When it comes to audio engineering, they don’t come with a much deeper bank of experience as Recording Connection
mentor Conrad Osipowicz
. In his years of experience, not only has he engineered and produced a wide range of acts in the studio, but he’s also worked extensively in live audio (including heading up the live mix department of a high-profile Boston radio station) and even testing new products for major companies like Cakewalk. Over the years, Conrad has crossed paths and worked with major artists like Regina Spektor, Dave Matthews Band, The Pixies, Dropkick Murphys
and many others. This bank of experience gives Conrad an advantage in teaching apprentices who are interested in many different aspects of the music industry.
Today, Conrad is the owner and chief engineer of Blue Room Productions
, one of the most well-appointed studios in the Washington, DC area. While the main studio is located in Bethesda, MD about 25 minutes from the White House, Blue Room recently expanded its reach to include a second location in Herndon, VA, which will also give the Recording Connection yet another convenient, high-quality location for placing our Virginia apprentices!
We caught up recently with Conrad to see how things were going, and as is usually the case with our mentor conversations, he had some keen insights to share about the music business, how to build a studio, and what he tells his students about smart business practices and servicing clients. Below are some of the best nuggets we mined from the conversation.
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ON HOW HE GRAVITATED TOWARD AUDIO ENGINEERING:
“I guess I’ve always been more on the technical side of the music industry. I played drums for about 15 years. I was always interested in computers and technology. I produce, too. It’s not that I exclusively engineer. I’ll produce with full bands and indie rock bands and up and coming artists here in the DC area, but I was definitely more inclined on the technical side of operations — using the right mics, the right outboard gear, the right software and plug-ins….[I] prefer to work in the studio with a talented producer who can figure out the musical components of the song, and I can just try to make it sound good as best as possible. I was always that way ever since a young age, more into the technology side.”
ON BUILDING BLUE ROOM STUDIOS FROM THE GROUND UP:
“It started as an empty room, and I slowly added equipment and software—a vocal booth from eBay, at one point the whisper room booth, a piece at a time—just kind of recording a couple sessions [for] two or three weeks and then buying a new mic on EBay, and then recording another week or two and buying a new plug-in online. Just kind of piecing whatever I could. A lot of my funds, all my resources, all my effort and my free time went into the studio. And you know, now it’s six years later. First of all, the studio is honestly one of the top studios in the area, in DC, where of course we’re limited and only have probably six to eight big flagship commercial studios in the area. And I’ve got at this point some of the best mics, best preamps, best vintage compressors. You’ll find even some very rare pieces and seven foot tall Polish monitors, Lipinski Signature monitors Polish made, and so, some really unique items that you might not find at any other the studio on the East Coast.”
ON WHY HE OPENED A SECOND LOCATION:
“We’re really trying to give options to musicians and other producers and even freelance engineers here in the DC area, because it’s not nearly as competitive here as it is in New York, or Nashville, or LA where there’s a studio on every block. Here, it’s completely different, as you can imagine…So, this spring and this summer will be really busy because we’ll have two studios running simultaneously to accommodate different types of artists and people in different areas around the DC area, with slightly more affordable hourly rates in Virginia, too.”
ON WHY HAVING A GREAT STUDIO ISN’T ALL ABOUT THE GEAR:
“It’s not just having the gear and getting the expertise. Maybe to work on your own that’s all you need. But if you want to work with others, this is an industry of collaboration and communication with producers, and engineers, and artists, and graphic designer[s], and photographer[s], and all different people in the music industry, videographers, directors. You need to know how to interact with people, how to shake hands, smile, dress appropriately. All those basic things people overlook them and assume that, yeah, if you’ve got the gear and you’ve got the plug-ins, then that’s all you need…Someone who actually knows what button to push and why they’re pushing it, and why the mic was turned a certain way—the experience is ten times more valuable than any piece of gear or any plug-in you can use. You know, engineering in the studio with a band or a singer is about your personality and your smile and your ability to be pleasant and to want to spend time with someone in the studio. That’s 90%-plus of the session. And the gear and your keyboard shortcuts and all that stuff is 10% or less. I have a couple of freelance engineers who pass through the studio and, yes, they might have a great pair of ears and be able to produce a great mix, but if they’re not pleasant or they haven’t showered or they don’t smile, whatever their excuse is—you know, no one wants to spend eight hours, ten hours in a long session with somebody like that.”
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF KNOWING YOUR STUFF IN THE STUDIO:
“You know, a lot of people might walk into my studio who maybe have never been in a studio and think, ‘Wow! Awesome gear. How much did everything cost? And, how long did it take you to get everything?’ Yeah, it takes some time and some investment. There’s of course some risk associated with buying hundreds of thousands of dollars of rare equipment, but you’ve [also] got to know what you’re doing with it…If you can do a great mix with just plug-ins in the box, that’s more valuable than any type of gear you could have in the rack.”
ON WHY HE STRESSES SIGNAL FLOW TO HIS STUDENTS:
“Definitely, a big emphasis on signal flow is really critical for a studio. My setup is not very complex here in the studio, but to be able to troubleshoot on the fly and know why somebody can’t hear themselves in their headphones, or why you’re not getting signal, something like that is critical to running a successful studio and having a pain free recording session with somebody….[I tell students], you know it’s no big deal now when we’re kind of one-on-one and just experimenting, and even have a chance to bring some friends who might play guitar and sing or play piano and they can act as the guinea pig for the session. But, if they have a real client there, and they’re paying $110 dollars an hour for studio time, then you know, they should never be waiting for you. If anything, you should be waiting for them. No one wants to wait for you to patch in gear or fix the headphones or swap out a cable. So, signal flow is pretty critical.”
ON WHY LEARNING HANDS-ON IS IMPORTANT:
“I am a firm believer that practicing and learning in the studio in a hands-on manner will always yield a more informed and experienced studio engineer than someone who simply learns via lectures, YouTube tutorials, discussion forums, etc. For that reason, I often encourage my students during their lessons to record a friend’s band, or an individual singer-songwriter who might play acoustic guitar and sing, or play piano and sing. That way, the artist can act as a guinea pig for the students, but also walk away with a professional well-mixed recording. The student gets to practice on a real recording artist in a real recording studio. Everybody wins.”
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF CONNECTING TO THE LARGER MUSIC COMMUNITY:
“In addition to practicing technique inside the studio, I am always encouraging my students to participate in the audio engineering community outside of the studio, too. I am a voting member of the Grammys, and not only attend the show in LA each year, but also participate in all the local Grammy events that are presented by the Washington DC Chapter of the Grammy Academy. Additionally, I am a member of the AES (Audio Engineering Society) and just returned last week from the AES conference , which was held this year in Warsaw, Poland. I remind my students that it’s not only a great opportunity to learn more about engineering from experts, but also an unbelievable networking tool to meet other local engineers, producers, songwriters, composers, musicians, etc.”