Recording Connection mentor Lij Shaw’s Cautionary Tale

Lij Shaw inside the control room of the Hay Bale Studio | Bonnaroo 2017

As the owner of The Toy Box Studio in Nashville, Tennessee and founding lead engineer of Bonnaroo’s famous Hay Bale Studio (in case you didn’t know, yes, it’s a recording studio made of hay bales), Lij Shaw is a Recording Connection mentor with more than 25 years of experience and hard-earned technical prowess that’s fueled by a love of music and a passion for engineering and recording.

In short, Lij Shaw is someone who’s achieved a great deal (including a Grammy). That’s not to say he’s never made a messed up. During a recent interview Lij shared a story that’s just too good to keep on the shelf. So, consider the following as a cautionary tale of what not to do! Enjoy!

*We pick up the story with Lij recalling a vital period in his twenties. He’d just graduated college with a degree in architecture, and recently discovered his love of recording while on a trip to Hong Kong which included stepping into a professional recording studio for the first time. Lij says:

“We went in to do a session, and I saw all the blinking lights and the big, fancy tape machines and the big, gorgeous console with the faders on it, and I just had this epiphany in that moment that, ‘Holy crap, this is so cool. I’ve got to learn how to do this’…So I came back to the U.S. and told my dad that I didn’t really want to be an architect, I wanted to go learn how to make records, and he was nice enough about it, but said, ‘You’re on your own.’ So, I ended up down in Nashville, found a college, and went to the recording program at Middle Tennessee State University.”

Flash forward a couple of years to Lij just after graduating Middle State. At this point in time he’s managed to get a foot in the door as an intern at the well-known Woodland Studios (Keith Urban, Emmylou Harris, Daniel Lanois). And, he’s doing a bang up job of it so far. Things are looking good for Lij!

“I actually had a set of keys and I was able to go in there and bring in a band of my choosing on the weekend when there wasn’t a session going on, and use an absolute world-class studio setup with a vintage Neve console, beautiful tape machines and plate reverbs and Neumann U 47’s and LA-2A’s, all this incredible gear.

So I brought in a band, and we were so excited to be in there, I think it was a Sunday. So we set up and we started recording, and I was feeling so awesome that I was able to record these guys and make it sound so great. Then, the phone rang during my session… I unexpectedly got a call from another engineer that I had met through the studio, who I thought was a friend of the studio. That was sort of how I was introduced to him. So I looked up to this person and thought, ‘Well this guy knows what he’s doing here.’

He said that there was a box of cables that were special adapter cables in the maintenance room that he needed…He was off in Texas or something like that, making a record, and they had a tape machine where all the pin-outs were wrong. So he was like, ‘I know you guys have got this box of cables, and that’s exactly what we need. Is there any way you can get them down to me here so that I can save the session, because we’re in trouble and we really need them?’ I was like, ‘Oh yeah, of course. That would be no problem. Let me do that for you.’

So I was so busy recording the band that I thought, ‘Well, I found the cables, but how are we going to get them down to Texas?’ I don’t even know. I think the only way to do that at the time was to take them directly to the check-in counter of Southwest Airlines. If you took a package directly, they would fly it down for you and somebody else could pick it up in the other city. So we were able to ship something to Texas in a matter of a few hours on a Sunday.

So I thought, ‘Oh, that’s so clever. We’re being so great about this.’ And one of the band members, the drummer, was done with his tracks. So he boxed up all these cables, these special cables from the studio I was at, and drove it off to the airport, sent it off, came back, and we finished our session. I was feeling so jazzed about having this great recording session until the next day when I got back to the studio.

…I came in and I’m feeling really good, and I went into the boss’s office, and I sat down with him. I was like, ‘That was so much fun. We had such a great session. Thanks so much for that.’ And he asked me how it went, and I said, ‘By the way, yesterday I got a call from so-and-so, and they needed the cables down at the studio he was at,’ and as I was telling the story I realized just how hard it was to tell this story. I said, ‘But don’t worry about it. We took care of it. We boxed it up and got it all ready and drove it to the airport and he put it on a plane and shipped it out to him.’

He just looked at me and he said, ‘You did what? You did what with our equipment from the studio? You shipped it off to another state without asking anybody?’ All of a sudden I realized that, in my enthusiasm…trying to be this know-it-all badass problem solver, I had completely and utterly screwed up by just sending off the equipment from the studio without first clearing it with the boss.

My heart just completely sank and I just realized how much of a screw-up I had been. But luckily he was forgiving and he didn’t fire me from my internship at the studio at that time. So I just had this good learning experience, which is, to be very, very careful [when starting out]. When in doubt, which is almost all the time, make sure you ask somebody who really knows the answer before you do anything silly like sending off the studio’s equipment.”

Lij tells the story of how the Hay Bale Studio came to be:

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