BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Bigfoot has come to Waterville.
On a recent day, Travis Geiman, an audio engineer, opened the door to an unmarked garage in the alley behind Third Street to reveal Bigfoot Studios.
“I was in a basement before,” Geiman said. “I built up my clientele, and they were waiting for this space.”
At 28, the Maumee High School and Bowling Green State University graduate has an impressive clientele list, including blues musician Johnny Rawls and indie-folk band Oliver Hazard.
Third Street Cigar Records contracted with Geiman to record their projects, including Luther Allison’s Live at Howard’s Club H 1974; Bobby G’s PhD in the Blues; The Good, the Bad and the Blues’ self-titled album; and Big Jack Reynolds’ That’s a Good Way to Get to Heaven.
Third Street co-owner John Henry encouraged Geiman to look for a studio space and invested in the renovation of the garage that’s just a stone’s throw from the cigar shop and record label at 20 N. Third St.
The recording studio has a wall of Malaysian pallet wood to diffuse the sound and send it in different directions.
“This shapes the sound of the room,” Geiman said. “We wanted to get as natural a sound as we could. It makes them (musicians) sound as they should.”
The studio is filled with instruments that Geiman has collected over the years, including a drum made of solid wood, guitars and a piano – plus microphones galore to detect every nuance.
The studio has “floating” walls and soundproof windows. Underneath the soundproofed ceiling are thousands of feet of wire, he said.
In the mixing room, Geiman flipped on the “recording” light above his computer, where he explained how he combines tracks – sometimes dozens – from the musicians’ vocals and different instruments to create just the right sound.
“With pop, the sound needs to be as big as possible. With blues, it’s different. Johnny (Rawls) wanted to sound like the golden age of soul, but also modern,” Geiman said.
Rawl’s CD I’m Still Here earned a Blues Music Award this year and boosted Geiman’s credibility in the industry, Henry said. Geiman is working with Rawls on another CD due out this year through Third Street Records.
Oliver Hazard had its first CD, 34 N. River, recorded with Bigfoot as the result of a Facebook competition Geiman hosted.
“If Travis hadn’t offered us a free recording session a few years ago to record our debut album, we may not have ever had the opportunity to launch Oliver Hazard the way we did,” said band member Michael Belazis. “We plan to continue to record with Travis. He is part of our story.”
The band, including Belazis, Griffin McCullough and Devin East, met and performed 10 songs in a live session.
“I knew instantly we had something going on. I fell in love with it,” Geiman said. “There’s a lot of technology, but a lot of it is about the use of your ears and trying to achieve the sound that the artist envisions.”
While Geiman appreciates his formal education – a bachelor’s degree in music with a minor in recording engineering – he believes his success at running his own studio comes from lessons learned outside the classroom.
Beginning in fifth grade, Geiman started playing the trombone, later adding the guitar, drums and bass. In high school, he played with a death metal band, adding that it’s a genre he doesn’t listen to anymore. It was during that time that he bought a microphone and started recording a band he knew. It was an extracurricular activity that he continued into college.
“I think what set me apart was recording bands,” he said. “You could just go to class and complete the homework, but I think I learned more from getting out there and doing it.”
In addition to learning the ins and outs of recording and mixing, the business also requires dealing with vastly different personalities, he said.
“The second someone walks in the door, you have to figure out how to get your best take. You need them 100-percent confident with the space.”
Rawls works at an extremely fast pace. He’s been at it for 50 years and wanted someone who could keep up. Geiman fit the bill. For others, the pace is more laid back.
Opening a studio named after the mythical hairy creature is the culmination of Geiman’s interests and his desire to set his own hours, which are sometimes long.
“Combining my love for music and technical aspect – the two things marry well together,” he said.
This fall, Geiman plans to host an open house at the studio. For more information, visit www.bigfoot-studios.com.