Originally created 12/30/00

On the right track



Some 15 years have passed since James Brown showed up at Augusta's Studio South to record.

Face to face with the mega-star, Howard Lovett's fingers flew nervously across the control board as he turned knobs and made adjustments to get the first mix.

When the singer heard the playback, he liked what he heard, but Mr. Lovett, the audio engineer, protested. A pass through a computer was needed to make a rough mix really good, he said.

Mr. Brown put his hand on the engineer's shoulder and reassured him that his initial efforts were just right. "Mr. Lovett, the first time God does it. The second time you do it - I want God's version," he said.

It is his favorite story about the singer, said Mr. Lovett, who co-owns the studio with his wife, Lindy.

Gospel quartets, church choirs, commercial advertisers and nationally known talents such as Mr. Brown have recorded at Studio South since it opened on Peach Orchard Road nearly 20 years ago. The business moved three months ago to 4014 Columbia Road in Evans because it's closer to the Lovetts' home.

"The studio was a step of faith from the beginning," Mr. Lovett said.

When he and Lindy met, both were students at Florida Bible College in Miami. He was singing with Joyful Noise, one of the earliest bands to play Christian folk rock. The group attracted the notice of Impact Records - the same label as the Imperials - and signed a contract.

The group's first album became an immediate underground success after the college banned it because of the drums on it, he said.

After their wedding, the couple moved to Dublin, Ga., where Mr. Lovett worked at a church as a youth pastor and youth minister of music and led Bible studies.

But the couple gradually "became convicted about the life of faith" and wanted to put that faith into action, he said.

With the blessings of the congregation, they went on the road with a musical-comedy act. Their 4-year-old daughter, Lori, opened the show by reciting a psalm. Mrs. Lovett ran sound and some slides while Mr. Lovett appeared onstage with a sidekick, a gun-slinging cowboy puppet named Wichita.

They never did any booking themselves. Word of mouth was enough to get them 225 to 250 appearances a year at churches, high schools and, once, a McDonald's at 2 a.m.

The couple's financial needs were met though they never charged a fee for performances or albums, preferring instead to rely on people's generosity. "We trusted the Lord to provide," he said.

Despite the number of appearances, scheduling conflicts were minimal. Lori only missed two days of school during the three years her family was on the road. God seemed to place the family at the right place, at the right time, Mr. Lovett said.

But when their children indicated they wanted to be more involved in school activities, the couple decided it was time to limit traveling and look for other income. "I thought it would be fun" to build a recording studio, said Mr. Lovett, who had worked with studios in Atlanta and Florida.

Small-town Dublin was hardly ideal for such a venture, but groups came to their studio from all over the country, he said.

The Lovetts moved from Dublin to Peach Orchard Road in Augusta in 1982 at the suggestion of one of their clients, an advertising agency.

Son Jason, now 26 and an audio engineer, shares editing responsibilities with his father. Mrs. Lovett keeps the books and manages the front desk.

Howard Lovett designed the sound-control and the videotaping rooms in the present studio, a former builders' office. Narrow strips of black foam cover the ceiling and most of the walls in the control room, soaking up even sound from traffic moving along Columbia Road. It creates a pure listening environment "so you know what sound you are putting out," Mr. Lovett said.

Once reverberations are on a recording, they are permanent, so the studio starts with a pure sound, then adds enhancements, such as fattening the vocals.

When on location, Studio South packs a 24-track digital recorder and other equipment, then brings the project back for the mix and some sweetening.

Each instrument, soloist and choral group is taped separately to allow the audio engineer to adjust the sounds - how much guitar, how much drum. It is difficult to record on location because the public address system, stage monitors and other elements interfere.

"Most of the albums you hear that are live albums just didn't come out that way," he said.

Mistakes can also be corrected once the project is back in the studio. "You get what you intended - all that energy of a live performance with the crowd and the adrenalin pumping with the choir - and still make it better in the studio," he said.

Many traditional gospel groups in the Augusta area use Studio South. There's little money to be made singing gospel - most people sing because they love the music, Mr. Lovett said. "They aren't amateurs, but they aren't doing it for a living. They are very talented and do great performances."

The roots of rock 'n' roll came out of church music, he said. "You just hear these wonderful infectious grooves, and what is neat about them is that it is all family-oriented."

Typically, the singers have been with a quartet forever; someone's 10-year-old son is the drummer; and their instruments are not the most expensive kind, he said. "They will walk in here and be the most unassuming group you will ever want to see."

With the warmup barely over, Mr. Lovett will wonder for a moment what will come out of the group, but when the lead singer starts to wail and the band kicks off with a beat - the effect is wonderful, he said. "And along with the music and the beat there are the words about faith, hope, love, trust and forgiveness. It is a great positive experience to be a part of it."

Mr. Lovett sometimes steps into the role of producer, using what he knows about music and equipment to help performers communicate what is in their hearts and souls and get it on tape, he said.

Recording in a studio differs in several ways from recording live. In the studio, there is no audience. The music is usually coming though headphones. And singers and musicians know the studio has the ability to go back and correct a recording.

"The hardest thing to get over in the studio is when people come in with the idea `Oh, I hope my project is good enough,' or `Am I good enough?"' Mr. Lovett said.

There is no right sound or wrong sound - each person who comes in has a particular gift from God, he said.

"What is neat about that is - James Brown taught me this - sometimes the very first thing you do, in a nervous, scared-beyond-yourself, in-over-your-head (way), is the very best thing you will ever do."

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or vanorton@augustachronicle.com.