An old textile mill with brick walls and creaky floorboards doesn’t seem like an obvious place to build a recording studio. As it turns out, though, Savage Mill was just the sort of location Red Bridge Studios co-owners Bob Novak and Terry Eberhardt were looking for.
“It had to be halfway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., so we could serve the music scene in each city,” Novak said. “We were purposely looking for a place with some historical character to it, and this turned out to be perfect for us.”
Both business partners are graduates of the Peabody Conservatory of Music, with Novak specializing in percussion and the technology side of the business. Eberhardt, a former choir director at Marriotts Ridge High School, in Howard County, specializes in opera and voice performance.
Named to honor the historic Bollman Truss Bridge that straddles the Little Patuxent River behind the mill, Red Bridge Studios provides music and voice instruction, video and audio recording, off-site recording work, acting lessons, camps and workshops. It also serves as the Howard County Campus of the Strathmore arts complex’s Young Artists of America (YAA) training organization, where Eberhardt serves as summer camp director.
“We wanted the business to be a one-stop hub providing everything for both students and professional musicians, combining education with a professional recording service,” Novak said. “We realized that there wasn’t anyone else doing that in this area, and we’re happy to say the response has exceeded our expectations. We’re busy nearly every day of the week with lessons, programs and recording sessions.”
Turning an echo-prone location into a professional recording studio was a huge challenge, Novak said.
“It took a lot of work, construction and sound testing to get the acoustics right, but we eventually got there,” he said, with the help of an Indiegogo campaign that generated 15% of the outlay needed to outfit the studio. “We managed to stay within our budget by doing a lot of the work and construction ourselves.”
The studio features space for three simultaneous lessons, two tracking rooms, a console room and even a separate kitchen for campgoers and artists who book long recording sessions and want to stay close to the action.
“There’s room to grow, and we’ve also had the idea of doing some chamber music or larger orchestral recordings in the mill’s Great Room,” Novak said. “We’ve looked at it, and it actually has some of the best acoustics around for a space of its size.”
Eberhardt heads up the lessons portion of the business along with his wife, celebrated opera performer Colleen Daly, who provides operatic voice instruction.
“We’re able to contract out with other teachers to provide music lessons for any instrument and any vocal style,” Eberhardt said.
Red Bridge began leasing space at Savage Mill in 2014 and held a grand opening this past January. Previously, the recording business operated out of Novak’s basement.
“We were able to turn up the programming here pretty fast and got a lot of interest right away,” Eberhardt said, with offerings that take in the whole spectrum of music instruction. “We provide infant and toddler music classes on the weekends, which are well attended.”
Professional singer/songwriter Jordan Sokel, of the Annapolis-based folk and soul band Pressing Strings, is currently doing session work at Red Bridge and records there on a regular basis.
Novak, he noted, was formerly part of the Pressing Strings lineup, playing drums in the band for three years.
“I just came back from recording at a couple of multi-million-dollar studios in New York,” Sokel said. “Obviously they have more equipment and space, but what I hear coming out of Red Bridge Studios equals anything we’ve done anywhere else. A big part of that quality comes from how much time and effort Bob puts into it.”
Sokel said he’s also impressed that Red Bridge Studios has some rare equipment that just can’t be found anywhere else — and that just can’t be matched for performance.
“The studio houses a rare, completely restored analog Moog Modular Synthesizer signed by Keith Emerson, who died this past March,” Novak said, referencing the English keyboardist who was a founding member of progressive rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
That unit is complemented by an even rarer console mixer, of which only three were ever constructed.
“Its microphone preamps can be described as imparting a warm, analog, vintage sound very different from today’s more and more common digital mixers,” Novak said. “We mainly use those preamps with a pair of ribbon microphones to record drums, or occasionally a female vocal to help give more body and warmth.”
As fate would have it, Novak stumbled onto the headquarters of Automated Processes Inc. (API), in Jessup, a renowned console manufacturer with a history dating back to 1968, while looking for flooring materials for the studio.
“We’re really looking forward to beginning a collaboration with API to help us get the best sound possible for our clients,” Novak said.
In just the first year of operation at Savage Mill, Red Bridge has overseen more than 80 recording sessions in almost every musical genre, including opera, spiritual, jazz, world, rock, hip hop and classical.
During the same time, the studio provided music lessons for approximately 100 students ranging in age from 5 to 65, and currently instructs 40 individuals per week.
Confirming the success that Novak and Eberhardt set out to achieve is the local New York Emmy Award nomination their studio received this year in the documentary category for P.S. DANCE!, a film about dance education in the New York Public Schools.
“Our vision is to provide performing artists a bridge or pathway to connect them to their full potential,” Novak said. “We’re happy with what we’ve accomplished so far, but we do have dreams of eventual expansion, moving franchises into Anne Arundel County or other locations with lively music scenes, and providing that bridge to as many people as possible.”