Jacob Tippey of Ramshackle Recordings

Jacop Tippey, founder of Ramshackle Recordings, is not only an acclaimed audio producer with access to cutting edge equipment and facilities, but also an award-winning musician: The Frankl Project, a punk group Tippey fronts, won a Cincinnati Entertainment Award in 2009.

How did you start your business?
I started Ramshackle Recordings when I first produced music for myself, which was around 2006. The name came from this period, as I was using whatever I could find or afford to record music, and frankly, it was a bit thrown together. However, in 2008, I was offered an internship at Curtis, Inc.

Though a commercial production house, Curtis is a lifelong musician, and he built his audio studio from the ground up to be an ideal recording environment. I was able to get in during the construction phase, and helped finish the studio and undertook some of the integration. After a few years of training, working on sound design and music production, I entered into a freelance arrangement to produce music after hours.

How did you come up with the idea for your business?
This business would not be possible without my relationship with Curtis, Inc. Having quality microphones, preamps, acoustically accurate tracking and control rooms takes the majority of the studio investment load off of me. Prior to my internship, I was used to mixing everything on a computer, but I was introduced to outboard processors at just the right time. I fell in love with the sound and aesthetic of vintage gear, right as artists like The Black Keys and Jack White began to re-popularize analog recording technology.

I began to see a niche as the big studios around town had plenty of great gear, but were out of the price range of most musicians. Because Curtis was a new studio without a lot of name recognition, I saw the opportunity to offer a sound quality not found in the basement studios, without the price of the big boys. Bridging the gap, I started approaching artists and project studios with offers to record their drums, vocals or anything else that they were struggling to get quality sounds out of. More often than not, when groups came in to track their drums, they ended up loving the place and stayed to do their whole album!

What resources here did you take advantage of and how did they help?
I am a musician first and foremost, and every client I have had is because of relationships with musicians through actively performing. There are diverse and vibrant music communities in Cincinnati, and the talent found within them is the resource I rely on most.

Curtis, Inc., has been a huge resource for me and really believed in my production. Because the studio is not reliant on me for financial support, and I don’t have the overhead of paying for a studio space, I have been able to be very selective with my clients and build based on reputation and results.

Additionally, I moved into a late-1800s church about three years ago, which is a wonderfully unique resource. The sanctuary is beautiful and well-tuned for sound with a bright, long reverberation. Singing in this room is unparalleled, and suits my style of getting the sound as close to a finished product before it is recorded. I have a modest project studio setup here, but it integrates seamlessly with the Pro Tools system at Curtis and all of my outboard compressors and EQs. Having this space has allowed me to work better with client’s budgets, and provides an exciting and creative space. Bands like The Ridges and The Weakness tracked a good part of their albums in this room, and The Guitars actually used this room to add the ambience missing from their original tracks.

Finally, achieving industry standard results is made much easier in Cincinnati because of Auraphic. Rick has a drool-worthy collection of classic gear, and his rates are very reasonable. If I have a big session, being able to rent some of the best tools available anywhere is a godsend. We are very lucky to have a service like this in the city. It’s the kind of thing that is only found in places like Nashville, New York or LA, except it would be three times the price in any of those cities!

What would you do differently if you started your business again?
I’ve been really into mobility lately, so if I could go back, I would probably get a laptop instead of a desktop and approach everything with a smaller form factor in mind. My home studio is rolling now—I can just unplug from the wall and go anywhere in the house, but having a completely mobile, high-quality rig would allow for even greater flexibility.

I think every audio guy or musician has a short list of items they wish they hadn’t bought, hadn’t sold, clients they shouldn’t have worked with or sessions they wish had gone better. Overall, I feel I’ve adapted well to the opportunities presented to me, and I’m always learning.

What’s next for you and your company?
I’m going to keep making music. Though rates at Curtis will probably rise as more people find out about the studio, the whole idea of Ramshackle Recordings is to be a resource for working musicians, and I intend to keep it that way. In addition to recording projects driven by artists, I am collaborating with players around town to create a network of session musicians, with which I hope to provide studio work through film scores and licensing opportunities.

I would like to work with more regional and national acts, but I’m not really interested in being a studio owner. I’m not sure that the big music studio thing works anymore. Labels aren’t providing adequate recording budgets, people aren’t buying music as much and their expectations for sound quality have dropped as the quality of consumer recording equipment has improved. I’m really glad to be able to help an artist take their album to the next level without breaking the bank, but I don't want to take on a bank loan myself to do it.

More than anything else, I would like to use the next few years to create a sonic signature. I feel I have gotten good at capturing instruments accurately, but having a sought after sound could allow me to be collaborative on an international level. A producer with a distinctive sound can work with artists anywhere in the world, and live anywhere as long as they have the proper resources. I’m really excited about the future, and look forward to making more Ramshackle Recordings.

Interview by Sean Peters