Musicians come from across country to make music and record in Kalamazoo

When you're the new business in a field full of competitors it pays to have something special to offer.
Mark Thompson of Kalamazoo's Double Phelix recording collective claims that region's newest studio, located downtown on East Kalamazoo Avenue, is home to the  best tape recorder within an eight state radius. 
That's quite a statement, considering that Chicago alone has more than 20 studios that specialize in analog recording.
"It's the best tape machine in the Midwest," Thompson says. "Cleanest analog sound possible. And when it hits digital from this tape machine, it's just the warmest sound you can get."
And according to Thompson, Kalamazoo is the only place to find the sound, as the Tascam ATR60-16 is an extremely rare piece of equipment. 
Kalamazoo has long been known as a hotbed of live music--bars, house venues, and summer festivals are integral in the growth of the area's music scene. But there is another, often unseen side of the local music industry--recording.
Kalamazoo and the surrounding area supports no fewer than eight professional recording studios and also boasts several home studios--intimate, often temporary spaces that artists put together in bedrooms, basements and living rooms.
"Kalamazoo is a music town and people are coming here from all over the country," singer/songwriter Graham Parsons says.
Besides performing with several area bands, Parsons is also a member of  Double Phelix Collective, a group owned label and recording studio, which also happens to be the city's newest commercially available recording space.
Originally formed in 2011 as a way for its 10 plus members to acquire easy access to gear and recording equipment, Double Phelix has quickly evolved into a company that welcomes outside artists, promoting itself as a safe and creative haven for both local and touring musicians.
"We offer a wide variety of services including audio production, engineering, songwriting, studio musicians, audio for film, TV, and voiceover, sound design, and location recording," collective member and studio engineer Andy Catlin says.
Few area studios are prepared to offer clients as many recording options as Double Phelix, but even these upstarts could probably learn a thing or two from several of Southwest Michigan's more established businesses.
The Western Sound Studio on the campus of Western Michigan University has been recording both student and professional musicians for 30 years.
Specializing in the intricate and often grand sounds of classical, chamber, and jazz musicians, Western Sound Studio routinely records acts from other genres such as rock, folk, and hip-hop as well.
Unlike most area studios that have a limited amount of space to work with, Western Sound Studio is in the fortunate position of having at its disposal not only a high-end recording studio, but also an entire concert hall to work with.
Opened in 1982, The Western Sound Studio "was envisioned as both a commercial recording studio for use by the School of Music and other clients and as a teaching facility," Studio Engineer John Campos says.
"Our placement in the School of Music leads us to handle music in all styles and gives us a specialty in live concert recordings. Being connected to the 440 seat Dalton Center Recital Hall gives us access to a venue well suited to classical recordings," Campos says.
Current office manager and staff engineer Bryan Heany may have more experience with classical recordings than anyone working on the West side of the state. Besides his work at Western Sound Studio, Heany is the technical director for the Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra, and as a live sound engineer works freelance for Fontana Chamber Arts, The Gilmore Keyboard Festival, and more.
His background in classical music was a primary reason that Heany was tabbed to run sound for the Red Sea Pedestrians and Cornfed Girls News Year's Eve show at the State Theater. The two bands will be joining forces to present the Beatle's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road in their entireties.
Because of Heany's work producing live music of all genres he has become a trusted ear for many area musicians, including those who also own studios.
Ian Gorman, co-founder of the Red Sea Pedestrians, recently built what is essentially his dream studio in an old garage behind the house he and his wife Rachel purchased on Kalamazoo's East side.
La Luna Recording Studios plays host to not only the Gorman's personal projects but also the work of the Earthwork Music Collective, an assemblage of Michigan singers and songwriters.
Though Gorman has spent years collecting the gear and knowledge essential to opening a studio, La Luna is an entirely private, invite only affair, which sets it apart from companies such as Double Phelix, Broadside Productions, Sound Stage, Sky Productions, Arcadia Recording and others.
"At its core, this is Rachel's and my home studio," Gorman says.
But that's not to say that La Luna hasn't seen countless musicians not named Gorman come through its doors. Opened earlier in 2012, the studio and its resident guru have been hard at work.
"Elizabeth Pixley-Fink, Darlene, Gifts Or Creatures, Seth and May, Who Hit John? Seth (Bernard) has a solo album." Gorman rattles off just a few of the projects that he is currently working on.
Gorman can take on this kind of workload thanks to his years of freelance and commercial work and hours upon hours spent in both high-end professional and super-low-budget home studios.
Musicians who record at La Luna, come to Gorman to find find the recording studio version of a one-stop shop. Recording, mixing and mastering can all be done on site.
"The old school way of doing it was that one studio would record and mix and another dedicated studio would just do the mastering. That's definitely changed over time," Gorman says.
One thing that hasn't changed at all is that musicians have and will always seek out spaces and producers that they feel best fit their sound.
"I feel like people come to me for my experience. Obviously, I have a good room and good equipment, but there are a lot of good rooms with good equipment. You want to work with someone that's your style," Gorman says.
In Kalamazoo it's not hard to discover a studio that fits any given style. From classical and jazz to rock, hip-hop, folk and punk, Kalamazoo recording studios have recorded, mixed and mastered it all.
"Everyone in Kalamazoo is so talented and unique," Catlin says."I want to develop Kalamazoo as a Midwest recording capital and I think that is going to happen via the diversity of talent at all of the different studios."
Jeremy Martin is a freelance writer. A graduate of Western Michigan University, he lives in Portage with his wife. Follow him @secondwavebeer on Twitter.

Photos by Erik Holladay.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.