New bands have a lot to learn: Your friends have better things to do than come to all your shows, your first five songs will most likely be shit, and when it comes time to having real recorded material, it’s all about the mastering.
So what is mastering?
It's enhancing and preparing the audio to be played back on all different systems — from a car CD player to the radio to vinyl to Spotify.
Denver's Catadawn Recording Studios has devoted itself to analog recording and mastering. In other words, the studio uses gear with few digital parts and does most of its work without a computer.
Equipped with a rare analog mixing board, studer tape machines, a German plate reverb, analog compressors, high-quality microphones and every other gizmo a recording artist needs, Brent Somermeyer and Matt Tanner of Catadawn offer professional services without pretension. They are patient when working with musicians and the space is intimate — unlike the clinical stale environments of big studios.
Singer-songwriter Anthony Ruptak, who recorded his acclaimed full-length album, A Place That Never Changes, at Catadawn, explains what gave his record an organic, classic sound. “Literally nothing on this record is digital. There are no digital effects. There is no digital EQ. All the reverb on the album comes from a legit German plate reverb that takes up half of the house upstairs,” says Ruptak. “Everything you hear is the disparity and eternal commitment to a final sound, which is residing in these old knobs on this old mixing board.”
Catadawn began as a mastering studio in 2014 as a means for basement recording artists to perfect their final product. From there, it quickly grew into a fully functional recording studio.
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“Because we are in the digital age of recording, so many big studios end up shutting down — because anyone can record in their basement or room with simple microphones and a converter, as we all know. But then as it comes out, the digital mix still needs to be mastered,” says Somermeyer. “Because of that, we started the company so that some of these people who are making their recordings at home can still have a way to make high-quality recordings in the end.”
Somermeyer and Tanner have established Catadawn as one of the finest recording, mixing and mastering studios in the city, producing an impressive list of Colorado favorites such as the Copper Children (whose new album will be one of Catadawn's biggest releases yet), DéCollage, Its Just Bugs and RUMTUM, as well as projects from artists across the country.
Somermeyer and Tanner met during their time studying at the University of Colorado Denver and clicked early on. “We became musical twins, you can say. We were in a lot of the audio production classes together and the ensembles and different percussion groups together. We just learned and set a vision that was similar to each other’s immediately,” recalls Somermeyer.
Both spent time outside of school honing their skills.
“It’s practice. It’s a lot of listening, a lot of critical listening, a lot of referencing and reading and researching what other people are doing, but listening to it in a controlled environment where you can manipulate it and re-create it on other systems," Tanner explains. "The only rule in mastering is whatever they give has to come out perfect, and that’s it."
Their appreciation of analog recording is part of a wider trend in the underground Denver music scene, where a generation of musicians who have spent their lives writing and recording on their computers are discovering what it means to disconnect from that gear.
“Analog is surging and becoming available in different forms, and I think people are enjoying getting their hands on gear again, and just hearing and experiencing that sound versus having a package of a classic sound, which is what you get in the digital realm," says Tanner. "Those can sound amazing, too, because what sounds good sounds good, but when you go with analog, it feels real on the record or on stage,” says Tanner.
The crown jewel of the Catadawn gear collection is the 24-channel custom mixing console built by legendary electrical engineer Brian Roth at age 24 in the late ’70s — one of two ever made.
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Operating an analog studio with equipment built in the ’70s comes with challenges. “It can be troublesome to keep up with at times," says Somermeyer. "We’ve heard people say that if it’s a truly analog studio, it won’t be working a hundred percent, but it adds to the character. When it does, though, it’s an amazing feeling."
“Brent has an incredible sense of smell. I have allergies and stuff, so my smelling isn’t so good, but Brent can smell out a blown resistor from probably upstairs,” Tanner explains.
“You can usually smell when something’s exploded,” adds Somermeyer.
The Copper Children album release show, 9 p.m. Friday, April 19, Larimer Lounge, 2721 Larimer Street, $15.