Laying down the tracks: Local recording studios offer top-tier quality

SOUND GUY: Bruce Sales sits in his studio space in the Miles Building in downtown Asheville. Photo courtesy of Bruce Sales
SOUND GUY: Bruce Sales sits in his studio space in the Miles Building in downtown Asheville. Photo courtesy of Bruce Sales

Time was, musicians had to rely on outfits in places like Nashville or New York to mix and master their albums. These days, though, Asheville and environs boast a broad array of facilities equipped to handle songs, videos and related projects from start to finish. Even many out-of-state artists, companies and larger TV networks have started looking to Western North Carolina-based studios for their audio needs. The following three businesses — 2BruceStudio, Crossroads and Merrick Music — provide strong evidence that when it comes to recording, this small town can deliver big-city results.

From the jingle house to the Miles Building

You probably won’t find a rock band in Bruce Sales’ 2BruceStudio, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t keeping busy. “My studio is more geared for postproduction,” says Sales. “I work with filmmakers and people doing video. So it’s [creating] the sound for the picture. They need sound design or voice recording or original music, or they just need me to mix it. Or fix it — I’ve been doing a lot of fixing lately.”

After majoring in songwriting at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Sales landed a gig at David Horowitz Music Associates, a commercial “jingle house” in New York City. He spent the next 15 years composing and engineering for big-name clients like Pepsi and GE, as well as small films.

And while the Asheville native says out-of-towners such as HBO and The History Channel still call on him regularly for voice recording work, he’s also made his mark in the local community. Besides producing the Asheville 48 Hour Film Project, Sales sponsors the Asheville Music School’s summer camp program, giving young musicians their first recording experience. The kids, he says, “just kind of walk in and play, and they get their mix. The largest group I had in here was 12 kids: They’re all lined around the walls, and I recorded them all at once playing a couple of songs. In the last 15 minutes, I mixed it together and gave them a version they can give their parents.” He also works with local musicians (including a lot of rappers and hip-hop artists lately, thanks to his knack for high-quality vocal recording), and businesses such as The Biltmore Co. and Travelling Yogini tours.

Learn more at 2brucestudio.com

More than bluegrass

AT THE CROSSROADS: From left, Tim Surrett, producer for Mountain Home and bass player for Balsam Range; Nancy Hilliard Joyce, local designer for the CD covers for Red June and Balsam Range; John Cloyd Miller, Natalya Weinstein Miller and Will Straughan of Organic Records recording artists Red June; Van Atkins, Crossroads studio engineer; Mickey Gamble, Crossroads co-owner and C.O.O. Photo courtesy of Crossroads
AT THE CROSSROADS: From left, Tim Surrett, producer for Mountain Home and bass player for Balsam Range; Nancy Hilliard Joyce, local designer for the CD covers for Red June and Balsam Range; John Cloyd Miller, Natalya Weinstein Miller and Will Straughan of Organic Records recording artists Red June; Van Atkins, Crossroads studio engineer; Mickey Gamble, Crossroads co-owner and Chief Operating Officer. Photo courtesy of Crossroads

While the national success of local band Balsam Range may have made a name for the Crossroads label in the bluegrass world, Ty Gilpin, the company’s marketing director, points out that there’s much more to the studio. “It’s a full-service label,” he says. “We have license and distribution teams, a physical and digital sales team, a fairly big marketing team, video production, radio promotion.” Crossroads got its start about 30 years ago when Asheville native Micky Gamble established the business on Merrimon Avenue. He moved the studio to its current location in Arden in the mid-’90s.

The label and its subsidiaries — including Organic Records and Mountain Home — put out between three and six albums a month, says Gilpin. “We do everything from gospel to Americana to bluegrass to rock ’n’ roll. … Sometimes there’s an assumption that we’re just doing Southern gospel or just doing bluegrass, but there’s a lot of variety.”

“We’ve been doing all this stuff, but it’s gone under the radar to some extent,” he continues, in part because Crossroads has been working with national acts. But with the new label, Organic Records, Crossroads hopes to work more with local musicians. “We’re excited about the music scene that’s developed over the last decade or so here in Asheville,” says Gilpin. “The fact that we’re working with some local bands proves our interest in being a part of a vibrant Asheville scene. I think Asheville has lots of great talent but doesn’t always have the music business structure side of it that you might see in Nashville, New York or L.A., and really, we’d love to be a facilitator in that.”

Learn more at crossroadsmusic.com

Nashville native moves to the mountains

NASHVILLE NATIVE: Neal Merrick operated a studio on Music Row in Nashville for 20 years before moving his business to Black Mountain in 2013. Photo courtesy of Merrick Music
NASHVILLE NATIVE: Neal Merrick operated a studio on Music Row in Nashville for 20 years before moving his business to Black Mountain in 2013. Photo courtesy of Merrick Music

After 20 years on Nashville’s Music Row working with big-name clients like Cyndi Lauper and Dolly Parton, Neal Merrick Blackwood (aka Neal Merrick) moved his Grammy-winning production company and recording studio to tranquil Black Mountain. “Nashville is full of the hustle and bustle of a large city. That can be very distracting at times,” says Merrick. “Asheville offers me the time to allow creativity to freely flow, to work with talented artists who I like, as well as to compose for film and TV.” The mountain views from his studio, he notes, don’t hurt either.

And if Merrick’s skills as a composer, multi-instrumentalist, engineer and producer enable him to work with the likes of Bob Dylan (in New York) and Charlie Daniels (in Nashville), as well as on TV projects, he also gets local musicians in his studio regularly. In fact, “the great number of world-class talented people here,” says Merrick, was part of the reason for the move.

Merrick Music works with a range of genres, from instrumental to ambient to alternative rock. Merrick spent most of his early life in the Nashville area, studying and performing various musical styles and technical applications. Current projects, he says, are “too many to list,” but mentions working with two new artists, Hollander Blue and Moon Without the Blue. Both projects feature local musicians.

Still, Merrick freely acknowledges how hard it can be to make a living as a musician. “Selling CDs at live shows has been a lifesaver for many artists,” he says. And even when you have a great artist, a great image and a great product, “I’ve found that it still mostly comes down to eventually taking the well-worn avenues of distribution, promotion and marketing, in the amount that one can prudently afford, in order to make an artist known.”

Learn more at merrickmusic.com

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About Lea McLellan
Lea McLellan is an editorial assistant and staff writer for the Mountain Xpress. She can be reached at lmclellan@mountainx.com.

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