- An Interview with Josh Altfater from Southwood Studios Jammerzine Exclusive 56:05
Today we have an interview that is a lesson. A lesson not only to those just starting out in the music business, but a lesson in how to record your music, and make it better. This interview is with Josh Altfater. An up-and-coming producer/musician, and business owner of Southwood Studios.
In this interview, we learn some important and somewhat overlooked aspects of the music business such as recording techniques and the importance of getting that trained ear into the studio with you. The producer can be, and oftentimes should be, a member of the band. And, speaking with Josh, we learn why. We also get a unique glimpse into the business side as well as how Josh got his start and what his plans are. This is a conversational must listen for the independent artist.
Check out some of the work recorded at Southwood Studios from artist Destin Shimer!
Destin Shimer LINKS:
About Southwood Studios
The trajectory of this happened pretty quickly and like most things luck was involved. My first thought was how do I go about finding local undiscovered talent? I found out about a local hip hop mc battle thing that would happen every thursday and it would start late. I started going there with some beats to hustle and was really trying to find anyone that would be down to record. I ended up finding an artist by the name of Wyse Nyse. Thing is I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just went for it because it felt right. At this time the studio was still really just a bedroom and so an old friend of mine had the idea of flipping it into more of an actual studio space and so one Saturday he came over randomly and we went to Lowes and started grabbing supplies and went straight to work. We had it finished pretty much that weekend. I ended up sleeping on the wooden floor for a month (haha) because I had taken my bed out and we were still tying up loose ends. That whole month I was running around like crazy trying to finish the studio.
I drove up to Mansfield for insulation material, went to the amish for nice cloth, and talked to a bunch of people on where I could get studio foam. I was on such a tight budget that I had to get creative on where I could get supplies that were quality but inexpensive. I was starting to get down to the wire and my roommate was not very happy that I had built the studio. The whole room was covered in sawdust and I remember going to a friends across town to borrow some equipment that was half working. The last day of finishing it I knew I had to get it done before my roommate came home or she would really lose it. So I am down to the wire sweating profusely trying to finish cutting the rest of the wood and the saw keeps going out, I say to myself “I’m done for this just isn’t going to work” I end making it work and finishing and as she gets home I am starting to clean up, a huge relief sets in as it was finished. And so spring of 2019 Southwood Studios was born.
Wise Nyse ended up sharing some of our sessions on his social media and an artist by the name of Kidd Columbus caught wind and hit me up. That was really the first turning point because Kidd and I had good chemistry and I was still figuring out how to produce artists and it was really great because we both were learning from each other which led us to making a project together. I randomly one night ended up playing at an open mic with an old group and as I was walking out this amazing singer songwriter Ethan Benton caught my eye, I was blown away and thought to myself “I have to record this guy!”.
I immediately approached him and told him I had just started a recording studio and that I would love to record him and he was down, I couldn’t believe it! My goal from the start of this was to find, record/produce and hone young undiscovered talent of all styles and genres. Ethan( Friends with Elephants) ended up doing a song called “Drugs” and it turned out really well, From there word of mouth spread. Next thing I knew I was signing up to do all kinds of projects with artists all across the board. I ended up meeting Destin Shimer, whose EP just recently dropped, her and Ethan worked at a pizza place together and he had told her about me and the studio. The first time I heard her play I was blown away; the songs, the lyrics, the voice, it was next level.
When we first started recording I remember thinking to myself “Is this what it was like when Brittany Howard was first recorded?”. As a producer it’s all about bringing the best out of your artist and really pushing them, bringing their vision to life. Your hope is to exceed their expectations. I believe we achieved that with this EP. Though it was not without struggle, Destin had to leave sooner than planned which led to a rushed last minute tracking of vocals for the EP. After which I found out I had messed up tracking them thus I had to find a studio in San Antonio Texas that would be open during the pandemic to retrack the vocals. After making some calls I found a spot; Salmon Peak Peak Recording Studios. I call the number and it’s a guy named Mark Sinko who turns out to have recorded like Jimi Hendrix, Roland Kirk, Lou Reed and many others. And then in the hot summer heat I remember tracking guitar as I could hear shots of tear gas outside my window as I live not too far from downtown.
