Audio Recording Studio

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Randy sitting at control desk

Laying down the tracks: Local talent can make professional recordings at GilderSound recording studio

Jan 23, 2008
by Michelle Miron
Managing Editor, Forest Lake Press

In a basement at an unassuming house near Target and Wal-Mart, a jam session might be kicking even as you read this.

Randy Gildersleeve opened his own recording studio on Fourth Street eight years ago, and now it attracts a myriad of musicians who pay him to professionally record their tunes and voices. GilderSound Audio Recording Studio has produced some 150 different CDs, several of which have won or been nominated for Minnesota Music Awards.

Commanding fees of $45 to $50 an hour, the studio is targeted toward a middle-market customer who's neither a hobbyist nor an established professional. Clients include people like Peter Mayer, a Stillwater-based folk singer who recently recorded his eighth CD; Thinland, an indie/folk band based out of St. Paul; and Mike Croswell of St. Paul, who has composed and performed theme and background music for theater and TV productions including the CBS show "48 Hours."

"Britney Spears is not going to roll up in a limo and hop out," Gildersleeve jokes. "The people I work with are local singers, songwriters, bands or performers who are serious about music. But the last couple of years have been really strong ... this is a 'who you know' business, and I have lots of repeat customers."

Gildersleeve, 49, grew up on a farm in Fennimore, Wis., and later studied music and guitar at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His goal at the time was to be a rock star.

That dream continued through the mid-1980s, he said, when he married his wife, Sandy, had his daughter, Carrie, and let go of the idea of moving to Los Angeles to pursue a high-profile career. Instead, he moved to Columbia Heights and worked on pursuing one of his other interests - teaching guitar, primarily at Music Connection in Forest Lake. He also plays and teaches bass, banjo, mandolin and ukulele.

Around that time retailers began to offer consumer-grade recording equipment that was less expensive than previous models, and Gildersleeve invested in some to record his work and that of friends and family.

"I started it for my own amusement," he said. "My wife plays keyboard and several other instruments and sings, so once I had this equipment, I started recording my own band a little. Then other friends asked to record their bands, and it led to this sort-of grassroots kind of thing. I didn't think it would turn into a business."

Demand for his recording services grew, and by the mid-1990s, he was acquiring higher-quality Digidesign equipment. When he and his family opted to move to Forest Lake in 1995 and couldn't find a house that would accommodate a new studio, they built one that could. The 500-square-foot space he created has performance and equipment space surrounded by acoustic panels. He basically taught himself to use the higher-tech machinery by reading up on it and visiting other studios.

"The quality of the recording (became) comparable to what you might find on the West Coast," he said. "That's when things really took off." He has since spent more than $100,000 on equipment. He also owns the technology capable of recording off-site events, such as concerts at Forest Lake High School or Bethel College. And he is frequently asked to sit in on various recordings by adding his own vocals or instrumentals.

As far as his own work goes, he and area musicians Andy LaCasse, Rob Anderson and Peter O'Gorman are in the process of recording a pop/rock album of Gildersleeve's original music that should soon be released locally. The band is called "Kilter."

His blues, rock and soul band called Savannah Blue is now on hiatus but has played at venues in the north metro area since 1997. Gildersleeve also performs with his wife at church functions (hence the duo "Randy and Sandy") or adds friend Greig Tennis to the mix and performs locally as "Combo St. Croix." In 2004 he released his own Christmas music CD "Randy and Friends: A Merry Little Christmas" and used profits to support the Red Cross and refugees in Darfur, Sudan.

He said competition in the recording business is greater than one might consumer-friendly prices.

"Part of me wonders if it would be better for me to be located a little closer in (to the Twin Cities)," he said. "But at the same time, I do work mostly with local people, although I have clients from L.A. and San Francisco who come here because they have connections to me, my family or other musicians here. This actually is a pretty vibrant music area."

He said his daughter, Carrie, now 22, recently obtained a degree in music and is interested in artist management. His son, Ian, 20, is an aspiring writer and singer.

The five-year plan for GilderSound may call for moving to a bigger space that could accommodate choirs and other large groups, plus a grand piano and a greater variety of musical equipment. He's also interested in writing a book about teaching guitar.

Gildersleeve said he has no regrets about not pursuing a higher-profile music career on the East Coast or West Coast. In fact, he said, he feels blessed just to be working in the music industry.

"I come from a long line of farmers, and in farming you make a heavy investment for sort-of a sketchy return," he said. "This can be that way too. But I really like working with people and finding ways to help them see their dreams come to life. It's a whole process, like building houses, and it's kind of a thrill to see where it all ends up.

"In my mind I've really stayed on my goal. I want to keep performing, and I (eventually) want to keel over in the nursing home with a guitar in my hand."

Article and photo reprinted with permission from the Forest Lake Press.