Interview By Bruce J. Maier - Damn Good Tunes - http://damngoodtunes.com
James Morris Pearson ( Jim Pearson ) - HalfABubbleoff Studio
DGT: How did you get into the music business?
JP: I started playing professionally a few months after I first picked up the guitar at the age of 15, in part due to a desire to have the ability to earn income and establish some independence from my parents...I had been First Chair trumpet player in the jr. high school band (13-14 years old), but I fell in love with the guitar and gave up the trumpet.
DGT: What was it about being a performing artist, the potential of fame and riches, traveling the world?
JP: Sure, the potential of fame and riches!...Back in the day there were a lot of famous guitar players, like Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, and I was just as good as those guys! My name was Jimi, so why not give it a shot...what the heck, it worked for those other Jimmys! Hey, how about a Jimi Pearson! Besides, travelling the world sounded great to me. Playing in the bars every weekend gave me the ability to have the independence I desired...The question I asked myself was...Hmmmm, should I spend an hour mowing the lawn and another hour doing the dishes for $1 allowance, or should I tell mom to keep her dollar and play guitar for $100 a weekend??? Not a tough choice...HAHA
DGT: When did you decide you no longer wanted or needed that previous life?
JP: Like many other musicians that I've known, and you included, I've learned how to do (sometimes out of necessity) numerous different things (car sales, door to door, publishing, treasury secretary for a church, construction) because life and family comes along and you have to make a solid consistent living to survive. Eventually I found myself in LA doing a day job in studios, then eventually got to score film and manage several recording studios...It's been an exciting evolution pretty much throughout my life..It's funny you ask this question, because I've done a lot of different things successfully and I've enjoyed the occasional change-up of routine in the past....But what I'm excited about now is that I've settled down in Montana in an ideal situation and am in the position to help other singer/songwriters and artists make their music come to life...Good times, I say!
DGT: You are a very good songwriter, musician and vocalist yourself Jim. It must be comforting to your clients, who, as we know sometimes get nervous or grow weary of the tedious processes - that their producer/engineer really knows what it's like to be on both sides ''of the board wouldn't you say?
JP: Yes, I agree with you completely...Having been there and experienced that, I can tell you that it's hard to express how important it can be for an artist to be in an environment that enables the artistic side to emerge. There are many environments where there are various forms of stress that are not conducive to the artist being productive....In addition to what I can bring to the table creatively, there's this amazing place, Rockin' Horse Ranch we call it (where our home and studio are located) that is totally inspirational for artists who need to get out of that City or relationship, or traffic or whatever situation they are in that keeps them from being in their most creative frame of mind. On top of that, my wife Donna can help on the business side of the industry, as she has untold hours invested in finding all of the best indie singer/songwriter, coaching, and song licensing sites (film, tv, music supervisors, gaming, publishers, major label head hunters, etc.).
DGT: Did you learn about recording engineering on your own, or did you take some type of formal training?
JP: I'm a self taught guitarist, composer, arranger and engineer, although I have worked alongside some of the best in the industry....I went to college for a year majoring in music, and at the end of that year the only really good teacher I had quit the school with me to start a band...LOL
DGT: What producers do you most admire and why?
JP: David Foster and David Campbell...because they're the BEST and they know how to structure songs so that they have the most impact....I'm very fortunate to have been able to work with David Campbell on 3 different occasions.
DGT: Do you believe that analog tape traveling at 32 ips gave us a better and warmer result than what we can achieve digitally today, even with the advent of Tube Preamps, compressors and limiters or do you think that the marriage of the software to the peripheral devices has finally caught up?
JP: No, the marriage has not caught up...It's getting close...Here's the thing: the last real deal studio I worked in had a $200K+ George Massenberg mix board and 48 tracks of analog recording that required a lot of hours to maintain...And that expense has to be passed on to the consumer...So yes, you can go to one of those high-end studios, and you should eventually when the expense can be justified, but in the meantime, it's prudent for artists to work out their stuff in a place like mine with a guy like me! And then, when they've got the ammo to get signed to a record deal, let the label pay for all of that expensive stuff!
DGT: There are so many different brands of recording software and hardware to chose from, what do you use and why did you decide on that?
JP: I had used Pro Tools for years and it was the industry standard, but now I use Logic Pro (with the Apogee pre-amp) because it just works great and it's simple and totally compatible, etc.
DGT: What kinds of microphones do you like to work with when you are recording a good vocalist?
JP: I feel the Nieve is still my favorite, but there are some others that are great, and we're actually doing research right now to expand our equipment...
DGT: When you are working with a singer-songwriter who say, plays acoustic guitar rather well while singing, do you do a guitar and vocal scratch track first all live, or how do you set that up - and then, what is the procedure from there if they want you to add some bass, keyboards and drums? What order do these things usually occur?
