Chris Hughes is an Engineer Who Knows the Difference Between Correct and True
Every community has its movers and shakers. Some are more outwardly apparent and get the social accolades, while some go unmarked by much of the community that they impact. Musician, college professor, sound engineer, poet and Denton resident Chris Hughes is of the latter category -- motivated by making good music. "The reason I got into audio engineering was to learn how to make the records I heard in my head."
Jess Elysse Holder Chris Hughes (left) and Spooky Folk's Kaleo Kaualoku during the recording process
He is a busybody who, between instructing local workshops on home recording, teaching English at Tarrant County College and putting together a compilation of local music called No Metro, is scurrying to complete tracking for Denton quintet Spooky Folk before lead singer Kaleo Kaualoku moves to Denver at May's end.
Although the Spooky Folk album is at the forefront of Hughes' agenda, he is currently wrapping up an EP with Denton math-pop band Bashe, and in the last year he has made records with Young and Brave, Bird Meets Winter and others. As if that weren't enough, he is also finagling time to finish up an album for his own band, The Calmative, that should be released this summer.
In order to give a little perspective, let's back up to about a decade ago when Hughes was working in recording studios and running live sound for The Galaxy Club and others in Deep Ellum. He had enrolled in the audio engineering program at Dallas Sound Lab a couple of years before that, and was feeling his way around a life that wasn't inspiring him.
"It didn't work out. Deep Ellum was falling apart, and I wasn't getting to record the kinds of bands I wanted," Hughes says.
Soon after, he got his hands on some modest recording gear, moved to Austin and started making lo-fi records for himself and his friends.
"I had been taught a bunch of rules before -- the traditional studio model. Stuff like: 'Aim for clarity, don't distort your signal, don't compress or EQ to tape, don't overcompress,' etc. I found that the more I broke those rules, the closer I got to the sounds I wanted. That was a big lesson learned."
Hughes was also pursuing an English degree at the time, and not long after, moved to New York City and got his MFA in creative writing at The New School. He lived in Brooklyn and worked on a novel that "hopefully nobody will ever read," he says.
"I put off recording for a while to focus on that, but eventually I was pulled back in."
When he returned to the DFW area in 2009, Hughes made a point to get some nicer recording equipment and begin taking this more seriously, he said. He now lives in Denton and when he isn't teaching English, he records music via his production company, Miscellaneous Sound, and teaches recording workshops out of Bonduris Music, an instructional facility just north of the square in Denton. The home recording workshop is a four week course, held on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. They are currently enrolling for June. Class sizes range anywhere from two to 10 students. If there's a demand for it, morning or afternoon workshops may become available. Hughes is also working on creating workshops for mixing and production, as well.
"I'd been burned too many times in studios by engineers who were maybe technically savvy, but who didn't share my musical preferences. So, I teach this course with the intention of empowering other musicians. But it's beneficial to anyone interested in learning about recording."
Jess Elysse Holder
Hughes says his aim is to explain the basics, and then follow that up with practical application. For example, the class might have a discussion on the sonic characteristics of microphones for the first half of class, followed by a studio section. They will also learn about signal flow, acoustics, preamplification, dynamics, equalization among other things.
"For a long time I recorded wherever I could, usually in apartments or rehearsal spaces. It was not ideal. Then, last summer, I got involved with Bonduris Music. Thad Bonduris has been teaching guitar in Denton for many years, and we'd met through mutual friends. Now I work and teach out of a small building that is connected to their main facility."