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Make Believe Studios... young, hungry hybrid studio production

“Sometimes the situation calls for the desk, sometimes it’s Duende.”

Jun 24, 2013

Rick Carson at Make Believe

OMAHA, USA — The story of mix engineer Rick Carson and Make Believe Studios is a great illustration of a how a new generation of producers and engineers are embracing an eclectic blend of classic analogue and DAW technology to forge an approach to hybrid studio production that delivers tone, character and depth, within the requirement for a fast turnaround of projects. In this instance, that includes SSL’s Duende Native plug-in suite alongside a vintage SSL 6000 series console. Rick and his colleagues have in three short years turned around the fortunes an old but good Westlake designed studio space, gathered an eclectic collection of equipment, attracted a young clientele that includes The Ready Set and Awolnation and secured TV advertising production work for the likes of Ford and Nissan. A typical example of how today’s smart young audio industry understands quality and attention to detail, and takes it’s tone and its commercial opportunities wherever it can find them.

The Make Believe web site is loaded with brash, catchy slogans like “recording is more than just recording” and “At Make Believe Studios we have fused vintage equipment with modern recording techniques to give you the tools to create a truly unique sound.” and “The talent you need to bring your dreams to life.” Make Believe Studios are selling the musical dream to those who want to live it and Carson & Co.’s website does a good job of doing just that, so we thought it might be interesting to find out what’s behind the hype.

Musical dreams can come true it seems. At the tender age of 21 Rick seized upon an opportunity to move into a then-ailing Omaha studio space originally built by Westlake Audio back in 1979 — long before he was even born! “It originally opened as Studio C, then it was known as Bassline Studios from 2004,” explains its current co-owner. “When that studio started getting rocky I went in and said I would like to make records there. So I started Make Believe a little over three years ago with a few friends, one of which was our tracking engineer, Jeremy Deaton. We signed a three-year lease, which naturally evolved into purchasing the space with Eric Goodenough.”

Last year Carson celebrated his 24th birthday by buying, installing, and restoring a vintage SSL 6032 large-format console at Make Believe. Another dream come true. “I love the SSL sound,” he confirms. “It’s very mid forward and aggressive. I like to take a pretty ballsy approach when it comes to my work, making decisions fast and forging ahead. That’s the SSL in a nutshell — grab an EQ and it will work. Nowadays it has to be different, though. Total Recall is just too slow for me in the age of DAWs.”

Hence the decision to integrate SSL’s Duende Native plug-in suite into the Make Believe mixing equation — SSL hardware and software, living together in perfect harmony, as far as Carson’s concerned: “There’s nothing wider than an SSL — nothing’s more detailed, but now I can print certain elements of a mix through the console’s channel strips and stereo Master Bus Compressor or just use Duende in the box, feeding the console with the faders at zero, or actually mix on the console itself. Sometimes the situation calls for the desk, sometimes it’s Duende. Either way, I use these tools to deliver the sound that we’re becoming known for here at Make Believe.”

Clearly using Duende alongside a vintage console has helped evolve the studio in terms of workflow options, but it also presents an interesting opportunity for some end user sonic evaluation: “Having checked the console’s stereo Master Bus Compressor verses the Stereo Bus Compressor plug-in, Duende is cleaner than the console! It works great on R&B and certain hip-hop tracks.”

Carson sings Duende’s praises further still, stating, “I really like the X-EQ. I recently had some guitars going through a stereo channel on the console and I was futzing around with the EQ on the console and got it to sound great. But I knew that these were not the only guitars I intended to send to that channel, so I pulled up my go-to Duende channel to match the EQ. It was as close as always, but I thought if I tried out the X-EQ I could maybe get a little closer because of the added flexibility. I was shocked when I set up the X-EQ to match the console. I didn’t need the extra flexibility because it was just there and sounded great!

“I also love the X-Verb. It has a lot of stuff going on inside of it, but it sounds like a Lexicon to me. I also really like blending the two ’verbs together with the A/B slider; I love how detailed the ER section is; I also really like being able to blend between my first reflections and my tails… if you know about the building blocks of reverb then that thing is awesome!”

Carson closes the Duende dialogue on a high note: “I appreciate that these tools feel like they’re made for professionals. I mix everything that comes through Make Believe Studios and use Duende on every project — almost on every channel. It consistently provides me with that SSL sound.”

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