The

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Pat McMakin

The Legend Behind the Console and the Music

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Pat McMakin the legendary recording studio engineer, producer and studio manager is pictured in the control room of Studio A at Ocean Way Recording Studios where he is the Director of Studio Operations. Image courtesy of Pat McMakin. 

When you open the door to walk into the studio, you are greeted by a friendly smile and a handshake— and for more than four decades, it’s been both a business and a way of life for the man who can be found leading one of the finest recording studio facilities in the world. He will tell you that he has the best recording studio team in the world— a great staff that is second to none, with both amazing assistant engineers and saavy technicians who can handle any recording situation. He will also tell you, of course, to make yourself at home. On Music Row, in Nashville, Tennessee, there is not a musician, producer, engineer or artist who does not know his name. In fact, he is one of the reasons why they are there in the first place. From the time you walk into the studio, until the assistant engineers have put the final microphone in their amazing collection back in the locker, he is always there to make certain that you have had a special experience making great music and too, that you have had a wonderful day. For him, the adage— I know a thing or two, because I have seen a thing or two— rings true. He has been an amazing engineer, a hitmaking producer and throughout his career, has managed some of the finest recording studio facilities in the world. But, he has also done something else that is critically important to the business of making great music in Music City USA. He has been one of the vital forces in helping to preserve the process of recording great music in Nashville, Tennessee, and for bringing it into the future.

His career began in Nashville in the summer of 1979, when he first landed a job at a recording studio facility that did everything from recording jingles to sound-alikes for the popular hit songs of the day. He then transitioned from being an assistant engineer to engineering major projects and managing a number of major recording studio facilities— all at the same time during his amazing career. As he continued to advance in stature and reputation, he then started producing hit records. When it comes to music production, he has truly done it all— with grace, style and class. He has worked with a number of great artists throughout his career including: Dolly Parton, Brooks and Dunn, Highway 101, Shenandoah, George Jones, Lonestar, David Kersh, *NSYNCH, Steve Martin, Ricky Skaggs, the O’Kanes,  Vern Gosdin and Exile and this is just a small sampling of his amazing discography. Since 2008, he has been managing one of the greatest recording studio facilities in the world, Ocean Way Recording Studios of Nashville, Tennessee. He has also provided tremendous leadership for the recording studio community during a time of tremendous technological change and economic upheaval. It is through his efforts and those who have worked with him in this amazing endeavor, that country music continues being made and that recording studio facilities have a model for weathering the storm, as more popular music continues to be made in the homes of producers, engineers and artists. It is his presence that has made a difference in the Nashville recording studio community. And through it all, he has come full-circle— starting his amazing career while working in a studio facility that did a wide variety of work and now helping to usher the recording studio community into the future and in so doing, helping them to adopt a model that doesn’t just keep their doors open, but allows them to make contributions in film, television, video games and to continue to be places where great music is still being made.

It is true. There is not a person who is a part of the Music Row community who does not know him, or his work. But, for those who love popular music— you know him, too. You know him by his work— as an engineer and as a producer. The contributions that he has made to the growth, development and preservation of the Nashville-based recording studio community is astounding. When you walk into the studio, he will always be the first person to greet you, the person who will make you feel right at home and also, the person who will always work to make certain that each aspect of your recording session was perfect and a great experience for everyone involved in it. He is truly the legend behind the music and a person whose immense contributions to the Music Row community are as amazing as they have been vital. He is my friend and truly a man whose story is just as amazing as the contributions that are an important part of it. He is the legendary engineer, producer and studio manager, Pat McMakin. 

Pat McMakin was born and raised in Lousiville, Kentucky, in 1957 by a loving family that believed that he should grow up to be a physician. However, from the beginning, he would have a love for music. In 1964, when the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, he was hooked by the new sounds of a new generation of artists. It was the British Invasion of the 1960s— and it inspired a revolution in popular music. Popular groups such as the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Cream and Led Zeppelin would change the face of popular music. He had grown-up with a love for music and played music and took private lessons from the age of nine. However, he ended-up playing the tuba— not exactly the instrument of choice for someone who wanted to make a future career in popular music. But, just before his high school graduation in 1974, he went with his family on a trip to Nashville, Tennessee, where he had the opportunity to tour Music Row for the very first time. He was hooked. In fact, he was so interested in coming back to work on Music Row that he left his studies at the University of Louisville, in Louisville, Kentucky, during his sophomore year to attend Bellmont University. From the beginning, he was interested in the process of music recording and Bob Mulloy became one of his early mentors.  He also developed a deep appreciation for Bob Fisher whose leadership was crucial to the growth of Bellmont University and its fabulous educational programs. Mulloy taught him how to be a professional and to treat everyone with integrity and respect. At the time, the university developed a small student-based recording studio facility for the very first time and in 1976, he became the assistant manager as a sophomore at Bellmont. Later, during his junior year at Bellmont, he took a part-time job at a small recording studio called Wild Tracks working in their tape copy room. It was his first experience working in a recording studio environment. In the final semester of his senior year, he took a position at Quad Recording Studios, which was one of the most popular studios on Music Row at the time.While working as an assistant engineer at Quad Recording Studios, there was one legendary engineer who took the time to teach him the ropes and was willing to share both his knowledge and advice— Gene Eichelberger. Known in Nashville recording studio circles as “Mean Gene,” he nevertheless, would take so many young engineers under his wing and Pat McMakin, was among them. He showed him the importance of microphone techniques, the use of recording studio equipment and how to handle a large-scale recording session. Aside from working with Gene Eichelberger on a handful of sessions, at what was then Quad Recording Studios (it is now Sienna Recording Studios), a young Pat McMakin was learning on the job. By the fall of 1978, he became one of the first graduates of the music business program at Bellmont University. He was now primed to begin the process of forging one of the greatest careers in the history of popular music.

