Rooms matter!

my visit to Stax

I just got back from Memphis, made a pilgrimage to Stax museum, had some Voodoo chicken down on Beale st., some beers at Gorton Beirsch (however that is spelled) and a steak that melted like chocolate at the Butcher’s shop. Nice.

But the most interesting thing was listening to a whole lotta stax recordings before and after visiting the museum. I know that the room is a “re-creation,” but as I understand it they built it to original specs, and having visited the snake pit, sun recording, and now stax, I fully understand how rooms affect the sound of things. Those recordings sound like those rooms. Listen to the drums on Johnny Taylor’s “Wanted: One Soul Singer,” esp. the snare - that’s what this high room with nothign parallel (not walls, not floor and ceiling, nothing) sounds like…

Wonderful. that’s why my recordings sound like a basement…

Fibrex and some good reverb will fix what ails ya. :)

Nah, I need an empty theater with a sloping floor… :)


Yes, the room matters! It's part of why I like the sound on my CD, recorded in a "corner" of the oddly shaped family room in my 1920's house (much added onto over the decades), with wood floors and even some plaster walls still. And while the walls are SUPPOSED to be parallel, they're not. Heck, even the floor has a 6" difference from peak to valley (great place to play marbles!) So, it sounds good for recording acoustic guitar and vocals. Electric guitar or drums, fuggedaboudit!

So, the room matters. But Bubba's right that you can at least minimize the impact of the room and resort to plugins to put some character in. Back in the early 80's, my housemates and I set up a 1 1/2 car garage as a studio -- here's a pic. Recordings we made there were so dead and flat there they sounded like crap unless they were very orchestrated and complex. The more natural Capricorn Records type stuff that sounded great in previous home studios sounded like crap when recorded there (I didn't have a lot of hardware FX to use).

The room was so dead that the biggest change in the sound was whether the door to the rest of the house was open. If it was, you could snap your fingers with your eyes closed and tell in an instant.

But these days, with all the nice cheap and free plugins we have, you can record in a dead room and put some nice character into it in the can (without spending a fortune on FX). It won't sound the same as those old STAX recordings, though -- unless someone can go in there and record some impulse files!


Hey Learjeff, I never really made the connection, or maybe I did but don’t remember, but I was in A2 from 1980-1986, playing around here and there…did we chat about this already sometime in the past? I seem to remember that we did…
Anyway, it was cool to see pictures labelled “Franklin St. Ann Arbor 1984” and “Michigan St. 1981” :)

Some cool equipment in those pictures, too. Is that a CP-70 I see?

Yes, pop over to the SoundOnSound Technical Music fourm ( and read shed-loads on what a room can do and how to change it to improve its sonic qualities. Very in-depth and could be the start of an expensive hobby.

Alternatively cheap plug-ins work for me :)

Seriously though, if you are working, for example, in your attic, roof void or whatever you like to call it, you can run into problems, particularly from bass sounds, which don’t resonate very well in such odd shaped rooms with poor wall and floor coverings and materials. There is a lot you can do to improve this and it doesn’t HAVE to to cost the earth. The topic is well worth joining SOS and having a read, if only for background information. They also go into great detail of, for example, positioning of monitors and all sorts.

Beware though, those guys get very serious to a point of almost killer passion :angry:

Yes, I can understand the passion. Having visited three very famous acoustic spaces - Sun, Motown, and now the rebuilt Stax - plus a host of not so famous living rooms and basements, I can appreciate much better how the sound of the room makes or breaks the recording. It really was strange walking into the room at Sun a couple of years back and hearing the room - it was exactly what was on those recordings. And it wasn’t subtle. Motown too. Stax was a much better room, so it was more subtle, but even so you can hear it on the drums, esp. the snare, on recordings made there.

Actually, hearing the sound at Sun was nearly religious. :)

Growing up in seattle I always noticed the concerts sounded much better in the Paramount.
For the last several years I have used n-track to do sterio recordings of the bands I play with. I was supprised from the start, the room is by far the most important part of the sound.
Mics and other gear all come second.
The best sound I have gotton is in a small room with a high sloping ceiling and lots of windows. Go figure. I used a single sterio AT-822.
The sound rivals almost any live recording I have heard.

I got this nice sounding livingroom…

Well, I think so…

But not at 2-3pm… :p

More like 2-3am.

All the traffic in my neighbourhood seem to be in front of my place, when I’m takeing a “Magic Track” to the Hard-Drive… lol…


I hear ya there, Bill!

Tom, I don’t think we discussed it before. Yes, that’s a CP70, my main piano from 1981 or 82 until 1997. (I donated it to a church in 2001.)

I was in AA from 1975 to 2000. In 82-83, if you happened to drop into Mr. Flood’s Party for Thursday happy hour, that was me sitting by the old clunky upright, behind the Rhodes and Juno 60, with a hippy-looking guy and a cute brunette on vocals up front, playing Steely Dan, Allman Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, Little Feat, & stuff like that. That was the high point of my gigging career! We could have bumped elbows at Music Mart or Nalli’s; I was in those shops a lot (more Nalli’s, after 82 or so).

