As noted last week, I’ll toss some South Side-related stories onto the site, written by students in my classes at Webster University. This pair of pieces on Tony Esterly of Shock City Studios includes a profile and interview (turned in second and first, respectively). Thanks to the writer for the reprint option and the subject for the same.
A Master of the Music Biz
By Nathan Golomski
Walking into Shock City Studios can be an intimidating thing for a young aspiring audio engineer. This $3-million facility can quickly blow anyone’s mind with its huge recording space, countless pieces of gear, and a 48 channel audio board, but for Shock City’s head engineer, Tony Esterly, these things are as easy to operate as a television set. Over the years, Esterly has recorded blue grass, rap, rock, country, and every music in between. Watching him work is like watching a master painter, but instead of different colored paint, he has knobs- hundreds and hundreds of knobs- each one allowing him to bend sound to his will. Though the studio control room may seem like his natural habitat, he was not always behind the board.
Esterly was always attracted to music, even as a young child. He first started playing music by learning the piano but eventually moved on to have his main instrument be guitar. His skill and love for music grew throughout high school and he decided to study jazz guitar and studio recording at Greenville College. His stay at the college was short lived. After only a year of college, his band, The LP Outsiders, began picking up more and more work. They started touring and even got signed for a recording deal. Esterly got his first taste of the real recording business, recording with his band in New York and Nashville. But even this eventually came to an end. “[We] kind of were going to make it,” Esterly reflected. “We ended up getting really close, but it didn’t happen.”
The band eventually made its way down to St. Louis. Each member getting settled into the city their own way and the group eventually separated. Esterly quickly found his niche in the city playing guitar in various bands and for recording sessions. He eventually met Doug Firley and Christ Loesch, the owners of Shock City Studios. Esterly would play guitar and bass on recordings for Firley and Loesch and even started helping with producing albums. When Firley and Loesch decided to build their current facility three years ago, it was an easy decision for them to keep Esterly around.
Although Esterly has a well established St. Louis presence as a head engineer and guitar player for several popular bands, he admits that St. Louis still may not be his final destinationHe’sconsidered moving to cities where the recording industry is larger, such as LA, Nashville, or New York. “Really, I don’t know why I haven’t,” Esterly pondered. “I think if opportunities arose, I’d take them. You’d be stupid not to take opportunities and try to make something happen.” -30-
Five Questions for Tony Esterly
By Nathan Golomski
Chicago native Tony Esterly, 33, might look like the stereotypical crazy rocker, wailing on guitar and tattoos all down his arms, but when you talk to him you can see that is a humble yet well accomplished musician and recording engineer. I went down to Shock City Studios, where Tony is head engineer, and sat down in front of the massive SSL 6060 audio board in Control Room A to chat with him.
How’d you get into music recording?
I was always attracted to music as a kid, it was first with piano and then guitar and then a band I played in, we recorded a lot in Nashville, sometimes in New York and other places. And I always liked the producing and engineering side of it and decided I wanted to learn how to do that, pursue that as a career.
Did you go to college for recording and music?
I did for a year in 1997. I went to Greenville College to study studio recording and jazz guitar. The band I was in got signed, we got a publishing deal and a manager picked us up from Nashville. We toured around for a couple years, did the NACA circuit (National Association for Campus Activities). Kind of were going to make it. We ended up getting really close but it didn’t happen. The band was called LP Outsiders. It was basically the Black Eyed Peas, but ten years ago.
Do you have any career goals?
Yes! Grammy record. I want to produce a number one single. That goal is kind of general and broad sweeping, but it encompasses a lot of stuff. I could say I want to do it in this genre or that genre, but I really think in any genre that it happens, it’s going to be alright.
How did you end up in St. Louis and engineering at Shock City Studios?
The band I was playing in, they had all moved here together after college and I stayed in St. Louis for a while and started working here: playing sessions, playing in bands, doing everything I could to stick with music in St. Louis. I met Doug and Chris (the studio owners) through some mutual friends and I did a couple of sessions on guitar and bass and just kept doing work for them when they would produce albums. I met them about six years ago and then started working and playing for them about four years ago.
What is your favorite music to record?
It changes every year. Sometimes I like country music. Right now I like dance and electronica. Sometimes it’s just regular rock’n’roll. It’s constantly changing. That’s the good thing about music.
Do you plan to stay in St. Louis?
I think if opportunities arose, I would take them. You’d be stupid not to take opportunities and try to make something happen. I’ve thought about moving to Nashville, New York, or LA. Really, I don’t know why I haven’t. I know guys who work in each of those studios and it’s not much different than here except there’s more people, more studios, more BS involved too. It’s the same thing just on a bigger scale.
Do you have hobbies outside of recording and playing music?
I like running. Bike riding is good. I like to hang out and drink beers. The weird thing about loving music and making it your job is that it kind of turns itself around on you. Sometimes it starts as a hobby, then turns into a career and the love you have for it changes over time. It kind of plays tricks on you too sometimes, where you got to stay ahead of what you really want to do, what you really love, and remember that you need to take a break from the stuff you love too. Because if you don’t do that, you’re going to drive yourself nuts.
A great sandwich place, Blues City Deli, is just around the corner from here. What’s your favorite sandwich from there?
Number 2. That’s a Sicilian Po Boy. But I can’t eat that all the time. I usually just have to get the turkey. I used to weigh 300 and something pounds. I used to work in a music shop, fix guitars, and give lesson. I just didn’t care. I’d just go there everyday and eat pizza all day. -30-