When he graduated from Bellmont University in 1978, the business of music that he was entering into was so different from that of today. There were no degree programs for training recording studio engineers, nor was there a system for developing young and talented engineers for the future. The recording studio business was primarily tied to the production of country and gospel music in Nashville and there were quite a few studios open at the time. But, the business of country music itself was in the doldrums. While pop, rock and disco music captured the lionshare of audiences across the globe, country music remained on the periphery of that success. In fact, country music had just underwent a major civil war in its own ranks, as a self-proclaimed group of outlaws— performers such as Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings became the most famous names in a business that was suffering from lackluster record sales and a schism between the so-called outlaws and adherents to what had been referred to as the Nashville Sound that was pioneered by such producers as Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley. Without a doubt, the most popular musical act in 1978 was the Bee Gees, who seemed to be a world away from Nashville and the sounds of country music. One of the most popular films of that year, Saturday Night Fever, and its soundtrack dominated both the silver screen and the airwaves. Country music needed a shot in the arm— quite literally. It was against this backdrop that one of the greatest careers in the history of the professional music industry would begin. Pat McMakin would begin his job search on Nashville’s Music Row in the winter of 1978 by trying to land a position as an assistant recording studio engineer. It would not be easy. He would learn and grow into becoming one of the most storied engineers and producers in country music in an unlikely place. 

After his graduation from Bellmont University in 1978, Pat McMakin went right to work. Though he had no formal college training as a recording studio engineer, he immediately stepped right into the job. It was a true school of hard knocks. Most of the great engineers of the era started their careers by working as assistant engineers in the major recording studio facilities of the period, places like the Record Plant, the Power Station or the Hit Factory in New York City or any of the major recording studio facilities in Los Angeles. Even some of the great recording studio facilities of the era that were based in either Memphis, Tennessee or Muscle Shoals, Alabama, were also places were young assistant engineers would later become top-flight engineers. But, in Nashville, only a few of the recording studio facilities such as the Sound Shop, the Sound Emporium, SoundStage, Glaser Sound Studios and the Castle (which is based in nearby Franklin) would develop assistant engineers who would later become top-flight engineers and producers who would have a major impact in country music in the future. However, one of the great engineering minds and a producer who would have a tremendous impact on the future of country music would start his career in an unusual Nashville recording studio venue. In 1979, Pat McMakin, would begin his amazing career by taking a job at Audio Media. At the time, Audio Media was an unusual place on Nashville’s Music Row, in that it was primarily a jingle studio which actually marketed itself as a place for recording just about any type of sound project— from documentaries to radio commercials. But, the studio was also famous for “sound-a-likes,” where a singer and demo musicians would come in and put their vocal and instrumental tracks onto a project that was designed to sound just like the A-released song. Working on “sound a-likes,” gave him an opportunity to work with budding musicians and artists and to learn the process of how to engineer a song to match the engineering work of the original release. It would soon pay dividends, as one of the greatest hit albums of all-time by a true legend in popular music would become one of his first major projects. It was the hit album, 9 to 5, by Dolly Parton. It was the summer of 1980. 

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Pat McMakin is pictured with his dear friend, Dolly Parton. She was the first star that he had the opportunity to work with during his long and distinguished career. Image courtesy of Pat McMakin. 

Pat McMakin was born and raised in Lousiville, Kentucky, in 1957 by a loving family that believed that he should grow up to be a physician. However, from the beginning, he would have a love for music. In 1964, when the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, he was hooked by the new sounds of a new generation of artists. It was the British Invasion of the 1960s— and it inspired a revolution in popular music. Popular groups such as the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Cream and Led Zeppelin would change the face of popular music. He had grown-up with a love for music and played music and took private lessons from the age of nine. However, he ended-up playing the tuba— not exactly the instrument of choice for someone who wanted to make a future career in popular music. But, just before his high school graduation in 1974, he went with his family on a trip to Nashville, Tennessee, where he had the opportunity to tour Music Row for the very first time. He was hooked. In fact, he was so interested in coming back to work on Music Row that he left his studies at the University of Louisville, in Louisville, Kentucky, during his sophomore year to attend Bellmont University. From the beginning, he was interested in the process of music recording and Bob Mulloy became one of his early mentors.  He also developed a deep appreciation for Bob Fisher whose leadership was crucial to the growth of Bellmont University and its fabulous educational programs. Mulloy taught him how to be a professional and to treat everyone with integrity and respect. At the time, the university developed a small student-based recording studio facility for the very first time and in 1976, he became the assistant manager as a sophomore at Bellmont. Later, during his junior year at Bellmont, he took a part-time job at a small recording studio called Wild Tracks working in their tape copy room. It was his first experience working in a recording studio environment. In the final semester of his senior year, he took a position at Quad Recording Studios, which was one of the most popular studios on Music Row at the time.While working as an assistant engineer at Quad Recording Studios, there was one legendary engineer who took the time to teach him the ropes and was willing to share both his knowledge and advice— Gene Eichelberger. Known in Nashville recording studio circles as “Mean Gene,” he nevertheless, would take so many young engineers under his wing and Pat McMakin, was among them. He showed him the importance of microphone techniques, the use of recording studio equipment and how to handle a large-scale recording session. Aside from working with Gene Eichelberger on a handful of sessions, at what was then Quad Recording Studios (it is now Sienna Recording Studios), a young Pat McMakin was learning on the job. By the fall of 1978, he became one of the first graduates of the music business program at Bellmont University. He was now primed to begin the process of forging one of the greatest careers in the history of popular music.

