The Evolution of the Recording Studio: Dusty Wakeman

It’s been 35 years since Full Sail University opened its doors and started training students in Recording Arts. Since then, things have definitely changed: Software storage has improved, analog has made room for the digital format, and physical studios have gotten smaller and more portable. We asked four Recording Arts grads who graduated in four different decades to share their thoughts on the evolution of recording. Below, Dusty Wakeman, who studied at Full Sail in 1987, weighs in.

Check out the other installments of the Evolution of the Recording Studio series: Sean Spuehler (Recording Arts, 1995), Inderan Bailey (Recording Arts, 2009), and Arthur Luna (Recording Arts, 2013). 


dusty-wakeman-inlineDusty Wakeman (Recording Arts Certification, 1987)

Dusty owned and operated Los Angeles’s Mad Dog Studios for more than 25 years, working with labels like Enigma Records and artists like Dwight Yoakum. He’s currently the President of Mojave Audio.

At Full Sail. I was working as a chief engineer at a studio in Reno, Nevada, and I convinced the team to let me take a maintenance and repair course at Full Sail. It was great; we learned how to operate a Fluke Multimeter. I got so much out of the course, especially because working in Reno at the time wasn’t like working in L.A., where you could just pick up the phone and call a studio tech.

Recording in the ‘80s. The big thing that was happening then, thanks to SSL and Neve, was the automated mix down. That was a major step forward, and then the AMS reverb and digital delay followed. This was also around the very beginning of sampling and the very beginnings of drum replacement. There was a little box called the Windall – inside were cartridges that kind of looked like 8-track cartridges, and each one of them had a different sound on them: snare drum, kick drum, etc. The Yamaha Rev 7 had also come out, which was the first affordable digital reverb on the market.

What’s Changed Since 1987? In the ‘80s I was working on the AMEK Angela and the MTR 90, and then moved over to the Neve 8108 and the Studer A800. In 1995, I got my beautiful vintage Neve 8088 and still have it today. The move to digital first started with ADATs (digital audio recorders) and then slid into the Pro Tools era. We adapted to Pro Tools in the early 2000s. After that, the recording industry started to change, and bookings got shorter because people would just come in to track drums and do their basic tracks for the album, then they’d go home and do their vocals and guitar overdubs there.

Now I work at home too. [Dusty decided to close Mad Dog Studios in 2008.] I just finished mixing an album that I also play bass on, and that album never saw a real studio. We cut the tracks at the drummer’s house in L.A. and the singer, who lives in Nashville, did all of the overdubs at her house. I mixed everything in my living room. So that’s the new paradigm.

There’s not as many big studios as there used to be. Many of the studios in L.A. are still around, they’re just private now. The guy I sold Mad Dog to is a publisher/songwriter, and he uses the studio for his writers. It’s a lot more common for artists to have their own rooms now.

On Learning the Digital Format. As a studio owner or an engineer, you have to stay current and accept that change is going to happen. When Pro Tools came out, our interns had all grown up with computers in their bedrooms, so they knew the system. It took me a long time; often I sat on the couch producing and the interns would be on the rig. I called what they were doing “playing video games.” Around 2000, I knew I needed to learn how to use Pro Tools myself, so I took Avid-authorized Pro Tools classes. At first I was just scared; I was afraid I was going to erase something. I had to overcome that.

For me, as an engineer, I miss analog. The big thing for me was always making the impossible punch. You’ve been in the studio for 12 hours and all of a sudden you’ve got to punch in something on a guitar solo and if you screw it up there’s no undue button. That would get your adrenaline flowing and put you on the edge of your seat, and I miss that part of it.

What Won’t Change. There’s still nothing like a big, beautiful-sounding room. Those types of studios do a lot of film scoring with orchestras or big band recordings, and there’s just no other way to record that. I think those big rooms will always need to be there.

The Future. I think the quality of digital recording and hard-disk recording is just going to get better and better. And I think with less big recording studios, a lot of the kids that are in school now are going to start their own little places in their communities. I think that’s a great thing.