10 of the Best Dallas Recording Studios | Dallas Observer

10 of the Best Recording Studios in Dallas-Fort Worth

In the music industry, few people are more important that the producers and engineers. The right kind of production of your record can really make or break you.
North Texas recording artists have plenty of choices when looking for a studio and producer to help create their sound.
North Texas recording artists have plenty of choices when looking for a studio and producer to help create their sound. L. Shaefer/Getty Images
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In the music industry, few people are more important that the producers and engineers. The right kind of production of your record can really make or break you. That’s why finding a production team that fits your needs is so important. Sure, it’s easy to see flashy equipment, big names and trendy Instagram photos and think that’s what you need to make it big, but you’d be wrong. Producers are one part musician, one part therapist and one part guidance counselor, and it’s their special brand of magic that can take a good project to even greater heights.

The Dallas area has become a hub for production studios over the years, attracting big artists, massive productions and a lot of clout. Here are some of the studios that are getting it done:

Audio Dallas (Garland)

Artists who dig it: Willie Nelson, Alessia Cara, Migos
Primary Genres: Everything
Audio Dallas has been a staple of Dallas’ music scene since the ’80s, and it doesn’t look like it will be slowing down anytime soon. Founded by chief engineer and producer Paul Osborn, this studio has the distinction of being the first 24-track studio in Texas. Numerous Gold and Platinum, Grammy-nominated projects have been recorded and mixed here, including Willie Nelson’s iconic album, Red Headed Stranger.

Audio Dallas has a four-room setup that includes a control room and a space for tracking, allowing for plenty of room to spread out and get comfortable. The equipment and design is exactly what you’d expect from an studio like AD — loads of vintage microphones and instruments, a Neve VR-60 console, digital and analog tracking machines.

Osborn and his team are known for their flexibility, both in their willingness to work within artists’ budgets and the type of work needed for a project. So, if you’re looking for a studio that’s got a lengthy resumé of excellence and is committed to helping you find your sound, Audio Dallas might be the one for you.

Denim Diablo Sound (East Dallas)

Artists who dig it: Kirk Holloway, King Clam, izzy ded
Primary Genres: Americana, Rock, Country
Nestled in an East Dallas neighborhood, Denim Diablo Sound is one of the coolest home production studios you probably never heard of. Built within a fully converted, oversized garage space, Denim Diablo offers clients high-quality production, vintage equipment and the occasional rubber chicken, all in a more intimate, low-stress environment.

The studio’s founder, The Roomsounds frontman Ryan Michael, began his production journey at the age of 15, when his pop-punk band Dead Legends needed to record a demo. Since then, he’s become absolutely “nutty” about it. Michael went from rudimentary recordings out of his bedroom to recording tracks in his band’s old jam pad and finally investing in a more elevated, high-quality space that allows him the freedom to produce his way.

“At the end of the day," he said, "you really want [your producer] to be a good hang — someone who you can sit in a room with for 10+ hours, and who won’t turn into an asshole when things get stressful — a little bit like Yoda or Beau Bedford [Modern Electric Sound Recorders].”

Element Sound (Richardson)

Artists who dig it: Kaash Paige, Rafa, Loren Cole
Primary Genres: RnB, Hip-Hop, Experimental
Engineering wizard O.Z. Billik joined the legendary Kitchen Studios in 2003 and has made quite a name for himself within the hip-hop, pop and experimental space. By April 2021, he knew it was time to strike out on his own, and that’s when Element Sound was born.

Element Sound prides itself on offering top-tier equipment, instruments and production tools, but aesthetically speaking, Billik says he had a vision for something bit different. “[It’s a] fully commercial space, complete with all the amenities you’d normally expect, but in terms of aesthetic, it’s more of a home studio vibe, because when you’re working all night long, you want it to be cozy,” he said. Keeping things more intentional and minimal allows his clients to interject more of themselves into their work, rather than be subconsciously influenced or feel pressured to perform a certain way—or, as Billik puts it, “It’s like the little black dress of production studios.”

His approach seems to be working. Since opening its doors almost two years ago, Element Sound has been fully booked, at least one month out, and his clients range from pop singers to church groups, vocal coaches and hip-hop artists. “Like, 90% of this business is similar to a tattoo artist or hair stylist. It’s not really about the facility anymore, as much as it is the person you’ll work with,” he said. “We all have equipment. We all have our tools, but the difference between a good experience and a bad experience nowadays is really how you vibe with the person.”

The Kitchen Studios (Lakewood)

Artists who dig it: Erykah Badu, Wiz Khalifa, Andre 3000
Primary Genres: Rap, Hip-Hop, RnB
The Kitchen really doesn’t need an introduction, but we’ll do one anyway. This Dallas studio has been around for more than 30 years and has a track record of attracting some of the biggest names in hip-hop and rap to its humble Garland Road location.In fact, the Kitchen is mentioned by name on the Pimp C track “I Know Ya Strapped,” an ode to one particularly “wild” night at the studio, back in the ’90s.

