When someone creates music, inevitably it is to share with others. The presentation of an artist’s music can be done in a live setting, but recording is an unspoken necessity for any musician who takes their music seriously. These days, the music industry tends to give musicians two options. First, they can travel to a city that is known for recording music. As of late, Nashville, Muscle Shoals and New Orleans tend to be cities that act as recording epicenters in the Southeast and beyond. Second, they can record at home using a plethora of do-it-yourself recording technology. While both options seem attractive, they both have their shortcomings. Recording in professional studios can be pricey, while taking the DIY approach with home-based equipment can sometimes fall short of industry standards.
Every band and musical act in the Azalea City has faced this debate, and they have chosen one extreme or the other. However, Mobile is home to several professional, grassroots studios that are yearning to cater to local talent.
Ellinor Place Recording Studio could be considered one of the newest of these hometown studios. Nestled under the oaks in MiMo, this studio begins with engineer/local musician Brad Lepik and engineer Bill Roberts, a seasoned “audiophile” and respected gear critic with 40 years’ experience.
A Mobile native, Lepik christened the studio with a name that was written in “50s style” on a railroad box on Emogene St. This same railroad runs behind the studio. For Lepik, opening Ellinor Place was a natural progression in life. During his high school years at Murphy, Lepik honed basic recording skills on a four-track. Over the years, while he began to sharpen his ear and hone his studio skills, he also began collecting equipment, and some of it was not in the best condition.
“All of this equipment I bought in some state of needing repair, and I repaired a lot of it,” Lepik explained. “People started asking me to record them, and I kept acquiring more equipment. It kept moving from there.”
Bill Roberts came into the world of Ellinor Place in late 2013. Lepik and Roberts, who was living in Pensacola at the time, had become acquainted through conversations online. As time progressed, Lepik began working on his “Voices of St. Mary’s” project. This charitable album featured numerous local musicians, and the proceeds went towards St. Mary’s Home. Roberts agreed to master the compilation and the two ignited a professional bond.
“Our working relationship was real smooth,” Roberts explained. “Mobile is a more active city with arts and music than Pensacola. I had already exhausted Pensacola. Brad had a situation where I could come in here, and that’s what happened.”
Roberts’ obsession with studio gear has also been a benefit to the recording process at Ellinor Place. This audiophile has made a name for himself not only for his studio work but also for his technical knowledge. Roberts’ connections with various speaker companies allow him access to the latest in studio listening gear, especially the elite boutique equipment.
In addition to Roberts’ various toys, the studio features a long list of recording gear. Ellinor Place also gives musical acts the option of recording in digital or analog format. For analog projects, the studio features vintage gear such as a 1976 MCI JH16 that can record on one-inch/16-track or two-inch/24-track tapes. Legendary Nashville engineer Lee Hazen was one of the previous owners of this piece. In addition, Ellinor Place also features a Scully for one-inch/eight-track tape and a 24-channel Tangent 3216 console.
While Ellinor Place Recording Studio is still in its infancy, it has still faced many challenges arriving at its current state. When Lepik first decided to dedicate himself to the studio, he found that equipment was “ungodly” expensive.
At the time, reel-to-reel machines and mixing boards ran in the tens of thousands of dollars. Then, something wonderful happened. The advent of the digital age created an environment where analog equipment was obsolete. Digital recording became an affordable and accessible way to record. During this time, the price of vintage equipment plummeted, and Lepik was there to snatch it up.
“I always liked analog,” Lepik said. “So, I started getting this stuff very cheap. People had stopped using it, or they forgot how to use it. People were retiring out of it, and whoever was coming up after them wasn’t bothering to learn it.”
Roberts cites public perception as a challenge for the duo. It has been hard for the musical public to accept Ellinor Place as a serious studio and not just a place for “a couple of rich guys that have a hobby.”
“We’re not rich, and it’s not a hobby to us,” Roberts said. “We want the appearance that this is a place to come and record, and we want to be as helpful as possible. It’s also a place that we want to expand on down the road.”
While business may be half of Ellinor Place’s goal, Lepik has created this studio with something else in mind. He wants to keep music as local as possible by providing a musical focal point for local artists. Lepik cites Muscle Shoals, Nashville and Motown as his muse. Lepik feels that these cities did not earn their reputation from out-of-towners recording in their studios. He sees the music scenes in each individual city as the proponents of their legacy. With this in mind, he hopes to see Ellinor Place become a place “where people work together and have a studio that’s a center of artistic creativity”
“I don’t think there was something special in the water in those other places,” Lepik said. “You have to have a gateway. Why did Muscle Shoals or Nashville end up the way they did? It started from people working together.”
In addition to working with local artists such as Bloody 98, The Grey, Morris Minor and Broken Paradym, Ellinor Place also serves as a rehearsal space for Underhill Family Orchestra and The Mulligan Brothers.
Roberts has also been working on tracks from Nashville-based band Innocent Monday. Lepik and Roberts encourage local musical acts to visit the studio and discuss their projects with them. However, Lepik explains that they should not be surprised if they get pulled into Ellinor Place’s current projects, which back the local-centric spirit of the studio.
“I tell people that if they come by and knock on the door that they may end up on someone’s album.”