Interview: Doug Benson | Commodore Studio

Commodore Studio is the latest recording studio addition to the Frederick, MD area. The studio may be new, but the staff is far from inexperienced. I talked to the owner, Doug Benson, about his new location and his involvement in music through the years.
Q: Why did you decide to open the studio?

A: Audio is “what I do.” It’s always best when someone chooses a career in a field that interests them. It’s also good to be able to offer a service that people need.

Q: Why did you choose the location you did?

A: Thurmont is a nice mid-point between Northern Maryland and Southern Pennsylvania. It’s also where I live, so it’s easy for me to get to the studio on short notice if I need to.
Q: What would you say makes you different from other studios?
A: Experience. I’ve been involved in audio production since the late 1970s, so I’ve lived through the advances in recording technology that have occurred in that time. Digital recording did not even exist when I first started out!
Q: What work are you most proud of being involved in?
A: The Grammy-nominated historical release of King Oliver’s 1923 jazz band, in which I did all the audio restoration and contributed to the album notes.
Q: What made you want to get involved in studio work?
A: What makes someone interested in science or sports or cooking or art? Sometimes it’s just in our DNA!
Q: What do you hope for the studio to accomplish in the upcoming years?
A: Of course I would like Commodore to become a successful growing business, but I also want to help attract business to other Thurmont businesses. On my website I have a long list of other local merchants, restaurants and attractions. We can all work together to aid in each other’s success.
Q: What is the most important thing that an artist should know before recording at a studio?
A: When clients ask me how long it will take, I have to tell them it depends completely on how prepared THEY are when they come in. In the studio, time is money, so don’t book a session unless you know exactly what you want to accomplish and how you intend to accomplish it. A self-described “rap producer” once showed up to a session with nothing but some unfinished lyrics scribbled on a page. He asked me: “so where are all your beats and stuff?” and expected his song to be finished for him with a few mouse clicks. Needless to say, the session didn’t go as quickly as he had planned!
Q: Many people these days think they can record their music at home. What are the differences recording in an actual studio?
A: Some types of music can be recorded successfully at home. For example, rap and hip-hop are primarily computer-based styles, where artists work with pre-recorded “loops” that were played in real studios by other musicians. Personally I think it’s a bit odd to drag-and-drop pieces of other people’s performances and then say “listen to the song I wrote,” but it’s become an accepted practice. Often, a single microphone for the lead vocal is all that is needed for that type of recording.
On the other hand, a rock band or a classical group needs more space than can be found in a typical bedroom studio. The acoustics of a recording room are important to performers, so they will play better wherever they feel more comfortable. Also, some types of microphones are more suitable than others for different sources. For example, the ribbon microphone we use for a guitar cabinet would not pick up the subtle nuances of a violin successfully. A condenser would be a better choice. An “actual” studio (as you put it) will usually have a nice array of different microphones as well as a grand piano, isolation booths for vocalists and drummers, higher-end tube preamps and compressors, digital plug-ins and all the gear that makes recordings sound like contemporary CD releases. (All the same gear that was used to create the “loops” that bedroom studios take for granted.)
Q: I think it’s awesome that you do audio restoration. I personally believe in listening to a lot of rare music that can only be found in certain formats. Why is audio restoration so important to the world of music?
A: I think of it as history. If we had to opportunity to actually go back and watch the signing of the Declaration of Independence rather than just read about it, wouldn’t that be more exciting? With early sound recordings we have an actual audio document of something that happened decades (or centuries) ago. The earliest existing recordings go back to the first half of the 19th century, and as technology improves we can restore them more clearly every few years. Just twenty years ago, the brown wax cylinders recorded (without electricity) by the Edison company in the 1880s and 1890s were almost inaudible. Now we can remove surface noise and enhance the recorded signal with almost shocking clarity. This allows us to hear the performance in greater detail. It’s like finding a missing piece of a famous document that enhances our understanding of an event.

Author: whatisfrederick

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