For music fans around the world, the city of Nashville needs no introduction. Nicknamed "Music City," Nashville has played a central role in the recording careers of countless legendary artists, including Elvis, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and even Bob Dylan. Today, Nashville has evolved into a major production powerhouse for many different musical genres, representing a healthy combination of tradition and the cutting edge.
Nothing represents this dynamic better than producer Buddy Cannon and his longtime audio engineer Tony Castle. Over the years, they've worked with renowned artists like Kenny Chesney, Merle Haggard, Alison Krauss, Jamey Johnson, Willie Nelson, and many more.
The duo takes a tried-and-true approach to recording—get the best performances from the best musicians—while utilizing the latest audio technology to deliver the best possible results. One essential tool to their workflow is RX Audio Editor, which allows them to neutralize a range of audio issues so they can utilize the artist's best take.
"RX makes editing so much faster and more efficient. It's such a timesaver."
Although they arrived nearly two decades apart, both Cannon and Castle felt the same intense draw towards Nashville. With a deep pool of musical talent, hundreds of recording studios, and the city's rich musical history, Nashville's infrastructure makes it the perfect environment for aspiring songwriters, musicians, engineers, and producers.
"A group of really great musicians converged on Nashville in the early '50s, and they were so good that their legacy lured musicians from other genres," says Cannon. "If you have music deep down in your soul, you will come here eventually."
The two met in the mid '90s when Cannon was producing a George Jones record at a local studio and Castle was working as an assistant engineer. They hit it off immediately, and since then, Castle has engineered the majority of projects Cannon has produced.
They both share an appreciation for the perseverance and work ethic it takes to succeed in Nashville's highly competitive music community. "It's hard to get a shot here because of the high quality of the competition—you have to literally fight your way up," says Cannon.
"But I know the new guys have to come along to keep everything fresh. Otherwise the music gets stale, and I hate stale music."
"Willie’s guitar, 'Trigger,’ has traveled a lot of miles and at times he can be a little noisy. RX lets us make previously impossible edits so that we can use a great take."
Cannon and Castle take on very different roles when they work on projects, but they both love the recording process. While Castle handles the technical aspects of the recording, Cannon focuses his energy on the big picture—the musicians, the arrangements, and the performances. He says that he considers himself a very non-technical person; he never aspired to be an engineer.
"I approach projects from a songwriter and musician's perspective," says Cannon. "I'm one of the few producers in town who's done it without any formal training."
A career highlight for both Cannon and Castle has been working extensively with Willie Nelson, whom they consider a musical hero. The partnership began in 2007 after Nelson recorded a guest vocal on a Kenny Chesney album Cannon was producing. Willie liked what he heard, and since then Cannon has produced the last six albums Nelson has recorded with Castle doing much of the engineering. They say the sessions are always extremely enjoyable—and sometimes can get a bit wild.
"Sometimes there will be 25 people in the control room; Willie likes to invite everyone," Cannon says. "There's a wild assortment of people in the studio when Willie records. Even the Nashville mayor's wife came by to hang out one day."
For Cannon and Castle, delivering a great-sounding mix of an artist's best performance is essential—especially when they're working with artists like Willie Nelson.
For example, Cannon says that when Nelson records a song, each of Willie's vocal and guitar takes has its own magical moments. He and Castle needed to find a creative tool that would allow them to salvage good performances that are marred by pops, squeaks, or inconsistent proximity range. And they discovered that iZotope RX allows them to save a lot of performances that would otherwise have been unusable for technical reasons.
"Last year I was working on a Kenny Chesney mix session, and a track had a popping sound on it," Cannon relates. "The engineer brought up RX and suddenly the pop was gone and the notes were still there—it was just like magic. And I thought, 'We need to have this for Willie Nelson'. Willie's guitar, Trigger, has traveled a lot of miles and at times he can be a little noisy. RX lets us make previously impossible edits so that we can use a great take."
One particular RX tool they use frequently is EQ Match, which enables them to match the sonic differences between audio recordings and ensure a consistent-sounding mix.
"Willie isn't the type of singer to stand perfectly still at the mic at a consistent distance—he moves around a lot, which creates proximity changes," explains Castle. "If we need to comp vocal tracks, we use EQ Match to get a consistent sound."
Castle recently mixed a live performance by Kenny Chesney, and RX 4 played a huge role. He was able to remove much of the ambient noise, unwanted transients, and the screams and whistles of over-excited fans.
"Since I got RX, there hasn't been one Pro Tools session I haven't used it on," Castle says. "It makes editing so much faster and more efficient. It's such a timesaver."
Cannon and Castle show no signs of slowing down—they're currently working on a duet album featuring Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. And although they've worked with a roster of amazing artists, they still get excited about working on each new project.
"It's an incredible feeling to experience those amazing musical moments in the studio and think, 'Holy cow, I can't believe I'm part of this,'" Castle remarks. "That's an awesome feeling."