Wednesday, June 2, 2010
ReWind Wednesdays: Randy Miller
Randy Miller: Snippa Creek Studio’s Creative Captain
The Kingsmen Quartet from Asheville, North Carolina have had many gifted musicians pass through their ranks, like Anthony Burger, Gary Dillard, Tim Surrett, and Andrew Ishee. One of these talented men, Randy Miller, who graced the stage for several years as ‘utility player’ and vocalist, has also become one of southern gospel’s most sought-after studio players for his harp and dobro work. Recently, Randy combined his musical and production skills, and created a place where he could record his own projects in the woods of Eastern Alabama. Snippa Creek Studio was born.
Snippa Creek Studio rests on the bank of Osanippa Creek near Valley, Alabama. Not far from Atlanta, Georgia, this area surrounding Lake Harding is a popular tourist destination for travelers looking to escape from the city. Valley is home to Randy, and his friends and relatives are scattered throughout the town and countryside. It’s a quiet, beautiful place, inspiring creativity in those that come to record at Snippa Creek. Sgmradio caught up with Randy for a few minutes and talked to him about this fresh venture.
“I opened the studio up around 2004. I’d been working a lot and doing albums in Nashville, TN, and came to realize that it costs a lot to cut in Nashville. Once you pay the Union Dues and the Health and Welfare and Cartage and all that good stuff, you are adding a lot of money to a project. I record a lot, probably a couple of projects a year, and … I was thinking I could build my own studio and save a lot residually, because I’m planning on doing this for quite a while.”
“The studio was built just for me initially, to do my albums. Now I’m taking on other clients, other people. It was never really a dream of mine in the past, I haven’t always thought, “I’m going to go out and build a studio, and this is what I want to do.” I’ve always worked at [studios] and I just did harp work and guitar work, being a studio musician. But you know it’s one of those things that God allows you to have and puts in your lap and I’ve been blessed to be able to have one.”
Randy records many tracks for other studios, as well as albums for his own clients. He says that what separates Snippa Creek Studio from other places is not just the great location: “I will be in on all the albums. I’ve produced a lot in the past and so you’re going to have me producing tracks along with some of the best musicians in the industry, and not just the southern gospel industry. I have people that play on a lot of big budget albums. People you’d hear on a lot of these albums that are $100-200,000 projects.” Randy is proud of the quality of the studio, and explains some of the technical advantages as well.
“I’ve got a lot of vintage analog equipment that gives the songs and music a really big sound. The studio, I built it for me, and I really like the commercial sound. A lot of people, they’ll turn on the radio to a secular radio station and say, ‘What is that sound, why does it sound so big, and our music doesn’t sound the same?’ Well, a lot of it has to do with the equipment and transformers and big tubes and things that a lot of the new digital stuff does not offer.”
“Now I do have the digital stuff that I record through the analog here into the digital part. So I’ve got a lot of Neve, API, SSL, Trident console…a lot of this, I’m speaking Greek to a lot of people out there, but if you’ve ever been in the studio and you’ve worked a lot, a lot of people know these names. The cost is a good bit more significant, but the end result is that you can hear a huge difference. Like I said, I built this studio to do my projects with, and since I like the sound of all that, the people that come in here reap the benefits.” As Randy is engineering and producing as well, a recording package includes his production expertise, saving the client a huge extra expense.
For many of us the recording process is shrouded in mystery, so we asked Randy to take us through a typical project. Most of Randy’s clients are word-of-mouth, and often if they like what they hear on Randy’s projects they’ll contact him to make arrangements to record at Snippa Creek. Once the contract is made, the artist sends in a “work tape”; a CD or cassette of the material they are planning to record. The musicians meet to ‘chart’ the songs, using the “Nashville Numbering System”, similar to writing out chord charts.
“We get together and while we are listening to it, one of us is charting it out, and we may have some different ideas on which way to take the song. [For instance], if it needs to go to go more country, progressive country, or we need to go kind of a Goodmans feel, or you know…there’s so many different genres. And having many different musicians involved, it takes the song in several places.”
