You could call the sounds we hear daily the soundtracks to our lives. This fifth sense of perception – hearing – has the ability to make us feel a plethora of emotions with a single sound. But as we take these sounds for granted, from music to commercials to background noise, people like BRIAN BAKER propel them to an art form.
Baker is a recording engineer, producer, director and consultant. As he shows me around his small, yet organized studio, I notice clusters of equipment, including decades-old, finely engineered mics; classic Fender, Marshall and Vox amps; and a giant soundboard where Baker manually makes his magic.
Founded by musician Jeff Wells (of the band Tempest and Barbara Pennington Band) in a building off Mangum, then moving in 1992 to its current location on Westview, SOUND ARTS RECORDING has been cutting records since 1974. Baker says, “I almost want to call this thing we do here production sickness. Once you start building, you just keep building and building. It starts with one piece of equipment and moves to two pieces of equipment and moves to three and before you know it you have rooms full of stuff and you’re trying to trade things out, always trying to find the next best thing to make things better. You do this for love more than for money, because all your money goes back into it.”
The passion in Baker’s voice is palpable. Originally from Corpus Christi, he reminisces, “When I was 16 years old, I decided I wanted to make records and I walked into Hacienda down there – the big Spanish label – and hit it when they needed help. I swept the floors, rolled the cables and learned the trade.
He landed in Houston in 1991. “It was a busy time back then. Rap-A-Lot Records was doing a whole bunch with us. The whole industry was changing from rock to R&B and hip-hop and stuff like that. I met some good clients who kept me working and I kind of became a thing here, too.”
Wells passed away in 2011. Today, Baker runs the show – and is a rarity in the field. He’s a bridge connecting vintage tape recording techniques of years past to today’s tech-savvy computer ways. And in addition to having a mastery of the equipment, he has access to the best talent. “People come to me with a song and ask, ‘What do you think? How can I do this?’ and that’s when I get into my director and producer mode, assembling the best players in town. I get on the phone and say, ‘What are you doing this week?’ I know how to get a band together!”