Binary Recording Studio celebrates 25 years
by Brent Cole
Twenty-five years ago this spring, Bob Ridgley opened the doors to Binary Recording Studio just east of Bellingham. Housed in a barn on several acres with stunning views of the county, Binary has been a mainstay in the local music scene since opening. Working with a diverse style of clients – from bands and voice overs to radio interviews and film audio – Ridgley has done it all and he loves every second of it.
Binary Studio was initially created to help reign in the studio costs of his record label, Binary Records, which he had started in 1983. “I was losing money,” Ridgley said with a laugh, “most of it was studio costs.” After designing and building the facility, it became apparent that the label wasn’t going to survive even with the new studio set up. So in the spring of 1989, Bob opened his studio to other musicians.
Before this, Ridgley had spent years as a musician playing in Seattle, Portland and all around the Pacific Northwest. He had become a sought after studio musician, known for his ability to program a synthesizer as well as artificial drums. “I sat in on a Kenny G session once,” he stated. Ridgley also recorded with the legendary Sun Ra and worked on the drum program for the ending of Gremlins 2.1. “I had had quite a bit of experience, luckily. I was blessed.”
In planning his studio, Ridgley realized he wanted a farm setting. “All the studios that I recorded in were cubicle blocks and I wanted a place that wasn’t like that,” he said, nothing his team spent six months designing the studio. “It is a room designed acoustically to represent the music that it’s correct,” he said. “That’s the big difference between home studios; sonically you have to have a controlled sonic space to make it big.” Ridgley also built a barn to have space available for bands to spend a weekend if needed.
One of the first bands to record in Binary was the legendary Weehuggem, which featured Karl Freske (Film is Truth owner) on drums. It wasn’t long before Binary was the go-to studio for local bands, which, along with the Seattle sound, was beginning to thrive. Among those bands was Loaf, one of Bellingham’s best bands of the day and one of its greatest tragedies. Fronted by Chris Robert, the dark and haunting singer would come into the studio himself, recording for hours and hours, experimenting with his voice and sound, stacking his vocals. “When Chris Robert was in the room,” said Ridgley, “the hair on the back of my neck stood up.” Sadly, the morning of July 5, 1992, Robert passed away in a fire.
Throughout the years, they’ve also incorporated more non-music projects. “We do a lot of stuff for NPR and PBS,” he stated, “Whatcom County is really rich in story tellers and literature book writers.”
They recently did the audio for an episode of Snap Judgement on NPR. “We’ll do an interview with someone in the vocal both,” he said. “They (stations) don’t fly people in anymore.”
Ridgley also works on the audio for his documentary video projects, one of which was picked up by PBS. He’ll also do voice-overs if a studio is in need.
But, at its core, the studio is about the bands. “Lot of bands are doing demos,” Ridgley said. “They just want to get some gigs. We provide that for them. They can come in, do it live, everything’s mic’d up.” He added, “They can walk out with a quality demo.”
The bands are all at different levels and Ridgley said he wants to make it so everyone is comfortable, having the studio feel more like a rehearsal space. “We let them just play and get their ya-yas out,” he said with a smile.
For young bands, creating the right atmosphere is vital. “Learning how to be in the studio – that’s how I learned. If there wasn’t someone taking the time, I probably wouldn’t have been into it.”
For Binary, it’s not all about indie or hard rock, as Ridgley and lead engineer Andy Rick (of the Shadies fame) often see solo artists, duos, and trios playing anything from folk to jazz to hip-hop. In March, Binary recorded a 38-piece high school band from La Conner.
While times and bands have changed, Bob and his love of Binary hasn’t wavered in the 25 years since it opened. “To do this day, I love every minute of it. I love the people, I love the sounds. I love the collaboration.” He added, “If you can get a group of musicians together and create something that’s good – that’s an amazing thing to me. In a studio, I can be part of it.”
For more information about Binary Recording Studio, check out www.binaryrecordingstudio.com, follow their Facebook page or call 647-2337.