Walking from the ground floor down to the lounge in Erwin Musper's house-turned-studio, it's hard to miss all the Gold records hanging amidst the posters and commissioned paintings. While the sheer numbers of "units sold" seem larger than life, the man to whom the plaques are dedicated is as congenial and personable as can be.
After a couple hours of conversation, it's easy to see why so many artists continue to call on Musper to deliver their finished products into the hands of expectant record executives. Aside from being easy to get along with, when it comes to producing and recording music, he knows his shit. For someone who's used to rubbing elbows with some of the biggest names in Rock music history (Google 'Erwin Musper' for kicks), Greater Cincinnati (or Highland Heights, Ky., to be exact) seems like an odd place to set up shop. But, as it turns out, his decision to relocate here from Hollywood, much like his entry into the major leagues of the music industry, was just a coincidence.
Now that his recently-completed studio, The Bamboo Room, is open for business and his upstart label, Yea Yea Yeah Productions, is actively signing local talent, we figured this would be a perfect time to introduce him to his neighbors.
Cincinnati, meet Erwin Musper.
Musper was born a non-disclosed number of decades ago in Holland. He played in a few bands before achieving relative success with his group Partner (they have a re-issue box set coming out soon across the pond). Around 1981, his number of jobs as an engineer began to eclipse his jobs as a musician, so he stopped moonlighting as a performer to record and produce full time.
"Up until this day, I've never had a desire to go back," Musper says. "I'd rather sit there and hear Jeff Beck playing guitar, not be sitting there trying to tell him how to do it."
After cutting his teeth in Europe on his own rudimentary set-up, he found work at a larger studio where a lot of the big names at the time were recording. "I got to work with a variety of people like Def Leppard, David Bowie, Elton John, Mick Jagger, Iron Maiden, Jeff Beck," Musper recalls. "It gave me quite a good education." By 1991 he was flying from Europe to L.A. so frequently to work that he decided to move to America for good.
While coincidence and all that "right place, right time" jazz certainly played a role in some of his initial "big breaks," Erwin is quick to point out that it was skill and repeat clients that helped him survive the crash of the corporate record industry and which continue to keep his name in demand among the upper echelons of the Rock world. He also cites the shift from business to more personal relationships with the artists themselves as the impetus behind his desire to finally open his own production facility.
"The clientele changed," he says, "from working with a lot of major record companies, you began working with the bands directly. So if I had a job with Van Halen, I never got hired by the label, I got hired by Van Halen themselves. I felt the time was right to go back to where I came from, which is providing the musicians with the environment that they're most comfortable working in. I got lucky because a couple of productions I was involved in were million-sellers. If you count every album sold today, my name will be on 80 million albums; that comes with some monetary compensation. So I built this place with the money I made from being an engineer and producer."
Musper insists that he's been amazed so far by the amount of fresh talent the area has to offer. When an online real estate search for residential studios in the U.S. turned up barely half a dozen hits, he quickly ruled out the bogus listings in favor of his Kentucky home. Luckily, the previous owner (a gynecologist with a Jazz-singing wife) had the foresight to build the place from scratch with a basement studio in mind, so the rooms were, according to Erwin, "absolutely fantastic."
Erwin spent the year or so that it took for construction and wiring frequenting the local clubs, checking out bands. "I daresay that it was better than all of L.A., where everything sounds pre-packaged," Musper says. "Here every band sounds different and no one tries to copy each other. Cincinnati was the least likely of places I thought I'd end up, but somehow I feel very lucky with my decision."
Now that he's settled, he's ready to tap into the local talent reserve and is pretty clear on what his goals are. "I would like to be that guy who is able to recognize raw talent here and then mold it into a shape where the band won't fall apart the first day in the studio," he says. "I want to try and preserve that initial thing that draws me to them. There's a lot of diverse talent in the area, so all the time I'm here between the big jobs I will spend every free moment trying to discover and see how I can get a local band up to the standard of anything else I've done, to where, if you put it up next to the best album of the day, there wouldn't be any difference in quality."
Locals Kentucky Struts, Chaselounge and greatmodern hold freshly-inked deals, but there's plenty of room for expansion on the Musper roster. Before you throw your demo in the mail, though, keep in mind that there are a few parameters within which Musper likes to work.
"I will not do anything that's not my forte," he says. "I will not do any R&B because I'm not good at it. I will not do any Rap because I'm not interested. I will not do any computer-based music because I like the spark of live musical interaction. For me, it's all about the way I started 35 years ago with a band in a basement; that's still what I want to do, because I think that's still the real thing. That's where the next Beatles will come from, the next Rolling Stones. They won't come from a computer."
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