Producer plays a unifying tune
• Local music industry gathering brings together 'do-it-yourself' movement
J. Oscar Bittinger, a fortysomething Grand Rapids, Mich., Web developer, has played his pleasant blend of folk and pop music for about 20 years.
While he knows his quirky melodic music won't make him rich, that doesn't mean it shouldn't sound good.
'I'm not looking for the pop-fame angle,' Bittinger says. 'I just want to do a cool thing and have people dig it.'
To that end, Bittinger will be in Portland next week for TapeOpCon2003, a music industry conference expected to draw 500 producers and performers.
The event, which attracted 350 people last year, has become one of the 'do-it-yourself' music production movement's premier events.
The conference will spotlight the role that Portland studio owner and zine publisher Larry Crane, a national archetype for the movement, plays in the city's active music scene.
Crane, who's celebrating his 40th birthday today, owns Jackpot Recording Studio and the zine Tape Op.
'I've never met Larry before, but he's my hero because he's doing a cool thing and has a cool magazine and he's bringing these great people together,' Bittinger says. 'It's very egalitarian.'
Along with hobbyists such as Bittinger, the event will draw big-deal 'indie' pros such as Steve Albini, who's recorded the likes of Nirvana and P.J. Harvey, as well as renowned producers John Goodmanson, Don Zientara and Mitch Easter.
'It'll be about 70 percent professionals, with a lot of midsized studios, a lot of underground legends,' Crane says. 'It's the ones who really like what they're doing.'
It's also the ones who believe in Crane's philosophies that high prices shouldn't pose an obstacle to recording quality music. As such, Crane has launched a cottage industry at his Southeast Portland studio.
'I'm co-owner (of Jackpot and Tape Op), so it can be said that everything comes back to me, for better or worse,' Crane said. 'If nothing else, it's a lot of work: 60 hours a week in the studio and another 20 hours on the magazine.'
Studio serves as lab
Given Crane's ethos, it's natural that Jackpot's prices, around $450 for a 10-hour day, are less than typical studio rates.
Crane opened Jackpot in 1997 with a $10,000 loan and several maxed-out credit cards. On his initial 32-channel board and a 16-track reel-to-reel tape deck, he recorded Elliott Smith's single 'Miss Misery,' the 'Good Will Hunting' song nominated for a 1997 Oscar.
The studio provides a laboratory in which Crane tests ideas espoused in Tape Op. Published by Crane and John Baccigaluppi, the four-color zine features tips on getting the best sound no matter what the equipment.
As such, Tape Op counts as fans such luminaries as Pete Townshend, the Who guitarist from whom Crane once received a gushing letter.
Crane said he and Baccigaluppi may launch a European version of the zine.
The zine makes a little bit of money, he says, but not as much as the studio, which is profitable. 'It's a labor of love,' he concedes.
'Community of sorts'
'People know Larry more for his work in Tape Op than for his production, not because the records he's made haven't been good but because he hasn't made too many that have been widely heard,' said Sam Coomes, a longtime Crane friend who plays in the duo Quasi with Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss. 'But most people involved in recording independent music know who Larry is and give him much props.'
They'll certainly give him props at next weekend's conference, scheduled at the Portland Art Museum, 1119 S.W. Park Ave.
Along with Albini, presenters include Ian MacKaye of Fugazi, the legendary Washington, D.C., band; do-it-yourself label advocate Jenny Toomey; Northwest indie-rock mainstay Calvin Johnson; Coomes; and Weiss.
'A community of sorts has kind of sprung up around the magazine, and this is a way to celebrate that,' Coomes says.
Jack Rabid, editor of the New York-based music zine The Big Takeover, thinks that Crane, with his successful studio and zine, is on the right track.
'The more bands that record cheaply, which isn't to say badly, then the less money they have to recoup,' Rabid says. 'Jackpot's doing a good thing.'