Meet Crystal Olson

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We recently chatted with 2008 grad Crystal Olson about how she got started in her successful career as  manager of Groovemaster, one of the top studios in Chicago.

When you first got to Chicago, was Groovemaster your first choice for an internship?
My first choice was to intern at CRC (Chicago Recording Company) and I also applied at Gravity Studios, Studio Chicago and a few theaters downtown. After not getting those gigs, (CRAS Internship coordinator) Jayson mentioned Groovemaster Recording. I  saw they had an 80 channel SSL 4080 G+ and a pretty impressive client list so I knew this was a reputable studio. I liked the fact that Groovemaster was a smaller company with a crew consisting of Johnny K the Owner/Producer, one assistant engineer and a couple interns. I definitely felt like I could contribute and felt like I had a second family there from the day I stepped foot in the studio.  Looking back, I am grateful I wasn’t hired at the other places I interviewed because I wouldn’t be where I am today.

How did your internship evolve from where you started to the manager’s position?
I interviewed for the internship position, was hired and started in mid May of 2008. I finished my 280 hours in 5 weeks and kept right on working-we were moving locations so there was a lot of packing, moving and work to do at the new building.  We were moving from a 5,000 sq ft loft on the north side of Chicago to a 40,000 sq ft warehouse/music complex on the south side. My internship was typical and involved everything from food runs and cleaning to setting up mics and recalling gear.

At the end of July we did the big move, decommissioning and packing up the SSL in just 2 days with only 5 of us!  We moved the entire studio over to the new building and when Johnny came back from recording (he had been gone the last year and a half recording all around the country) we were fully moved in.  After my hours were up I started working 2 side jobs (at a restaurant and retail shop) so I could make money and pay rent. I would come into the studio before I went to work and I would come back after I got out of work at night. On my days off I stayed at the studio from the time the first engineer got there, till the time everyone left at night. Johnny saw my dedication and realized that with a 40,000 sq. ft. building that had tenants, construction and multiple studios to run, he needed a studio manager. He offered me the job and honestly at first it was hard to take because I wanted to be an engineer, not a manager. After thinking about it I realized just because my title would be studio manager didn’t mean I couldn’t also be an engineer.

Tell us about the studio and life in Chicago
Our building houses 3 separate recording companies; Groovemaster, Hinge and Black Sheep Music, Inc. Groovemaster has 3 of the studios in the building. Our Blue Room is a prepro/production suite/overdub room with a 12 ch Melbourne sidecar, our Studio B or “Red Room” has a 48 channel vintage Neve 8128 with Flying Faders and our brand new White Room has another 20 channel Melbourne sidecar. We monitor off of either Genelec 1038s, Adam A7s or KRK V6s for near field and Genelec 1031As for far field. We are in the process of building Studio A which would house the SSL from the old studio with Dynaudio C4s. We have almost 100 guitars and the same amount of amps, a few Studer A820s which we still use on sessions, a couple Leslies, a couple Hammond B3 organs, a multitude of outboard pres including Neve 33114s, Neve 1095s, a lunchbox of APIs, and some Neoteks.

Chicago is a great place to be, it is a big city in the heart of the Midwest. The audio industry in Chicago is very tight-knit.  All of the studio managers, owners, engineers, techs and musicians meet constantly to discuss the industry, where it is going next and how we are going to contribute to it.

What types of music and bands are you working with?
We work with a lot of Rock, Alternative Rock and Metal music.  Our clients include Disturbed, 3 Doors Down, Staind, Plain White T’s, Finger Eleven, Shinedown, Sevendust, Trapt, Kill Hannah, Halestorm, Seether, Drowning Pool, SOiL, Black Tide, Adelitas Way, Airbourne, Cyndi Lauper and more.  Right now we have a few independent bands in at the studio, as well as local bands renting out our production/overdub studios.

Tell us about the other workspaces at your location
The other two studios in our building are Hinge Studio and Black Sheep Music.  Hinge is owned by Grammy award winning mixer Craig Bauer and is a 3000 sq. ft. mixing/tracking studio.  Craig has mixed for artists such as Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco and jazz artist Steve Cole.  Hinge Studios typically records and mixes gospel, jazz, R&B and rap and is equipped with a Digidesign Icon.  Black Sheep, Inc. is owned by Producer/Engineer Josh Shapera who has hosted sessions for Plain White Ts, The Academy Is, Kill Hannah, Skybox, This Is Me Smiling and a Wilco side project called The Autumn Defense.  Our relationship with these studios is almost like a co-op.  We often exchange equipment and gear as each studio needs and anytime our studios are booked we ask Hinge or Black Sheep if they can take our clients for us, as well as vice versa if they have overflow. We really work in conjunction with the other tenants in our building, rather than being in competition.

How did your education at the Conservatory prepare you for your career in audio?
I feel that CRAS really helped me prepare for the real world in the recording industry. The gear at the school is exactly what you will find at commercial recording studios, and the tips and advice they give you are spot on. The classes we took on studio etiquette and how you should approach your internship were very helpful. While Pro Tools is the leading software in the industry and is found in almost every studio, some still use tape so it is great that CRAS teaches not only recording to tape but how to clean and align tape machines.

How was the on-campus experience?
Being a student at CRAS taught me to take initiative to learn as much as I could, running your own sessions gives you the confidence and knowledge to do it on your own. This translates well into the studio environment where interns need to take the initiative to stay late, learn everything they can about the gear and have the confidence and knowledge to step in where they are needed. CRAS gave me the opportunity to come in during the evenings and work on things where I needed help. Project Staff are there 24/7 to run through concepts and tutor you with any extra help you may need and the faculty were always willing to stay after class to answer any questions that I had. CRAS has been with me every step of the way from supporting me while finding an internship, checking in on how things are going to now helping me find responsible, hardworking interns for our studio.  It has definitely been a positive experience and I am glad I chose to attend the Conservatory.

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