MORRISON – It was a quilt shop when chief engineer Steve Bearsley moved his studio gear in 5 years ago.
Before that, a restaurant, a church, and a school. But it’s the juxtaposition of quilt shop to Straightaway Productions recording studio that is most jarring – and slightly amusing.
“When we moved in,” Bearsley said, “there were baskets everywhere.”
Bearsley began removing the baskets and any other remnants of the Morrison quilt shop, and started some interior construction – when he could find the time. He closed off what for decades had been a large open space into smaller spaces, creating soundproof isolation booths and a control room.
Now, the recording studio functions as the studio that hip-hop, blues, rock, and even gospel artists come to create their sound, a skill for which Bearsley is clearly qualified to assist, and in many ways, create.
Bearsley has worked on thousands of songs over the years, from his time in Florida and Chicago, his few years in Sterling, and now Morrison, and with artists including Creed, Britney Spears, Jay-Z, and R. Kelly.
“Music, music, music; it was just music all the time,” he said, remembering what he was like as a child and teen in Mount Carroll.
After graduating from Mount Carroll High School, he and his cousin attended Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida. The college opened its doors in 1979 and offers degrees in entertainment, media, arts, and technology.
After getting his associate degree in Recording Engineering, Bearsley worked as an intern at Transcontinental Studios in Orlando, then later spent time as a drummer in Conscious Pool, a Chicago band. He also spent time working for Sound Investment, a live production company.
“I’d get in my car and wouldn’t even want to turn on the radio,” he said. “You kind of get burned out on hearing the music. It turns into a job just like anything else.”
Bearsley knows that when clients come to see him now, often with something raw that they’ve recorded in a home studio, they’re often in “Now what?” mode.
So, his role as recording engineer has to be more than just a job for him. Artists and bands are there for his help – to edit, to mix, to master what they’ve created on their own, often to take their sound to a place that they themselves could not have conceived.
“I have to pull back and adjust to the sound and the music, to see it through their eyes,” he said.
Though he is a recording engineer with extensive experience, Bearsley describes himself first and foremost as a musician, mostly a drummer, but he also sings, plays some guitar and piano, and creates tracks with the keyboards.
It’s his experience and skill that helps him understand what an artist or band needs from him as he sits at the soundboard or just works with them in general.
“There’s a certain cadence to a session. It’s a matter of a few seconds when an artist is ready to sing,” he said. “There’s a certain timing that you need to keep the creativity going. You definitely have to anticipate what the artist is going to do. If you’re not fast enough and the artist is waiting for you, they’re going to lose interest and lose the creativity. If the band is ready for a new take, you should already be rolling.”
Steve said he really tries to keep the timing of the session, to hit that sweet spot or that flow.
“Otherwise, it’s like dead air on the radio.”
Many of his clients prefer to work at night, often around 10 p.m. or later.
“They have completed their obligations for the day, and now they can come to the studio and just focus on the music,” he said.
Others prefer different times, such as first thing in the morning. Whenever they have the time, but also when they feel most creative and energetic. Steve tries to accommodate his clients’ wishes in that regard.
“This is not a 9-to-5 job,” he said with a smirk.
Bearsley estimates that he’s had 30 to 40 steady clients over the past 5 years, as well as some “one-timers,” artists or bands that may seek his services only once.
Current clients – who come from all different areas – include The Dirty Beet Brothers, The Rotten Drapes, Robbie LeBlanc and the Real Live Show, High Five Sinners, Frank F. Sidney’s Western Bandit Volunteers, A.Rem, and Matt J.
As far as the future goes, Bearsley has some plans for expansion.
“I want to start holding events here, for people to come see the bands, to watch live music,” he said. He also has an idea to stream live music from his studio to other destinations, such as bars or clubs either in or outside Morrison.
Ultimately, though humble about his work, Bearsley is aware of the critical role he plays with those who come to him.
“You can take five different mix engineers and have them work on the same song and it’ll sound five different ways – at least that’s my experience,” Bearsley said. He tries to make it sound good to his own trained ear, “but the input from the artist is huge.”
“I try to get them from the start to the finish of the project, to make sure they’re comfortable the whole time.”
Call 773-355-0669 with questions or to set up a session appointment.