Music industry veteran Larry Luther is the studio owner and Chief Engineer at Mr Smalls Recording Studios in Pittsburgh, PA, the origin point for what has grown into a multi-venue and restaurant complex known as Mr. Smalls Funhouse. While the original studio has changed locations, Mr. Smalls continues to be an in-demand facility within the industry itself, working with clients such as Ryan Adams, Black Eyed Peas, 50 Cent, GWAR, Rusted Root, Anti-Flag and many others.
As it turns out, Larry Luther is also a top Recording Connection mentor, teaching our students the ropes and giving them a hands-on introduction to the music industry. Larry recently talked with RRFC about what’s happening at Mr. Smalls (including some interesting projects with mono-analog recording), what he looks for in apprentices, and how some of his students are doing.
RRFC: How did you end up at Mr. Smalls Funhouse?
RC Mentor Larry Luther
I started with Mr. Smalls a few years after it was created. It started in ’98, and I joined up probably in about 2000. But it started as a recording studio, and then about 2000 or 2001, we got the church property which we converted into a concert venue, and we put in a couple more studios up there. And again the studio moved in 2006 to another location, but we still have the concert venue. We just run it as two separate things at this point.
RRFC: Do you have any projects that you want to mention that you just worked on or might be coming out soon?
Mr. Smalls Recording – Live Room
I’m going to start in two weeks with a band called Dream Death.
It’s a metal record and they’re with a European label called Rise Above Records, but that’s going to do pretty well, I think. What else did we just have in here recently? There’s a band called Wooly Woman
that I didn’t do personally, one of my engineers did, but it’s making a lot of waves in Pittsburgh right now. There’s a lot of people that really like it. It’s really old school. It’s mixed in mono. They really wanted to make it sound like it’s 1960. It was a very unique project, but it came out really well and a lot of people really like it…He wanted to do as much with analog as we could and stuff. I don’t even have a 24-track anymore, but we have a couple 2-tracks around and some different analog gear. So we were using it like crazy, doing all of these very unique things with varispeeding it and just doing really unique things that most people just don’t do.
RRFC: Do you think that one day there is going to be a perfect marriage of analog and digital? Are we already there?
I think we’re pretty close. I think analog tape, there’s something to be said for analog tape, but I’ll tell you what, some of the simulators that I’ve just recently used are really good. They sound like tape, and at this point recording the analog tape I think for a lot of people is more of a coolness factor than really even a sound thing because, I don’t know, at least in my experience, a lot of the people who want to record analog tape couldn’t tell the difference sound wise at least. They just wanted to say that they recorded analog tape.
RRFC: What was it about the program that made you come on board? Did you like the one-on-one aspect of it?
The one-on-one is great. I think it gives people a good opportunity. It is affordable for a lot of people that couldn’t afford to go to a more traditional school…I like that.
RRFC: Can you tell us a little bit about some of your apprentices? How is Anne Jacobs doing?
Yeah, Annie, she’s with me right now. She’s about halfway through. She’s doing really good. She’s a little different than a lot of the students I get…She never recorded anything in her life, so she’s been different that way where most people coming in have at least done some home studio stuff, have at least played around with it. She came from more of a theatre background and was just looking for other career opportunities, and came into it that way, and so it’s been a lot of fun with Annie. It’s been challenging at the same time just because everything is from scratch, even like what a microphone is. She really had no idea…She gets along with the clients really well.
RRFC: What qualities are you looking for in apprentices before you allow them to work with clients?
Just their personalities, for one. Working with clients, they have to be pretty personable and be able to work with people, a lot of dedication, which is the hardest thing that I’ve been able to find. It’s people that they say they want to do it, and then actually stick to it.
RRFC: Do you think that’s because a lot of people don’t understand that this is a service industry? You’re catering to clients constantly?
I think that’s part of it. I think some people have the wrong idea coming in that it’s just gonna be like hanging out with rock stars all the time and stuff like that, and it’s not really work, that kind of thing. The more that people are around clients, and they see how sessions really go and how much work it really is…Whenever I do the interviews, I try and talk very candidly and very directly with them and let them know what they’re getting into as far as the amount of work it is and how they have to be dedicated…I try to give it to them as straight as I can so they’re going to make a decision that this is going to be something that they’re going to stick to and really want to do because if they’re not dedicated or if they do come at it half-assed, they’re not going to succeed. I make them very aware of that.