NEWS FROM THE WOODS
By Bob Ketchum
Originally Published February 18, 2012
"Two Years and 100 Shows"
On Sunday, February 19th, I celebrate almost 40 years of recording music at Cedar Crest Studio on the HiTek Redneck Internet Radio Show, heard on Arkansas Internet Radio (www.arkansasinternetradio.com) - This very special two-hour program features some of the best music ever recorded/engineered/produced by me. It is commercial-free and all original music from the best songwriters and performers in the state. There's rock, jazz, blues, country, reggae, funk, soul, R&B, and something for everyone. It is truly the very best that Arkansas talent has had to offer since 1976. I invite you to listen to the show. It may be streamed or downloaded to your computer by clicking HERE, and selecting SHOW 100A (hour 1) or SHOW 100B (hour 2).
As I look back over my recording engineering career I am stupefied at the amount of talent there is in this state... Talent that somehow has stubbornly resisted discovery, due largely to LOCATION-LOCATION-LOCATION. Tucked away in the Deep South, the Ozarks is not exactly the center of the music universe in the United States. It has been highly unlikely that the small community of Mountain Home, located in the deep woods of North Central Arkansas and right on the Arkansas/Missouri state line, would get the attention of the music industry. So WHY did I choose to operate a recording studio in such a remote location?
IT'S HOME - Baxter County, Arkansas has always been my home. Although I spent my High School years in a Florida military school, my heart has always been here on the lake and surrounded by the beauty and tranquility of the natural state. After graduation in 1964 I jumped right into a radio broadcasting career, but I still remained and worked around in the state which was once referred to on license plates as the "Land Of Opportunity". I had careers in radio in Pine Bluff, Rogers, and Fort Smith, where I finally settled down and established myself in the music community. I apprenticed audio engineering under the watchful eye (and ears) of Mickey Moody (RIP) at Ben Jack's Recording Studio. At the same time I got into concert promotion and brought many national acts to the Fort Smith Municipal Auditorium during the 70's. After an unfortunate shooting accident at a gig in Tulsa while playing in my band "Whizz", I packed up my life and moved back to my hometown to begin operating my very own recording studio, which I called Cedar Crest Studio, a nod to my father's real estate dream subdivision that he named Cedar Crest Acres, where my studio now resides, sitting high on a bluff overlooking one of the most beautiful and clear lakes in the nation. What better place to record? The quiet and serene surroundings of Lake Norfork is a perfect place for an artist to relax and unwind. And I learned early on in my engineering career that a relaxed musician is a creative musician.
To say this venture has been a struggle would be a gross understatement. When I first moved back home I could not get any bank to loan me money, for as they saw it, my idea was a "very foolish venture" and a waste of their investments. Of course, they were right, strictly from a business point of view. So I had to start small.... VERY small. In the very beginning all I could afford was to rent a little concrete block building for $50 a month in town. The guitarist from "Goldrush" - the band I played in at the time for extra money - Mark Cheney, and I formed a partnership on a handshake and Cedar Crest Studio started out with only a small 4-track tape recorder, a 6 input mixer, and whatever microphones we could scrape up. It was worlds apart from Ben Jacks' professional level 16 track studio with all the bells and whistles, but it was OURS! Looking back I realize that this actually became the foundation of my experience in recording, learning how to make music with only four tracks. I learned that you had to commit to the mix and that overdubbing past the basics was still a luxury we could not afford, so I had to make every track count. The term "fix it in the mix" was not in my lexicon.... yet. Eventually the band and my partnership with Mark ended tragically, but I kept the dream alive while bouncing from one small job to the next in order to remain in Mountain Home.
Years later in 1982, in order to stay alive and feed my family, I seized an opportunity to manage a brand new TV and Electronics store in Mountain Home called Hubert's TV. The building we rented had a basement and my boss allowed me to move my studio gear into it for the extra income. In return for the space, I agreed to another partnership. It was during this time that Swiss Metal rockers "Krokus" was managed by Butch Stone (former manager of Black Oak Arkansas). Butch and I had history from the old days, and when he discovered that I had a warehouse at my disposal he suggested to the band that they rent my space for rehearsals. It was a lucky break, and I used the income to purchase a 8-track recorder and larger recording console. Soon, I was recording Krokus rehearsals (for free). In the space of two gold albums ("Headhunter" and "The Blitz") the band came to trust my engineering abilities and I became an integral part of the Krokus songwriting team. They even flew me to Florida to assist them in recording the "Headhunter" album at 24 track BJ Studios in Orlando to work with producer Tom Allom (Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Def Leppard).
