Rose's Rules of Order

Lawrence producer lays down the dos and don'ts of the recording studio.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Ed Rose's production resume comprises a who's who of local and regional rock bands:

The Appleseed Cast, Butterglory, The Casket Lottery, Coalesce, Arthur Dodge, The Esoteric, The Get Up Kids, Kill Creek, Reggie and the Full Effect, Slackjaw, Stick, Ultimate Fakebook, Vitreous Humor and White Whale, to name a few.

Fifteen years have passed since Rose drew his first paycheck as a professional sound engineer in Los Angeles. Today, in partnership with former Get Up Kids Rob and Ryan Pope, Rose owns and operates Black Lodge Recording, formerly Red House, in Eudora. The Pope-Rose business consortium moved into downtown Lawrence earlier this year with the purchase of The Bourgeois Pig bar and coffeehouse.

Street Level joins Rose at The Pig for a frank conversation about pesky pirates, lazy kids, and the dying art of musicianship.

Subscribe to Street Level podcast in iTunes They called George Martin "the fifth Beatle," Brian Eno made a huge impression on the music of Talking Heads and U2; Rick Rubin : In the best cases, is the producer essentially a member of the band?

Ed Rose: It depends on the dynamic of the project. Sometimes being incredibly involved is a good thing, sometimes it's a bad thing. That's the key to being a good producer, knowing when to get in there and try to fix things, and when to sit back and let a band be a band : There are times you have to break it down: this isn't working out for me and you'd probably be better off working with somebody else.

How should a young band prepare for its first recording session?

It depends on the skill of the musicians involved. If they're all good players, make sure the guitars and basses are intonated and set up correctly. Drums-make sure that everything's functioning, that you've got new heads on and you've got them tuned the way you want. But some bands don't even understand what I just said. The art of being a musician has greatly diminished over the past decade. Ten years ago you could ask a guitar player, "Hey, have you checked your intonation?" "Yeah, had it done last week."

Today you say that and some kid says, "Didn't it come that way from the factory?"

What percentage of the people running through your studio are musicians versus:

Guys with a MySpace account? [laughs] The clients I work with tend to have a record under their belts. But the younger bands, they're only aping what they see on TV. They're no more musicians than people you'd pull in off the street. I wish there would be a return to musicianship. That's the one thing that frustrates me about my job currently-the lack of musicians dedicated to being really great musicians.

In recording, what's excellent?

It's when everything comes together. The song's awesome, the band performs it well and it sounds great at the end of the day. It's very rare to get all three of those happening.

In the perfect set-up, how would the process work?

I get demos of every song a month ahead of time. Then being able to sit down with the songs and the band and hashing through them. Needling the drummer about how he's hitting the drums. Changing arrangements, changing parts, changing tempo. Being able to iron out all the kinks so that once we're in the studio, we can work.

What's the biggest mistake an artist can make in the studio?

The bottom line is: the less time you have to spend recording, the better it's going to turn out. If you get into spending a day on one vocal track, that's when it turns into garbage from pretty much everyone's standpoint : The way I look at it, we're there to work. I think my reputation is out there: Ed's a taskmaster; he doesn't like to f*ck around. I think nearly everyone comes in knowing that.

Any nightmare incidents?

There was one band I was working with from Wichita about 10 years ago. I'm not sure exactly what drug they were doing, but it was one that we did not allow in the studio. So they would have to go out to the van. They were going out there every 15 minutes. And finally, we were about halfway through the day and had barely got the drum sounds-five hours into a 10-hour day. I said: I'm not going to stick around for another five hours if you guys keep f*cking around." They went out to the van one more time, came back in, grabbed their shit and left.

How has modern technology changed the industry for you?

The thing that I see all the time is how piracy affects me and the bands I work with : I'm baffled by every royalty statement I get. How can that record have sold that few copies when I've gotten so many emails about it and so many kids know about it? It doesn't add up.

Would you take on a broader range of musical projects?

I'd like to. I don't want to be stuck as the emo rock dude. :I did some work for Blue Stem Records, a bluegrass label. I've done Scroat Belly records, back in the day.

A brief history of Ed Rose:

I'd always been fascinated by music and sound as a kid, and my parents were good about encouraging that. So, in my senior year in high school, it wasn't a big surprise when I told them I wasn't going to KU and that I wanted to go to recording school in Florida. I went down to Full Sail in Orlando for about a year, and then moved to Los Angeles. I started as an intern, then got a job as a runner, then moved up to assistant producer at Studio 55, which was owned by Richard Perry, who produced nearly every disco hit in the '70s. I was there for about two years. Then Richard Perry sold it to David Kirschenbaum, who produced Joe Jackson, Tracy Chapman, and a ton of other great artists.

At that point, there was a shake-up in the staff that really bummed me out. I quit and tried to do freelance work for about six months. That didn't work at all. So I came back here to get a nice, proper electrical engineering degree and ran into Nick Carroll, who had an incredibly popular band at the time, Nick Cosmos. This was in the fall of '91. Nick said: "Hey, you've got to record my band. After looking at the various studios around here, we thought that Red House would be the best fit. We went in there and did a three- or four-song demo that turned out real well. Things took off from there. After Nick Cosmos I did Slackjaw, which led to Stick, which led to Kill Creek, the Get Up Kids and so on. I was in my second semester at KU when the demos I did for Stick got them signed. So it was: do the Stick record or keep going to KU? I dropped out of KU and did the recording full-time.

You really have to hustle in your business.

This industry's all about hustle. Right now, there are about 500 people in Douglas County that want my job. If I don't stay on my game, somebody's going to get it.