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Welcome to SecretStud.io.  I’m Sandy Stone.

I left the heyday of mainstream recording in the 1980s, while I was still alive, which is more than I can say for some of my contemporaries. Now I hang out in a small coastal town, where I’ve built a cozy multitrack, mostly analog, studio.  We are not open to the public; I work only with musicians to whose art I feel I can contribute significant benefit.

You can probably find whatever you’d like to know somewhere on this site.  Meanwhile, have a beer.  Or a stout.  Or whatever the hell the image is.

About

Wilma Cozart, my shero, tickling the faders for a Mercury Living Presence remastering session

I come from a background that includes The Record Plant, Wally Heider Studios, RCA, Columbia, Warner/Elektra/Atlantic, and too many other ancient hit factories to count.  I’ve worked — mainly in New York, San Francisco, Hollywood, Memphis, and Nashville — with everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Miles Davis to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which is to say from rock to jazz to classical.  (In Santa Cruz, where I live, I produced, engineered and mixed the Monterey Symphony recordings and radio broadcasts for many years, before adventure called me away.)  AFAIK I’m the only engineer left standing who actually understands (not to mention uses) the Living Presence symphonic recording technique.

Along the way I collected a lot of awards, if it matters.  I could post a photo of me in front of a shit-ton of gold and platinum records, but it’s from the XXth Century and the odds are that you’d collapse laughing.  Old farts with pretensions!  Gimme a gazillion synthesizers and a ton of sequencers!  Not.

No, I don’t hate synthesizers.  But I do love analog instruments of all sorts — viols, harps, clavichords, ukeleles, piccolos, pennywhistles, krumhorns, bass saxophones (Oh yes!)… you get the idea.  Stuff whose partials go off in all spatial directions and require all manner of psychoacoustic calisthenics to sound great through that pair of 99 cent earbuds they gave you on the plane.

A Large Analog Instrument
A Larger Analog Instrument

I grew up around nuts like Ed Villchur, who was fond of testing his speakers by digging pits in his lawn and putting the speakers in them, because that arrangement best simulated a true infinite plane.  Ed recorded string quartets in his front yard, to take advantage of the fact that it had no acoustic characteristics at all.  Nearby was a large tree in which garrulous birds liked to congregate.  Just before he pressed “record” he fired a blank shotgun blast at the tree, whereupon the birds shut up.  How long they stayed shut up determined the length of a take.

Ed invented the acoustic suspension system, which was the first practical small speaker with bass response.  Before I knew that, I was farting around at my gig with the American Foundation for the Blind, trying to come up with a small reference speaker system.  I figured the best thing would be to cut a ring of cloth from an old t-shirt and use it to make a very floppy suspension ring for the speaker cone, to get the resonant point way down low.  After I set it up my boss felt it and said “Yup, Ed Villchur did the same thing about five years ago.”  Turned out Ed had had my job before I got there.  Seems the good ideas just have that ol’ urge to get themselves realized; they don’t seem to care much who lets them do it.

My favorite engineers were Wilma Cozart — because she was a fantastic engineer who made it big in a totally male-dominated field — and Bob Fine, who was her recording partner and later her husband, or maybe the other way around.  Those geeks developed what I consider to be the absolute best technique for recording classical music EVAR, and I still use it.  Today it’s fallen out of favor because it’s labor intensive,  time consuming, and requires a ton of discernment on the part of the engineer.  Not to mention it’s expensive.  Still I use it.

I also kinda like the Decca tree, which is also expensive and time consuming, not to mention that it helps if you know plumbing.  It’s expensive and time consuming because in any church or concert auditorium the actual sweet spot is higher than a floor stand can reach.  It helps if you know plumbing because it’s made out of pipe.  (Of course, today they can be made from aluminum extrusions, but what the hell.  Artisanal Decca trees FTW.)  Occasionally you see a Decca tree deployed for a recording session, but they’re almost always on floor stands, because it’s a bitch to hang one.  Which is why you rarely see them:  because on a floor stand, they suck.  In fact, for ensemble or orchestral recording, anything on a floor stand or a boom, even a long boom, sucks.

These days there are precious few engineers around who are masochistic enough to take on the physical, electrical and architectural challenges — not to mention the politics — involved in hanging microphones properly.  It’s easier just to cave and put up booms and floor stands.  Everybody’s happy and most people won’t notice the degradation in the product, because most people are accustomed to hearing music from the pea-sized speaker in their phones.  I say the hell with that.  Which is why, if you’re at a concert and notice microphones or Decca-tree-like weirdnesses actually hanging from the ceiling, chances are it’s me.

A Decca tree with three Telefunken U47s being used for the Detroit Symphony’s first stereo recording session some godawful number of years ago. RCA and other major labels were already experimenting with stereo recording in the late 1940s, although no standard yet existed for stereo phonographs. Photo by Peter Dobkin Hall.

Welcome to SecretStud.io.  I’m Sandy Stone.

I left the heyday of mainstream recording in the 1980s, while I was still alive, which is more than I can say for some of my contemporaries. Now I hang out in a small coastal town, where I’ve built a cozy multitrack, mostly analog, studio.  We are not open to the public; I work only with musicians to whose art I feel I can contribute significant benefit.

You can probably find whatever you’d like to know somewhere on this site.  Meanwhile, have a beer.  Or a stout.  Or whatever the hell the image is.

Contact

Usually I or a representative will initiate contact, but if you care to try your luck I can be reached at sandy (at) secretstud.io, or via the usual social media.