Getting my name placed on those albums was a real shot in the arm for the studio and in no time every hard rock or heavy metal band in the region wanted to come record at Cedar Crest Studio. Business was so good for while there that when some friends in Mountain View liquidated their failing recording operation, I talked my father in law into loaning me enough money to buy the 16 track studio.... lock, stock, and barrel. Business gradually picked up from there, and before long the studio work began to conflict with my managers job at Huberts. Within a year after going 16 track I had gotten into the video business as well and it wasn't long before I had to bid farewell to the steady paychecks at Huberts. Between recording and the fledgling video business, I somehow managed to barely meet my bills and eek out a living.
My mother died in 1993 and I moved back into the family home in Henderson to become a caregiver for my ailing father in law, now living totally alone. The 18-mile round trip to and from town to the lake began to wear me down and I decided to move the operation into the basement of the house on the lake. The recording business was winding down but then I got a fateful call one day from a friend in Little Rock that wanted to sell off his 24 track recorder and automated British Soundcraft console. This was truly "big time" recording gear and I salivated at the prospects of making that final jump to a full scale professional recording facility. He "just happened" to be friends with a banker who had recently moved to Mountain Home (of all places) to live, and somehow we conspired to convince the local bank he now worked for to give me a loan enabling us to make the deal happen.
My dream had now come true. Here I was, sitting on a bluff overlooking the lake with a full blown professional 24 track recording studio. Unfortunately, I had no real contacts in the industry (because I had spent all my time struggling with the business), so outside of the creative process of recording music, I had no way to get the music I was recording placed within the music industry. It was all up the bands to do that for themselves.
Ironically, in less than two years after going 24 track, technology stepped in and completely turned my recording world upside down. I had seen the digital handwriting on the wall but in less time that it takes to say "Crash and burn, Napsterbreath !!" the music industry was dealt a death blow. At the same time, desktop recording became a reality. No longer was it necessary to get a professional sound ONLY in a "proper" recording facility. All of a sudden, pimple-faced teens with nipple rings could record on a laptop in their bedroom with results that were not even dreamed of back in the early days of the 4 track.
In order to even keep up, I was forced to sell my beloved analog recording system for pennies on the dollar through a Nashville equipment broker. The really odd thing was, even though it was just a pittance of my initial investments, it WAS enough money to buy into a good digital mixer and computer with the right software to continue the recording operation.
Actually… it is a BETTER recording system! It is quicker, faster, cleaner, less expensive, and with lower maintenance costs……. Plus… I now have access to UNLIMITED recording tracks - AND it's pretty had to beat an UNDO button!
So, today as I look back at the body of work that has passed through the studio, I am amazed at how much product I produced. The studio archives holds over FIVE HUNDRED original recordings from songwriters, bands and solo artists. I seriously do not think many of these songs would have been recorded had Cedar Crest Studio not existed. The reason I say this is because much of this material (I would guesstimate at least HALF of the sessions) was recorded by me…. For free. Back then we called it "speculation recording". Bands simply did not (and still don't) have the money to invest in professional recording. This is one reason that DIY home recording became so popular. Give any musician a choice of spending their $500 on a recording session or investing in their own home recording set up and I can tell you which option they will choose. Artists traditionally want control over their music and careers so it comes as no big surprise that they would choose the DIY route where they can spend as much time as they want tweaking their songs to their heart's content.
Of course, the drawback here is that they will NOW need to spend hours and hours and hours learning the subtle art of audio engineering for themselves. Nowadays there are dozens of trade schools offering courses in recording. Small studios are popping up everywhere, even in Mountain Home, Arkansas! The Internet has become the proving ground for new music. The established music industry is dying rapidly. MP3 is now king. It's a brave new world. On the one hand I truly feel like a dinosaur. On the other hand I know I have probably forgotten more about recording than most of these young "engineers" will ever learn.
But that's not for me to worry about anymore. I am semi-retired. Oh, I STILL get some recording done. There are those artists that are smart enough to know the value of my experience and continue to make the trek to the woods to record here. In a way it's an improvement. I don't have to take every job that walks through the door regardless of talent, or lack thereof. I can actually pick and choose any new bands that want to use my services. I don't do "speculation recording" anymore - except for a few pet projects that I have established over the years of working together.
But… what of those 500 songs?
Well, I was recently contacted by the Head of Administration at the Butler Center of the Central Arkansas Library in Little Rock. They would like very much to be the repository of my archives and add them into the Arkansas Music Heritage Collection. That would mean all of these great original songs will be available to the public now and in the future, and that makes me feel very proud to have been the person that recorded all this wonderful music over the years. It also makes me happy for "my" artists, knowing that their "babies" will finally get heard by the people - for which they were written and recorded.
© 2012 Ozark Network Communications, Inc.