Stuart Sullivan has worked with a diverse list of artists. Sublime, James McMurtry, Tejano greats Little Joe y La Familia, The Meat Puppets, The Dead Milkmen, James Cotton, and Willie Nelson have all tracked with Stuart at the faders. He often teams with producer Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers (in issue #94 as well) and in 2001 he opened his own studio, Wire Recording, in Austin, Texas. I visited him at Wire to discuss his techniques, experience, and the changing landscape of the recording industry.

<This article has some additional bonus content read it here.>

What first excited you about the studio?

In junior high and high school I was playing in a band and a friend of ours had a little recording setup in his basement. I was the uncomfortable, grumpy guy. I said, "Look, man, we can't wear headphones. I don't even want to see the mics." He was really gracious and, surprisingly, the tracks came out really well. Then I got into Indiana University. I was looking for an alternative to business school. I saw a "Studio Resources and Techniques" class. It said to you had to talk to the professor. I met with the professor and he said, "You realize this is for graduate students in electronic music. You're entering your sophomore year as a business major." But he'd gone to school where I had grown up and he said, "Aw, what the hell. You're in." I believe he realized that in the next year or two the electronic music program was going away; they were going to start an audio program to record their operas, orchestras and recitals. He saw that as an opportunity and thought I might be handy a few years down the road. I was there when they started their audio program and was able to record five operas a year, with four performances of each, for three and a half years.

You did that to tape with stage mics?

We had a [Neumann] SM 69 in the catwalk and dropped it down. For a couple of years, all we could do was play with the angle and width of it, as well as how high or low we could get. Then we got the okay and dropped a few placement mics and a couple of hidden mics for support, if needed. We got a little bit more into that, particularly with the orchestra. The Musical Arts Center at Indiana University was just an incredible hall.

What did you learn back then that you're still using today?

Listen to things acoustically. If it's an amp, you can get it out of a little room and into a bigger one where it doesn't blow your ears out. Sometimes you want to hear the compression in the space. To sense these elements in the room is a great way to understand them, and to know whether you want that or whether you're scared of that. [laughter] There're a gazillion steps - and you can simplify them as much as you want - but if a recording starts off bad, every other step after that is struggling to make it up. I'm not going to say that if it starts bad there's no way anything can get better. That's ridiculous. But with anything you lose at the beginning, you can't get as much back and it gets harder and harder to add to it.

So you put in a lot of critical energy, even before you're mic'ing.

Right. I have many friends who are really talented that say, "Just get it in Pro Tools. Once it's in [the computer] you can deal with whatever you need to do. You can clean it up." I recognize and respect that, but I haven't gone that way yet. I still want to explore all the possibilities of getting real sounds. I'm a traditionalist, only in the sense of hearing and capturing music; not necessarily in how I treat it. Whether it's an ensemble or an individual overdub, performance-based music is one of my favorite things and that's why I maintain a large room. If it's a convincing and transcending performance, those are the things people recognize and feel. Not whether I put up this cool mic and did this and that. Hopefully that makes the recording sound even better and makes it go straight to your heart more. It's a performance you're trying to capture, and the environment you create to capture that performance is crucial.

What were you doing before moving to Austin?

I finished school and received a job offer from Universal Recording in Chicago. By job, I should say, "paid internship." It seemed like a pretty sweet deal, but I had been experiencing this phenomena called "poor and cold" for two solid years. I just couldn't take it.

What happened once you got to Austin in 1983?

I got a job at Texas French Bread [bakery/café] and went around asking all these studios if they needed an intern. Nobody was too interested. [I got into] Lone Star Studios, which is now gone. Willis Alan Ramsey had a record [his self-titled debut] that was popular, and the song "Muskrat Love" was a huge hit for Captain & Tennille ...

 

The rest of this article is only available to our subscribers!

Tape Op is a free magazine devoted exclusively to recording music.

Read It Digital!

Log in or subscribe to purchase download and/or viewing access for this and all our issues.

Buy Tape Op magazine!
 

Current and back issues of Tape Op can be ordered online through our distributor, Hal Leonard.

Buy Tape Op magazine!
 

We've been publishing articles about creative music recording since 1996. Check out all of our issues here.

 
 More Interviews 
Bret Payne · May 15, 2007
As I get to know Stephen, I realize that his internal mixing board is always on. His current project involves taking field recordings from various locations in Virginia and extracting alien...
Eldad Guetta · Nov. 15, 2006
The interview with Luis Lahav was scheduled for a Wednesday evening. I arrived at his home studio in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv and got my laptop ready to record. I was just about to ask some...
Alex Maiolo · July 15, 2008
When Canadian rock band Sloan hit American college radio in 1992, even they might have been surprised to know that they would still be going stronger than ever in 2008. Since their debut album,...
Robert Poss · Sept. 15, 2007
Nicolas Collins's book, Handmade Electronic Music: The Art Of Hardware Hacking, is a brilliant, hands-on guide to electronic music making. I've known Nic since the mid-1970s; he's been a friend, a...
Bob Massey · Jan. 15, 2007
Since he first hit the road in 1996 with Washington, DC skronk-rockers Kerosene 454, engineer Jonathan Kreinik has never slowed down. His resume as a live and studio engineer includes work with Trans...
John Baccigaluppi, Larry Crane · May 15, 2005
Grammy award winner Mark Linett is the veteran of many years in the studio, starting in Hollywood at Artist Recording, Paramount and Mystic Studios in the early seventies after running his own PA...
Larry Crane · Nov. 15, 2008
Eric Welsh has some crazy road stories to tell. He was initially in on the ground floor of DiscLive, a service that provided live concert CDs at the venue - immediately post gig, no less. He then...
Chris Mara · Nov. 15, 2008
Tommy Wiggins is one of the most versatile and infinitely cool people I've come to know. He started the recording school that I attended; and taught many of the classes I took while I was there....
Bren Davies · March 15, 2008
He has been able to fly below the radar for most of his career. That is all about to change. Musician, engineer, producer and sound designer Damian Francis Wagner now enters the fray. His influences...
  • Start A Discussion

Tue, Sep 30, 2014 - 12:52PM
Get a dialogue going below:
:
:
:
:
: