It might be called the house that John
Fogerty built. On the strength of CCR
releases Bayou Country and Willy and the
Poor Boys, Fantasy Records branched out
and purchased a two-story building in the
heart of Berkeley, CA, just across the bay
from HQ in San Francisco. They converted
it into three separate studios and a mixing
area—one was built specifically for CCR. We
know the story of how the band fell apart,
but Fantasy Studios stepped out from that
dark shadow and forged a reputation all its
own in the modern recording world.
Fantasy then carved a place for themselves
in the realm of jazz recordings during the
seventies, and in the course of the following
decades, has branched out to include acts
like Green Day, the Allman Brothers, Phish,
Clapton, Bowie, John Lee Hooker, Neil Young
and countless others. In 2000, the studio hit
a pinnacle, recording Santana’s “comeback”
album Supernatural, and becoming Billboard
magazine’s #1 Recording Studio in America.
We caught up with engineer Jesse Nichols
to talk about what a place like Fantasy has to
offer, and some tips for those trying maximize
limited recording budgets.
What are some unique things about
Our ridiculously large collection of old and
new mics, condenser and ribbon, but basically people come here for the big, open
rooms—hardly seen anymore—and (
recording) gear, because we have a lot of vintage
EQs, compressors and a lot of original tube
stuff. We have huge analog consoles that
are still used regularly. It’s a collision of both
worlds of recording: digital and analog. We
run Pro Tools in every room, but we also have
Studer 24-track tape machines in the rooms,
too. We can bounce around from Pro Tools
and mix down to a 1/2” 2-track. This is a
world-class, old-school place that just draws
all types of musicians for those reasons.
We talked to a singer-songwriter from
Nashville, and she said that she does as
much as possible on GarageBand prior to
coming to a studio. What’s your experience with this?
She’s right, I suggest to anybody to do as
much pre-production and other type of business before stepping into a recording space.
Demo and rehearse everything until you’re
sick of it, to maximize your time and money
when dealing with recording projects.
And specifically for guitarists?
Have all your guitar parts worked out and
nailed to a “T,” do all your solo variations
at home. You don’t want to come here and
find out that your other guitarist was playing a weird chord you couldn’t hear live, or
rehearsing that just doesn’t work with the
harmonies or arrangement. Just iron out all
those variables and shortcomings, because
you don’t want surprises to creep up when
entering the studio that can kill the vibe, a
song’s momentum and overall group mojo.
What do people prefer to record with?
It’s almost always going to be digital… sometimes people want to track drums and do the
rest in smaller areas or at home because you
don’t necessarily need a big studio for that.
This saves money for mixing and that is when
you need a big studio for their outboard
gear, consoles and professionals. It’s a different world than when Fantasy first opened—
bands don’t have the big advance checks to
afford them months at a time in the studio.
Also, most people are far more comfortable
with digital interfaces and can do so much
more on their own because of ridiculous
editing capabilities. Both anaglog and digital
sound great and have their own pros and
cons, but it’s kind of a budget, and people
want things done fast—that’s not analog.
Is there anything architecturally special
about Fantasy’s initial setup?
It was originally laid out and built by Joseph
Delaney from 1967–71 and re-designed
in 1981 by George Augsberger, a famous
acoustical engineering from the 70s and
80s. All the rooms are completely built with
acoustics in front of mind. Studio D is a
milder, isolated studio that is pretty big, but
these rooms don’t have a specific purpose or
genre preference. I can do the same session
in all the rooms, even though they are all different animals.
Is all the gear included within a rate
package, or are things charged by
usage and gear grouping?
[Answered by Studio Director, Jeffrey Wood]
We don’t have standard rates or pricing
scale, because we have a wide range of
services. We work to accommodate anyone
from the big superstars with mega contracts
down to the struggling solo musician who
has money for either mixing or food. We try
to be as flexible as possible to provide something for everyone across the spectrum.
How do you guys approach
I’m so lucky to have a job here, since I don’t
want to be pigeonholed into a specific
genre. It’s a quirky place to work, because
you can walk down the hallway and you can
have traditional Hawaiian music in one room,
jazz ensemble in one and punk rock guitar
overdubs in the other—we’re just a music
studio. You got to stay on your toes though
as there are precise differences in recording,
room setups and micing that weigh heavily
between the different musical genres.
Do artists spend a lot of time incorporating
your house gear on their songs, instead
of their own gear?
Here’s the thing, we don’t have that many
guitars or amps. We have some original
Fender Princetons, a Bassman, and a Super
Reverb. We also got a Hammond B- 3 organ
and various effects. However, if they have an
idea going into the session what they may
want, we can usually find it around town and
have it in-house for them. Generally, people
use their own gear because they know and
love it so much—as they should.