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Music Connection Magazine


Vol. XXVIII, No. 18
8/30/04 to 9/12/04


Home Cookin'

3 Acts Who've Taken Their
Home Recordings
Straight to the
Bank

By Lynne Bronstein

With the technology available today, musicians who take the time to learn are no longer reliant on rented studio time. A recording studio can be put together at home -- in a garage or a bedroom -- and the results, given the use of good equipment and knowledge of how to use it, can be high quality. But can home-generated recordings go the distance in helping artists achieve their career goals? In this article, Music Connection looks at a band and two solo artists who have parlayed their home recordings into successful business ventures.

Danielle Egnew
Jill Of All Trades:
Rock, Film, Video Games

DANIELLE EGNEW IS BUSY THESE DAYS. She runs her own label, Ave Vox Music Group, writes songs (mostly for the country music market), composes film and TV scores, and produces recordings for other artists. Right now she's at work on a solo album which she is also producing. In fact, Danielle Egnew has been finding herself in demand as a producer, thanks to a reputation she earned largely through home recordings made while with the alt-rock band Pope Jane.


"The revenue from producing continues to shock me."

Now based in the Los Angeles area, Egnew honed her skills back in Montana as a musician and home producer while playing keyboards and writing songs for Pope Jane, who later did some recording in Seattle and then relocated to L.A. Egnew had previously recorded an album for a small Seattle label, Whatever Records, where she says she began to learn about audio by watching and listening to the engineers who worked on her album.

"I would watch these guys and just learn through observation," says Egnew. "Later I'd go work on different analog systems, and then digital systems." She also read everything she could find on the subject of sound ("I'm a sound science junkie"). Eventually it was time to put her knowledge to use for Pope Jane.

"We started recording on a good ol' Tascam cassette four-track," she explains. "Our first [self-titled] album, which we've sold thousands of copies of, was recorded through a 16-channel Mackie board. I tweaked all the channels to certain tonalities in order to commit to two channels on the Tascam."

For the group's second outing, Relief, the budding producer up-graded her production equipment to a 48-track ADAT system, which she admits caused some technical difficulties. The third album also used ADAT. ("It was a popular system back in the mid-Nineties," she explains.) But for the fourth album, a solo "music industry parody" called Industry Whore, Egnew returned to a Tascam four-track for recording and imported the tracks to Sound Forge for mixing.

"Sound Forge is my favorite sound program, period," she proclaims. "It's not a multi-tracking program. It's a two-channel sound sculpting program. You can master in Sound Forge." The artist/producer considers what she calls "sound sculpting" to be essential to mastering. "Sound has always been like clay -- you just scoop it around, you move it, you press it, you pull it."

The ability to sound sculpt is a talent one is born with, Egnew believes. "You can read all the manuals in the world about where to place a microphone, but if you don't have the ears to hear it, it's not going to make a difference."

While Egnew has worked with computer-based programs such as ProTools and Cakewalk, she now prefers Cubase, which she utilized for Pope Jane's most recent album Dog and Pony Show. Her current home-studio setup, she says, features Cubase and Sound Forge, a board, a vocal booth, and "a couple of rooms for somebody to record drums. It's a pretty stripped-down studio setup. With the way technology is, there's really no reason to have all this junk sitting around taking up space.

According to Egnew, Dog and Pony Show has sold thousands of copies. And, despite the band's current hiatus, she found herself being contacted by fans who were impressed by the production on the albums. "When Pope Jane was really getting rolling, we were in Montana," she recalls. "So I did the majority of my contacting on the Internet. I just went out and said, 'Hey, I'm a producer.' I posted on these message boards and said, 'This is what I'm able to do.' And then, weirdly enough, the band's popularity continued to spread out and we started to get fan mail from all four corners of the globe. People started calling us, asking me, 'Could you produce an album for us? How did you get the sound on the guitar cabinet? How did you get a song so fat?' "

Danielle Egnew's roster of produced artists includes country songwriter Wayne Lembcke (with whom she also collaborates on songs) and indie rock band Coldsnap-9, along with many other indie artists. She also produces albums of ambient music for a division of her Ave Vox music label. An offshoot of that is Ave Vox Publishing, offering songwriting, arranging, and production services.

Because of her work as a producer of albums, Egnew received offers to do film and TV scores. She had scored an independent film while in college, and her original background was in theatre and film. (To date she has scored indie films The Vest, Rain That Falls Up, and Gideon's Circle.) When Egnew applied for a job at the Adventure TV network, her goal was to become an on-air personality for the cable channel. "The producer asked me what I did in my spare time. I said I was in the band Pope Jane and he said, 'Well, actually we were looking for someone to do audio.' So I got a job with Adventure scoring all of their travel shows."

Egnew was also the senior sound designer for Fleetwood Gaming, where "I underscored and sound-designed 28 games, over 700 sounds." Egnew says the company's standing console is "Keno King" and it "out-earns other games of its type by two to one."

Has Egnew encountered many technical problems as a home recordist? "The good part is that with all this digital technology, the screw-ups are very easy to remedy," she states. "You just drag and drop something over the top of it."

Egnew warns, however, against such pitfalls as room temperature -- humidity can change the low-mid-tones. "When we were recording Relief, I needed to have everyone leave the studio for half a day so I could turn on the air conditioner to dry it out in there."

Producing an artist other than yourself, Egnew says, "is like playing a chess game in your head and you're about 200 moves ahead. You have to account for humidity, errors, crappy instruments, bad microphones. And mixing is all about proper frequency separations. You could have a crummy guitar, but if it sounds really cool [when mixed], you're fine."

When asked if all this work adds up to a high income, Egnew replies, "My advice concerning income is: treat it as you would if you were fishing. The more lines you throw over the boat, the more fish you'll catch. At the end of the day, each [of my projects] brings in a set amount of revenue. With Pope Jane, we never expected to sell so many CDs. But the revenue from producing continues to shock me. I do have a sliding scale that I charge and I don't take on projects that I don't genuinely believe in."

While she declines to cite actual amounts of money, Egnew says the income generated by producing "pulls its weight."

"[Work] also comes in waves," she explains. "You have no clients for a long time -- and then you have 25 artists calling in one week, saying, 'I just got your name from somebody.'"

In any case, Danielle Egnew has managed to parlay her self-taught knowledge of the audio arts and her original basement studio setup into a satisfying career. "It kinda gets you out of yourself and your own little indulgent problems for five seconds. You're assisting someone else and bridging some difficulties of their own."

HOME GEAR

o Recording: Cubase, Vegas Audio

o Mastering: Sound Forge, PAS Spectrum Analyzer PRO

o Sound Sculpting / Production Software: Rubber Duck H30+ Drum Synth, Fruity Loops PRO, D-Lusion Drum Station, Sonic Foundry ACID, Sim Synth

o Hardware: Behringer Eurorack UB2442FX-PRO Mixer, Behringer T1953 Tube Ultragain Mic Pre-Amp, Sony Pro MDSE10 MiniDisc Recorder, Alesis Monitor 1 Active MKII Powered Monitors

o Hard Gear: Tascam 424 Portastudio, Ensoniq EPS 16+ Sampler

o Amps: Marshall, Hughes and Kettner

o Mics: Nady TCM-1100 Vacuum Tube Condenser Mic, Shure KSM109 Cardioid Studio Condenser Mics, Audio-Technica AE3300 Cardioid Condenser Mics, Shure SM-58's, Shure SM-57's

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