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About the Studio

Music on the Menu: Windmill spins the right knobby Alan K. Stout

Even as a young boy, Eric Ritter was fascinated by audio recording. He'd play with tape recorders and record himself banging on pots and pans and then add on additional sounds by using other recorders. Though he was only about seven years old, it was, essentially, a basic form of multi-track recording.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that Ritter is now a record producer and the owner and operator of The Windmill Agency Recording Studio in Mt. Cobb. And though he now works with state-of-the-art, high-tech digital and analog gear, he says audio production remains an extension of that early childhood love.

"For whatever reason, I was innately drawn to trying to put sounds together," says Ritter, who also plays guitar in the modern-rock band Newpastlife. "I can't remember not being into it."

The Windmill Agency opened six months ago and is located on the family farm. Ritter says the rustic vibe can make for some great sessions.

"It looks like a barn, and when you come inside, it's cool, because it's got that dichotomy of wood and electronics," he says, adding that he learned his craft at studios in Los Angeles, Boston and Vancouver and worked with Bennett Kaufman, one of the most respected people in the audio recording field.

"The first time I thought I'd like to make this a part of my living is when I was playing a lot with my band and I got to hang out in those studios," he says. "I saw that much of what I was doing was on par with those kind of guys."

The Windmill Agency joins a list of local quality studios that includes Saturation Acres, Sound Investments, The Rec Room and JL Studios. One challenge for such businesses is the fact that many artists are now recording at home, but Ritter says even those who choose that path know it's no substitute for a professional studio and adds that home recording can actually help an artist when they're ready to get more serious about a project.

"I'm an advocate of people getting into recording, because I think it helps you become a better musician, so that when you put the money in and go to a facility, you'll get more out of it, because you'll be more prepared and get more used to that 'record' light coming on to do your take," Ritter says. "At the same time, what a lot of homes don't have is the right environment to record, especially acoustic instruments. The rooms need to sound a certain way. You need multiple-mic techniques and the kind of stuff that the person who has a computer and is running pro-tools system is going to know.

"There's always something to learn. Even the guys that are really good and have been doing it for 60 years are always interested in something new."

Should a solo artist be interested in recording with a full band, Windmill also offers a talented roster of studio session players. Local bands that have recorded there include Nowhere Slow, a pop/rock group, Cabinet, a bluegrass-style band, Ashfall, a hard-rock outfit, and M-80, a retro party band. Ritter says he loves such diversity and loves trying to help musicians perform at their best when the tapes are rolling,

"I'm a big fan of any musical style," he says. "Right now I've got a rock band from Siberia in here, and Cabinet are in. It's two different projects, but it keeps it fresh for me. Some people get tired of it, but I like the process. Recording is work. To make a record that you're happy with does take a little more time than you would think, and sometimes to get that perfect guitar solo or vocal take, you might do it 100 times, but there's something about me that loves that process, and I'm just as enthused on the first take as I am on the 100th.

"That's what might set me a part a little bit — that I keep a certain energy level and vibe going for people. You're not going to see me nod off four hours into the vocal performance or the guitar solo. I like to see people try, especially when I hear it getting better and better."

Ritter says he also like the idea that at any moment, during any session, magic can happen.

"Everybody wants to make the next classic record, and you never know who it's going to be," he says. "No matter what style, when people play their music, I'm always excited to put that mic out there and see what's going to come through."