On a recent Sunday night, four members of indie folk rock band Gordon Fog sit casually arranged around the grand piano in Red Bridge Studios’ live room, the walls of the Savage Mill space covered in a mixture of tile, wood and custom-designed acoustical batting and sound panels.
“That was a nice take,” Red Bridge co-owner Bob Novak says from the control room microphone, where he sits in front of a 48-channel analog mixer, a bank of computer screens lining the wall beside the soundproof window.
“Why don’t we do one more,” he says, providing a few pointers for the band’s next take on their song, “Long for this World.”
For band co-leaders Matt Ames and Shawn Legambi, it was exactly the kind of input and direction they’d been seeking in a recording studio.
“He kind of understood immediately what we wanted to do with our music from watching us play live,” Ames says. “It was this low-pressure kind of setting, almost like he was one of our band members.”
The vibe of the live room helped as well. More reminiscent of a living room than the recording studio it is, the live room’s wood floor is covered by an antique Persian rug, and a built-in banquet and seating line the perimeter. Musically inspired artwork decorates the walls.
“[The studio setting] can become a very sterile environment, and that’s inhibiting to the creative process,” Legambi says. “The space is so welcoming and inviting. It was so much like playing live we didn’t feel like we were under the microscope.”
But the space is notable for more than its comfortable vibe.
Just three days later, four high school students gather there for a weekly practice led by studio co-owner Terry Eberhardt. In a neighboring rehearsal room, music teacher Stephanie Lange leads 5-year-old Madison Dolder to an iPad to practice reading music.
It’s that diversity, the mix of students and professional artists, that Novak and Eberhardt first envisioned when they started dreaming about a rehearsal, performance and recording space that could cater to multiple levels of talent.
Both graduates of Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory, the duo had reconnected a decade after first becoming friends at the music school.
What if they could take the best of both their passions — recording for Novak and teaching for Terry — and bring it together in one studio?
“For me, it was having a consistent outlet, a place for us as artists, and to allow us to continue practicing art. And to allow artists in the area to have a house and a hub,” Eberhardt says.
“Both of us are educators at heart and so we wanted to reach out to the community. And we knew there was a need for this kind of a studio,” Novak adds.
“So it was like, I can coach the people who are recording with you, you can record the people I am coaching,” Eberhardt says. “Why don’t we put those two things together, because nobody else is.”
The business partners speak in concert, often overlapping on the same ideas as they describe their passion coming to life.
“I think we’re on to a very progressive model here,” Novak says.
Each had been practicing their true passions out of their homes. Eberhardt, a trained opera singer, and his wife Colleen Daly, a renowned soprano, both taught voice students.
Novak had been recording regional artists out of his basement studio for a decade.
The duo launched an Indiegogo campaign in early 2014 and raised an initial $10,000, which helped get them into the space at the Historic Savage Mill.
Both have full-time jobs during the day — Novak providing drum and piano music accompaniment for the University of Maryland’s Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies*, Eberhardt as coordinator of music for Howard County Schools — so they knew finishing the studio would take time.
A soft opening in the summer of 2014 allowed them to hold lessons in one room while they outfitted the performance and practice rooms.
Red Bridge Studios officially launched in January 2015, and has since grown to include a roster of eight instructors teaching 50 students in voice, piano, guitar, bass and brass. This month, the studio added string instruments to the list.
They’ve added a recording engineer as a growing list of local, regional and even nationally signed recording artists have turned to the studio. They also started offering video recording at the studio for professionals or for students applying to college music programs.
Novak’s basement studio was a testing ground for the state-of-the art, custom-made acoustics and electronics that fill the space. “I was using that time ... to hone my skills and also to develop a sound and a style,” he says.
Each recording room has different acoustics, created by Novak, who hired an acoustical engineer to check the sound quality throughout the space. One room provides an open sound, for voice and piano, the other a “dry” sound best for recording bass instruments or percussion.
Just as distinct as the studio’s design is its model, which has attracted students and teachers alike.
Stephanie Lange signed on as a voice instructor back when the studio was just one room and she had two students. Today she has 15. She drives from Arlington, Va. three times a week to teach at Red Bridge Studios.
“We’re always going to be pushing the kids to be the best and to give them the highest level of training we possibly can provide,” she says. Masters classes and recitals are part of the model, in addition to vocal lessons, she adds.
“I knew that was something I wanted to be a part of that I would feel comfortable putting my name on.”
It’s also what attracted 5-year-old Madison’s father, Ryan Dolder, to enroll her in lessons. She’d taken piano lessons in Baltimore, but Madison wanted to sing as well. Lange was willing to teach both.
He and Madison visited for a trial lesson. “It was the first time a teacher had stopped the piano and said, ‘Let’s start singing.’ Instantly [Madison] thought it was a very good thing,” Dolder says.
*A previous version of this story misidentified the University of Maryland department for which Bob Novak works. Novak works for the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies.