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Roughly Speaking Dan Rodricks: Commentary and conversation on life in Baltimore, Maryland and the USA

A Baltimore recording studio bows out as musicians go DIY

There might have been no business in Baltimore more aptly named than Invisible Sound Studios. Tucked away for 28 years deep inside the old Crown Cork and Seal factory complex near Greektown, the studio must provide visiting musicians with labyrinthian instructions for arrival.

GPS gets you to the entrance of the complex at the end of Fait Avenue. From there, the studio’s directions take you to a parking area near Building 45, a location that would seem ideal for a Batman movie.

“Enter into Building 45, and proceed to the rear of the building, to the right,” the instructions continue. “There will be a stairway. Take this to the 3rd floor. Follow the hallway around until you come to an opening to the right (where the freight elevator is). Go right and follow this hallway up and into Building 46. At the next intersection, go right — you will see a black door, which is the studio entrance.”

That bit about “follow the hallway around” understates the challenge of reaching Invisible Sound. “When you first arrive, you say to yourself, ‘This can’t be the place,’” says Dwight Weems, whose Baltimore party band, Gazze, was among the last to record there. “There’s no fancy sign, no reception area. Once you take the manual freight elevator to the third floor, you meander through some hallways where you think the rats should be smoking cigarettes and shooting craps.”

For the record, I saw no rodents, smelled no cigarettes and saw no evidence of gambling; the hallways, while century-old and industrial, were clean. Artists, cabinet makers and other small businesses lease space in the massive complex. In 1990, Dave Nachodsky and his partner, Joe Rinaolo, moved their recording studio from the basement of Rinaolo’s parents’ house in Gardenville to the Crown site.

And, it turns out, the name of their business predated its inconspicuous location. According to Nachodsky, it was a member of The Last Picture Show, a Baltimore band of the 1980s, who suggested the name.

Since then, Nachodsky has worked with hundreds of bands — rock and pop mostly, blues and jazz — and he thinks he recorded more than 600 albums and thousands of singles and demos inside the 24-by-35-foot live room and adjoining studio he spent a year building when local musicians clamored for a great space and a skilled engineer.

He’s closing down because the clamor has dropped to a murmur.

Digital technology has made DIY recordings possible, eliminating the need for bands to rent studios and hire sound engineers. A lot of young musicians make their own recordings now, using computer software and relatively cheap equipment, and they do this in their bedrooms, garages and parents’ basements. Some musicians and their fans even prefer the intimate aesthetic of the home recording.

“There are recordings being made on laptops in hundreds and hundreds of basements now,” Nachodsky says. “A lot of modern music is not recorded in studios like this. I’m not seeing the young musicians anymore.”

He says the drop-off in business — too many blank pages on his recording calendar — became acute about three years ago. That’s when he started thinking about shutting down. “I wasn’t billing 40 hours a week,” Nachodsky says, noting mournfully how his live room, with its rich acoustics, sat empty for days at a time. Meanwhile, his costs, particularly rent, stayed the same or went up.

Though others in the Baltimore area have closed in recent years, it’s not as if professional recording studios are no longer needed. But demand has dropped. Nachodsky appears to have been caught in this squeeze, an experienced craftsman whose hands-on technical skills, honed over three decades of studio work, have been supplanted by digital technology.

Judging from the contents of his studio — an impressive collection of amplifiers from the early years of rock music, sparkling stacks of drum sets from the same era, much of it acquired from bygone Baltimore music stores — Nachodsky is an aficionado of electronic sound. His studio captured music produced by guitarists plugged into Fender and Gibson and Marshall amps, by drummers driving rhythms from behind Ludwig and Gretsch and Slingerland kits.

As he shuts down Invisible Sound, Nachodsky will sell off the contents of his unique museum — more than 150 microphones of all ages and variety; more than 100 guitar and bass amplifiers; 15 drum kits, 100 snare drums, plus keyboards and racks of recording equipment. The sale is set for the weekend of Aug. 24-26.

Gazze, now in its 46th year of playing weddings and other events, chose Invisible Sound to record its first album of original music, and did so before it was too late. “When we heard of the closure we decided we had to be a part of the story of Invisible Sound Studio,” Weems says. Gazze’s final session with Nachodsky was July 21. The album should be out in a few weeks. The title: Building 46.

drodricks@baltsun.com

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