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Studio A at In Your Ear features world-class instruments and recording equipment. (Photo courtesy Will Fisher of Fire at Will Photography)
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"Control Room A equipped with API, Neve, and Focusrite outboard gear," reads In Your Ear's website. To non- music production pros, that means a lot of cool, expensive equipment. (Photo courtesy Will Fisher of Fire at Will Photography)
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Studio B is "ideal for voice over recording," says In Your Ear's website. It's where dialogue for shows like "TURN: Washington's Spies" and "VEEP" is captured. (Photo courtesy Will Fisher of Fire at Will Photography)
A grand, two-story foyer with Grammy Award plaques studding its west wall leads into a cavernous studio, one of four on site, where a glossy black grand piano regally holds court in the center of the space. In the far left corner of the room, a microphone perches above a recording nook, where hundreds of vocalists — of the famous and “never heard of ‘em” variety — have sung from their souls. In the opposite corner, there’s a vintage Rhodes electric piano looking like it’s just waiting for Ray Charles to sit down and play it back to life. Welcome to In Your Ear studios.
It’s where up-and-coming fusion jazz band Doors Wide Open will record its debut album, “Undercover” on June 18. And it won’t be a run-of-the-mill recording session; instead, the sextet will jam live in front of an audience, playing two different sessions in one day. One of them is already sold out, a testament to their devoted and growing fan base in Richmond.
Doors Wide Open, ahead of their live album recording at In Your Ear Studios on June 18. From left: Saxophonist Matt Zavitz, bassist Jonathan Derricott, lead vocalist/keyboardist Jerel Crockett, guitarist Taylor Laub. Not pictured: guitarist Matthew Walton, drummer Derrick Simmons. (Photo by Austin Walker)
“This is the first project of this type that we’ve done here,” says Michael Congdon, who leads the tour of the state-of-the-art studios. Congdon, a Richmond native who studied music production at Virginia Commonwealth University, is an award-winning producer, engineer and director and the president of Artesian Entertainment Group, LLC. He’s lent his musical mastery to rappers Tyga and J. Cole, R&B singer Chris Brown (who recorded his Grammy-winning 2012 album, “F.A.M.E.” at In Your Ear) and pop duo McBeth, among many others. He knows talent when he hears it, and says Doors Wide Open’s soul-infused jazz is a gift to the ear.
“Their musical energy was a big driving force behind this idea. Their versatility makes it possible,” says Congdon.
As we explore In Your Ear’s four studios, we come upon a smaller room; colorful cables snake down the walls and tools sit next to broken pieces of sound equipment. In the center of it all sits Carlos Chafin, the president and co-founder of In Your Ear. He’s at a workbench repairing a 40-year-old Moog keyboard and greets us with a friendly smile.
“Thank you for coming by,” he says in an easy manner. “I’m glad you’re writing about what we do here. It’s very special.”
Special is an understatement. In 1990, Chafin founded In Your Ear alongside the late Robbin Thompson, a beloved Boston-born, Richmond-based singer/songwriter whose career included a stint as lead vocalist in Bruce Springsteen’s band, Steel Mill, and extensive song recordings. Robbins co-authored “Sweet Virginia Breeze,” which became the official state song of Virginia last year. Chafin began his incredible career as a recording and maintenance engineer at Alpha Audio (a legendary Richmond music production and recording company in its own right), and has worked with a host of big-name musicians such as the Rolling Stones and the E-Street Band, besides composing scores for Super Bowl commercials and clients like McDonald’s and Walmart. Transcending just music production, In Your Ear is where films like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and shows like “Turn: Washington’s Spies” and “Sleepy Hollow” have turned for their dialogue production expertise. Actor/writer Mike Henry, who voices the character Cleveland Brown in the snark-tastic animated series, “Family Guy,” comes in every week to record his parts. Clearly, In Your Ear is infused with a whole lot of special.
Doors Wide Open will soon become part of the studio’s legacy. Are they nervous? Not really, says lead vocalist and keyboardist Jerel Crockett.
“It’s live, so yeah, we don’t want to mess up. We’re going to tighten it up a little bit. But, we’re staying true to us. We’re going to do what we’ve been doing.”
Jerel Crockett, lead vocalist/keyboardist of Doors Wide Open. (Photo by Austin Walker)
What they’ve been doing: playing jazz so well that they leave every audience who hears them gobsmacked, including crowds at the Richmond Jazz Festival and Jackson Ward’s 2nd Street Festival; gigging around the region to the delight of fans of all ages and nationalities; and earning the respect of heavy hitters like Congdon and Chafin. Though they’ve performed mainly covers, they’re preparing to branch out with their own music: In addition to being gifted instrumentalists, every member of the band is a songwriter.
The “Undercover” album is a long time in the making, and recording it at In Your Ear is more than a dream come true. “We’re playing at the Staples Center, man,” laughs bassist Jonathan Derricott.
The band has come a long way since its days of playing Ashland Coffee and Tea in the members' native Hanover County. Congdon says their distinct sound and expert improvisation skills set them apart from area bands, and hails Crockett as a “diamond in the rough.” He notes Crockett’s perfect pitch and uncanny ability to learn and play songs note-for-note in an impossibly short time. “One time, I had them set up to play at a club, and I let Jerel listen to a track on the way over there. By the time we got [the instruments] set up, he had it down pat, every note. Incredible.”
Doors Wide Open performs "Never Too Much" by Luther Vandross at the Richmond Jazz Festival, 2012.
With traces of funk, R&B and gospel layered into Doors Wide Open's music, fans should expect the unexpected during the recording, which will also be filmed for a music video. But there’s one thing certain, says Crockett: “If you love good music, real music, you’re going to have a good time.”
Doors Wide Open will record its debut album live at In Your Ear studios (1813 E. Broad St. in Shockoe Bottom) on Saturday, June 18. The 7 p.m. live recording session is sold out, but tickets for the 4:30 p.m. session may be purchased here, for $25 each.