Making a record can be full of ups and downs and when you get down to the wire it can be challenging just so many ideas and decisions made. Destin and I were eager to finally get this thing out knowing the world had to hear this EP. This EP also had some heavy-hitting players on it Luke Schneider on pedal steel( Margo Price) and Tom Blankenship(My Morning Jacket) played bass on a song.
Typical Day in the studio:
Really a typical day for me now in the studio is I get up and just see what I need to get done for the day either for an artist or if I need to work on a track for someone then I will get straight to that. I typically will have a session in the evening, those have slowed down somewhat and so if I don’t have a session I am creating music and studying/learning new production/engineering techniques as well as practicing various instruments from bass and piano to my main instrument guitar. There is always so much to learn and so much out there that it’s sort of a never-ending process. Lately, I have been making a lot of hip-hop beats. If I have a session or two that day I prep for that session and make sure everything is working and ready to go for when the artist walks in.
About Josh Altfater
I started playing guitar around age 11. Bands like Pearl Jam, Green Day, Everclear, Third Eye Blind and SoundGarden drew me to music and guitar. I discovered those bands early on from local radio stations. I can remember having an early curiosity of “How are they making those sounds and writing those songs?”. I begged my parents for guitar lessons and they eventually caved. I went on to take lessons from a local music store for many years and at 15 I started getting into Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, John Mayer. That’s when things started to shift.
Eventually around 17 I found out you could go to school for music and guitar and I had no idea that something like that existed because none of my friends growing up really played music nor did any family members. I remember going to this 311 concert at 17 and was blown away and I remember thinking “this is it, this is what I want to do with my life”. From there I discovered John Scofield and Pat Metheny and that was sort of my introduction into the jazz world. So at 18 I decided I would go to music school and study Jazz guitar.
Going to music school is when things really shifted as I was now suddenly surrounded by people trying to do what I was going after. There I studied with Tim Cummiskey, Shawn Thunder Wallace, and Kenyatta Beasley. I learned so much from my peers because I would always pick their brains about music. In my last few years at OSU Kenyatta Beasley came to teach there and that’s when things sort of changed. Here was this guy really doing it, he had played with all these artists (Jay-Z, Shakira, Ben Harper), composed for some major films and was a producer.
I just remember thinking I want to be just like this guy. Around the same time I met Dan Sutherland and this was my first introduction into the audio engineering world. He had this studio set up in his basement always experimenting with different set ups and sound. It was a good partnership because I was the musician and he was an engineer. He had started to intern at places like electric ladyland and Universal records in NYC then went out to LA and was working with producers like Martin Terefe, Danny Keyz, DJ Khalil, Kiyanu Kim and so Dan was the one who really taught me alot early on about recording and would share those studio experiences with me. At this time I started to get out and play a lot of shows and was playing in all sorts of bands from jazz, soul, r&b to indie, rock, reggae and pop. Not realizing it at the time this would later play a major role in me becoming a producer.
After I graduated from OSU I spent that next year trying to figure out what I wanted to do. My goal at the time was to get in a band and tour my ass off and experience the road life. I ended up doing just that when I got the gig with reggae/rock band Shrub. I ended up touring Nationally and regionally with them opening for groups such as Badfish, Dirty Heads, The Wailers, and playing SXSW, Nelson Ledges. After Shrub I joined a singer/songwriter band Urban Tropic. It was here where I really learned about songwriting and arranging songs. At this time (2014) I was starting to think about becoming a producer. I ended up going to guitar center and buying a whole studio set up and from there I really started to dive into the production/engineering world.
I continued to play in Urban tropic and around 2018, as the band had pretty much ended, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Dan Sutherland had ended moving to Thailand and so I was all by myself lost thinking about what I was going to do with my music career. I always wanted to be a record producer and so I decided to take the plunge.
SOURCE: Official Bio
Featured image by Ryan Ranson.