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A Year After Katrina, Rivergate Studios Rises Again

Producer Chris Henderson rebuilt from the ground up By Frank Moldstad

Chris Henderson, owner of Rivergate Studios and 3 Doors Down guitarist, posing with amps in his new studio.
When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Mississippi Gulf Coast last year, the resulting storm surge reached 20 miles inland, submerging everything in its path including Chris Hendersons recording studio.

Situated 12 miles from the Gulf in the small town of Gautier, MS, the studio and everything in it were under seven-and-a-half feet of salt water for three days, including some classic guitars and amplifiers Henderson had collected as a guitarist with the platinum-selling rock band 3 Doors Down. [web site here].

?There was just no way to get back to it, he says. ?The roads were impassable, the trees were down. You had to wait for somebody to go in and cut through. And I live so far out in the country that if I didn't cut in here it wasn't going to happen, because I don't really have any neighbors to speak of.  The place sat dormant for two weeks.

Needless to say, nearly everything in the studio was a total loss, although he was able to salvage most of the guitars by sending them back to the factory for cleaning and rewiring.

But Henderson, who built the first studio himself as a place for the members of 3 Doors Down to practice and write new material, was not about to be defeated. Now, almost exactly a year after the hurricane, hes got a brand new studio on the same location, which he also constructed himself. Hes kept the old name, which is, ironically, Rivergate Studios [MySpace site here]. The new studio is bigger and better than the old one, and hes been recording various bands, from rising national acts such as Five.Bolt.Main and HalfDown Thomas to local artists that he records gratis. All of this is done between tour dates with his own band 3 Doors Down maintains a busy schedule, including an upcoming appearance as the headliner at the True Experience Festival in the Florida Keys Aug. 17.

In reconstructing the studio, Henderson took advantage of the opportunity to correct some mistakes he had made the first time around. ?I made a lot of mistakes when I did it because, although I was a builder before, I didn't really know how to build a recording studio, he says. ?I didn't know things like how sound reacts against different materials. And my hands were kind of tied to whatever materials I could find at Lowe's and Home Depot and places like that.  They don't sell a lot of high-quality recording studio materials in those places.

New control room has a window to the live room, but the rooms are sonically isolated. Walls are treated with Auralex products.

He got a lot of help and advice from the sound reinforcement company Auralex, which markets acoustical treatment products. ?They were really helpful to me after the storm. For the first studio I built, I had purchased everything from them. For the second studio, when I went back to purchase everything again, they asked why I was repurchasing all the stuff. When I told them what happened to me with the hurricane they immediately went into donation mode.

Not only that, they gave him advice on how to double the walls, how much of an air gap should be between them, what insulation to get, and what building materials to use.

Drums in new live room
?Because of that, I was able to make the live room and the control room completely isolated from each other. In the last room, if you hit the kick drum, you heard it through the monitors but you also felt it in the control room. And I didn't know how to correct that, he says. ?So Auralex told me how to float the floor and the ceiling, and how to build it, what to do and what not to do.  And they actually sent me the mineral fiber insulation and what they call sheet block, which is sort of a lead vinyl, the same stuff they used to soundproof the command centers in submarines for running silent underwater.

Henderson was also able to raise the ceiling height in the new studio to 11 feet -- several feet higher than the old studio -- and double the size of the live room and the control room. That, and a few tricks hes learned over the years from various producers, enables him to get a really good drum sound in the new live room, without any leakage into the control room.

The new studio has also opened up possibilities that Henderson hadnt envisioned when he built the first studio. ?Originally, I was making a place for 3 Doors Down to come and write. We could write and record our demos without paying two grand a day for a studio where we' re just going to sit around and drink beer in, you know what I mean?

But as a self-described gearhead and tinkerer who likes experimenting with musical tones, Henderson has followed a natural progression from songwriter to producer.  ?One day I woke up and saw I had everything I need here to do this.  So I started recording bands gratis, for free, and realized that I'm really good at this. 

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Related Keywords:3 Doors Down, Chris Henderson, Pro Tools, Auralex, recording, studio, Rivergate, Rock Ridge Music


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