By Christopher Lucia for Eugene Daily News
Back in 1997, when groups like the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls ruled pop music charts, a young traveling musician ended up in Eugene looking to work in a recording studio and gain experience in the music industry.
Thaddeus Moore, 19 years old at the time, spent six months hitchhiking the country with friends before settling just outside of downtown Eugene. On his trip, Moore realized that music was his calling. The only problem, however, was that writing and recording music didn’t come particularly easy for him.
“I’ve played drums in a bunch of bands, but when it comes right down to it, I don’t have that natural, innate talent that a lot of drummers do,” Moore said. “For me it’s been an uphill battle learning drums and staying good at it, but learning about sound and how to capture it with a microphone is really fun for me.”
It only made sense, then, that Moore would look to work behind the scenes. Instead of focusing on writing and performing music –which he still does, occasionally– Moore invested his time and energy into opening a recording studio and dedicating himself to learning how to record professionally.
Moore leased an empty building, formerly an organic sprout-growing warehouse, with three partners and started converting it into a recording studio. Business didn’t pick up very quickly for Moore and his partners, but by working various day jobs he was able to keep the doors open. Eventually, the other partners moved on and Moore was the sole owner of Sprout City Studios.
“I had already just invested everything I had into it. I wasn’t gonna let it go away because I would’ve had nothing,” Moore said.
The upstart recording studio engineer kept working at his craft, studying sound and how to best capture it. His main priorities, professional quality at an affordable price, helped him and the studio survive the rough times financially, he said.
“I had a lot of bands put up with me not knowing what the heck I was doing, of course, but I slowly got better at it every year,” Moore said. “I’ve been reinvesting everything I possibly can into new gear and learning how to use that gear.”
After several years, around 2003, Sprout City began to pay for its own bills, said Moore. Up to that point he was still working day jobs and putting in time at Sprout City whenever he could.
But just as the recording studio began bringing in enough income for him to make it his full-time job, the recording industry shifted. Digital recording came to the forefront. Now studios weren’t limited by physical tape, but by space on a hard drive. Consequently, digital home recording studios became more and more affordable.
Moore stuck with Sprout city, he said, and decided to adapt with the changing industry rather than work against it.
“There are three different things you gotta do well when recording,” Moore said. “You have to play well, record well and get that intent down. Then you have to mix it well. And finally you have to master the album.”
Recording isn’t always the most difficult aspect of making an album. Instead, the micro adjustments to each individual track in the mixing process and the precise, macro adjustments made while in the final mastering stage offer the most challenge. Efficient mixing and mastering techniques take years of experience and education to perfect, said Moore.
“Is the average person going to want to invest that kind of time, money and effort?” Moore asked. “Most people who have a laptop recording studio at home use it to get ideas down and sometimes can get good quality on them.”
Good quality in the recording process is one thing, said Moore. Mixing and mastering, though, are often better left to experienced sound engineers. With that in mind, Moore started offering to mix and master home recordings at an affordable price, so musicians recording at home could get professional sounding albums.
“You can totally replace all the electrical or plumbing in your house –you could totally do that. But a person who is a plumber or electrician is gonna be able to do it way faster and probably with better results than someone doing it at home,” Moore said.
In the last several years, he’s actually had more mastering work than anything, said Moore. Still, he enjoys the recording process and can offer more than most home studios.
“I have something close to $30,000 and fifteen years of experience just in microphones –not including gear, computers, consoles– just mics alone,” Moore said. “Each microphone has a sonic characteristic, and most people at home don’t have this huge mic selection. They maybe have one, so they only get one sonic characteristic for what they’re recording.”
While providing professional quality to all his work, Moore also likes to work within the confines of every project’s unique budget. Instead of quoting an hourly rate, he asks what the overall budget is and decides where best to spend the artist’s time and resources. Working together, Moore and the artist come up with a realistic, affordable goal for each specific project.
“I don’t care what somebody’s budget is if they’re committed to that and willing to go anywhere we need to go to get there. I’ve never had somebody stop before we’ve gotten to a good place,” Moore said. “Everyone’s either said, ‘we need to spend more time on this to do it right,’ or we reach their budget’s goal and it’s awesome.”
In the fifteen years since Sprout City opened in West Eugene, adjusting his role has come naturally for Moore. From a musician, to an inexperienced studio owner, to an accomplished audio engineer, he’s done it all and adapted accordingly to a changing recording industry. His passion for audio and music, he said, keeps him going and inspires him to keep Sprout City not only professional, but affordable for musicians at the same time.
“I wear a lot of different hats, but I think anyone in this business has to. I do everything: consulting, live sound work, recording, mixing and mastering,” Moore said. “I do anything involving sound. I love it.”