North Texas Daily

Recording studio gives bands creative freedom

Recording studio gives bands creative freedom

September 16
21:28 2010

By Ashley-Crystal Firstley / Intern –

In the woods of Denton County, off Old Alton Road, stands what resembles a wooden cottage right around a floodplain. Before turning to enter this cottage-like building, there is a log that lies on the ground with “The Echo Lab” carved into it.

This is no cottage, but a recording studio that found its home in 1999 when UNT alumnus Dave Willingham first opened it. He calls it The Echo Lab woods.

“I was recording when I was still going to college here,” Willingham said. “I was doing it out of my house when I kind of decided it wasn’t such a good idea to do it in there, so I moved my studio out here.”

(Photo by Mike Mezeul / Senior Staff Photographer)

When it all began

Seven years later, co-owners Matthew Barnhart and Matt Pence made their way into the Lab mix, Willingham said.

All three intended to expand their own recording studios then decided to team up.

“The function of this studio, the reason we built this big room, was to make complete albums for bands,” Barnhart said. “All the instruments, everything is just part of the studio. It’s for their use when they come here.”

The Echo Lab has recorded Denton bands like Spooky Folk, RTB2, The Angelus, Midlake, Bridges and Blinking Lights and Nervous Curtains.

Recording at least 60 to 100 bands a year, Willingham said although the majority of bands they record are local, there have been bands from a variety of countries.

“About half of the records we make are local bands,” Barnhart said. “Just by travelling, we’ve met a lot of people and those relationships have fostered to other bands coming from all over the country and from all over the world.”

For bands that travel from out of town to record, the owners provide an apartment located next to the studio, Pence said. It costs about $30-35 a night and resembles a dorm room, which Willingham said is better than a motel.

Barnhart said the studio has been home to bands from the Netherlands, Spain and around the country.

Willingham said they provide just about every common instrument free of charge. The recording has a flat rate of $400 a day.

“Our goal is we want to be affordable, and we want to have a lot of flexibility so that people can make whatever kind of record they want to make,” Barnhart said.

Down to business

Both Willingham and Barnhart said having a recording studio in the city may have its perks with nearby restaurants and guitar stores, but it can also be a distraction.

“There’s kind of nothing to do but shoot BB guns or make a record, and shooting a BB gun gets pretty boring after about four or five hours,” Barnhart said.

Aside from recording mostly album projects, all three owners have established themselves as engineers who remaster albums, Barnhart said.

“We don’t deal with a lot of record labels or managers and stuff like that,” Barnhart said. “The kind of bands that we often record are people who are just self-contained, and they want to make their own records and do things their own way.”

Drummer Grady Don Sandlin of RTB2 said isolation is key because there’s no distraction while you’re at work. Having high quality equipment also adds to the benefit of recording at the Echo Lab, he said.

“I feel comfortable to experiment there, to make mistakes,” Sandlin said. “It’s definitely my favorite place to record.”

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