See the “This Performance SOLD OUT” sign in the top picture (from 2003)? All I know is it showed up at my place one day back in 78, and my roommate said “Rumor is, that came from Hill Auditorium”. More than that I do not know!

But don’t get me started. Even when I was young I like to reminisce!

Nah, go on, reminisce! Ann Arbor from the late 70s- late 80s was really good musically. I am absolutely certain I saw you at Flood’s. I was there from 1980-86, although I visited a lot 78-80 and still had musical ties there until 1995 or so. I played in a few bands, one got on the crusin’ A2 II LP, played a lot at Joe’s, Rick’s, ohmygod was that a great time…

I can’t believe you ever gave up the CP-70! :)

Quote (TomS @ Feb. 22 2005,12:14)
Nah, go on, reminisce! Ann Arbor from the late 70s- late 80s was really good musically. I am absolutely certain I saw you at Flood's. I was there from 1980-86, although I visited a lot 78-80 and still had musical ties there until 1995 or so. I played in a few bands, one got on the crusin' A2 II LP, played a lot at Joe's, Rick's, ohmygod was that a great time...

I can't believe you ever gave up the CP-70! :)

I think it might have been you and I who talked about the Ann Arbor. I certainly was in Mr. Flood's, but not regularly (a buddy of mine ran sound there for a while but I can't remember exactly when). So I doubt I saw Lear Jeff play there. In retrospect I lived a very cloistered existence in my little Residential College/East Quad community during my 4 years there. But I saw a few good shows at Joe's before it closed (Replacements for example--just saw Paul Westerberg the other night, kind of disappointing).

There was some good music there in that period though. That's for sure.


Yep, King, it was us - but we also chatted about Madison. circa 1986-89. :)

It was a shame when Joe’s closed. But that was slated to happen from the beginning, since he got a cheap lease, the building being slated to be torn down. And now there’s such a nice parking structure there. :angry: Yet parking in AA is no better, is it? :angry: :laugh:

What bands did you play with, Tom? I really didn’t get out a whole lot, though I did see a number of blues acts. The Michigan St. studio was where the Blue Front Persuaders practiced (the sax player Charlie lived in the house too) and that exposed me to a lot of blues musicians about town at the time. The piano player for that band is now known as “Steve Lucky” and has made a bit of a name for himself in the LA area. If you played top 40, it’s unlikely I saw you. The band I was in played songs by top-40 names, but usually not the top-40 songs. Plus a few Robert Johnson tunes, etc.

Nah, not top 40, “original” such as it was. Aluminum Beach, and then various bands with Art the singer from the SLK.

Quote (learjeff @ Feb. 22 2005,17:48)
The Michigan St. studio was where the Blue Front Persuaders practiced (the sax player Charlie lived in the house too) and that exposed me to a lot of blues musicians about town at the time.

The Blue Front Persuaders were a great band. I used to love them.


Funny thing is, I remember them playing the Flintstones theme better than anything else… :)

Yeah, that was a good one! That’s just “Rhythm Changes”, btw. With a few door knocks & "WIIIILMAAAA"s. I also liked Stevie’s original, “Up Yer Nose” (… up yer nose, that’s where all my unemployment mone goes…) And they had a great version of “Straigh, No Chaser”.

First time I heard Charlie play sax, I thought he was the worst player I ever heard, with that raw, gut-bucket sound he got. Later I learned he could blow Tom Scott riffs all night without breaking a sweat, and comp a fair amount of Coltrane’s “Ascension” as well as a bunch of Charlie Parker tunes. Or soar like a lark on some of my originals, which weren’t all that easy to follow. I always wished I’d recorded some of those late-night impromptu sessions. But I knew at the time that if I stopped to put on the engineer’s hat, the moment would be lost. (I was never very good at switching gears.) When we were moving out, Charlie said “That was really stupid that you didn’t record any of that!” I just said, "Yep, it sure was."

I still hold a guitar pick funny because Bob Cantu, their guitar player for most of that time, showed me how. It was a big improvement over what I used before that (2 fingers and thumb).

Fraid I don’t remember Aluminum Beach. Didn’t go to Rick’s much those days, had enough of that when I lived at Theta Xi, kitty corner to it. Yup, crawling distance. :O But ah, the late meals at the Fleetwood or the Pan Tree, that I remember!

We had “breakfast” with Joe dozens of times in the wee hours at the Fleetwood. Yep, that was living.

“Up yer nose” - man, I’d forgotton that - great one, great.

Not surprised you don’t recall our band, we did the frat thing mostly. Played the michigan frat tour pretty much. Came close to actually doing something - Ben Gross mixed our first single, recorded by Tom Bray in teh basement of the UM radio station, sent it off to Frank Singerman who invited us to move to Boston, which we did and promptly broke up. :(