He records success in basement studio

Music: A River Hill High School senior uncovers his calling in a basement experiment.

April 30, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

When recording engineer Sal Chandon got the call from a River Hill High School teacher asking him to mentor one of her students, his initial reaction was: Not a chance. The kid will always be underfoot, in the way, he thought, and he didn't have time to waste on a novice.

But then he met Billy Hickey, and he couldn't say no.

"His level of work is very high," Chandon said. "[The recording] he brought wasn't like it was on Virgin Records or anything, but it wasn't bad, especially for a high school kid. I have to keep reminding myself he's only 17."

And he owns his own recording studio. For the past year, Hickey has run the studio - called Suburban Project - from his parents' Clarksville basement, making compact discs for local musicians and his peers at school.

"It started when I was a drummer in a band and our bassist brought in a mini [recorder]," says Hickey, a senior. "I started getting more equipment and recording better sounds, and I realized I've got a studio set up here. I might as well record some bands and make some money from it."

Though he's not making a lot of money - his biggest haul was about $200 for a full CD, which he spent six months putting together - Hickey is getting a large dose of experience. He has worked with a friend who is a rapper; modern rockers Warshock (an Atholton High School-based group); a flutist who needed a college audition tape; and River Hill school bands, including the jazz, orchestra and percussion ensembles.

"They were all things I wouldn't normally record," says Hickey, whose personal preference leans toward old-school metal, a la Metallica. "I've learned a lot. I'm at the point where I can stand every type of music - except country."

For Easy Access, an alternative/ska band made up of River Hill High School juniors, Hickey put together its first CD, It's About Time.

"It sounds really professional," bass player Chris Engle says of the CD, which sold 50 copies the first night they offered it. "[Hickey] is a really cool guy; I'd recommend him to anyone. And there's a lot less pressure working with him. He has a couch and a TV in [the studio] and posters, so we can just hang out and have a good time."

A friend of Hickey's describes the studio as having a "lovely decor of plywood, drywall and duct tape," and he's not too far off. It's sort of industrial chic. The unfinished walls are lined with insulation, which in turn is lined with posters (of Britney Spears in particular, though it's not her music Hickey admires). A control room, which Hickey built with his father, sits off in a nook, and the rest of the area is devoted to play space and equipment.

There is a couch that was free - it used to be in River Hill's gym - but Hickey says the gear, not counting the Mac computer, adds up to about $4,000.

"He bought all that stuff down there," says his father, Tom Hickey. "He paid for it with his own money."

More people are creating home studios, says Chandon, who is also director of education at Sheffield Institute for the Recording Arts in Phoenix, the division of Sheffield Audio Video Productions in which Hickey is mentored.

"They're popping up everywhere because technology is changing," he says. "Anyone can go to Guitar Center or Mars Music and buy a mixing machine and call themselves a studio. But that doesn't mean they're at [Hickey's] level of expertise."

When Hickey started helping out at Sheffield, which he does two afternoons a week for school credit, he asked if he could take the skills test for the institute's basic recording class. He just wanted to see where he ranked, even though he had not taken the course.

"He not only passed," Chandon says, "but he really passed, with something like a B."

Hickey says he learned a lot of it by playing around with possibilities, reading manuals, surfing the Internet and in discussions with a helpful staff at Guitar Center in Towson. Somewhere along the way, it stopped being a hobby and turned into his future.

This fall, Hickey will put his business on hold and head to Middle Tennessee State University to study at the school's recording industry department, where Chandon says he will fit right in.

"He's got recording in his blood," Chandon says. "We have a name for ourselves in this business, `gearheads,' and Billy is definitely a gearhead."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.