Our spotlight on the historic Grand Rapids studio also includes the Local Spins on WYCE debut of tracks by Preta Nova, Pretty Sure, Theometric, Sam Kenny & Emma A. Ward, LVNDR, Flxnn & more.
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River City Studios’ Roy Wallace has seen and heard an awful lot over his 22-year run at the historic Grand Rapids recording studio, first as an intern, then as an engineer and eventually as its owner, moving the operation to a new site in 2012.
“When we moved into the Monroe (Avenue) building, none of us was sure this new building would work,” he recalled. “But slowly over the years, with everyone’s help, we managed to make this building into a unique and fun place to work and be creative.”
Indeed, with a history that started near downtown Grand Rapids in 1977 — and boasts a roster of notable clients such as AC/DC, Aerosmith, Emmylou Harris, Rascal Flatts and Weird Al Yankovic – River City Studios continues to bring creative people into its unique, multi-room space just south of Riverside Park while producing a wide range of tracks: rock, hip hop, electronic music, jazz, folk and beyond.
And with a corresponding wide variety of instruments and gear, both digital and analog, longtime engineer Austin Ruhstorfer rightly notes that “the whole studio is an instrument.”
“We do a lot of experimenting here,” said Ruhstorfer, who first started working at River City as an intern in 2007.
“The biggest thrill I still get … is that moment during the production process, usually after the first round of rough reference mixes are made, and they hear their musical vision realized for the first time, and it’s coming out of the speakers, and the emotions that can be attached to that for all parties creatively involved. That’s always a high point in every project.”
That comes from using the right tools and making the right adjustments to a song to “tell that story” and “serve the project,” he said. “There are a lot of exciting moments in the studio process.”
Added fellow engineer Koty Schoenberg, who first interned in 2013 at River City, 1935 Monroe Ave. NW: “It’s still kind of run like an old-school studio. There’s always someone to bounce ideas off of.”
GOOSEBUMP MOMENTS, MENTORING AND TEAMWORK
“My favorite thing during a session with a band is after the mics are set up,” Schoenberg said, “and we start tone chasing during sound check. Hearing the drum sound that we will use for the first time always gives me goosebumps.”
For this week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE – which went on location to River City to chat with Ruhstorfer and Schoenberg – the studio spotlighted tracks by three emerging West Michigan artists with recent projects at the studio: Pretty Sure (alt-rock), TheoMetric (garage rock) and Preta Nova (electronic synth-wave). Scroll down to listen to the tracks and the complete radio show interview.
Beyond seeking out regional bands and capturing their music for singles and albums – from The Accidentals to The Rockit King – River City focuses much of its work on commercial sound, working with the likes of Meijer Inc., West Michigan Whitecaps and Lucasfilm.
Mentoring the next generation in the recording business is also part of the process at River City, with Wallace currently teaching “Basic Studio Tech” at Grand Rapids Community College.
Ultimately, Wallace said, it’s all about the way River City and its staff have kept the studio culture “alive and well” over the years – “a workplace where talented people are immersed in an inspirational environment day in and day out.”
This week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE also featured new music by Sam Kenny & Emma A. Ward, Timothy Monger, Liz Townsend, Odd Space, Flxnn, Three Spoke Wheel and LVNDR (who made a splash on NBC’s “The Voice” this week), as well as a 2018 track by Michael Robertson who plays Midtown in Grand Rapids on Saturday with Drew Nelson and Kyle Rasche.
Listen to the radio show here and read more about River City Studios in this 2017 Local Spins feature.
PODCAST: Local Spins on WYCE (10/6/23)
VIDEO: A Tour of River City Studios
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