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This is Thirsty Ear's premiere issue

Summer 1999

by Lynn Cline

At Santa Fe's Stepbridge Studios, owner/engineer Tim Stroh has found the key to life - mingling great music with equipment that records sounds the way they were intended to be heard. From a Christmas promo tune by Southern Culture on the Skids, to a grammy nominated album by Robbie Robertson, to a soundtrack song for the flick "Bye Bye Love" by James Taylor and son Ben, Stroh has engineered some heavy hitters.

You wouldn't know it, though, by the studio's unassuming location at the end of a dead-end street in the heart of Santa Fe, a few blocks from the Plaza. The former adobe family home was occupied by a group of massage therapists and an "audio" shaman when Stroh happened upon it in 1991 and decided it was the perfect spot for his fledgling business. (The shaman subsequently unplugged and moved on.)

Stroh was ready to upgrade after spending his first couple of years in business in an industrial warehouseon the other side of town, recording the music of his own band, 27 Devils Joking, and other area groups until a concrete manufacturing company moved in next door. The resulting din made it impossible to record even the loudest of licks.s

The move worked well for Stepbridge, which Stroh has maneuvered into an impressive position on the national music scene Among the alternative and main stream musicians who've recorded tracks there are Dwight Yoakam, Randy Travis, Cassandra Wilson, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, as well as Santa Fe based players Ottmar Liebert, Herbie Mann, and Tim Reynolds, who jams with the Dave Mafthews Band.

Outside the studio no sign indicates that you've arrived at Stepbridge. You have to follow the sound of the music to the joint's main door, where a small plaque reads "Studio Entrance." Inside, a vintage Zenith radio console in the foyer belies the sophisticated equipment in the adjacent light-flooded recording room, which is dominated by a 40 channel Solid State Logic 4000e, with G modules and a G computer. "It's the first generation of the coolest series of boards," says Stroh, a 35 year old techno wizard who traded in his bass guitar career so he could preside over the controls. "The SSL 4000e mixes more number one hits than any other console. I think it's sound. It's more, real." Stroh has amplified his studio with some older components lovingly collected over the years - five Pultec tube equalizers from the late 50s, for example, and a 10 channel Neve BCM 10 from the 1970s. "The Who used this Neve to track drums for Keith Moon," Stroh says.

Stroh doesn't aim to compete with the major recording studios in New York, Nashville, or LA, where the boards can accommodate full orchestras. Instead, he's pulling for quality sound, attracting musicians who want their songs to stir the soul, whether they're playing diggeridoos, tablas, sitars, or hardcore electric guitar. In recent years, the studios out of town clientele has grown in stature. Film stars like Gene Hackman, Val Kilmer, and Stacy Keach who live in SantaFe, have dropped by for commercial vocal recordings. Actor Wes Studi brought in his band to record a musical. "We've been so lucky to effectively make this transition to this high end kind of clientele." Stroh says. "As soon as we installed this SSL console in '95, we found a distinct difference in how people treated us. If you're in the industry, you know these are the greatest pieces of gear."

Stepbridge also boasts a location that, unlike studios in major cities, offers musicians clean air, clear blue skies, and a landscape known for provoking heart stopping music. " I remember Priscilla Coolidge of Walela walking out of the studio one day and saying, "It's so nice to walk out of a studio and not be in downtown LA." says Stroh, who invites clients to stay in an on-site guest house during recording sessions, which cost about $1,500 a day.

Stepbridge may be the biggest recording studio in Santa Fe, but it's not the only one. Great Day Productions owned by Alberto Alcocer, offers a 32 track system with automation and computer editing. Alcocer chooses to work with a range of music, including Spanish, folk, rock, and classical. There's also Sound Scientific recording Spot, which offers digital recording and mixing, with a flair for hip hop and spoken word. And out in El Dorado, a suburban community about 10 miles east of Santa Fe, Vint and Matilda Blackburn recently opened Blackburn Studio, one of several area studios ideal for demos and sessions with only one or two musicians. The Blackburns also operate a mobile digital recording van for on-site jobs. If you can't get to them, they'll travel to you

Down in Albuquerque, the John Wagner Studio has been in business for about 30 years. Today, the state-of-the-art studio works with regional bands that play music reflecting the culture of northern New Mexico - everything from Mexican wedding tunes to rock & roll. Jingles and commercials make up part of its business as well. Also in Albuquerque, a variety of bands record at Thunderbird, Alta Vista, and Santa Fe Sound studios.


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