As the artist’s muse beckons, it takes a great sound engineer to make a band or songwriter sound their best. A quick internet search offers hundreds of send-away options for mixing and mastering original music, but the Toledo area has local studios that offer a genuine, human experience— often at a more affordable price. With credentials that include mentions in Rolling Stone and album credits with hip-hop legends, here are four engineers who have built studio empires right in our backyard.
5720 Dorr St., Toledo
Firefly Studios has an unassuming exterior; you may have driven past it countless times without knowing what you were missing. Inside, musicians find a welcoming ambience and laid-back atmosphere.
Brett Dennison started Firefly Studios in 2003, shortly after graduating from BGSU with a bachelor’s degree in audio engineering. Originally set up in Haskins, Ohio, the studio moved to its current West Toledo location in 2009. The studio, situated inside a house, is focused on achieving that “perfect sound,” making it a prime spot for a professional recording.
While artists book the studio for recording and tracking, Firefly also specializes in mixing and mastering, and much of Dennison’s work is spent perfecting tracks in the final stages of recording. “Song development, high-quality tracking, creative mixing, and professional mastering are the things that Firefly does best,” he explained. “The goal is always just to try to get the most out of every song that we record; to try and understand it at its core.”
One of the studio’s most attractive features is its collection of instruments, including two full drum kits, two pianos, a sitar, and your choice of basses and guitars. “Using high-quality tools is a big part of our recipe,” Dennison said. To book a session, visit firefly419.com.
‘The house that
Fat Sound Records
425 Jefferson Ave., #640, Toledo
All genres; specialization in
hip-hop and beatmaking
Fat Sound Records is the brainchild of Kevin Elliott, a Toledo native who started recording at age 15. A classic rags-to-riches story, Elliott began recording in basements, eventually making his way into working with world-renowned production team Anno Domini, who has worked with hip-hop legends such as The Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg, and Rick Ross. Under the moniker Vherbal, Elliott has earned credits with big names like Redman, Immortal Technique, and Sean Price, and his music has been featured on MTV, HBO, and EA Sports.
“Before that all happened, I was living in an abandoned building with nothing but a futon, a television and a bag of clothes,” Elliott explained. “I took that opportunity and started making 10 beats a day for almost three years, and here we are,” he said, sitting in his downtown studio. “This is the house that beats built.”
Elliott built his sixth-floor studio in the Secor building downtown so that Fat Sound Records could connect to the Toledo community through the recording process. “The studio is my way of getting back in touch with the community and the artist, and bringing my expertise along,” he said. “I meet with every single person that calls me; I give everybody a chance.”
His studio, put together with a lot of hustle and a little luck, allows Elliott to be candid about what he does and why. “It’s not about the money,” he said. “Life is short.”
A musician’s playground
Ohio Recording Company
2349 N. SR 19, Fremont
The Ohio Recording Company, a full-service studio located on Route 19 in Fremont, provides space to make good music away from city noise and distraction, as well as more affordable, small-town overhead. Since 2015, Brennan Willis’ Ohio Recording Company has produced high-quality music and multimedia projects for bands like Bliss Nova and The Eric Sowers Band, as well as a myriad of singer-songwriters from the region.
“We make investments in our artists by providing top-quality recordings, multimedia stuff, and marketing through our own social profiles,” Willis said, adding, “We are always operating with the artist in mind, helping them promote their music and taking personal pride in our projects.”
The studio building, originally a large barn, was fashioned into a studio after an interested investor approached Willis about building his own place. Inspired in design and concept by Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, AL, the studio forms a “creative epicenter in a small town.”
In talking about both his work and the studio’s functionality, Willis emphasized collaboration and quality. “A big thing I’m passionate about is collaboration,” he said, as Ohio Recording Company has partnerships with house musicians and disc makers, making it a one-stop shop for music production. Another standout is the studio’s ability to track live band recordings; its large tracking room and top-notch equipment translates to unique sound quality and music video capabilities.
Lakebottom Recording House
All genres; specializes
For more than 15 years, J.C. Griffin has been recording and mixing music from his home, Lakebottom Recording House, a full-on recording outfit with a strong regional reputation. He prefers “recording house” over “studio,” explaining that “‘studio’ makes it sound like you can’t get mud on the carpet.” Lakebottom offers a casual, no-frills atmosphere for single song or full-length recording sessions.
Griffin got his start in audio production after he received a four-track cassette recorder for his 15th birthday. Asked in the early 2000s to do a demo recording for a friend, he got the recording equipment out after a few years away from the art. “It just never got put away after that,” he explained, as more and more bands, some of them friends, approached him about recording.
The engineer is serious about quality, and his advice to aspiring musicians was blunt: “With the internet and the ability to send mixes everywhere [ …] if you’re not going to spend a significant amount of money, [the music] is not worth doing,” he said. “Take it to a real person who knows what they’re doing, not some yahoo on the internet.”
Griffin’s work can be found on countless records from regional bands, notably Cloudrat’s Qliphoth, an album that made Rolling Stone’s list of 20 Best Metal Albums of 2015. His more recent work includes full-length albums by local bands Wax, Bone Folder, Trash Cat, Violent Bloom, Old Breed and Sog City.