Music magic going down at Studio A

Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2008

Albert McDonnell never thought he'd have a career as a sound engineer. When he came to Juneau in 1985 he was a musician and then became a fisherman. He played bass guitar early on with the Port du Nord Playboys, and later with Salsa Borealis and The Bobb Family Band.

David Sheakley / Juneau Empire
David Sheakley / Juneau Empire

However, it was the little bit of recording he did for friends in the living room of his Windy Ridge home that led him to invest in a small recording studio and start doing it for a living.

Now, after 13 years of working in a very small space, he's moved to newer, bigger and better digs across town.

McDonnell will celebrate the grand opening of his new studio on Sunday, March 30, from 5 to 9 p.m. at the new Juneau Arts & Culture Center.

"It used to be Skatebottom Sound," McDonnell said. "I got the new location and I'm changing the name to Studio A."

When McDonnell started out, it was still the analog age of recording on reel-to-reel tape machines. His first projects included albums for Kathy Fanning, Jane Roodenburg and Betsy Sims, and Tony Tengs.

"It kind of evolved slowly over the years. I never really sat down and said, 'OK this is going to be my career,' but it was just a process of slowly acquiring equipment and expanding my capacity and my knowledge," he said.

In the '90s, he switched to digital recording equipment, adding computers and software to the mix. In all he's recorded close to 40 projects, including CDs for local musicians Buddy Tabor, Burl Sheldon, Sean Tracey, The Zahasky Family Band, Collette Costa and the Panhandle Crabgrass Revival Band.

McDonnell wants to use the new space to expand on the kind of work he's been doing.

"My goal is that musicians and bands who are Juneau-based or regionally-based, or just passing through, can have access to a top-of-the-line recording studio here in Juneau, in an environment that is conducive to making great music and making great recordings. I guess that's the bottom line for me," he said.

McDonnell started work last December on the design and soundproofing for the new studio. It is housed in the mezzanine of the Juneau Arts & Culture Center.

"I was lucky to get my friend Steve Wilde, who became my main guy, to assist me with all the building and I got a lot of help from other people too who were willing to trade studio time for their work," he said.

One of the highlights of the new space is the larger size.

"It's three rooms. There's the main recording room, the control room and a separate booth so we can record a whole band live all at once in three different rooms and still have great separation," McDonnell said.

"And then of course having good musicians is probably the most important thing. You have to have every piece in place to make a great recording and I think we have more pieces in place now than we ever did before."

Local musician Sean Tracey recently finished recording a CD with McDonnell.

"He's super dedicated to the music scene in town, for sure," Tracey said. "I've made three albums with him and plus been on a dozen other people's (projects) and it's always easy and comfortable," he said.

Singer-songwriter Buddy Tabor said McDonnell is supportive and easy to work with.

"I've done eight or nine CDs with him over 11 years. Yeah, we've done a lot of work together. I've always gotten along well with him. He's just solid as a rock," Tabor said.

McDonnell believes the new location near Centennial Hall, KTOO and the ANB Hall is good because it is in the heart of the Juneau arts community.

"I'm easier to find and it's pleasant for me because people will come and visit just because of the accessibility of the location and its connection to other things people are doing in the arts in Juneau," McDonnell said.

"I'm lovin' it and I'm just looking forward to what the future will bring in terms of people who are going to want to do some work up there," McDonnell said.

• Teri Tibbett is a writer and musician living in Juneau. She can be reached at www.tibbett.com.



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