In 1981, Pat McMakin would become an important part of the production team that would introduce audiences around the world to the authentic country music of Ricky Skaggs. By 1981, country music was going through its urban cowboy phase, due to the popularity of the feature film, Urban Cowboy, which was released in 1980 and starred none other than John Travolta— who had been the star behind the hit disco film, Saturday Night Fever. The soundtrack for the film was highly popular and lead to a brief set of changes in the sound of the genre to make it more popular for the audiences of the film. But, in traditional country music there was the predictable backlash and though it would not last long, it was led by artists such as Ricky Skaggs. Pat McMakin would step behind the console as an assistant engineer for the first major hit album for Ricky Skaggs in 1981. The album, Waitin’ for the Sun to Shine, was a masterwork. The album would contain a pair of number-one hit singles, “Crying My Heart Out Over You,” and “I Don’t Care.” By 1982, Ricky Skaggs had brought traditional country music with a tinge of bluegrass back to the charts and his next album would also featured Pat McMakin as an engineer behind the console and it would solidify the young star as a hitmaker. His next album, Family and Friends, released in 1982 would also continue the success that Ricky Skaggs would enjoy on the charts. For Pat McMakin, it was another opportunity to work with Ricky Skaggs who was becoming a legend in the making, but it was also the opportunity to showcase, as well, that he was one of the very best engineers in the business. It was not the last time that he would work on a major project with Ricky Skaggs. In 1985, he would be an engineer on a project for Ricky Skaggs entitled, Favorite Country Songs, which would contain both songs and performances by a number of legends in both country and bluegrass music, including both Chet Atkins and Jerry Douglas. It was a smashing success and showcased his engineering prowess as his work was clean, clear and had an intimate feel to the recordings— it was as if you were sitting in the room with the artist listening to the music and his amazing performances throughout the album. However, Ricky Skaggs was not the only act in country music that he bringing his engineering touch to work for during this period in his career. 

In 1983, Pat McMakin would begin working as an engineer for another seminal music group, but this act was a popular music group that was trying to make the transition to the genre of country music successfully.  Exile had a number of hits as a popular music act in the 1970s, but by 1983, the group was looking for a change of scenery and to make the switch to country music. It worked. During the 1980s, Exile would become one of the most successful acts of the decade in country music. Their album, 1983, would feature Pat McMakin behind the console, as an engineer on the groundbreaking project. The album would feature the hit song, “The High Cost of Leaving,” and would be the first of a series of albums that would contain hit singles for the group during the decade. In 1986, Pat McMakin would also make an engineering contribution to the Greatest Hits album for Exile which would showcase some of the greatest hit songs produced by the group during the decade of the 1980s, including: “Woke Up in Love,” “Give Me One More Chance,” and “I Could Get Used To You.” It was a smashing success. 

From 1987-1991, he would engineer a string of highly successful albums for one of the greatest hitmakers of the decade that would become country music classics. In 1987, Vern Gosdin signed with Columbia Records. Pat McMakin would engineer the first album that Vern Gosdin would release, Chiseled in Stone, which would become an instant classic in 1988. The album contained the classic hit singles, “Do You Believe Me Now,” “Set ‘Em Up Joe,” “Is it Raining at Your House,” and the title-track, “Chiseled in Stone.” The song, “Set’Em Up Joe,” would reach number-one on the country music charts. But, the title track, “Chiseled in Stone,”  won the CMA Song of the Year Award in 1989 and would be nominated for a Grammy-Award for the Best Country Song that same year. The album was produced by Bob Montgomery, who would also influence his career as a future music producer. It showcased his superb engineering style— clean, organic and rich sounds on the acoustic instruments and vocals that showcased his ability to present a great artist to audiences around the world. The album was a stunning success and was certified gold. The next album that he would engineer for Vern Gosdin would be, Alone, which was released in 1989. It would contain the number-one hit single, “I’m Still Crazy.” Other hit singles from the album included: “That Just About Does It,” and “Right in the Wrong Direction.” He would also engineer the 1991 album, Out of My Heart, for Vern Gosdin. As an album, it was both critically acclaimed and commercially successful for the artist. He had proven that he could not only engineer highly successful albums, but through his work he could also introduce both traditional country music artists and pop acts trying to make the transition to country music to new audiences around the world. It was also during this time that he proved day-in and day-out that he could successfully manage one of the busiest and the very best recording studio facilities on Nashville’s Music Row. 

Pat McMakin would take Sony Tree Studios and turn it into a place where great music was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee. The studio facility was a growing rarity in the professional music industry— a studio that was essentially operated by a record, or media company, that in this case was a major part of a publishing company, as well. Managing Sony Tree Studios gave him the opportunity to meet not just a number of fabulous session musicians, but of course, some of the greatest songwriters on the country music scene. He would create a network of great friends— some such as Dennis Burnside and Eddie Bayers who were amazing musicians and Don Cook who was a consummate songwriter. He would meet great producers and engineers. He would also eventually come to manage another famed recording studio facility, the SoundShop, while he was also managing Sony Tree Studios. 

At its core, Sony Tree Studios was a place for artists and writers who were signed to the label to be able to record their creative work. It was an in-house arrangement that in theory would save the record company money as its talent would not have to go to other places to record their work, as the price for studio time throughout the 1980s continued to skyrocket. There were some artists who took advantage of the arrangement, but for the most part, the studio catered to the needs of the songwriting community who were the bedrock of the process. It also gave him the opportunity to become a songwriter, as well. He learned so much about the process of writing from the great writers at Tree Publishing who he worked just about every day as an engineer. Finding an idea or a hook was the key to great songwriting, but, so was embracing the journey of the process. Recording and producing demos gave Pat McMakin not just more and more experience behind the console, it also gave him the opportunity to manage sessions from start to finish— including, the creative process. While he would make tremendous connections to the Nashville songwriting and musician community, it led him to develop a better understanding of the needs of a great recording studio facility, too. The experience made him a better studio manager and in turn, it helped him create better experiences for the clients who would bring their work into the facility. 

Pat McMakin, David Porter, Maurice White, X, X Isaac HAyes, Carla Thomas Ardent Studios Me

Throughout his career, Pat McMakin has worked with some of the greatest hitmakers in the history of popular music since beginning his legendary career in 1979. In this picture, he is working with the legendary Isaac Hayes (at the console) and the members of Earth, Wind and Fire in 1983 at Ardent Recording Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. Image courtesy of Pat McMakin. 

