Settled right of Main Street in the heart of Mesa, you would have no idea just by looking that Saltmine Studios is the recording home of legendary artists, producers, and hit tracks. The first time I set foot on the grounds (at least, according to my iPhone map), I wandered around the entire steel compound through alleyways, trying just to find an entryway before calling my friend who works as an engineer on-site. I'm guessing I was a good laugh for whoever was watching the ever-present security cameras stationed discreetly inside and out.
Some of the music industry's biggest heavyweights have recorded at The Saltmine over the years, including Bone Thugs N Harmony, the Jonas Brothers, Sheryl Crow, Soulfly, Lil Wayne, and Megadeth. Recently, DMX has been on-site more often than not, bringing with him a huge posse and appetite to record his new record. He recorded a music video at the studios a couple months back, and around the studio is known for his infectious energy, the awesome rhymes he's been coming up with, and a hatred for male flip-flops (don't ask).
The Saltmine oozes a serene, peaceful, historical energy - it makes sense, since music history has been made there and it was at one time a church. Glowing salt crystals, antique instruments, vintage microphones, stacks of records, quirky knickknacks — and oh yeah, that would be a couple Grammy awards on that dusty end table — cover all available spaces. Tapestries hang from the wall ranging from authentic Indian designs to Bob Marley suns, splashed with turquoise and indigo and emulating the scent of Nag Champa incense. Stacks of guitars, clusters of pianos ranging from uprights to grands to vintage keyboards, and cabinets packed with every microphone imaginable crowd the vaulted ceiling room corners. In one of the recording studios, diffusers, wooden slats jut out from of the wall that almost look like an architectural accent, but they are really Hemholst resonators and absorb the sound constantly throughout mixing, used as a multi-ban frequency trap much like a xylophone.
"It's the vibe, it's the instruments, it's the supreme tracking and mixing studios that we have under one roof that make the Saltmine so unique," explains owner Don Salter. "We're Arizona's largest recording studio with 16,000 square feet and five studios under one roof, including the largest analog tracking and mixing rooms."
The small group of sound engineers, handpicked by owner Don Salter himself for their competency and flexibility, specialize in a range of musical skills and each bring something different and unique to the table. All of them like to keep the music as analog as possible, while combining state-of-the-art, modern digital tools.
"We have a philosophy that embodies those classic analog recordings of the past, as well as modern digital recording, and we use our Studor 2 and ATR 1 tape decks to achieve our analog sound," says Salter. "We also use Pro-tools, board gear and plug ins to achieve our digital recording results."
The studio itself started decades ago, along with the name, when Don Salter was recording out of a room above his garage.
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"It was always working for free in a dark place with low ceilings and it was so hot above my garage, and it really wasn't that fun," says Salter. I thought it was like working like in a saltmine and it kinda' stuck. More recently people asked how I named it, and I guess I could also say it has to do with my last name, and it's all mine."
Musicians love it here, local, national, and international. The tall metal gates and walls encase a small village-like atmosphere, complete with basketball courts, and a bungalow with bedrooms, a kitchen and recording studios, covered in climbing vines. For the most part though, artists travel to the Saltmine not just for the atmosphere, but for the rare equipment or tools that the team wields like the artists themselves.
"We have a 1949 M-49 microphone that's just gorgeous. It is as good as sounding a mic your going to find," says Salter. "We get a lot of people that come here to play our beautiful Yamaha C7 grand piano and the biggest thing is our vintage Neve console signed by Rupert Neve himself and two SSL mixing consoles. They are famous in their own right, since they have been in the hands of some supreme producer mixer engineers, made famous by Ben Gross in Los Angeles and David Foster."
Now we know who to thank for keeping DMX in the studio and out of trouble.