Soon the client arrives at the studio, and the tracking process begins in which the instruments are recorded. “We’ll do the songs, have all the musicians here, probably including myself, anywhere from 4 to 6 guys here playing the music. We lay the tracks down. Get all the basic tracks: guitars, acoustic guitars, electric guitar, harmonica, dobro, drums, bass, piano, and maybe electric piano. If the client is needing orchestration and stuff, that will be sent out. But we get the tracks done [and] they’ll take home the tracks that we cut that day. I encourage them to go home with it for at least a week or two unless they know the material backwards and forwards when they get here.” This time period between recording tracks and vocals is important, says Randy.
“I find that a lot of times if you cut the tracks one day and sing the song the next day, a lot of times you don’t really have the feel for the song. So you are basically just singing the song. I love the “feel’ of music. I don’t like the music to be so structured. There needs to be a human approach to it. You know, God has given us different ways to express ourselves musically. So I think there needs to be feeling in a song, other than being just a real sterile, “I’m just going through the motions singing the song with a track”. So I encourage them to take it home, take the tracks home, learn the material and then come back and then cut the vocals.”
Once the vocals have been recorded, background vocals are then cut, and if this is a group project, special attention is paid to each individual part. Songs are then mixed and mastered, and the project is ready to go to press. As Snippa Creek is an all-inclusive studio, their staff can handle everything from artwork to promotion to duplication.
Randy has enjoyed the artists he has been able to work with and record at the Studio. “People hear my tracks and hear what I do while I’m on the road, and they come to me and say, ‘Where do you record?’ And I’ll tell them I record in my place! …So a lot of the clients that I record are southern gospel groups from all over that just so happened to be in concert with me. Some of the artists that I’ve recorded at Snippa Creek are JW Cooper, the Stanleys, Southern Psalm, and others…and they all do very well. I love all the guys and appreciate their gifts of music.”
Although Randy obviously enjoys the whole recording process, his favourite part is tracking, when the musicians get together to craft the song. “Because well before I was an engineer, before I was into the producing aspect, I’ve always been a musician. I love to take songs and take music into a different direction, and be able to play with other musicians. Its so great to get a core of guys in here that absolutely can burn the strings, just tear the drums up, or just play the piano. I love to get everybody in here together and play and have a great time.”
Anyone who has heard Randy in concert can attest to his instrumental artistry. We asked if there was any instrument he didn’t play, and got a taste of Randy’s irrepressible humour. “I guess one of the instruments I would really love to play that I don’t play is kazoo. I think its such a beautiful instrument and it goes so well in some of the ballads...nothing like hearing a good kazoo solo right in the middle of a ballad. And you know, bagpipes probably…a really good instrument. Course, you know that the range of a bagpipe is about 30 feet with a good arm…”. All joking aside, there is an instrument that Randy would like to play.
“Probably…I guess I would say saxophone, was the first instrument I wanted to learn to play. Before I learned to play…before I went into harmonica or anything like that…I went to the band teacher at school and told him that I wanted to learn to play saxophone. Well, he had enough saxophone players, so he tried to talk me into trombone. I played the trombone for about two weeks and just…it wasn’t happening for me. I didn’t like the instrument, so I didn’t apply myself, and I wish that I had gone back to him and said, “Look, I’m playing saxophone”. I wish I could play it right now.”
Randy’s favourite musicians to work with in the studio include John Jorgenson and Jeremy Metcalfe, guitarists, and Jason Webb, pianist. Vocally, Randy enjoys the artistry of Jason Crabb, Lauren Talley and Nicole Watts Jenkins. “Nicole, she’s a great, great vocalist, has a very soulful approach, and of course that’s kind of where my background is. There are a lot of Rhythm and Blues gospel choirs living around this Atlanta Georgia, Columbus Georgia area, that’s where they have all their choir competitions. So there’s a lot of that music that rubs off on me.”