The process for recording demos for songwriters was always one of the greatest experiences for a recording studio engineer. While most songwriting demo songs are produced and engineered in home studios today, at the time, publishing companies actually housed their own recording studio facilities. Sony Tree Publishing had one of the best facilities that could be found on Nashville’s Music Row. But, most publishing house studios were small affairs and this is because demo production went quickly and studio time could get very expensive quickly, too. One of the common ways in which publishing companies would deal with the cost was by creating small facilities that often had barebones equipment. These facilities would have small format consoles— some were either used models or were those that could be purchased on the cheap. They would have only a few key pieces of outboard gear and mic lockers that would have just enough models to make a good recording. In other words, it is quite interesting to say that these studios were actually— in most cases— remarkably similar to the home studios that we see that are so prolific in the business of music recording today. One of the first steps that a young Pat McMakin took was to try to upgrade and invest in the best equipment that he could purchase for the studio. While expanding the size, or footprint of the recording space was not an option, this would be alleviated later by adding the SoundShop Recording Studio to the umbrella of growing recording studio facilities that were a part of the Sony Tree Productions family. He could not replace the console with a magnificent Neve 80-series desk, but the console that the studio would eventually have— a Sony which actually featured magnificent John Hardy preamps was not too shabby, either. He always made use of what he had available to him, but with the backing of Sony, he also purchased a 48-track digital tape machine— a DASH machine made by Sony, itself, for the Sony facilities. At the time in Nashville, this was a curious investment because throughout the 1980s, powerful producers such as Jimmy Bowen had forced most of the recording studio facilities to purchase either Mittsubishi or Otari 32-track PRODigi machines, or risk not being able to have his business. But, his investment in the Sony Tree Studios would pay off, as the facility was always busy with both songwriters and even a few artists taking advantage of being able to use the facility for their creative work. 

It was a business, however, and not just a place where music was being made. It was truly at this point in his career where his business background began to pay tremendous dividends. Being busy for a publishing studio meant that it would host a songwriter who might track or record anywhere from 8-12 songs in a morning session and then either mix those songs in the afternoon or the very next day. It was a process that worked quickly. But, working as the manager/engineer at Sony Tree Studios while managing other facilities also gave him the responsibility of hiring individuals to work at the facility. He would always hire individuals of impeccable character who also possessed tremendous talent and ability. Plus, he never stopped learning and making friends. He learned from the great engineers, producers, songwriters and musicians who would come to work at the studio facilities about what worked for them and what did not. It taught him a critically important lesson. How you treat your customers matters more than anything. If they enjoy working with your people, your equipment and in the rooms at your facility— you will always be busy making great music. He took nothing for granted. And we often forget, just how successful under the leadership of Pat McMakin that the Sony Tree family of studios actually were at the time. While Sony Tree Studios was always busy with songwriters plying their trade throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, the SoundShop became the home of one of Nashville’s hottest producers, Don Cook, and one of the greatest engineering minds in the history of Music Row, Mike Bradley. This production team would give us some of the greatest hits of the country music boom that the genre experienced during the decade of the 1990s, with such as acts as Brooks and Dunn, Shenandoah, Tracey Lawrence, Mark Collie, Wade Hayes, Lonestar, and the Mavericks. While Pat McMakin was opening the door for others to work successfully through his management of the Sony Tree studio family, he was also engineering successful hit albums and soon he would step into the producer’s chair, too. 

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Pat McMakin is pictured with his friend, Willie Nelson. During his career, he has worked with some of the greatest hitmakers in the history of popular music. Image courtesy of Pat McMakin. 

In 1988, for the very first time, Pat McMakin stepped into a new professional role. He started producing musical acts for the very first time. The first act that he would produce was a country music duo— the O’Kanes. He produced their second album, Tired of Running. This album would contain a pair of hit singles, “One True Love,” and “Blue Love.” His work as a producer showcased the fact that he could take an act and turn them into hitmakers. Though the O’Kanes would soon part ways and continue their careers as individual songwriters, Pat McMakin, would continue producing acts. His second production effort was with the comic, Lewis Grizzard, whose album, Don’t Believe I’da Told That, gave the humorist a vehicle for reaching new audiences. A few years later, he would begin the process of producing another hitmaker, a young man from Texas named David Kersh. 

Pat McMakin would produce a pair of hit albums for David Kersh. The first album, Goodnight Sweetheart,  released in 1996, would yield three hit singles, including the title track, “Goodnight Sweetheart,” plus, “Day In, Day Out,” and “Another You.” As a producer, his work was smooth and it made an instant connection with audiences across the world. I had an opportunity to view his production work at the time. I worked at Curb Studio during the time in which Pat McMakin was producing David Kersh and on occasion I would make listening copies for their production team, or reference compact discs. Pat McMakin was always one of the very best people to work with and his work with David Kersh would not just yield hit singles, but it would give him the reputation of being someone that everyone wanted to have the opportunity to work with while making their music. The second album that Pat McMakin would produce for David Kersh was, If I Never Stop Loving You, which was released in 1998. It would also contain three hit singles, including the title track, “If I Never Stop Loving You,” plus, “I Breathe In, I Breathe Out,” and a rendition of the Eric Clapton hit ballad, “Wonderful Tonight.” 

In 1998, he would also produce a hit album for Aaron Tippin, entitled, What This Country Needs. It would also contain three hit singles. Aaron Tippin was a different act for Pat McMakin in the sense that he had been a hitmaker prior to him beginning the process of producing his material. Unlike with the O’Kanes and David Kersh, Pat McMakin would not have to introduce Aaron Tippin to country music audiences. But, his work with Aaron Tippin would be critically acclaimed and it would not just win over the press, it would also win over country music audiences as well. Earlier in his career, Aaron Tippin had scored a pair of number-one hit singles, “There Ain’t Nothing Wrong With the Radio,” and That’s As Close As I’ll Get to Loving You.” What This Country Needs, would contain the following hit singles, “For You I Will,” I’m Leavin,’” and “Her.” Though his efforts as a producer would generate hit albums for the O’Kanes, David Kersh and Aaron Tippin, he would also continue engineering hit albums for a number of different performers in popular music and managing great recording studio facilities while doing so. 

