Nashville's Chris Estes has been producing music for over a decade and, after years of frustration trying to replicate the analog audio of his youth in the digital realm, he conjured up CLASP (Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor), a seamless interface between digital audio workstations and analog tape machines that has found a home in both small studios and The Beatle's old gear. See Tape Op #80 for a review of the CLASP system.
How did you get your start in audio?
My parents encouraged me to learn electronics and computer programming, but they didn't encourage me to become an inventor. Their perspective was, "You've got to go to college and you've got to work for the government. Music will make a nice hobby." I wanted to attend one specific school to study audio engineering and my dad said, "No, that's not real engineering." So I didn't go to school at all. All through my early adolescence I was building stuff. We wanted a video game and my dad's response was, "If you want to play video games, you can write your own code."
Did an Atari computer show up around the house then?
A Commodore 64. My dad and my uncle would geek out writing Pascal, Fortran, assembly language and Basic. We had all the books, so I taught myself to write code. By the time high school came around I signed up for a computer class thinking, "This will be a breeze and I'll love it." It was horrible. It was so antiquated and so far behind — I was bored. I went on the road, played rock and roll and said, "Fuck college." This, of course, pissed off my dad. He still doesn't know I designed CLASP. But yeah, I definitely give credit to him — he taught me a lot.
So how did you come up with CLASP?
I was spending so much time mixing on digital, trying to get it to sound like what I heard in my head. I'm 42 years old, so when I was growing up I listened to a lot of vinyl and cassettes. I was dissatisfied with the way everything I was working on was sounding. I would go back and listen to some of the recordings I had done on tape and they sounded better. They sounded bigger, fuller, more listenable and musical than the stuff I was doing with all the digital emulations. I had the idea for CLASP and I sat on it for a little bit. Then I had a chance meeting with David Atkins, who owns Argosy Console, Inc. He visited our studio and I asked him, "How did you get started? I have an idea and I was told I should go ahead and get it patented." He said, "Oh definitely, that's what I did." He told me what to do and I did it. I've got a great legal team, and it took five years just to get the first patent issued.
Once you had the intellectual property locked down, what did you do to develop it?
That was the hardest thing — convincing people that it would actually work. There was no proof of concept and no prototype. One of the first businesses we met with was Quantegy. I had an elaborate PowerPoint
presentation I put together with animations in it. I met with the owner of the company, the chief chemist, all the engineers and product managers, but they were going into bankruptcy and didn't have the funds or resources to develop the product. I thought I'd take it to somebody and say, "Hey, I've got this thing and I own the intellectual property. You just develop it." That didn't work out. Other people I met with were like, "Oh yeah, we can do this, but it'll cost half a million dollars." So my wife and I took our life savings and we prototyped it ourselves. Mike Porter, who has been the AES chairman here in Nashville for quite awhile, was one of the product managers from Quantegy who was in that meeting. Mike and I formed a friendship and kept in touch. He's been a huge help. I can't take all the credit for this — I've had people that have really encouraged me and been helpful.
What disciplines did you have to teach yourself to develop this?
I had to do a lot of research and ton of prototyping. We did so many prototypes — you have no idea. When...