists that come to work at Magic Door?

Everybody you simply named comes from related scenes, by way of an underground aesthetic of guitar bands, so quite a lot of the folks know one another. That’s how I’ve gotten to work with a few of these bands. For instance, Elk Metropolis opened some reveals in Spain for Luna, and that’s after I met them.

Luna’s guitar participant, Sean (Eden), who ended up additionally turning into the guitar participant for Elk Metropolis, we simply met backstage and hit it off. So it was extra of, “Oh, I like this particular person.” When it got here to them engaged on a file, he stated, “Hey, I’m sad with the way in which that is blended. You need to take a shot at mixing some of these things?” What I’m saying is it’s extra making associates with folks, figuring out work with folks and being somebody that they need to work with.

Drums are in focus. (Picture credit score: George Kopp)

With Guided by Voices, I obtained extremely fortunate as a result of they actually just like the drum sounds, so I turned identified for recording their drums. I’ve recorded the total band additionally, however in case you take a look at a few of my credit I’ve carried out all of the drums on a bunch of their information.

Magic Door is a superb sounding drum room. That was actually essential to me, in order that was one thing that I talked to George Augspurger about. “That’s actually going to be essential for me, George. I need the drums to sound wonderful.” So he targeted on that.

What do “wonderful sounding” drums imply to you? As a result of that’s undoubtedly a subjective time period.

We may circle again to that first query in regards to the drummers that I discussed earlier than. Charlie Watts, I like the way in which Charlie Watts’s drum sound. Jim Keltner, I like Jim Keltner’s drumming and drum sounds. Sean Pelton from “Saturday Night time Stay” has been right here a couple of occasions for some periods and his drumming is unbelievable, and I like the sounds he will get. Kevin March from Guided by Voices is an effective good friend of mine, and he’s a tremendous drummer and is aware of coax nice sounds out of the drums.

A lot of what makes drum sound, as I’m certain you realize, is the drummer themselves, figuring out hit the drums, figuring out coax the sound out of the package in simply the appropriate manner. I can mic up the package, it’ll sound nice to me. Then a distinct drummer will come within the subsequent day and I haven’t moved something, and all of the sudden the drum sound isn’t working in any respect.

Say there’s an rising engineer who’s studying this and desires to know degree up their very own drum engineering, what recommendation would you give to them? The place ought to they pay extra consideration to assist them seize a greater drum sound?

I might say an important factor are the drums themselves. Do the drums sound good within the room to you? Are the heads good? They don’t should be new heads, however do the drums really sound good? If not, then make them sound good. Work on them till they really sound good to you. After which the following half goes to be the drummer.

The engineering half actually is the straightforward half. I imply, you would get an excellent drum sound with a bunch of SM57s. You don’t want costly mics and also you don’t want quite a lot of mics.

I wish to have fairly a couple of mics, perhaps about 12 mics on a package. However that actually is only for colours at combine time, the place in case you’re like, “Oh, I need to deliver the hi-hat up for that bridge part, or I need to have some enjoyable bringing within the journey cymbal just a little louder throughout that solo part or no matter,” it simply provides you the choice. Whereas when you’ve got restricted mics, you’re like, “Effectively, we didn’t have a mic on the hi-hat, so I can’t do something with that.”

The Music Producer Function: Pursuing Imperfection

We’ve been within the weeds with the engineering right here, let’s additionally speak about being a music producer. How do you outline that function? What’s the producer there to do and to not do?

It’s a tough state of affairs as a result of I really feel like producer must know when to interrupt and converse up, however additionally they have to know when to let silence fall. They should give the artist a second to breathe and to pay attention.

I’ve witnessed different producers being up the butt of the artist just a little an excessive amount of. A very good producer has to develop a relationship and construct belief with the artist.

Visiting artists discover a welcoming setting at Magic Door. (Picture credit score: George Kopp)

You’re serving to the artist attempt to obtain their imaginative and prescient. That may be an lively function, such interjecting, rearranging, altering tempos, altering keys, something like that. I do all these issues that if I’ve a relationship with the artist and I’ve gained their belief, or that’s our settlement they usually need me to be doing these issues.

However there are different occasions the place the producer function will be extra passive. The place you’re simply there to be a help system. The artist has the imaginative and prescient that they’re going for, and also you’re there to make it possible for they keep on monitor.

The prevailing knowledge is for the artist to be tremendous tight and prepared with their songs once they hit the studio, however you’ve disputed that notion in your producer work. Are you able to develop on that?

I don’t like when issues are too ready. I like when the artist has left just a little bit as much as probability, the place we’d get an unique second or they’re going to be open minded sufficient that in case you say to them, “Hey, what if we pace this up by 10 bpm?” you’re not going to fully wreck their complete world.

In the event that they’re so ready that they’ve rehearsed it and rehearsed it and rehearsed it and rehearsed it, they usually’re simply coming to seize their efficiency, that doesn’t give the manufacturing a lot room to develop. You then’re simply documenting what they’re doing. It’s nearly like they’re coming into your studio to carry out stay and also you’re there to go, “Hey, that sounded good. Good job guys!” And that’s it.

Which is ok, and perhaps that’s acceptable, however I like when it’s just a little bit extra of, “Let’s get into the weeds just a little bit, have some enjoyable and get actually artistic. Perhaps these songs will take some shapes that you just guys didn’t anticipate and perhaps you’ll shock yourselves.”

I like when an artist says to me on the finish of a recording, “Oh my God, I by no means may have envisioned the way in which it got here out. I’m so completely happy. I had no concept that these songs could possibly be the way in which… They simply got here out so a lot better than I ever would’ve dreamt.” Then I really feel like, “We actually completed one thing collectively.”

Studio Possession: Hazards and Happiness

It’s a dream of many artists to personal their very own studio. How does this profit you along with your most essential private tasks, corresponding to when it’s time to file with Elk Metropolis?

I want I had carried out it sooner. Having a industrial studio opened up all types of alternatives that may not have occurred after I was understanding of my home. I wouldn’t have had David Bendeth e-book 60 days at my home.

“Studying every single day.” Magic Door founder Ray Ketchem (Picture credit score: Jon Reino)

And different issues too. WFMU, considered one of my favourite radio stations on this planet, all of the sudden needed to host performances and interview folks right here. Dave Davies from The Kinks got here for an interview and a efficiency. That wouldn’t have occurred at my home. I started working with Kenny Garrett, nice jazz saxophonist. He wouldn’t have come to my home.

I constructed the studio due to my household, as a result of the home was comparatively small and my sons have been getting larger. And it turned, “We simply can’t have a household dwelling on this home and still have a recording studio in it on this manner. One thing wants to alter.” It was like, “Effectively, ought to we get an even bigger home?” That appeared like it might simply be the identical drawback, however on an even bigger scale. So we determined to maintain the smaller home and separate out the studio.

And it’s been nice, although I’ll say I didn’t tackle any companions. I did all of it with cash that I had earned through the years. And financially, it’s not a simple job. Fortunately, my head is above water, nevertheless it’s undoubtedly a kind of issues the place I’ve realized that a lot of the studio enterprise, a few of your competitors on the market are individuals who open studios as a result of they’ve some huge cash they usually can simply purchase no matter console they need and purchase all types of no matter.

I can’t compete on that degree with these folks, however what you get with Magic Door is somebody who’s a musician and who cares about producing one of the best music he can.

Does it really feel difficult to have so many roles and to put on so many hats? As a studio proprietor, producer, mixer, engineer, and drummer?

I get so concerned within the music manufacturing half, the blending. I like mixing, I like mastering, I like recording folks. And I lose monitor of time with it. The day goes by so shortly. I like all of that.

The studio proprietor half, I don’t actually care that a lot for. I’m not what you’ll name a standard businessman in any respect. I keep in mind the acoustic marketing consultant that I employed to assist oversee George’s designs, stated, “Why don’t we go to lunch and you may share your marketing strategy with me?” And I used to be like, “Uhhh, marketing strategy?”

I’m a musician and an engineer and producer. I don’t assume by way of enterprise, I feel by way of making artwork and creating cool stuff. Did I reply your query? I don’t know – I obtained misplaced.

I feel what you stated there’ll really be very validating to lots of people who learn this and are in the identical state of affairs. Lastly, what do you watched that you just nonetheless have left to study? What are you aware that you just don’t know?

The explanation it’s nonetheless enjoyable is as a result of there’s a lot I don’t know, however I feel that I’ll go to my grave feeling that manner. That’s a part of the enjoyable of creation. For those who knew all of it, then you definately wouldn’t preserve exploring. You wouldn’t preserve looking. Why would you retain happening the street in case you knew what was on the finish?

You need to preserve transferring ahead and hopefully you’re studying every single day. I like expertise and I like what you are able to do with expertise now. Generally I take into consideration how I began doing this in 1991 and after I look again on my first studio, I’m like, “Oh my God, how did I do something?” I had an outdated analog 16-track and a crappy console and a few mic pres, however now with expertise there’s a lot you are able to do.

However there’s at all times going to be new issues. There’s at all times going to be new discoveries you make or new methods to do issues. I’m at all times studying from musicians who’re right here. They’ll educate me about varied guitars or guitar settings or amp settings, or use this pickup with this on this guitar and thru this amp, however at this degree…It’s all types of issues which are left to study. I wish to assume that I’ve a wealth of information already within me, however I undoubtedly am nonetheless wide-eyed about every little thing.

— David Weiss is an Editor for SonicScoop.com, and has been protecting professional audio developments for over 20 years. He’s additionally the co-author of the music business’s main textbook on synch licensing, “Music Supervision, 2nd Version: The Full Information to Deciding on Music for Films, TV, Video games & New Media.” Electronic mail: [email protected] 

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