PROVO — June Audio Recording Studios feels like a place where art happens.
It's decorated with strings of white lights, intricately designed rugs and wall coverings. There are band stickers on speakers and a bobblehead collection. There’s an entire wall of colorful guitars from every era. It looks like the kind of place where songs are crafted.
On a Tuesday evening, studio owner Scott Wiley is walking a young Draper band, the Blue Wavers, through recording bass tracks. The musicians repeat lines over and over as a patient and laid-back Wiley coaches them on what will sound best. At a few points, he just hands the bass player a different bass:
“Try this one,” he says.
After playing around with a few different instruments, one of the band members smiles and says, “Too bad we don’t have this many basses.” All of the boys laugh. They’re new to the professional studio scene, and Wiley does his best to help them achieve the sound they are hoping for.
That is essentially what a music engineer does.
“My job is to help the musician to get their dream, their vision or whatever it is across in the best manner,” Wiley said. “It’s not my album. ... I want to take what you bring in and just make it blossom.”
June Audio's credits include working with The Moth and the Flame, Fictionist, Mindy Gledhill, Neon Trees, Joshua James, Sarah Sample, Ryan Innes, Cherie Call, the LDS Especially for Youth albums and local group collaborations such as the Lower Lights. The list goes on.
Wiley grew up in the Los Angeles area and says he has loved music for as long as he can remember. In fact, he distinctly remembers listening to The Beatles as a kid, unplugging different speakers to dissect the layers of the song. He asked for a four-track recorder for his eighth-grade graduation present and has been recording ever since.
Wiley has a degree in music recording from the University of Southern California. However, he doesn’t think the degree itself helped him nearly as much as work experience has. He worked at two or three studios at a time all through college, including Henson Recording Studios, The Sound Kitchen and the Warner Brothers film stage. It's safe to say he knows the big-label recording scene.
After graduation, Wiley moved to Utah. He married his wife, Sarah, and they moved back to Los Angeles in 1999.
Hollywood studio recording started to take its toll, and the Wileys had a decision to make. They had started a family — something that was important to the couple. The job was just too demanding.
“Even though careerwise I was really happy with where things were, I was kind of miserable and I was never home,” Wiley said.
It boiled down to two choices: stay in L.A. and find a different job, or pursue music engineering and producing in Utah.
“It’s a weird move to go from literally living in Hollywood to living in Provo — to having a recording studio,” Wiley said, smiling. “But it’s worked out.”
June Audio has been in full operation since 2007. Scott and Sarah Wiley now have five kids, ranging in age from 2 to 14. Wiley says he’s lucky to have enough clients with similar priorities and lifestyles, assuring him better hours and more weekend time for his family and church obligations.
He explained that his client base is built primarily through word of mouth.
Local singer-songwriter Stephanie Mabey has been collaborating with Wiley on most of her recent projects.
“I think that the engineering and the producing makes a huge difference in how people are going to receive and experience the song,” she said. “It’s like bringing it to life. I think Scott just has a good knack for that.”
Hilary Weeks has recorded her last four albums with Wiley at June Audio and appreciates his detail-oriented artistry.
“I love that when I’m singing and recording vocals, he listens to the tiniest of details,” she said. “He hears the best one and knows how to pick that out.”
Weeks recounted a story of coming into the studio one day frustrated over not having finished writing a song before recording.
“It really wasn’t coming together, and he pulled out his guitar and we worked on the song and all of a sudden he was not only engineer/producer, but he was a songwriter, too,” she said.
Wiley has played in bands himself. He plays the guitar and bass and says he has “limited ability” with keyboards, too.
According to Wiley, when it comes to studio-recorded music, there are more artists at work than the musicians. The engineer records and mixes the music. The producer guides the work and makes artistic decisions.
There is generally a distinct line between producing and engineering. But as Wiley puts it, the line between the two is “a little blurrier” at his studio.
If the artist has a producer, Wiley will stick to just engineering, though producing has become his particular passion. On many of his projects, he is the producer and may even have one of his staff do the engineering. He might wear both hats on a project.
“It’s kind of a combination of artistic and technical that go hand in hand," Wiley said. “You have to love the equipment and the gear as much as you do music, or else it would be a nightmare.”
The list of equipment and instruments at the studio includes more than 60 guitars and around 20 snare drums alone, not to mention multiple drum kits, keyboards and microphones.
“When I started out, I really thought it’s all about making sure you have the right equipment and that’s the most important thing,” Wiley said. “(But) there are guys with studios that are one-eighth as equipped and it’s in their basement and they make great records.”
He finds irony in working with musicians in a state-of-the-art studio to achieve a grungy sound. But art is art.
“It’s what the music demands and what the style’s supposed to be,” he said.
Equipment aside, Wiley considers his best tools to be his ears.
“You’re making decisions based on how it strikes you,” he said, “just like you would if you were a painter. Some people see colors a little bit differently.”
Wiley is practical, playing for some of the tracks himself and even advising clients to record specific instruments elsewhere. He tries to make the best album he can within the artists' time and budget.
Wiley has advice for artists who are considering taking the next step toward studio recordings.
“I’ve always found that as a musician, first you learn the instrument, then you learn the song, then you learn how to play together as a band," he said. "Because you stop thinking about your fingers and what part’s next and you just start playing music.”
And if you haven’t reached that point?
“You’re not ready to be spending money that is hard to spend,” he said.
Mabey says new artists just need to be patient with themselves. She has been recording professionally for 10 years and knows from experience that first recordings are hardly the best.
“Look at the whole thing as a process and allow yourself to evolve and figure out what you like and don’t like along the way,” she said.
As for aspiring music engineers, Wiley laughed over his experience working with many interns.
“I think they come in and they quickly realize, 'This is not all fun and glamorous rock band like I thought it was,' " he said.
It’s a job that requires true passion and dedication, he said.
“I’ve never considered that I could do anything else,” Wiley said. “I think that my peers would say the same thing. For some reason it feels like this is my calling.”