In the four years that he’s been recording bands at his Greenville studio Black Sneaker Souls, engineer Max Price has worked hard to make them all feel comfortable. The theory is that the more comfortable a band is, the better their performance will be, and the faster they’ll be able to nail it. Sometimes that simply means making sure that the musicians can all hear each other and that the sound levels are right in the headphones. And sometimes it means Price and his colleague, Cocoa Bishop, have to go the extra mile.
“For [Greenville trio] The Long Canes’ first EP, it took a 40-year-old bottle of Jack Daniels,” Price says. “Everybody got to where they could hear each other and the sound was good, but things didn’t really happen until we broke out the bottle I got from my grandparents. And that did the trick. It was like giving Popeye spinach.”
Price began his career as a guitar player before becoming a recording engineer out of necessity. “I’d found an engineer to work with who was sympathetic to what I was doing, and then he moved away,” Price says. “And I tell everybody that after that, I learned to record myself in self-defense, because I just wasn’t happy with the results I was getting any other way. I got an old reel-to-reel tape machine and a mixing board, and just started recording myself. Then I recorded bands that I was in, then bands that friends of mine were in and it just snowballed.”
After losing his initial partner at the studio (located at 106 Le Grand Blvd.), Price brought in Bishop, who’d spent time running sound at Spartanburg’s Ground Zero music venue. The two had previously worked together with Spartanburg-based bands including The Lengths and Alias for Now.
“I learned a lot from the bands that came through Ground Zero,” Bishop says. “I was always asking their engineers questions and taking in everything I could. Running live sound helped me learn speed. You’ve got to be quick with solutions at a live show, and it helps you do the same in the studio. Troubleshooting is so much easier. Instead of taking all day, it’s a lot easier to figure things out quickly because you’ve been in a more high-pressure situation.”
Black Sneaker Souls has served as a home for a wide array of Upstate bands including the aforementioned Long Canes, The Francis Vertigo, The Boo Jays, Jim & The Limbs and Solaire. Price and Bishop have managed to create a workable environment for recording despite the fact that the building they’re in seems more like a residence or small-business office.
“You have to come up with ways to treat the rooms,” Price says. “Most buildings aren’t built for acoustics, so you have to tune the room. You get a lot of weird echoes and reverb that you don’t want, so you basically have to tune those out.”
Price says he tries to keep the mindset of a musician when he’s recording, and generally doesn’t like to record the players separately. “I think a lot of times people get hung up on technical details,” he says. “Engineers will go to things that are sort of counterintuitive or against the musical experience of a band playing in a room. I’ve always looked more for setting everybody up at the same time. Even if all the elements you’re recording at the same time don’t make it onto the final product, you at least get the feel of a band playing in a room.”