As the 1990s unfolded, Pat McMakin continued to manage the Sony Tree family of recording studio facilities and as mentioned, began to produce hitmaking country music acts. But, he also continued to engineer hit albums, as well. During the 1980s, he had engineered or made engineering contributions to hit albums by Dolly Parton, Ricky Skaggs, Exile and Vern Gosdin. In 1991, he opened the decade by working on an album for the legendary country music hitmaker, George Jones. The album, Friends In High Places, featured George Jones singing duets with some of the greatest hitmakers of a new generation in country music including: Randy Travis, Emmylou Harris, Charlie Daniels, Vern Gosdin, Shelby Lynne, Ricky Van Shelton, and Sweethearts of the Rodeo— among others. His work with legends such as George Jones was legendary in itself. But, George Jones was not the only legendary artist that he would work with to open the decade of the 1990s. He would also make engineering contributions to albums by country music acts such as Highway 101, Shenandoah, Lonestar, and Tracy Lawrence as well as for the hitmaking country music duo of Brooks and Dunn. In 1998, while producing a second hit album for David Kersh, he would also engineer an album for another legendary performer, Olivia Newton-John. He would make an engineering contribution to her album, Back With a Heart. After his engineering work on the album, Back With a Heart, for Olivia Newton-John, he would then begin the process of engineering a project with a new group who would come to dominate the world of popular music— *NSYNCH.

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Pat McMakin is pictured with the legendary country music star, George Jones. He would make an engineering contribution to the album, Friends In High Places for George Jones in 1991. Image courtesy of Pat McMakin. 

Three of the albums that he would make engineering contributions to during this period in his career would became classics. The Lonestar album, Crazy Nights, released in 1997, became an instant classic and introduced the hard-driving music of the group to country music fans all over the world. It contained the following hit singles: “Come Cryin’ to Me, “You Walked In,” “Say When,” and “Everything’s Changed.” The album rocked country music audiences across the world into the summer of 1998.  Also in 1997, he contributed to the development of another hit album, The Coast is Clear, for country music star, Tracy Lawrence. It would contain a pair of hit singles, “Better Man, Better Off,” and “How a Cowgirl Says Goodbye.” The album was certified gold and continued a string of successful albums for the artist. He would also make an engineering contribution to the 1998 album, If You See Her, for the hitmaking country music duo— Brooks and Dunn, that would rock the charts in country music and would contain three number-one hit songs, including: “If You See Him/If You See Her (featuring country music superstar, Reba McEntire),” “How Long Gone,” and “Husbands and Wives.” Over and over again, he had proven that he could engineer hit songs, produce hitmaking artists and while doing so— manage world class recording studio facilities. He was not just a professional in the music industry who was highly successful, he was fast on the way to becoming a legend. But one amazing album was ahead of him in his career, and it would change the trajectory of popular music forever.

Pat McMakin first worked on an album for the wildly popular boy band, *NSYNCH, that was a Christmas holiday release in 1998 entitled, Home for Christmas. The group had released a self-titled album earlier in 1998 and it eventually became a hit— giving the young boy band a tremendous feat with them having two albums in the billboard top ten at the same time by the winter of 1998. His contribution to the album was as a mixing engineer and it was sheer brilliance. His work gave a smooth and rich character to the song, “O Holy Night,” on the album and it showcased his ability to put the vocals (and the acapella harmonies) of the group front and center in such a way that it made them both endearing to audiences and the album both a critical and smashing commercial success. The group enjoyed working with him so much that he would also be behind the console as a mixing engineer to make a contribution to their next album, No Strings Attached, which is one of the greatest hit albums in popular music of all-time. The album, No Strings Attached, was not released until the spring of 2000, after a series of protracted legal battles. On the album, there were an amazing four smash hit singles, “Bye, Bye, Bye,” “It’s Gonna Be Me,” “This I Promise You,” and “Just Got Paid.” He would make a contribution to the album by mixing the song, “I Thought She Knew,” for it. The album would become one of the top-selling releases of all-time, would be nominated for a Grammy-Award and would ultimately garner four Billboard Music Awards— including for Album of the Year in 2000. By 2000, Pat McMakin had established himself as a successful engineer, producer and recording studio facility manager— a legend behind the console and a professional in the music recording industry that everyone both deeply respected and wanted to have the opportunity to work on their musical projects. However, the professional music recording industry was also changing rapidly and those rapid changes would impact everyone in the business, including him. In fact, it would lead him to begin the process of managing one of the greatest recording studio facilities in the world. 

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A pair of legends in popular music are pictured together in this image-- George Jones and Brenda Lee. Pat McMakin would work on album projects with both of them. Image courtesy of Pat McMakin. 

By 2001, Pat McMakin had successfully engineered and produced hitmaking albums. Throughout that time, for almost twenty years, he had also successfully managed the Sony Tree family of recording studio facilities. He had become not just a legend behind the console, but also a consumate professional and an industry leader. At the same time, the world of professional music recording was also beginning to change rapidly. Digital audio workstations began to initiate a revolution in the process of music recording, and to replace not just analog and digital tape machines, but also the large-format consoles that had been the heartbeat of major recording studio facilities since their inception. By 2007, as he was leaving his position after twenty-five years as the studio manager of the Sony Tree family of studios, the shift to digital audio workstations had become complete. He would continue to engineer amazing albums— including a gospel album, Gospel Duets With Treasured Friends, for Brenda Lee and The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo, for Steve Martin. But, in 2008, he would become the studio manager for Ocean Way Recording Studios in Nashville, Tennessee, which is one of the most prestigious recording studio facilities in the world. Immediately, he challenged himself to make it a success. It would not be easy.

