Many musicians around the world know there’s a recording studio in Norman that’s just right for recording their compositions.
Recording engineer Carl Amburn has been providing his services from a studio on the northwest side for decades. From Northern European math rock outfits to red dirt singer/songwriters based right here in town, Amburn helps trap the sounds that become artists’ discographies.
“I went to school for music production in Nashville,” Amburn said. “Dropped out, came back here and became involved in music.”
He was part of recording among the best Norman rock ‘n’ roll in the mid-1990s, including works by Klipspringer and Chainsaw Kittens.
“I did a lot of live engineering for a while to pay the bills, and slowly got enough gear together to do other records,” he said. “That started getting more bands out, including a Traindodge record after initially getting going on my own.”
The Traindodge album caught the attention of a promoter starting a record label in St. Louis, Missouri.
“Opportunities opened up from that,” Amburn said. “I recorded almost all the bands on that new label. Probably four or five bands came here to Norman from St. Louis. Then some from Louisiana, Chicago and San Francisco in the early 2000s.”
Amburn is presently selective with the projects he takes on, committing to around 10 a year. Recent ones include those by top tier central Oklahoma musicians such as Terry “Buffalo” Ware, Amanda Cunningham, Mike Hosty and Susan Herndon with Bella Counsel.
“A lot of what I do now is just mixing albums, which I prefer,” Amburn said. “When I ran Mousetrap as an hourly business, I got to where I hated it. It was like working a job in a store. You don’t get to really complete projects.
“Budgets are small and musicians just want to come out for an hour. But my name was on it and I didn’t want my name on some of that work because they were just demos. I like to make albums.”
Amburn’s skills have improved with experience and he’s more efficient.
“I like the technology that’s come about,” he said. “I don’t even really focus on the technical aspect anymore when it comes to mixing. I’ve made enough records to learn how to avoid the mistakes. Or at least I hope so. It’s a weird medium because there’s no rules to it. If it sounds good it is good. and there’s no definition, so it can mean anything as far as being a producer or engineer. You can work in a million different ways and there’s no right or wrong answer.”
Client needs vary greatly. Everyone has a computer, which makes Amburn’s job easier. Musicians play their songs and a layering process builds from there.
“I’m happy to facilitate ideas for people, but I really want them to make the decisions,” he said.
Getting record deals isn’t really a thing for musicians anymore. If they write a really good song, instant recognition may be achieved by posting in online.
“You don’t need crazy expensive gear to capture a song that’s simply good,” he said. “Keep it simple and clean, and that’s better to capture in post-production.”
Amburn has recorded many different kinds of music over the years, including alternative rock, country and gospel. He likes exploring unfamiliar sonic territory.
“I’ve had a crazy connection with these math rock bands from all over,” he said. “Some of them have no melody or vocals. There’s lots of odd meter and time signatures that shifts the beat. I’ve recorded their albums that do well so others in the genre contact me. I’m good at doing it because there’s no blatant structure, so I pick up on where their changes are, where the music’s going and facilitate that.”
Paris, France-based trio Koyomi hired Amburn to master their recent album, “Taming the Tyrant.” The music recalls what you might expect from science fiction cinema soundtrack. Relentless bass, guitar and drums that turns from gentle to ominous on a dime.
“I’ve done two bands from Russia, four albums from a band in Denmark and mixed a Singapore band’s math rock album,” he said.
Norman has been a good place for Amburn to do business.
“The University of Oklahoma is here and I like how supportive the music community is,” he said. “It’s cool to watch people like the generation of Terry “Buffalo” Ware and Gregg Standridge connect with the younger generation. Showing them ideas and spreading their knowledge. That nurturing is important.”