Friday, March 2, 2001

Attention All Songwriters 

by Betsy Goodspeed
OVN staff reporter

If you saw two kids running around hitting things it would probably never occur to you that they're refining their ear training.

If you were to ask what's new in Oak View, you would find that a recording studio has recently come into being because a couple of musical cousins from South Dakota liked to hit inanimate objects and tell each other, "That's an F-sharp lamppost," or "that's a B-flat mailbox."

From an early age, Tim Frantz and his best buddy were attuned to anything that made music. Tim played his first keyboard at 5, and he's one of the few students of the guitar who bothered to learn to read music by the age of 11. Now he's a professional musician who's a recording engineer with a brand new studio in beautiful downtown Oak View.

After finding music in everything they touched, Tim and his cousin studied harmony in high school and attended the University of South Dakota for a year. When Tim's musical soul mate and closest friend departed for Texas, Tim was led to seek spiritual solace at Azusa Pacific University where he got his BA in classical guitar and music theory. 

Readers of the Voice may remember Tim Frantz as Heck Music's keyboard manager, which was his job from 1981 until 1995. Feeling blessed by being able to make a living by using his talent, it seemed that operating his own recording studio as a full time job would require a miracle. So he began praying for one.

Tim may be a miracle among musicians if for no other reason than he has never had to work at anything else. Leaving Heck Music before the store changed hands, he stepped out in faith and set up a recording studio in his home. He also taught guitar, bass and keyboards. Tim's recording customers laugh to recall singing in his soundproofed closet -- and he remembers having just enough steady work to allow him and his wife Barbara to embrace the responsibility of raising a family.

Now they have three daughters, and the next leap of faith has led to the opening of the Oak View studio. (Barbara was a video producer at Cox Cable Santa Barbara, where she won three ACE Awards for Cable Excellence.) Tim says that Barbara handles all the aspects of the business he hates, and she is in training to supply the graphics for their CD albums in the future. Business hours will accommodate customers' needs including evenings and weekends when necessary.

Mountain Dog Musicworks Recording Studio opened September 1st. It's a cozy three-room facility with several keyboards and state of the art recording equipment. Songwriters provide most of Tim's current business. He's proud of the fact that some of his students have reached a performing level, but points out that for every record company seeking new artists there are thousands of recording artists with songs to sell. 

The message here is keep your day job, but don't lose heart. Success can happen, but not without constancy of intention; i.e., effort and faith. Songwriters who are thinking about recording demos or albums may be interested to know more about the process. 

In brief, it is as follows:

The first step is to record your songs on cassette without striving for perfection. Then make an appointment with an engineer-producer for an interview (Tim doesn't charge for this interview, which takes an hour or so.) After deciding to go ahead, the third step is to choose a starting song. Provide a few CDs to demonstrate the style you have in mind rather than trying to verbally describe the sound. Make sure your lyric sheets are readable. Many songwriters are unable to write music notation, but a trained musician can take your raw recording and lyric sheet and turn it into a full-blown arrangement. Tim works primarily from lyrics to make decisions about instrumental voicing. He believes that getting the songwriter's heart on the disc is the producer's most important job. Confident performers who are able to play their own accompaniment can finish a demo in three hours. If musical arrangements are required, patience is involved and the finished product will cost more. 

The process is very educational for those wanting to learn how songs are structured and musical arrangements are made. Finding out how tracks are laid for acoustic instruments, synthesizer, (or a combination of both), will enable sensitive songwriters to imagine the whole sound of subsequent songs.

The vocal track is recorded last. Automation -- the computer-assisted mixing of volume, tone, stereo and effects -- speeds up the modern process, and less time for the engineer means less expense for the customer. 

Tim loves having his studio in Oak View. Among other advantages, it's halfway between Ojai and his home in Ventura and the rush-hour traffic is going the opposite direction. He admits that he's given up hitting things along the way, but he's hoping that his cousin will come for a visit so he can see the result of discovering an F-sharp lamppost and a B-flat lamppost. Is that a miracle or what?

For more information, call Mountain Dog Musicworks at 805-649-8500 or e-mail Tim at 

Betsy Goodspeed, Ojai