At its core, Sony Tree Studios was a place for artists and writers who were signed to the label to be able to record their creative work. It was an in-house arrangement that in theory would save the record company money as its talent would not have to go to other places to record their work, as the price for studio time throughout the 1980s continued to skyrocket. There were some artists who took advantage of the arrangement, but for the most part, the studio catered to the needs of the songwriting community who were the bedrock of the process. It also gave him the opportunity to become a songwriter, as well. He learned so much about the process of writing from the great writers at Tree Publishing who he worked just about every day as an engineer. Finding an idea or a hook was the key to great songwriting, but, so was embracing the journey of the process. Recording and producing demos gave Pat McMakin not just more and more experience behind the console, it also gave him the opportunity to manage sessions from start to finish— including, the creative process. While he would make tremendous connections to the Nashville songwriting and musician community, it led him to develop a better understanding of the needs of a great recording studio facility, too. The experience made him a better studio manager and in turn, it helped him create better experiences for the clients who would bring their work into the facility. 

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In this image, Pat McMakin is pictured with Sal Greco and Steven Crowder in the control room of Studio A at Ocean Way Recording Studios, which is sometimes referred to as, "The Church." Throughout his career, he has hired some of the most amazing young engineers and technicians to work at Ocean Way Recording Studios in Nashville, Tennessee. Image courtesy of Pat McMakin. 

Successful recording studios do not just pop-up overnight. In today’s world of home recording studio ventures— the investment in equipment and even in space is much lower than it ever has been throughout the history of the music recording industry. But, in order to run a successful recording studio, you have to possess a few crucial and key ingredients: great equipment, great spaces for recording and a great staff. The Ocean Way Recording Studio complex possesses each of these key ingredients. At its heart lies a Neve 8078 console in the main studio control room, an array of amazing vintage outboard gear units and a phenomenal microphone collection. It also features immaculate spaces for recording— including the open space for what had been a historic church complex that now can house a full orchestra for the purpose of recording great music. But, the final ingredient for developing a great recording studio facility is by far and away the most important, which is that you have to have a great staff of highly qualified people who not only understand how to properly use and care for the equipment within your facility, but more importantly, the ability to rise to the occasion to meet the needs of your clientele. As a gifted and talented engineer and producer he was always acutely aware of the importance of having great outboard gear, an excellent microphone locker and a fantastic sounding console that could bring clients in the door. But, as a studio manager throughout his career, he made it a point of emphasis— not just to hire great people, but, to also create a great recording studio culture.

Creating a great culture meant that the right people would be hired to assist the engineers and producers who would come to work in the facility with their clients. It also meant hiring technicians who could fix, repair and maintain both the latest in digital audio equipment as well as the vintage gear and microphone staples that have become such an important component of the identity of the operation of a world-class recording studio facility. However, creating a great culture also meant creating an understanding of how to work with everyone who walks through the door— from the legendary artist, to the hot new producer of the moment and of course, the classical musician who may only work in a recording studio environment only a few days throughout the course of a calendar year. It also meant that you had to develop an understanding among your staff that time is money and that the more effective you are at your job, the more creative time your clients will have in the recording studio space to make their work the absolute best that it can be. In other words, the catch-phrase, “It’s Gonna Be Great,” was so much more than just a hashtag or a even a cliche. It meant, that the very best clients in the world could come to expect a staff that could not only meet their needs, but exceed their expectations in every aspect of their work.

It also meant that potential problems had to be taken care of before they ever became a reality. While it is true that Ocean Way Recording Studios is an educational facility, it is also a world-class recording studio facility where some of the greatest artists in the history of popular music still come through the doors each and everyday to do their very best work. Every microphone, cable and stand has to be checked and tested to make certain that they are functioning at their highest possible level of performance. Each unit of outboard gear must be functioning at its highest possible level of performance. A console that is more than forty years old must be sound as it did the day that it left the factory in the United Kingdom. On and on, if you are going to run a successful, world class recording studio facility, you have to make certain that the tools for making great music are ready to be able to do so from the time that your clients walk through the door until their project has come to completion. By 2012, OceanWay Recording Studios was poised to step into an incredibly bright future— but, as the studio sat empty day after day, Pat McMakin, the legendary engineer, producer and consumate music business professional faced a stark choice— either transform the business model that had become so ingrained for so long in the recording studio culture of Nashville, or watch even one of the world’s greatest recording studio facilities close its doors for good, too. His heroic effort to save, not just Ocean Way Recording Studios, but an entire business and a way of life for so many people in Music City, USA, is an important component of his professional legacy and it has made someone who is one of the most respected professionals in the music recording industry a revered legend for so many of us.

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In this image at Ocean Way Recording Studios in Nashville, Tennessee, Tony Castle, Pat McMakin, Alison Krauss and Buddy Bannon are pictured in the control room of Studio A, or, "The Church." Image courtesy of Pat McMakin. 

In the summer of 2012, Pat McMakin walked into the control room of Ocean Way Recording Studios and sat down for a moment. The studio had not had a single client walk through the door to record in over a month. Due to the advent and growth of streaming services, record companies were not bringing in the tremendous revenues that they had once made— which meant that budgets for music projects were greatly diminished. Throughout Music Row, the shockwaves were like nothing the consumate professional and legendary figure in music had ever seen before. Studios— even venerable ones— closed their doors, one by one. Places where some of the greatest music of the country music boom of the 1990s had been recorded, shut their doors— including: Emerald Recording Studios, Seventeen Grand Recording Studios and, even The SoundShop, the same legendary recording studio that he had managed as a member of the Sony Tree family of studios earlier in his career. He feared that Ocean Way Recording Studios could very well be next. As he looked around Music Row, the place where he had worked his entire career was beginning to change to the point that it was becoming unrecognizable. Where great recording studio facilities had once stood, high-rise apartments were being built. It was a difficult time. But, Pat McMakin, made a decision for which we should all be very thankful. He decided to try to make the effort to save not just Ocean Way Recording Studios, but a way of life for so many wonderful people who had been behind the creation of the popular music that so many people around the world had come to love and to cherish. 

