His Studios Produced Albums That Have Sold More Than a Billion Copies. Here's How He Built a Music Empire.
Allen Sides discusses the intersection of technology and creativity.
Making famous people freak out is one of the singular joys of Allen Side’s life. The legendary music engineer, producer and speaker designer has created recording studio environments that have dropped the jaws of everyone from Michael Jackson to Eminem to Frank Sinatra. “Seeing these artists listen to the playback in the studio, just going, ‘That’s crazy, that’s insane!’...I live for that.”
Grammy-winner Sides has recorded over 500 albums and also founded Oceanway Studios — known for its larger-than-life sounding monitor systems. We caught up with Sides as Oceanway Audio expands its reach, from huge theaters in China to high-end home studios around the world.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 13. I was making speakers and I was always talking to bands, trying to get them to come and check them out. And I found it hard to find great recordings that would show off what my speakers could do, so I began recording music just so we’d have something great to demo. I didn’t plan on going into the studio business, but people loved the sound we were getting and so we recorded album after album after album and eventually opened 18 studios across the country. We just kept expanding and expanding and expanding.”
Inspiring the greats
“I've always done installations for commercial spaces, for recording studios and we’ve built home studios for all kinds of artists. We designed the acoustics for Dave Grohl’s studio, we also helped with Frank Zappa's studio that Lady Gaga later bought and installed our monitors. Our speakers are incredibly accurate and range in price from $2,800 to half a million dollars. These speakers are extreme, and when they hear the playback, the artists are almost in shock because they’ve never heard anything like it. It’s like hearing live music. And that kind of sound can move you emotionally and helps push creativity.”
Don’t have a million bucks for a speaker system?
“A lot of what negatively affects the sound you hear in your home setup is the room itself. What typically happens is you get a reflection off a sidewall and it comes back and hits you along with the direct sound coming from the speaker. The sound waves won’t be in phase, so you get a smeared sound. If you have two reasonably good speakers in front of your computer, put two moving blankets on stands on either side of the speakers and you will probably get rid of 80% of the room’s sonic problems.”
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