Randy mentions other musical influences that have ‘rubbed off’ on him: “Probably, I would say Ray Charles, I used to listen to him a lot growing up. From Ray Charles to Baby Face to Glenn Miller, and Tony Bennett; of course Terry McMillan, great harmonica player; Howard Levy, great harmonica player; Jelly Roll Johnson. Those are just some of my musical influences. Some of my quartet stuff came after I played and sang with the Kingsmen Quartet. The quartet stuff came from them and I know because I didn’t listen to quartet music before I went there.”
These influences do flavour Randy’s studio work. “I love great music no matter what the style is. I listen to all genres of music; so it comes out in my studio production, often people that maybe I’ve listened to in the past. When somebody brings a song and I [might] say, ‘That sounds a lot like this particular person, lets kind of take it in that production route’. So yeah it does come out in the production that way.”
Snippa Creek Studio has housed many of the top session players. Randy explains: “I’ve got probably 30 different people that I can call at any given time to come down here and play and sing. Including of course Jason Webb, Jeremy Metcalfe, John Jorgenson, Mark Fain, and Roger Fortner… anybody within Southern Gospel, I can get down here. David Johnson, and a lot of people in mainstream music I have come down here also… Players I’ve had in my session studio have been Michael Lee, he’s the guy that used to play piano for the Bishops; Scott Meder, he’s played on a lot of stuff for Atlanta and Nashville, he’s a big studio cat. Mark Fain, Tim Surrett, myself, Rabbit Easter, and Kevin Ray [who] plays some big sessions in Nashville also.”
As Southern Gospel grows along with the availability of cheaper technology, Randy has seen a lot of small studios spring up across the country. “ There’s a lot of these little ‘studio-in-a-boxes’. You can go to the local ‘musical Home Depot’, which is Guitar Center or Musicians Friend, and pick up a little cheap recorder. The sound is not going to be the same… There are a lot of studios. There are only so many people that record.” With this kind of ‘competition’, Randy is aware that quality is what sets his studio apart. He wants to see this continue as Snippa Creek Studio grows.
“I would like to see Snippa Creek continue the way it’s going now. It offers a great project, high quality players, for a good price. Many times, I’m guilty of this also, I would go to some other studios and do projects in the past, and I would pay $15-30,000 for a project. I really would like to see the studio offer people a high quality project at a very decent price. And when they walk out of these doors they will be nothing more than absolutely pleased. And I will do everything in my power to make it the best it can be. I would like to grow a little bit, but God has blessed me to be able to do this, and to be able to offer quality services for people.”
Throughout his career in Southern Gospel, Randy’s music has encouraged and inspired many people. Randy talks about what inspires him as an artist: “Everything inspires me…You know, a person could come over and maybe say something that would inspire me to write. An event might inspire me to interpret music a different way. Places…you know, so many things inspire me creatively. Naturally, other music really really inspires me.”
“One of my first albums I did a big band song, and Tim Lovelace and I wrote this song called, “Lost it All and Found It All at Calvary”. I’d been listening a lot to Harry Connick, Jr., and a lot of big band stuff. So when we went into write and produce the song, naturally that feel came out. And the orchestration stuff, I had a particular way I wanted everything to be arranged. So creatively the song came out exactly how I wanted it to, and it was because it was inspired by other musicians.”
Randy Miller, award winning artist and instrumentalist extraordinaire, keeps a tight schedule with his solo dates, church involvement, and family time. But the addition of Snippa Creek Studio appears to be another avenue for his creative talent, and a boon for artists looking for an affordable place to record.
As Randy continues to travel and sing, play and produce, his heart can be heard in his music, and his commitment to Christ in his interactions with people. His “Mission Statement” says it best: “I want God to use me as a vessel for the up building of His kingdom. I am here to uplift the name of Jesus Christ. I want to see souls saved and people dedicating their lives to Christ." And, as his latest release says, “That’s a Fact”.
Find out where Randy is playing near you, by clicking onto: www.randy-miller.com. Contact Randy Miller directly for more details on Snippa Creek Studio.
By Lorraine Walker
Originally published by www.sgmradio.com September 2006. Reprinted by permission.