For the recording studios to be able to survive, each had to be able to attract business and keep their rooms busy with an ever expanding array of clientele. For him, the solution came from his past— and, it would mean coming full-circle— back to where his career had started at Audio Media in 1979. Nashville recording studio facilities had built themselves into a box in the years since that time, by only investing in the technologies and rooms to be able to record country music. In other words, since 1979, each of the Nashville recording studio facilities had become so dependent upon music recording, that when that single source of business revenue began to disappear with the appearance of the home studio boom that had started with the growth and evolution of digital audio workstations, each of the facilities struggled to adjust. As their clients disappeared, so did these facilities— many of which, had invested heavily in their microphone lockers, building new control rooms and even new and incredibly expensive analog consoles. At Audio Media when he began his career, he had worked on everything— country music, jingles, demos, sound-alikes, music for television and even film soundtracks. He began to realize that the key to the survival of the recording studio facilities was to diversify their clientele. He would work to bring in a new array of clients to Ocean Way Recording Studios by touting the greatest asset that the studio had to be able to counter the home recording studio revolution— space. It was a revolutionary idea and he knew that he had both the equipment and the people to make it happen. And making it happen for the people was so very crucial, as he could see time after time that when a recording studio facility closed its doors that there would be less people investing in the music business community and into the surrounding cafes, restaurants, and shops— it was the lifeblood of a special place, and a vehicle for economic growth for both the city and the state. It went from being just about bringing in new clients to Ocean Way Recording Studios, it became a crusade to save Music Row, itself. 

Within a few months in late 2012, he was beginning to bring clients back into the studio to record great music. He made sure that country music would still have a place within the new business model, but soon a new group of clients from a range of different entertainment sectors began to make their way to Nashville. The studio began to have clients who were coming to Nashville for the very first time to record soundtracks for both films and television programs. Ocean Way Recording Studios could accomodate a full orchestra or large choirs easily— something no home recording studio venture could ever do. The studio slowly began to hum with activity again, and soon, it would host another new set of clientele that would be essential for its renaissance. Music and sound for the video game industry was the final piece to the puzzle. Video games have massive soundtracks and require not just an immense array of sound effects, but, also a wide range of musical selections, as well. Once again, it was his vision and professionalism that had made a difference. Studios stayed open. Engineers went back to work recording great music. Nashville welcomed producers and musicians from all over the world who would come to work in their recording studio facilities. He even went to the politicians at the local, county and state levels of government to win their support for offering incentives for the television, film and gaming industries to bring their projects to recording studio facilities in both Nashville and places like Memphis, as well. And for the very first time, Music Row became a recognized neighborhood in the Nashville metro area, so that it could be protected and preserved for generations of future engineers, musicians, producers and entrepreneurs to be able to make great music into the future. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, his first priority was to take care of the wonderful people who work at Ocean Way Recording Studios. He took care— not just of the situation, but helped lead the music community throughout the crisis. And when the facility reopened, he made sure that it could do so in a way that protected everyone involved. Ocean Way Recording Studios did not just survive, but it has thrived under his leadership and it has become a model for the future for recording studio facilities and making great music around the world. The impact of his leadership is immeasurable. He has had so many amazing moments of great success in his career, but it is perhaps this crusade that has brought an emphatic punctuation point to his legacy. Most of the legendary engineers and producers that we respect and honor have made great music throughout their careers. But, Pat McMakin has done truly something special— he has given future generations the opportunity to be able to make the great music of tomorrow. Throughout his amazing career, he has worked with so many amazing artists, engineers, producers and musicians and he has so many great stories to tell of his time with each of them. 

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Throughout his career, Pat McMakin, has worked with a number of legendary artists and performers. In this image, he is pictured with John McEuen (formerly of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), Dolly Parton, Vince Gill and Steve Martin during the production of the bluegrass album, The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo, in 2009. The album would win the Grammy Award for the Best Bluegrass Album at the 52nd Grammy Awards in 2010. Image courtesy of Pat McMakin. 

His career began with a trip to Music Row in 1974 and it is perhaps fitting that he would be one of the instrumental players in the crusade to save it from becoming just another place for development in Music City, USA. After all, it would not be Music City, USA, if there were no music being made there. But, from that moment in 1974 onward, after graduating from Bellmont University in 1978, and to landing his first job at Audio Media, he has worked with some of the greatest hitmakers in the history of popular music in the genre of country music. The first real star that he was able to work with was none other than Dolly Parton— who has never forgotten him, either. She was the consumate professional and it gave him the opportunity to learn what is was like to work a true hitmaker. But, she was not the only legendary star that he would have the opportunity to work with during his long and disinguished career.

He had the opportunity to work with Ricky Skaggs, Exile, and George Jones— each of whom had made their mark upon the landscape of country music. One of the memories of working behind the console that still gives him goosebumps to this day is listening to a session and then realizing that someone had come into the control room and sat down on the couch behind him. He turned around to see country music legend and superstar Loretta Lynn sitting on the couch and listening to his work. However, there were two other stars who he had the opportunity to work with that left an impression upon him. He had the opportunity to work with another popular music legend, Ray Charles, who waited until the end of the day to book his sessions. The legendary artist was under the impression that the great Nashville session musicians only worked at night, so he pushed them into some incredibly late sessions— only to be disappointed with the results. It was Pat McMakin who had to explain to him that the great musicians of the Nashville studio scene had been working all day long and that it would be better for him to book earlier sessions to give them an opportunity to work after a good night’s rest. At first, it angered the legendary star, but then he realized that it was Pat McMakin who had the best interests of everyone— including his own— in mind. Ray Charles relented and took the young engineer and producer’s advice. The sessions became a success and the two great professionals would work together on another successful project in the future. Ray Charles came to not just appreciate his amazing talents and work, but to value his candor, honesty and tremendous character.  Another star who stepped into the studio to work with him was the legendary comedian, Steve Martin. It might surprise some, but Steve Martin was an incredibly serious professional whose musical work was fabulous. It was a great experience for Pat McMakin to be able to work with both him and each of the amazing artists that he has had the opportunity to work throughout his long and distinguished career. But, he has forged a number of amazing friendships, too.

