Sitting on a folding chair in the middle of the Williamson Magnetic Recording Company, Madison’s newest recording studio, co-owner Tessa Echeverria gestured to a small microphone accessory on a nearby table.
“That’s new!” she laughed. “And we bought some cables new…”
Her voice trails off as she surveys the surroundings of the studio, located in the somewhat chilly, 101-year-old basement of Nature’s Bakery at 1019 Williamson St.
She’s looking for other items she and her co-founder, Mark Haines, may have bought new instead of used. There isn't much.
Aside from a handmade microphone from California, everything else in the lovingly curated analog studio came as the result of dogged online searching by Haines: the tape decks came from Nashville, the plate reverb from England (via Chicago).
“I can’t imagine how many hours I’ve spent trying to find equipment,” said Haines, who has been working as a sound engineer in Madison for decades.
Haines and Echeverria’s plans to open a recording studio began a little more than a year ago when they were both employees at Nature’s Bakery.
Echeverria told Haines she wanted to study sound engineering. But her dream came with a unique caveat: she wanted to learn how to record on an analog system, a pre-digital format that started falling out of style in the ’80s.
Her affinity for analog stemmed from a love of listening to vinyl records.
“There’s something to the experience of sitting down and listening to a record that I loved,” she said. “It made me passionate about music … as I moved on and started listening to things on my iPod or my computer, I felt like I was experiencing music in a different way.”
Haines felt the same way. He was working at Smart Studios, Madison’s famous, now-shuttered recording studio, when the transition to digital recording happened. He wasn’t a fan.
“I never really embraced the whole Pro Tools revolution,” he said, referencing the industry-leading program for digital sound recording and editing. “It’s just something I didn’t enjoy doing. I’m not a computer guy.”
So, Haines agreed to teach Echeverria the tricks and tools of the trade, and they decided to open Madison’s only analog-only recording studio.
The duo started searching for studio space on Williamson or Monroe St., hoping to tap into the high foot traffic and artistic communities in both locations.
It turned out that they didn’t have to look far. The space below Nature’s Bakery — which had, in its 100 years, been everything from a cheese shop to a church — turned out to be fairly ideal for recording.
It has high ceilings, a built-in stage (likely a relic from the church days, Haines guessed) and wood and plaster walls and pillars — good surroundings for desirable acoustics.
The studio opened in Nov. 2015, after the necessary gathering of a variety of equipment and furniture.
The dark hardwood floors are outfitted with a few burgundy and black rugs and a few pieces of vintage furniture, including a wicker couch and ’50s-era side table, are arranged in the space.
“There are people who like it because it affects them on a visceral level, when they hear something recorded with analog,” Haines said. “There are people who are nostalgic for it, there are people who just like the aesthetics of it, and the activity of recording the tape … and people like to value their performance, rather than have it completely chopped up and changed to suit some standard.”
“I think it’s valid to get the minutiae of a human performance,” he said.
Analog recording doesn’t allow for liberal editing, requiring musicians to execute tracks perfectly the first time — or to be comfortable with presenting things with a few imperfections.
“People have told me that it challenges them, but it also makes them feel very comfortable — and excited,” Echeverria said.
Both founders said they’re trying to keep the studio’s recording fee as low as possible — $25 for an hour, $100 for a night, $250 for a full day — so they’re an affordable option for local musicians.
They’re also planning to host live shows in the space (and have already hosted a handful since opening). The next show will be Free Cake for Every Creature, a Philadelphia-based indie pop band, on Monday.
Looking ahead, both plan to continue working outside of the studio.
Echeverria said she doesn’t want the art she creates in the space to become an obligation or a chore.
Haines said he will continue working with digital recordings as an engineer in other studios around town, but insists Williamson Magnetic Recording Company will never acquiesce.
“It sounds like we’re anti-digital, just because we’re pro-analog — and that’s not where we’re coming from at all,” he said. “This is basically just our attempt to make a technology that isn’t very easy to find anymore, and runs the risk of becoming more or less extinct, saving that for the future.”