In an industry full of what he calls “sonic stampers,” Ford has made it his mission to eliminate all traces of his own aesthetic from his clients’ work.
“The truth of what I go for at my studio is that I want musicians to come and to be able to actually convey their idea,” he tells New Times during an interview at Jobot. Ford speaks with conviction, sometimes tapping the table with his index finger when he gets really serious. “Your idea as the engineer means nothing. It should mean nothing. And not even just to the band, but to yourself. You can’t get attached to your idea.”
Ford, who also plays guitar for Pro Teens, believes Audile Collective is an answer to a lot of the problems he sees at other studios in Phoenix and throughout the country. It’s not just the branding, but the fact that the bigger places are bloated with too many pieces of gear and hidden costs. He feels that model is outdated and doesn’t appeal to a lot of musicians today, who aren’t backed by labels and have to scrap together their own funding. Those artists need a middle ground between recording in their closets and paying $500 a day for a decked-out booth.
That’s where Ford comes in.
Ford’s then roommate, artist Mo Neuharth, helped him decorate the space and also played in one of the first bands he recorded, Numb Bats. Back then, he was offering his services for free or nearly free, making a name for himself by attending as many local shows as possible and getting to know people.
“I think my lucky break was that I’m pretty active in the music scene here,” he says. “I’ll just go to shows that I don’t know the bands on the bill, but I want to see what’s coming up… You don’t want to treat it like it’s throwing a line out with a hook. I’ll just introduce myself, and I won’t mention my business.”
As he embedded himself in the scene, Ford started gaining traction through word of mouth. To this day, he has never made an effort to promote his services. Most of his work comes through referrals, and he intends to keep it that way. Besides, he’s plenty busy already.
During a Saturday morning recording session with Vance Nowe, Ford is hustling to get everything set up, bouncing around the room like a pinball. The bandmates tune up and have some laughs, playing a few notes from the Spongebob Squarepants ending credits and drinking coffee to recover from a late show the previous night. Ford plugs in and unplugs what seems like a hundred cables, checks everything two or three times, and makes sure everyone’s comfortable. He’s so focused he doesn’t say much, except to share a story about a south Florida rapper called Thug Duck (or something like that) who made him realize he doesn’t have time to sleep if he wants to achieve all his goals.
Ford lifts a hanging quilt and dips into the control room, where he’s got his desk ready for soundcheck. He adjusts the levels and gives the band the green light. Three takes and a few hours later, the session wraps. Vance Nowe and bandmates head home to nap, and it seems doubtful Ford will do the same.
“[My plan is] to do as much as I want to before I die. To just do this,” he says. “I always want to be working. I always want to be doing the work.”
To Ford, growth doesn’t mean becoming the boss of a big team and amassing a trove of equipment. He’d like to have more space someday – maybe – but even then, he’s determined to stay lean. His idea of success is propelling Phoenix musicians to new levels and watching them gain the same recognition as Brooklyn or L.A. acts. It’s a lofty dream, and at Audile Collective’s current rate (starting at $135 a day), it’s hard to imagine he could go on forever. But he’ll try.
“It’s my sole occupation, doing this. It pays the bills, just barely. But it’s what I want to be doing, and it’s what I will always be doing – until these other bigger studios in town bring down their prices and run me out.”