Among the friendships that he was able to forge in his long and distinguished career was with the great session musicians that he was able to work with day in and day out as an engineer, producer and recording studio facility manager. Musicians like pianist and keyboard player, Dennis Burnside, and drummer, Eddie Bayers, have been his friends from the beginning of his career to this very moment today.  Another friend and mentor, Paul Worley, was also instrumental to the success of his career. He gave him a piece of advice that he would never forget, “Say yes to everything because two out of every three people or projects may well cancel on you.” Thoughout his career, he was always busy and never took any person or project for granted— a committment to friendship and excellence was a way of life. He also developed a great friendship with the songwriter, Don Cook, who would become a tremendously successful producer in his own right. And he would never forget meeting Robin Wiley, a budding songwriter who wanted to introduce him to a group of kids from the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse in Orlando, Florida. Those kids— including a young, Justin Timberlake, would soon become the popular music group, *NSYNCH. He also has truly come to value and to appreciate each of the members of the fabulous Ocean Way Recording Studio staff. A great component of the tremendous success that he has forged throughout his professional life lies in his ability to build relationships with artists, musicians, engineers, songwriters, and producers throughout his career. He has done it with grace, style and class.

Pat McMakin has learned from the past, but, he also understands the important contributions that he has been able to make during his legendary career may help the business of recording great music to be able to have a brighter and more sustainable future. His more than forty years in the profession of making great music has taught him quite a bit and he is more than willing to share some of those lessons with those who may be thinking about making the business of making music their profession. First, he will tell you— never think that you know more than you actually do— ask questions and take the risk of learning, rather than assuming that you know the answer to a problem. Another key lesson— continue to take creative risks, even if what you are doing may not be working for you at a given moment in time. And finally, make the music make the song. The song will tell you what it wants and what it needs, if you are paying attention to it. While he considers his engineering and production work as an important component of his career, such as his work on the album Chiseled in Stone, for Vern Gosdin, he is also very proud of the effort that he has made to bring clients in the film, video and television sectors of the industry to record their music in Nashville— helping to preserve Music Row for future generations of music creators. But, for him, his most important legacy is just that— that he has helped so many people be able to obtain their start and to make a contribution in a business that each of them and indeed, all of us, too, have come to love and to cherish. 

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In this image, the legendary Pat McMakin shares a moment with the iconic rocker, Alice Cooper, at Ocean Way Recording Studios in Nashville, Tennessee. Ocean Way Recording Studios has hosted some of the greatest hitmakers in the history of popular music. Image courtesy of Pat McMakin. 

To this day, he remains thankful and very appreciative, not just of the people that he has been able to work with throughout his legendary career or to develop friendships with during that time, but also for his family and the never-ending well of support that they have provided for him throughout his life and career. He is also thankful for the opportunities— for the ability to make great music with so many wonderful people for more than forty years. “It’s gonna be great,” was never just a slogan, it was also the very essence of the experience that everyone who worked with him in the studio throughout his life and career would come to have, too. As a legendary recording studio engineer, producer and recording studio facility manager, he has given us so much more than just great music. He has given us a reason to be proud of the past and the ability to embrace a brighter future in the process of making great music. It is an honor to be able to take this moment to be able to honor him. Thank you, Pat. 

Enjoy the Music from the Articles About the Life and Career of Legendary Recording Studio Engineer, Producer and Studio Manager

Pat McMakin

 

With our Apple Music, Spotify or YouTube playlists, you can listen to the music from the groups and artists who were listed in the articles that have been written about the life and career of the legendary recording studio engineer, producer and studio manager, Pat McMakin. From 1980 to the present, he has either engineered or produced some of the greatest and most memorable acts in the history of popular music. Each playlist features the songs that were discussed in the articles about his life and career as a legendary recording studio engineer.

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A Legend in the Studio

Pat McMakin-- Ocean Way Recording Studios
Pat McMakin-- Ocean Way Recording Studios

Pat McMakin sits in the control room of Studio A at Ocean Way Recording Studios. Image courtesy of Pat McMakin.

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Pat McMakin-- Chris Tomlin and His Production Crew
Pat McMakin-- Chris Tomlin and His Production Crew

In this picture, Pat McMakin is on the far right and poses with the production crew for Chris Tomlin. Image courtesy of Pat McMakin.

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Pat McMakin-- A Pair of Legends- George Jones and Brenda Lee
Pat McMakin-- A Pair of Legends- George Jones and Brenda Lee

In this image, a pair of legends are photographed together-- George Jones and Brenda Lee. Pat McMakin worked on album projects with both of them. Image courtesy of Pat McMakin.

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Pat McMakin-- Ocean Way Recording Studios
Pat McMakin-- Ocean Way Recording Studios

Pat McMakin sits in the control room of Studio A at Ocean Way Recording Studios. Image courtesy of Pat McMakin.

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In this photo gallery, there are images which showcase the life and career of the legendary recording studio engineer, producer and studio manager, Pat McMakin.  

Podcast Episode

Coming soon! When it is available, you can click on the button below to listen to our podcast episode about the life and career of Pat McMakin, the legendary recording studio engineer, producer and studio manager in the spotlight on The Recording Session Vault educational website project. You can find our podcast episodes on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or iHeart Radio. 

Special Thanks and Acknowledgement

I would like to take a moment to thank Mr. Pat McMakin for his time, energy and immense contributions to the development of popular music over the course of his life and career. It is an honor to be able to take the time to honor him.