JP: The scratch tracks always come first, of course, and if the artist plays well, there's no need to re-record the guitar part, although I often end up doing that. And so because that's what usually occurs, either I'll do a scratch guitar or the artist will, separate from the vocal and then we'll do a scratch vocal. It really depends on the artist. And then he/she can go off to play (ski, ride horses, ATV's, fish, hike or whatever) and I'll do work on the arrangement (of course the option exists where they can stick around and work on it with me). And when the arrangement is at a point where it's appropriate, we re-do the vocals and possibly add to the arrangement to make sure we have the best possible impact.
DGT: If the artist mentioned in the previous question really knows his or her material, how long does it take to make a ten song CD in terms of studio time?
JP: It depends on the complexity of the arrangement desired. A simple song can be done in a few hours. Unlike most recording studios, where an artist goes in and simply records himself or herself (vocals, guitar/piano), the service that I offer goes way beyond that. My expertise is in providing a solid and memorable arrangement...A typical 10-song CD may have one or two cuts that are very simple, and one or two that are fairly complex, but the majority are going to be somewhere in the middle. With a 10-song CD, it's nice to have a variety, some simple, some complex and some in between. So, to answer your question as accurately as I can, as a rule of thumb, with a typical 3-4 minute song, each track is probably about 30-60 minutes to perform, so you can guestimate the arrangement if you can pre-conceive the outcome that's desired. So if the artist wants an orchestral arrangement, that's a lot of parts...And then after we've done the typical arrangement of say, 10-15 tracks, spending say 8-10 hours, then there is the additional step of the mixing which is usually 3+ hours (to get to near-master quality).
DGT: You have a beautiful studio in an incredible part of the world Jim and it would appear that the noise and concrete jungle of city life is long and far away. Do you believe there is something about the ambiance of the studio, perhaps the geography of the surroundings and intimacy with nature that can really bring something special out of an artist while recording at Halfabubbleoff Studios? JP: Absolutely! The artist has to have space...the space around him/her enables the artist to discover his/her creativity or NOT...When the space around the artist is traffic, pollution, noise, distraction, stress, financial worries, relationship issues, etc., it can be devastating...It's a team activity to produce a song that the artist pre-conceived or maybe even needs assistance in fully pre-conceiving...That creative process is not going to take place unless the artist is free enough to engage in the creative process. So, a lot of the big city hoopla that I've observed results in expensive production time (more hours) in order to get to the end product.
DGT: And I think it's only fair to our readers though you have undoubtedly been asked before; where does the name " Halfabubbleoff " come from? When we were doing our 2200 sq.ft. family room/game room/concert room addition, we used the support beams from a previous patio room addition...It turns out the beams weren't quite level, and in fact were a fraction off being level. I made the joke at the time to the two guys working with me that they were "half a bubble off"! It was funny and it stuck. Some folks say that the name Halfabubbleoff is referring to my mental state, but don't listen to them!!
DGT: Coming back to electronics, computers and studio equipment Jim, where do you think this is all going? Of course there's always the issue of more memory, faster processors and such, but what I mean is in what possible way could it all get better?
JP: I don't focus on that stuff to be honest, it's about the art for me. The only way it can get better is if the art gets better...when we write and sing songs that matter, that's when it gets better! When we can touch the listener through our words, melody, song....that's how it can be better. Music makes the world better, whether it be performed around the camp fire or is produced in a great studio. I think there will always be a place for the analog studio where the heads are cleaned and tuned and it requires all of that maintenance and expense to create the warmth in the mix, and there are those that can afford that who will continue to go that route, but the guys and gals that write great songs and need help putting all of the other parts together to make the song great...Well, that's my niche.
DGT: I usually like to close with asking folks what they would say to young people who are perhaps thinking about becoming a recording engineer and/ or a producer. What do they really need to know the most?
JP: It starts with listening to a lot of good music. When you have a message, the only thing that should be there is what supports that message. A producer needs to understand this point...Only do that which forwards the message. You have to listen to a lot of music in order to gain the ear for understanding what works...It requires having the ability to maintain a mental music library.
DGT: Is there anything that you would like to add?
JP: It's great to get a pay check for what I do, however, it's hard to top the feeling I get when the artist meets me for the first time to chat, and I say, "why don't you sing an Acapella version of one of your tunes," and then I listen for a few moments to see where their headed with the melody and start to play the piano or guitar accompaniment...I love seeing their reaction...the smile and surprise on their face...when they realize that I've gotten inside their head...that I get them!... But the best payoff really, is getting to the finish line with the end product...knowing that I've been able to deliver a high-quality production that the singer/songwriter can take with them and that will open doors for them! I love making music, I love what I do and I love helping other people make music!
Thank you Jim!
Thank you Bruce!!!