You’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase “iron sharpens iron” before, especially if you grew up in the south. Iron has historically been used for knives. A sharp knife is an essential tool. You can literally sharpen a knife with another piece of the same metal.
For centuries, we have applied this phrase to human interaction and relationships.
In my career, I have seen this concept play out countless times. I’ve been on the receiving end and I’ve had the opportunity to be the sharpener.
As a recording and mix engineer, I have been fortunate to have some pretty sharp young men and women to assist me. While many of them longed to be in my chair, they were almost all willing to help, willing to serve, and willing to learn. If we had time I would tell the story of each one of them because my assistants have gone on to do far greater things than I.
However, today, I will focus on one individual - Matt McClure.
(with Lindsay Ell at Soundstage Recording, Nashville, TN)
Often, when you meet someone exceptional, you find out they grew up on a farm. Matt McClure not only grew up on a farm in Illinois, he was a farmer by trade from the time he was 11 throughout his college days. He learned to build things, grow things, reap a harvest, and weather the loss of the family farm to the bank. He knew the joy of working hard to provide for others and the heartache of defeat at a young age.
Somehow, even with the rigors of farm life, he found time for piano lessons, singing, band, musical theater, and show choir. Show choir would eventually take him around the country as a performer. Matt stated he never liked to practice and could always depend on his ability to play back a piano piece exactly as his teacher demonstrated. He used his ears. While not ideal for formal music training, this gift would later come back to be one of his greatest assets.
Like many in our industry, Matt sought out a college with a strong music program and a commitment to technology. He found his place at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois. At Millikin, he quickly discovered he was in a sea of super-talented musicians and performers, yet his ability to play by ear helped him keep up…somewhat. He didn’t have proficiency in his instruments, but he seemed to hear things in the music at a much deeper level than others around him. For this reason, he was constantly drawn to the recording studio on campus and decided to take the “Intro To The Studio'' course. By his sophomore year, he became the studio manager. Those privileges let him pretty much live in that studio, with its MCI Console and 24-track tape machine. It was one full-time experimenting lab interspersed with reading Mix Magazine from cover to cover. It was a fertile field for him to begin to learn how to capture the instrument and vocal sounds that were in his head. He also discovered becoming a recording engineer could be a real career choice.
Matt’s taste in performing and traveling the country in show choir combined with his new love of recording fueled his ultimate desire to leave his small farming community. Feeling that a job with Disney Parks in Florida would get him where he wanted to go, he took a job there the day after he graduated from Millikin. However, his hopes never panned out.
Matt recalls, “I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing…felt like I was getting further from what I really wanted to do. I heard about an audio mixing job opening at Opryland in Nashville. I now had Disney on my resume and leveraged it to get that job. I moved to Nashville and Opryland gave me a way to make an income and pursue my recording dreams. Through a series of events, I was able to reach out to recording engineer Bret Teegarden. He offered me a chance to intern and so it began. I was now mixing live shows at Opryland and assisting Bret in different studios, soaking up everything I could.”
I remember Matt being one of the most inquisitive assistant engineers I have ever worked with. His will to be the best he could be was always apparent. His questions and desire to learn kept me on my toes. I had to be really sure I knew what I was talking about and could explain what I was doing in the studio in a way that would make sense. While it could be assumed I was the iron sharpener, in reality, he was the iron sharpening me. Perhaps there were a few times when I actually sharpened him.
Matt relates this story: “We were cutting a string session at Classic in Franklin. We had a 32-track Mitsubishi 850 digital tape machine delivered that morning before the session. I set it up. I realized while I was getting everything hooked up the remote was missing a meter bridge. I tried reaching Bret at home but got his answering machine. He came in about 30 minutes before the downbeat. I was a nervous wreck. I told him the issue and that he wouldn’t have any meters. He looked and me and told me not to worry…he wouldn’t need any meters. We started the session and everything went great. I asked him at the end of the session, 'how did you manage to do that?' He said, 'Matt…you can’t rely on your eyes…use your ears…..I just turned up the pre’s until I heard distortion, then back them down 30% or so.' Seems simple now….but a lesson I’ve taught every assistant since. It’s so easy to get caught up with the screen on a DAW. I purposely still mix on faders and look down instead of at the screen while I’m mixing…from that lesson!”
Matt worked on my sessions for about a year before he got an opportunity to mix on tour with RCA Artist Lari White. The gig with Lari was the beginning of a long list of major country artists Matt would tour with over the next few years but his heart was still with recording and being in the studio.
After making studio recording his full-time concentration, the event that completely changed his career trajectory was a call from a fellow engineer who had started his own recording studio — The Rukkus Room. It was here that Matt would start working with every single hit songwriter and almost every major country artist and many of Nashville’s top producers. This led to meeting a young artist named Lee Brice whom he would later have an opportunity to produce. Matt garnered three #1 hit songs with Lee, including “I Drive Your Truck” earning Grammy nominations, and winning Song of The Year at the ACM and CMA awards. This was the start of recording, producing, and mixing notable artists and projects such as Dylan Scott’s #1 hit song “My Girl.”
Matt has a beautiful recording setup here in Nashville called The Roost complete with 16 channels of Teegarden Audio Magic Pres, a Stereo Rack Mount Fatboy Tube DI, and PPC-125 microphones. He recently upgraded to state-of-the-art ATMOS™ mixing capabilities and has mixed over 50 immersive music titles as of this writing.
Matt wears many hats these days as an engineer, mixer, and producer. He also owns a publishing company, a management company, and an independent record label. It has been his experiences in so many aspects of our industry that enable him to excel in all of these ventures today. That, and his willingness to sharpen or be sharpened by others.
(recent session in Matt’s Dolby Certified Atmos room “The Roost,” Brentwood, TN) I am so proud of Matt’s accomplishments and that he helped keep me sharp back in the day. I am glad I had the opportunity to sharpen him a little and was a small part of his path to success. Be sure to check out Matt’s credits, discography, and website links below. See you around the shop! Bret Teegarden Teegarden Audio, LLC Matt McClure Touring Credits Lari White, James Bonamy, JoDee Messina, LoneStar, Pam Tillis, Steve Holy, Chely Wright, Michael Peterson, and 5 ½ years with Tanya Tucker Partial Engineering/Production Credits Lee Brice, Dylan Scott, Kelly Pickler, Eric Burgett, Aaron Goodvin, Sam Grow, George Ducas, The Band Steele, Scotty James, Gabe Marshall, James Dupree, Grayson Rogers, Stephanie Quayle, Bailey James, Ruthie Collins, Lucas Hoge, Halfway To Hazard, Lindsay Ell, Mark Leach, Matt Rogers, Jagertown, Deevon Worley Band, Levi Riggs, Taria Lee, J Michael Harter, The Lovelocks, and Liv McCormick Spotify Partial Discography https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2Taj2I9ZO7iuE2cLsZg2x0?si=a74da1aabbca44a2 Websites: https://mattmcclureproductions.com/home https://www.bowtosterngroup.com/