Euterpe Street, you’d probably never guess that inside of the commonplace warehouse sits a premiere, Grammy- winning studio that has hosted The Cure, Christopher Walken and Bill Murray, REM, and Dr. John to name a few. This is at least the case for myself, as I circle the block countless times before Ruby Rendrag, manager of Music Shed Studios, calls to inform me that I am indeed at the right location. I walk across the big gravel parking lot into the warehouse, looking up at the tall ceiling of the artistic depot the Shed shares with another local business. Ruby leads me through the front door of the facilities where we almost immediately bump into chief technical engineer (and drummer/drum tech) Mike Dorsey—“Mike D” as staff and clients call him—who seems occupied with the upkeep of the studio.
With paintings on the walls and a table equipped with copies of music fliers, publications, and discs, the entry room leads into the kitchen, which looks like something straight out of Elegant Homes magazine. Upon entering the studio itself, it becomes increasingly hard for me to focus because everything looks so beautiful, clean, and color- coordinated. House engineer Ben Lorio (pictured, bottom) is seated at a computer in the control room, hard at work (I’m told he has often been so consumed with his job that he forgets to eat). On our way to the mix room, Ruby and I pass through the drum isolation room. A definite highlight of the studio, this room has a ceiling that towers 24 feet high and its variable acoustics can achieve any imaginable sound, from big and roomy, to tight and dry. Ruby compares the distinctively resonant drum sounds created in this space to the infamous drums in Led Zeppelin’s rendition of “When the Levee Breaks,” the notorious performance recorded by engineer Andy Johns by placing a drum kit at the bottom of a stairwell and recording it using two microphones at the very top.
After spending too long gawking at all of the equipment, I finally make it over to the newly opened mix room to sit down with Ruby and talk more in depth about the studio. Opened in 2004, the Music Shed was originally a rehearsal facility. Owners Chris Bailey (a musician and engineer) and Betsy Alquist (an accountant and music lover) both shared the unique vision of a facility that would be a one-stop shop music incubator for New Orleans. This mutual dream motivated them to put all of their sweat and money into the construction of the Music Shed. Chris and Betsy eventually went through a bit of a burn-out from their efforts and contributions. With full-time management being too much for the owners, Chris knew that Ruby, whose band he had drummed for, would be perfect for the job. She had been working at the Shed for a while, learning the ins and outs of the recording industry, and was down for the challenge. By throwing herself into a home study of legal issues, real estate, marketing, and recording, she was able to arm herself with the technical know- how necessary to run and maintain a successful studio.
One thing that makes the studio stand out from others is that Ruby is solely a manager. “The Music Shed has a very different model from other studios. Most studios are owned and operated by the engineer, but I do not engineer,” she says. Leaving the engineering to Mike and Ben, Ruby has the time to devote herself to taking care of the studio and its clientele. “When musicians come here, if they want it, I will sit down and help them figure out a plan. A few people have actually followed that plan and gotten their CDs out on time and on budget. Although it’s a lot of work on my end, it’s worth it because as a musician myself, I get it. I know it’s expensive and time consuming to make a record, but I want my clients to realize that they don’t have to and shouldn’t stress out. There’s no xyz formula for putting out an album; it’s the experience that matters. An album is a snapshot of where you are as a musician at this point in time. Why stress out? There are so many things that I’ve learned from watching and going through it myself. I’ve kind of got it down to a science now. This is what you want to do? This is how you do it. Follow this roughly and you’ll have a really good experience. You won’t be thinking back about how you’re sitting on your porch waiting for your CDs on the day of your release.”
Having a well thought-out plan is essential for any band, because it helps to work through a stretch in the studio as efficiently as possible, which saves both time and money. In this age of the struggling musician, having a comfortable, well-prepared studio staff that will work with you and take care of you is very important, and the team at the Music Shed understands this, as they too have had periods of struggle and worry over income. About this, Ruby says, “Every studio goes through that. This time of year all of the musicians take off on tour. Somehow we had a great run last summer; it was strange. Every day that goes by that you aren’t getting work, you aren’t making a dime, but money is still going out to pay bills and sustain the studio… There aren’t any agendas here at the studio. There’s a genuine love for this place. I was here at 6:30 this morning. I would never want to get up that early for any other job.”
For his part, Ben eats, sleeps, and breathes music and engineering. He’s a guy to whom Ruby gives constant recognition and praise: “I can’t stress enough how great and important Ben is,” she says. “Engineers live their lives and careers in an 8 point font in somebody’s liner notes if they’re lucky, but I consider them musicians.” Ruby tells me a story of a time where a band wanted to record without headphones. As many can guess, no headphones means a lot of bleed. “They had monitors and they wanted to go for a specific kind of retro sound and Ben made that shit happen!” she recollects. “It came out with some of the retro ‘50s thing the musician was going after, but it also felt very modern at the same time. Ben not only gave them the sound that they wanted, but he took it to the next level by creating something totally unique.” Ben has worked with artists including Trombone Shorty, Jason Marsalis, and The Revivalists. He also recorded three songs in 2013 on Andrew Duhon’s The Moorings, an album that was Grammy-nominated for “Best Engineered Album.”
Right now the Shed is busy recording a local folk act, The Necessary Gentlemen, while taking the time to mentor two interns, one of whom is assisting engineer Dave Farrell on Hot 8 Brass Band’s upcoming album. As for Ruby, she’s devoting most of her time to clients but leaving a little room to play with her band, Ruby and the Rogues.
You can find the shed online at musicshedstudios.com