Interview by Scott Preston
The first installment in our brand new column “Behind The Scenes” is our interview with producer/engineer Erwin Musper. Erwin has been in the music business for 40 years and has worked with everybody from David Bowie, Bon Jovi, Van Halen, Scorpions, Jeff Beck to local Cincinnati artists Noctaluca, Rumpke Mountain Boys, Ricky Nye, Noah Hunt, and too many more to mention here.
Cincy Groove: What is the most current project you are working on?
Erwin Musper: I am working with a singer from Europe. He wanted to record here and use American musicians, so I assembled musicians from around here in the Cincinnati/N KY area. I put them together not as session musicians but as an actual band and had them rehearse for a month before the singer flew over. Its really more of a band project as opposed to having each piece of the puzzle come in on different days. I finished the last recording yesterday and in a few days will have The Cincinnati Symphony String section come in to complement everything. Then its off to mixing for 2 weeks.
Cincy Groove: Before you moved here to Northern Kentucky where were you based out of?
Erwin Musper: I was in Hollywood, CA. I had a lot of high profile clients there but no studio of my own. I wanted to build a studio, but to get just the land to build on would cost have cost me $5-6 million dollars out in California. Then you still have to build on the land and buy all the studio equipment. It made a lot more sense to move here to Northern Kentucky.
Cincy Groove: Did you build the Bamboo Room Recording Studio / house?
Erwin Musper: It was actually already built. I went online and checked for world wide options. I was looking for a residential property where someone had already built a studio. There really wasn’t a whole lot of places that fit what I was looking for. I flew all over the world checking out places. One of the places I found was this house. The owner was a doctor and his wife was an amateur jazz singer. So he told her I’ll build you a rehearsal space so you can record something if you want. He hired people from England to come in and do isolation and acoustic treatment and also built the 3 separate recording rooms. So when I walked in there was already a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of work already done. I was the only one interested in the property because not too many people wanted a studio along with the house.
Cincy Groove: What was one of the biggest surprises for you when you moved from Hollywood to the Cincinnati/ NKY area?
Erwin Musper: Really, I was amazed at all the local talent, there are some amazing bands here. I think its because there isn’t a recording industry presence here. That means those kind of people aren’t dictating what they want from the musicians. Out in Los Angeles everyone sounds like the band of the day. Here everyone does there own thing which is really refreshing. But the downside is only people here are hearing the music, but I see that starting to change. I think the scene here deserves the recognition.
Cincy Groove: What would you say to a band who wants to take that next step and has had moderate success.
Erwin Musper: I really believe one aspect to taking that next step is having a competitive recording. You just cannot have your home recording and expect it to stand up next to lets say the latest Springsteen record. So I thought I have the experience and I have put a lot of money into the equipment here at the studio, so why not work with local talent? It helps that my overhead isn’t nearly as high here in this area as it would have been out in California. That helps to keep my fees relatively low.
Cincy Groove: How do you decide what local groups to work with?
Erwin Musper: Before I decide to work with someone, I will sit down and have a brainstorming session with them. I want to know what they are aiming for, if the budget and goal is realistic, and I want to know if they have the skills. I want to be happy when I’m working and I want the artist to be happy when they leave with the recording. I think in the long run most people will be thankful for that kind of approach to the process. I was counting it up the other day and I think about 40 local bands have been though the studio since I moved here 4 years ago. I have about 30 international clients and I make more money with them. But because of them I can afford to give my local clients the best deal I can afford and the best that they can afford. I really do love it here in the Cincinnati area. There just is an amazing amount of talent in the area.
Cincy Groove: Who has been one of the more recent local acts you have worked with?
Erwin Musper: It was the Rumpke Mountain Boys. One of the reasons I decided to work with them is because I have never worked with a bluegrass group before. I never knew how intense bluegrass music could be. I learned a lot through the whole process. I looked at their calendar and saw that they play out 4,5,6 times a week. I could tell that they were serious about what they wanted to do.
Cincy Groove: How did you get started in the music business?
Erwin Musper: I started about 40 years ago playing in various bands. At one point we got a record deal, and had a pretty big hit over in Europe. Then we started to get into bigger and better recording studios. I remember just watching what was going on and thinking I would enjoy being behind the scenes in the studio working rather than being in a rock band. I built my first studio in I believe 1976. I didn’t know what I was doing but I did it anyway (laughing). I got very lucky that the first group I signed to my little label had a top 10 hit. From there it just started to build. I started to get hired by bigger and bigger studios. One of the studios I got hired by was starting to get a lot of international clients. One of the first ones I got to work with was Def Leppard. Then after them I worked with Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck, a lot of English rock bands. Someone asked me if I wanted to come to Los Angeles to work with David Bowie, I of course said yes. I flew in and I really loved America, so I decided to move here and haven’t looked back since. I have worked for 40 years to finally get to Cincinnati (laughing).