Music in the woods: Vermont studios welcome artists seeking inspiration
Southern Vermont has long attracted artists of all kinds — writers, painters, photographers, artisans — seeking a place where they can create.
That's true for musicians as well. For decades, they've come here from around the world, seeking inspiration in the mountains, pastures and rivers, and a quiet getaway where they can work without interruption.
A number of recording studios have popped up from the Connecticut River Valley to the Green Mountains to meet that need, offering the technology — digital, analog or both — and professional services artists need to create great music.
"We're able to be very focused up here," said singer and songwriter Maxine Linehan, who moved to Manchester from New York with her husband and family and built a recording studio on the family property. "I'm in the city very frequently, but what we've got up here is, we've created this magical space. It's so beautiful. It's nestled in the mountains and trees."
Artists and producers come from other parts of the country and they're "just blown away" by the beauty, she said.
Here are some of the places artists have been making music in southern Vermont:
Guilford Sound, Guilford
Microphones and speakers can be connected to nearly every room in Guilford Sound to get the desired acoustics from the studio, which also has a lighting system that can be adapted to moods musicians are seeking.
"Everything's designed for recording," said Dave Snyder, owner of Guilford Sound. "So it's just there, set up, ready to go. It's not a mess of wires going everywhere. It's all just built in."
Construction of Guilford Sound began in 2007, and Snyder opened the studio for recording in 2012. It specializes in live multi-tracking, and features a mix of analog and digital equipment.
"We're really set up to track a band live," said Snyder, who tends to record jazz, rock and roll, and spoken word. "Our digital system is a lot more robust and that's what most people record to, but we do have the ability to do tape."
Clients come from local towns and cities such as Boston and New York.
"We're trying to grow that right now," Snyder said.
His small team — two with technical expertise and a manager who oversees the studio — do not consider themselves producers. They might suggest tuning a guitar but they won't tell an artist to change a song's bridge or chord pattern.
"We may work with a producer, but we are purely there to capture things as best as possible," Snyder said. "If people have creative ideas, we try to help execute them."
Joel "Veena" Eisenkramer, an Indian slide guitarist who lives in Brattleboro and Mumbai, India, from about December to May, recorded his 2017 album "Unexpected Blessings" at Guilford Sound. He called it his "favorite studio to work with by far." He has recorded in studios in the United States, India and the Netherlands.
"But Guilford Sound is a world-class studio," he said. "It's like a work of art. I mean, driving up there in Guilford, you're kind of in the back roads of Guilford, you take this turn and you wind up this hillside, the trees just gradually open up, there's this giant clearing and they've built this studio opposite their house."
Eisenkramer described the studio's engineers, Snyder and Matt Hall, "as very casual and professional and comfortable to work with all at the same time." He said they have some of the best equipment available, but make an effort to keep it accessible to area musicians.
"It's a very high-end studio, out of the budget for many, but they have always, since day one of opening, accommodated and given special treatment to local artists so that they can utilize the world-class facility in their backyard," Eisenkramer said. "[That's] another reason why I appreciate them."
While producing singles for NL Dennis & the Thunderballs, Eisenkramer used the lighting system for a music video.
"That was pretty neat," he said.
In the video, Eisenkramer also included footage of a baby grand piano and some vintage audio equipment.
"That really gave it a classic sort of vibe," he said.
Old Mill Road Recording, East Arlington
Joshua Sherman, owner of Old Mill Road Recording in East Arlington, opened his studio in November 2018. He had been visiting Vermont since he was a child and has lived here since 2009.
Sherman and in-house engineer Ben J. Arrindell — a Grammy winner with more than 30 years of experience working with artists such as Aretha Franklin, The Temptations and Busta Rhymes — have been close friends and collaborators for nearly 20 years. They met when Sherman was developing musicals in New York City. They watched as major studios closed or changed for the worse and found the studios "no longer had an environment that was conducive to creativity," Sherman said.
Producers "want to create an environment where performers can relax because then they can give it their best," he said. "If they're not in a great place, they won't be able to deliver. And as a producer, you obviously want to gather the best ingredients possible to end up with the best end product."
When Sherman first moved to Vermont, he would spend a week here and the next in New York. In 2011, he decided he was "tired of the back and forth" so he explored the potential for local production. In 2014, he purchased two 18th-century townhouses and a barn in between them.
"I saw great talent and a great location," he said. "I bought this mill and I started to develop it as a space for creatives."
The studio, which offers a mix of analog and digital equipment, was featured on the cover of Mix magazine in June.
