Q&A: Eric Fox

The Rockstar of Recording Gear

ColinMiller-72dpiEric Fox has owned and operated Foxtone Music since he started the company from scratch in 2005, but his love for music and audio recording equipment was sparked long before. Located in a basement on North 3rd Street, mere minutes from the Warehouse District light rail stop, Foxtone is the place where many of Minneapolis’ great artists, both established and aspiring, shop for the tools of their trade. Fox’s list of clients boasts P.O.S and the University of Minnesota, but even more impressive is his knowledge and passion when it comes to the gear itself and the recording process on the whole.

The Wake: Tell us about your introduction to the world of recording music.

Eric Fox: I was always the kid in high school who owned all the gear in the band. The drum set, the bass guitar, the amps, the PA, you know. I started out playing drums when I was in fifth grade, and then in eighth grade, I got an amp and a guitar for my birthday. Then, of course, I wanted to play in a band. None of my friends had gear or anything, though, so I just recruited them and kind of taught them how to play.

So you were a little like the Phil Spector of your junior high?

Fox: [Laughs]. Yeah, kind of. Minus the shooting incident.

Colin Miller-72dpiWhat was your first band called?

Fox: Downplay. I think I was fifteen at the time. We went into a recording studio that we could just barely afford and recorded like ten songs for $300. I just really loved what I was seeing [at the studio] so much that I was the guy who stuck in the control room the whole time, staring at what he was doing. After that, I decided to invest in a used multi-track recorder, which in 1994, to give you some context, was $600, so you see how expensive and limited the field was to break into then.

For anyone just starting out recording themselves, what are the most crucial components of the home studio setup?

Fox: You need to ask yourself how many instruments or devices you’re going to be recording at one time. Let’s say you just have a vocalist—a rapper or something like that—then you can get away with using just one input at a time. In that case, all you need is one quality microphone, a stand, a pop filter, and whatever software you want to use. Even GarageBand is quite powerful compared to what we used to have as the standard. You also need an interface, basically an expanded sound card, to convert your audio signals from analog to digital and vice versa. For a full band, depending on the number of instruments, you’re looking at possibly 12-15 [microphones].

What are some of the go-to pieces in your studio?

Fox: I do a lot of full-band stuff, so you really can’t go wrong with SM57s [microphones] from Shure. Those are workhorses. You can just put them on anything. I tend to get into higher-end preamps. I’m kind of a Neve guy—that’s a name you’ll hear tossed around quite a bit. They put transformers in their preamps. I also use a lot of Vintech, which is a company that makes some vintage Neve clones. As for software, I like Pro Tools, but Logic and all the others are certainly just as good.

I know Foxtone sells some vintage synthesizers and things like that. Is there anything particularly rare or noteworthy in stock now?

Fox: We have a lot of good stuff come through the shop. Right now I can’t think of anything specific off the top of my head with one exception. Here in the studio I’ve got my one-inch 8-track tape machine. I like to use that sometimes if it’s a good fit with the artist. Otherwise, we’ve got a lot of new, boutique-y, esoteric stuff like the Vintech and things like the Distressor from Esoteric Labs, which is a relatively famous compressor. I also have a high-end tube [microphone] called the Blue Bottle, which is like five or six grand. It’s kind of silly that I have it.

Colin-Miller-72dpiAre there any local companies doing cool things in audio gear?

Fox: In the synthesizer world, there are some local guys and gals who create circuit-bent pieces and things that go “beep-bop-boop.” For example, a company called GetLoFi, who also is big into selling kits and DIY gadgets, makes a bunch of little noisemakers that we sell here. There’s also Great River in South St. Paul; they also do Neve clones. Really great guys.

Who are some of your biggest-name clientele?

Fox: Doomtree for one. A lot of the Rhymesayers guys—they’re into electronic music quite a bit. I deal with Gary Morris sometimes, the singer and founder of The Jayhawks, an Americana kind of band. I’ve dealt with Dan Wilson, the front man from Semisonic and just a great songwriter and producer. I think he recently won a Grammy for some work he did for—who’s that girl—Taylor Swift.

You told me once that you started Foxtone so you “wouldn’t have to get a real job.” What’s the difference between what you do and a “real job”?

Fox: Well the truth is I’ve never worked so hard in my life as when I went into business for myself as an entrepreneur. It would have been easier for me to get a desk job and not have to worry about my company or my customers when I go home for the day. But when you really love what you do like I do, it doesn’t feel like work. My wife works at a Fortune 500 company but I just don’t think I could sit still like that all day. [Laughs].

Last question: You’re behind the boards at your dream studio session… Who’s playing?

Fox: I think recording the Beatles would have been so amazing. What they recorded on, by today’s standards, would be considered junk, but they were so talented and wrote such good songs that it didn’t matter. If you walk away with one thing in mind, it should be that the gear is the least important part of the chain. Great music starts with great songwriting and great performance.