When the lead singer of Tower of Power was looking for a place to record his first solo album, he didn’t search in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. He didn’t head to New York, Nashville, or Los Angeles.
Instead, Marcus Scott chose a world-class recording studio located in what some may believe to be an unlikely city: Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Solo acts to Large Bands
“The thing about Sweetwater is they took the music that I wrote and let me be myself,” Scott said. “They surrounded me with people who would just stay out of the way. They would recreate the sound that I was looking for, but they weren’t trying to step on my toes, saying, ‘Hey, you should do it this way. You should do it that way.’ They just allowed me to be myself.”
Sweetwater is now the country’s number one online retailer of musical instruments and pro audio gear, but its humble beginnings go back to 1979, when it was simply a four-track recording studio in the back of a Volkswagen bus. Owner Chuck Surack would record bands in local clubs and then take them home to mix and master them. He soon outgrew the bus, eventually moving both the recording studio and the retail side of the business into a building on Bass Road.
“We were at that location for 17 years and needed more space, so we built the current facility on U.S. 30,” Surack explained. “That allowed us to expand our studios and our music store and create what I really consider to be a magical place for musicians.”
Each of the three studios can accommodate a wide variety of projects, ranging from solo acts to large groups and everything in between.
Staff Musicians, like the old days
Versatility is just one of the many things that sets Sweetwater Studios apart.
“First of all, you’ve got multi-million dollar recording studios,” said VP of Music Production and Senior Producer/Engineer Mark Hornsby. “Secondly, the people. Not only do we have an award-winning staff of producers and engineers, we also have session musicians on staff. The idea of having staff musicians in a studio, that’s a late ’60s, early ’70s model, certainly a different time period. We do it because we’re not marketing ourselves as a studio that’s focused on, ‘Hey, everybody, ditch your home studio and come record here!’ This is a boutique, niche service. It’s top-shelf quality.”
The musicians on staff include guitarist Don Carr, who has toured with the legendary Oak Ridge Boys for two decades; drummer and vocalist Nick D’Virgilio, who’s worked with Tears for Fears, Sheryl Crow, and Genesis; bassist Dave Martin, who has played with Robben Ford, Robert Earl Keen, Shelly West, and The Platters; and Grammy and Dove award-winning songwriter, producer, and keyboardist Phil Naish who has worked with everyone from Steven Curtis Chapman to Elton John.
“Having that much talent in one room is incredible,” said Hornsby, who is also an award-winning producer, engineer, and musician. “Not to mention the other top-notch engineers we have here who work hard to bring a project to life. In addition to that, when you’re at Sweetwater you have access to more musical equipment or gear than anywhere else in the world. Artists know they can show up with a guitar on their back and we have everything else. We make it very easy for people.”
The Sweetwater difference
Then there’s the campus, which features a full-service diner, coffee shop, hair salon and spa, and arcade. Surack is proud of those amenities, but says the real difference is in the people.
“The Sweetwater customer service model extends to the studio,” Surack said. We want people to be 100 percent happy. If they’re not 100 percent happy, we’re going to find a way to fix it. That is our commitment
It’s that dedication, drive, and attention to detail that brought Marcus Scott to Sweetwater in the first place and why he said he plans to be back.
“I’ve never worked with people who work just as hard as me in the studio,” he said. “The experience at Sweetwater Studios, it was one of the best experiences I ever had in a studio, period.
“I’m looking forward to working on the next project with the guys at Sweetwater. It’s my new home.”
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