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But for those financially challenged bands that insist on a plush studio, there are several alternatives. Some of Phoenix's bigger studios, including Vintage and Phase Four, offer what's known as a "B room," a smaller recording room where the rates are lower. Chƒton, for instance--known for working with such artists as Rob Halford, Alice Cooper and Paul McCartney--welcomes fledgling bands. "We try to support the local scene and give people a break by cutting back on the rates," says producer Steve Escallier. "We try to encourage that for bands to get going."
Steve Naughton, owner of Phoenix Recording Company (formerly The Groove Factory), is less than impressed with what he's heard around town. "As far as the local recording scene goes," he says, "I don't think anybody's done anything worth talking about. Everything I've heard sounds demo-y and doesn't have that national, punchy quality."
Naughton, who specializes in recording punk bands like Jimmy Eat World, Tilt, Face to Face, Jeff Dahl and Man-dingo, says he's spent the last five years developing his own "killer" sound. What does killer cost? A mere $35 to $55 an hour.
Naughton pinpoints a frequent pitfall of many locally produced CDs: Bands don't invest the time or money necessary to have their tapes properly mastered, a process in which the sound levels throughout an entire CD are equalized, or balanced. "Mastering is the frosting on the cake," he says. "It makes everything sound sweet. You can have a [well-recorded] album that, if mastered improperly, will sound cheap."
He claims that many of the Valley's engineers have inexpensive computer programs ($1,000 to $2,000) that don't provide good-quality mastering. Naughton generally refers bands to S.A.E. Mastering in Phoenix, or to K-Disk in Hollywood, California.
Another gripe comes from heavy-alternative locals N17, a band that began recording at Phase Four and then bailed to a studio in El Paso, Texas, with Phoenix producer Neil Kernon. Lead singer Trevor Askew explains the reason for the band's change in plans: "Phase Four is the best studio for mix-down in Phoenix because it offers top-quality mixing gear. But as far as big drum rooms, there's really no studio in Phoenix that offers a true drum room." Not yet, anyway; as Phoenix grows and more producers and engineers migrate to the Valley, things may change. Billy Spoon, owner of Anthem, a midsize facility that caters mainly to mainstream Christian pop groups, expects the number and quality of local studios to increase. "I really believe that the Phoenix recording scene is changing for the better," says Spoon. "There's going to be a shift here like there was for Minneapolis and Seattle."
Dave DeLorenzo, manager of locals Idols of Perversity, agrees. "More and more recording studios are coming out here because the opportunity to get good bands is gradually increasing," he says. "Phoenix will be the next city to have a lot of cool bands and a lot of people who record want to get a piece of the action."
And there is always, of course, all that golf and go-go.