EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Music Studio Owner Sunny Nam

Sunny Nam is the owner, operator and lead engineer at Jacob’s Well Mastering Studio. The recording studio boss has quitee the history in the music industry and recently moved his entire operation to New Hampshire.

During his years in the industry, Sunny has worked with some of the biggest names around including the likes of Paul McCartney, Keith Urban, and Frank Zappa.

Here we speak exclusively to Sunny Nam, about his New Hampshire studio, time in the industry, and much more:

Have you always known you wanted to run a music studio?

Well, I started my career as a producer/composer. By then, I didn’t have any desire to run a studio for myself.  Later, I found myself more interested in sound rather than music, then became an engineer. And long before I became an engineer, I worked as audio equipment reviewer for HiFi audio magazines. Since then it has been my dream to build a studio that could fulfill my desire as an audiophile as well as the need to provide the best service to the clients as an engineer.

Can you remember the first time you recorded music for someone?

Yes, it was a very low budget project that I asked to produce. To save the cost, I was asked to use the studio that the label owned. Just before the session started, the engineer of the studio left the facility. Since I had enough knowledge on the console of the studio, Sony O2R, and the tape machine(ADAT), so I decided to record the tracks by myself. AKG 414 was the microphone that I used for the vocal. Other than recording, I remember the very first mastering session that I participated at the Mastering Lab, the legendary mastering studio with Doug Sax. I wasn’t supposed to work on the session since I just joined the Lab. But the other engineer had an accident and couldn’t make it. So I was asked to run the console with Doug on the very first day at the studio. It was a Randy Travis album produced by Kyle Lehning.

What made you want to get into the music industry?
I think it’s the love of the sound.  Even after 20 years in the music industry, I enjoy the magical moment when a pair of speaker generates a very realistic vocal sound in the middle of the two speakers as if someone is standing in front of me and singing just for me. I wanted to participate the process which generates that magic. And that magic I experience every time I sit in front of the speakers is the reason for me to stay in the music industry to this day.

Have you had any bad recording sessions over the years?
Not really. There have been challenging sessions, but I don’t see them as bad. The challenges could be from the musicians’ ego or the lack of ability or even the space that music was produced.
But through those challenges, you can get more experiences, and lessons so to me, they are all worth getting through. 

Which artists have been the easiest to work with so far?
For the most mastering sessions I do are unattended sessions, and I usually communicate with recording producer/engineer, it’s hard for me to answer the question. Rather I can answer which recording producer/engineers are the easiest to work with. I have had a great luxury to work with a few legendary engineers over the years such as Al Schmitt, Bill Schnee, Don Murray, Gary Paczosa and Kyle Lehning. All of the records from them sounded so wonderful, my work is to do nothing, and make sure to preserve all the great sound they got on a different media that the consumers listen to. 

Which artists would you love to work with in the future?
As my mentor told me, the mastering engineers have to have the catholic taste in music. I love working on any new project of the artist no matter how famous he/she is. All of the projects are something that artists put so many efforts to complete. I just enjoy participating in the process that matters to someone. That said, I’d like to work with local (New England) artists more. Since I worked in LA during most of my career, I haven’t had many chances to work with local artists yet.

Are there any acts out there that you can recommend the public should listen to? 

As a big fan of Sonic Arts which is a development in the experimental music field, and as a colleague at Dartmouth college where I teach, I’d like to introduce two composers, Spencer Topel (https://www.spencertopel.com) and Ashley Fure (http://www.ashleyfure.com), to the music fans. Their music isn’t something that you normally listen to, but you can experience what some of the contemporary musicians are working on.    

Do you think streaming is damaging the industry?
I have a mixed feeling about it. I can see the benefit of it as a library of the records.
You can listen to literally every record released over the last century through it. It wasn’t virtually impossible to listen to let’s say, all of the Dizzy Gillespie’s records without putting lots of time and money. Now anyone can listen to Gillespie’s record getting to know the developments of his music and performance. The younger generation can listen and study the music of the previous generations very easily and get a new idea from it. However, the most damage that the streaming did to the industry is to change the way that people think about the music. The music always has two facets. It is a commodity that you can buy for your pleasure yet, it is also a work of art of someone. People had been able to retain those two aspects of music.  But it seems that the streaming service makes people lose the aspect of music as a work of art. Due to its abundance, music is to be treated as if it’s a mere commodity that you can get at a convenience store, like a chocolate bar. If you put a value on something you would treat it with care. When you buy a painting from a gallery, you don’t throw that near the trash can. When you buy a nice car, you would take your time to put in nice care. When you buy an expensive vinyl record, you would sit down in a room and put your focus on the music from the speaker for the whole side.On the contrary, most of the people would listen to the streaming while they are doing something else, like jogging, cooking, or whatever the activities ones are doing. 

You recently moved your studio to New Hampshire, what made you want to relocate?

The reason for the move was that my wife was hired by Dartmouth College as a faculty. After commuting to LA for about a year and a half, I decided to stay on the East Coast hoping to support my family better. It was pretty hard for me to leave The Mastering Lab which is the legendary mastering studio I worked at in LA and Doug who was the founder of the studio and the mentor of mine, but my priority lies in my family. 

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Written by Laura Klonowski

Qualified music journalist! Writing single/album/live reviews, feature articles, interviews, and news pieces.
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