Sherman is "making an arts commitment to this small Vermont community, through a multi-discipline investment in dance, music and education," the Mix article reads. "The build-out includes a stellar recording studio, designed by Fran Manzella to blend with the charm of the somewhat-intact 18th-century mill."
The studio has been nominated for a National Association of Music Merchants Technical Excellence and Creativity award for studio design.
"It's a big deal; it's very exciting," Sherman said. "We really created this as a destination recording studio. So many people want to be out of the city."
He said artists want to be in a calm environment, where they "can isolate themselves from the rest of the world and focus on their music."
The studio hosts a mix of local and visiting musicians. Sherman also offers music education and songwriting workshops and works with students to create the next generation of artists.
The studio is part of a larger campus known as The Mill, which is intended to serve creative people. Sherman considers it a combination of artist colony and recording studio.
The Studio at Strawberry Fields Lane, Manchester
The Studio at Strawberry Fields Lane opened in Manchester about two years ago.
"It's been amazing," said Linehan, director of creative services and programming.
She said her husband, Andrew Koss, has worked in the music business for 15 years, "so it was very interesting to relocate everything from Times Square [in New York] — quite a difference — but we both do a lot of work remotely."
Koss and Linehan are both songwriters collaborating with artists as far away as Los Angeles, Nashville and Europe. Linehan, a native of Ireland, has performed at New York's Lincoln Center and Paris' famed Theatre du Chatelet and sung the Star-Spangled Banner at Fenway Park.
"But what's been so surprising for us has been how many incredibly talented musicians are in this area," Linehan said. "We've worked with a lot of great people in the last couple of years who are local."
Clients have come from the region and cities such as Burlington, New York and Boston. Some of the work has been done remotely by sending files back and forth.
"I love what the software can do now," said Koss, studio director, producer and engineer.
Koss said there is "something still very desirable" about having choices such as using a vintage microphone versus a newer one. He estimated the studio has more than 50 mics.
A home studio can be great, Linehan said, "but when you walk into our studio, you have access to massive amounts of equipment."
"That's one of the things that has kept this industry alive," she said. "There's always a line between the professional work and the professional gear and the professional producer and the professional engineer working on it."
The studio tends to see clients coming from a "pretty eclectic mix" of genres of music and spoken word platforms. Linehan said she did not see that type of diversity when working in the studio in the city.
While there is no tape machine in the studio, Koss said, there are racks and racks of new and vintage gear — some of it dating back to the early 1960s. He said sometimes, a piece of equipment is "the latest and greatest" but has analog circuitry.
"Analog gear breathes a lot of life into what you're recording," he added.
The couple always stays busy.
Summer Series at The Studio At Strawberry Fields, which features Linehan on vocals and different musicians for each song, has been so popular among those who watch the online video series that a winter version is going to be produced. The videos can be seen on YouTube and the studio's Facebook page.
"It was a really great way to bring the music community together up here," Linehan said.
Students from local schools have also come to the studio. They are taught about how the music business works.
"It's a great thing we weren't able to do in New York," Koss said. "It was too busy, too hectic."
Northern Track Recording Studio, Wilmington
Gary Henry, owner of Northern Track Recording Studio in Wilmington, works with musicians from local towns and as far as Albany, Amherst, Boston and New York City.
"In general, I do almost anything," he said. "I do everything from spoken word to rock, country, a lot of jazz. I don't do much rap or hip-hop except for an occasional vocal track."
Over the last couple of years, Henry engineered and mixed Caribbean jazz projects. First, he recorded a six-piece group. Later, he recorded a nine-piece.
"So that was really fun," he said, admitting that the large number of instruments added a challenge.
Henry is recording less jazz than he had in the past.
"The jazz market is getting smaller and smaller all the time," he said. "Having a CD is not as important as it used to be because people are just putting stuff online, so it's slowly becoming obsolete."
Musicians are making money by touring and selling merchandise, Henry said, noting that albums are sold at concerts "as part of your whole merch package."
These days, Henry is recording a lot of singer-songwriter projects he describes as Americana — "folksy, folk rock or roots."
"It varies a lot, but that's kind of a new genre people are getting involved with," he said.
Henry built the studio in 1990. Local musician Colby Dix helps produce some projects. His debut solo album, "The Five," was recorded in the studio.
The facility has housed different recording equipment. Now, it is all digital. Its offerings include a piano, microphones and preamps. When those are combined with an engineer's expertise and what Henry describes as "a great sounding space," he said, "those are things that make a difference."
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
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