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Local production studio focuses on acoustic sound

George Hodgkiss works in his recording studio
Browntown resident George Hodgkiss, 68, works in his recording studio, Phoenix Productions. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Hodgkiss looks over a wall display
Hodgkiss looks over a wall display of the last 80 CDs he has recorded in the studio. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Amber Marra - amarra@nvdaily.com

BROWNTOWN -- Phoenix Productions near Front Royal may be off the beaten track, but it has proven itself capable of bursts of musical greatness time and time again.

The small studio, which opened in 1996, specializes in recording predominantly acoustic music, like bluegrass and old-time tunes.

For a musical studio that is located in the basement of a house that is literally off the map -- it will not appear on a global positioning system, nor can it pick up cell phone service or any Internet besides dial-up -- business is good.

"Sometimes we have too many projects coming in at one time, it's just busy, busy, busy. I'm retired and would like to stay that way, so at times I feel the need to back down," said George Hodgkiss, owner of Phoenix Productions.

Hodgkiss operates the studio without assistance, which includes setting up for each musician who comes in, mixing and mastering the music, and offering creative input on the quality of the music.

Don't try to bring an electric guitar or full drum kit into his studio.

"I prefer to not deal with electric instruments ... pretty much anything bluegrass or old-time mountain music and jazz are just my nature and desire," Hodgkiss said.

The artists who produce music at Phoenix Productions range from local bands to musicians from as far away as Florida and Canada.

Local musicians like Annie and Mac, Dark Hollow, and Five of a Kind have all laid down tracks at the studio, including one artist from just over the West Virginia state line who is an exception to Hodgkiss' "no electronic instruments" rule.

Kenny Johnson, who plays the guitar with one arm, has produced several albums from the studio and has to play an electric guitar because "he plays in a way that needs to be amplified," Hodgkiss said.

Among the professional touring artists that record in Browntown are Bill Yates and the Country Gentlemen Tribute Band, Cliff Waldron and the New Shades of Grass, and Mark Johnson and Emory Lester.

And then there are the artists who have won Grammys, such as Tony Rice, who took the award for Best Country Instrumental Performance in 1983.

"There have been many Grammy winners and nominees that record here, and I'm sure there will be more," said Bill Emerson, a Grammy nominee who records bluegrass at Phoenix Productions. "We want to go to the best possible place because you have to live with what you record for the rest of your life, and you want that to come out the best as possible."

A finished product at the studio tends to run anywhere from $500 to $2,000, Hodgkiss said, though he isn't in the business for the money, but rather to provide acoustic musicians with a comfortable place to record.

While he is able to accomplish this goal in his basement studio, Hodgkiss cannot mass produce albums nor put together the rest of the visual package that comes with the music. That's where the affiliate business with Phoenix Productions comes in, called National Media Services in Front Royal.

Hodgkiss has the ability to not only record the music, but to use his ear as both a former radio engineer and jazz musician to put out the most authentic-sounding product possible.

"We want it to sound as if we were playing out on the back porch on the side of a mountain somewhere, and it's great to have a place to go that you're confident you'll get that kind of sound," Emerson said.


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