In 2002, sound engineer John McBride and his wife, country singer Martina McBride, founded Blackbird Studio in Nashville, Tennessee. With eight studios to date, including the Studio A Atmos room (shown above), as well as an academy program for audio students and a full equipment rental department, the studio is regarded as one of the most prominent in the country-music capital.
We recently had the chance to sit down with Mark Rubel, Director of Education and one of the instructors of The Blackbird Academy, to discuss the studio and its academy program. Continue reading to learn about the studio, and how you can get involved!
For those who may not be familiar, can you tell us a little about the Blackbird studio and how it was founded?
Blackbird Studio was started in 2002 by John and Martina McBride. It has grown to encompass eight recording studios, a recording school (The Blackbird Academy), an audio equipment rental company (Blackbird Rentals), tape transfer service, technical offices, and producers’ offices, also currently housing an office for Yamaha Research and Development. Blackbird is one of the premier recording studios in the world, having hosted such clients as Queen, Styx, Rush, Taylor Swift, Jimmy Buffett, Buddy Guy, Beck, White Stripes, Raconteurs, Stevie Nicks, Kings of Leon, Greta Van Fleet, Dolly Parton, Keith Urban, Alison Krauss, Willie Nelson, Kacey Musgraves, Paul Simon, and many others. Blackbird has an incredible selection of recording equipment, multiple instances of classic vintage recording gear, more than 1,400 microphones, a variety of instruments, and more than 35 drum sets, and 150+ snare drums. The idea is that our clients should have access to every color in the palette, in order to realize their musical visions.
How many recording studios are there in Blackbird and what are their purposes?
Studio A houses the Neve 8078, originally custom built for Motown and later owned by Donald Fagen. A has large tracking rooms, and an echo chamber with a motorized ceiling to alter the reverberation time. Studio D, the other big tracking room, has the largest API console in the US, and a large tracking room with a slate wall. Its many booths and isolation chambers accommodate the tracking of Nashville sessions, which frequently might have an eight- or nine-piece band, or larger. Studio C, designed by George Massenburg, has recently been outfitted with a 9.1.6 Dolby Atmos system for immersive music mixing. Studio B contains a 96-channel API Legacy console and is used for overdubs and mixing. Studio E has a 32-channel API 1608 and is primarily used for overdubs. Studio H has the smallest rooms, and API 1608 Serial #001, typically utilized for vocal overdubs including by Steven Tyler, Martina McBride, and many other artists. Studio F is a large and fantastic-sounding control room with a 5.1 ATC monitoring system. Originally built and still primarily used by ace mixer Justin Niebank, its SSL 9K was recently replaced by an Avid control surface. Our classroom at The Blackbird Academy is also a recording studio with two booths, another API 1608, and a selection of outboard gear and microphones, with access to the Blackbird inventory. The school also has Studio J, where we are about to install an API “The Box” console.
In addition to the studio, there is the Blackbird Academy Professional School of Audio. Can you let us know what students of the academy can expect from the program?
The Blackbird Academy was founded by John McBride in 2013 and offers what we like to say is the best audio education, in the shortest period of time, for the least amount of money. It’s a highly intensive six-month program, and we are careful to admit only dedicated students. Their time alternates about every two weeks between Blackbird Studio and The Blackbird Academy classroom. In the studio, they learn recording hands-on from professionals in a real-world professional environment, conducting sessions with usually no more than six students in the control room at a time, so they all have things to do. They record a variety of types of music, from jazz to rock to country, and each does their own 40-hour recording project in Blackbird studios. They can also reserve the two classroom recording studios after hours, to practice and record. By the time they graduate in six months, they have spent more than three months recording in one of the best studios in the world.
In the classroom with me, they learn about many subjects: signal flow, careers and entrepreneurship, microphone design and techniques, signal processing, the history of recording, hearing, acoustics and studio design, etc. In the course of our three months in the classroom, I bring in something like 80 guests: Grammy-winning engineers and producers, artists, mastering engineers, acousticians, A&R, publishers, and many more. We go to Muscle Shoals and Memphis, and to many studios in Nashville, to meet their staffs and learn about their methods.
How can students get involved with the Academy at Blackbird?
Those interested in applying should email Carma DiCianni: Carma@theblackbirdacademy.com.
Do you have plans to expand the Blackbird Academy to other locations outside of Nashville?
Not that I am aware. Our plan is to continue to maintain the very best audio education that we can, and keep increasing the quality and skill level of our graduates so that recording studios, video game companies, live sound companies, etc. feel that they are getting someone with a great attitude, great people skills, and a willingness to work and learn. I should mention that we also have a Blackbird Academy Live school, a separate facility across the parking lot from Clair Brothers, the largest PA company in the world, where we intensively trains engineers in the art of live sound.
We know that you are huge fans of the ATH-M50x headphones! What features do you look for when using professional monitor headphones in the studio?
We look for a number of features in professional monitor headphones: excellent and well-balanced sound quality, comfort, and durability, this last feature especially in a classroom environment. We love our A-T headphones!
Images courtesy of The Blackbird Academy.
Who’s your favorite artist that has recorded at the Blackbird Studio?