Above: musician Howe Gelb recording in WaveLab studio
Schumacher is an audio engineer and the owner of WaveLab Studio in downtown Tucson, Arizona. He is also the founder of Potluck Audio Conference , which is held in Tucson in early August
Remixing the Vibe
Craig Schumacher believes a key to his success is the “good vibrations” musicians feel when recording at his current location.
Schumacher’s interest in music started in a home studio in 1989, when he began using Musical Instrument Digital Interface gear.
“I bought a tape deck to try to make the MIDI gear go,” Schumacher said. “I got kicked out of my home studio because I started working with a band, so I went and found a big old building downtown that I got for cheap.”
Schumacher didn’t know what to do with the building. He thought it was going to be a nightclub until his friend, Randy McReynolds, said it should be a recording studio.
“So we started a studio called ‘7N7’ because it was located at the corner of Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue. I was there from 1989 to 1995, then my partner and I parted ways and I changed the name of the studio to WaveLab.”
The business grew as word spread of Schumacher’s engineering skills, but it was a challenge to finance the expensive audio equipment he needed.
Schumacher started the studio with a half-inch eight-track recorder, but it took him several years to save enough money to move his studio to the next level with the purchase of a two-inch 16-track recorder.
He continued to record at the 7N7 location for three years, then moved his studio a few blocks to a big room in the Francisco Building on Pennington Street in the fall of 1998.
“It was always important to me to have a big room with high ceilings. It’s my first and only criteria,” Schumacher said. “I never built a control room in this studio and I eventually realized that’s how I liked to record.”
Schumacher said his time at the Francisco Building was tough because it was also used as a rehearsal studio for bands.
Schumacher became the manager of the Francisco Building and moved the louder bands to rooms that were far away from his studio. He eventually moved to his current space at 111 N. Sixth Avenue.
Schumacher said he is happy with his current location.
“The owner sold us the building in the fall of 2012,” he said. “So now we have a permanent home.”
He said that his building has advantages and disadvantages over the old location.
“The privacy is huge and I don’t have to walk up and down flights of stairs here,” Schumacher said, “but there’s no parking.”
Schumacher has a huge collection of instruments in his studio and said he is thrilled that he doesn’t have to move again any time soon.
He said buying the building has inspired him to make capital improvements, such as fixing the wiring. He was unable to make these types of changes at his last location because he was not the owner.
The City of Tucson helped Schumacher when it came time to buy his building.
“I ended up getting a small business loan through the Business Development Finance Corporation,” he said. “I really like being in downtown Tucson and it’s paid off for me.”
Schumacher has also revamped his fee structure over the years.
“You can’t make as much money when you’re charging an hourly rate,” he said. “I changed my business model to become a ‘project studio,’ and now we charge by the project instead of hourly. The business is doing much better as a result.”
Using the project studio model has also brought more focus to Schumacher’s work.
“Now we try not to do anything on top of anything else,” he said. “We try to focus on one project at a time and say ‘this is the project we’re doing and these are the days we’re doing it.’”
Schumacher said most of his work is based on groups that book consecutive days, and he works until he finishes their projects.
“If it’s a traveling band we’re recording, we might be booking 7-10 days to do tracking, overdubbing and mixing of their project,” Schumacher said. “If it’s a local band, we might be booking two days in a row on a weekend.”
Schumacher’s clients have told him that his studio has a “vibe” that they enjoy.
“They like the experience,” he said. “Musicians understand that, to make a good recording, you need to be comfortable and happy in the environment. Even if your studio has the best gear and the best rooms, without the right vibe, people may not want to make a record there.”
Schumacher said he has worked hard to build WaveLab into the type of atmosphere that works for musicians.
“When artists walk into my studio, they instantly feel at home because they see my instrument collection and are immediately inspired to touch it and create things with it,” he said. “So, if you didn’t think you wanted keyboards on your record, you might by the time you’re done with your project, because you can’t help yourself. You see this beautiful Moog synthesizer and you say ‘I want to play this!’”
Schumacher respects the people he works with and does everything possible to make their projects successful.
“They’re not clients. They’re artists,” he said. “I see myself helping these artists to plant these seeds, which become their careers.”
Schumacher believes that helping recording artists benefits everyone involved.
“By helping them have careers, that means more artists come back to me,” he said. “They say, ‘I heard the record you did for that band I met on the road. Their record sounds great. We want to book with you.’”