The Kitchen’s not just another big-name hit factory. The studio’s owner, J.P. Painter, is all about giving back to Dallas’ music scene and loves helping new, local artists navigate the world of production. That makes sense, as a lot of Painter’s A-list connections are a byproduct of his working relationship with Erykah Badu. “She’s been a real blessing,” Painter says. Badu’s interest in the studio led to more industry connections, more major-label work and even a spot on Universal Music Group’s studio vendor list.

Klearlight Studio (Mesquite)

Artists who dig it: Anderson .Paak, RC &The Gritz, Tyler, The Creator
Primary Genres: Hip-Hop, Experimental, Indie
Klearlight Studio was founded in 2007 by Jay Jernigan and Jimi Bowman, two friends who had been recording and making music together since the '90s. Back then, Bowman was a hardcore metalhead and Jernigan was an avant-garde, synth superfan. Together, they’ve created a unique, intimate recording space that speaks to the inner gear-nerd and offers clients access to rare, sometimes one-of-a-kind equipment that adds a level of depth most producers can only dream about.

This studio has made a name for itself for its next-level professionalism, extreme discretion and impressive collection of gear. Here, artists can come and go as they please, without worrying about outside interruptions or fanboys lurking around the corner. And it’s a big part of why artists such as Erykah Badu, James Poyser of the Roots and Ariel Pink head to the off-the-radar location just outside of Dallas.

Luminous Sound (Addison)

Artists who dig it: Lady Gaga, Kirk Franklin, Blake Shelton
Primary Genres: Rock, Pop, Hip-Hop
For more than 20 years, Luminous Sound has been one of Dallas’ premier audio recording and production studios and for good reason: The studio was founded by Grammy-nominated composer and musician Paul Loomis and co-operated by three-time Grammy Award-winning engineer, mixer and producer Tre Nagella.

Loomis built a reputation as one of the country’s leading experts in advertising by developing unique brand strategies that include custom-tailored music composition. His brand work is impressive, for sure, but perhaps what Loomis is most famous for is writing and producing Vanilla Ice’s first album, To The Extreme. Nagella’s client resumé includes the likes of Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, J. Cole and many more.

At 6,500 square feet, the space is massive and was designed to be a musician’s dream studio, complete with all the latest technology and equipment, three state-of-the-art studios and a two-story tracking room, all of which have been professionally designed and balanced by master acoustician Bob Hodas. If the devil’s in the details, Luminous Sound might just be hell on earth (but, like, in a good way).

Modern Electric Sound Recorders (Central Dallas)

Artists who dig it: Reverend Horton Heat, Paul Cauthen, Old 97’s
Primary Genres: Rock, Country, Americana
Arguably one of the best known recording studios in the DFW area is the brainchild of Jeff Saenz and Texas Gentlemen ringleader Beau Bedford. Modern Electric is a one-stop-shop of sorts for artists seeking songwriting coaching, engineering, production and recording.

Over the years, they’ve made a name for themselves not just for a big-name client list but for the attention they give artists and their willingness to give back to the community. They know the dark side of the music industry, namely contracts that leave many high-performing artists trapped in unfair and predatory deals. So, after experiencing this nightmare as an artist, Bedford was determined to help other artists avoid those pitfalls and better advocate for themselves.

Everything about Modern Electric is intentional, from the extensive, diverse equipment selection to the design and even the location at the former site of two of the biggest names in commercial jingles: PAMS Production and Thompson Creative. More than that, Modern Electric seems to speak to artists on a deep, more personal level in a way that immediately puts them at ease. As singer-songwriter Kirk Thurmond put it, “Modern Electric is sort of a Mecca for Dallas music. They’ve given us a place of expression, fulfillment and belonging.”

Niles City Sound (Fort Worth)

Artists who dig it: Leon Bridges, Jake Paleschic, Brody Price
Primary Genres: Blues, Rock, Americana
You might have heard of Niles City Sound. The Southside Fort Worth studio shot to fame with its production of Leon Bridges’ debut album, Coming Home, in 2015. Built within a century-old warehouse, this state-of-the-art studio was founded by Chris Vivion and White Denim members Austin Jenkins and Josh Block, all of whom wanted to create a space that leveraged vintage equipment, like 70-year-old microphones, tape recorders and amps, into music production.

Since Coming Home, Niles City has gone on to produce records for the likes of Nathaniel Rateliff, Frank Turner and Odesza. Its efforts have been so successful that last year it launched its own record label, Niles City Records, which just launched its initial release, Win A Trip To Palm Springs! by Brody Price.

Panhandle House (Denton)

Artists who dig it: Josh Abbott Band, Norah Jones, Blake Shelton
Primary Genres: Country, Rock, Jazz
Panhandle House has been around since 1997 and got its start by primarily catering to the Denton/UNT music crowd. The studio really took off after producing the Eli Young Band record Jet Black & Jealous in 2005. Since then, the studio has produced records for dozens of big-name artist such as Snarky Puppy, The Eagles and Whiskey Meyers, but that’s not all it does. The studio’s founder, Erik Herbst, said he’s worked closely with the UNT jazz and ensemble departments over the years, occasionally working with professors to incorporate studio time for students into the curriculum.

Panhandle House has an impressive equipment list, which includes a vintage Neve 1878 console—the piece Herbst credits for attracting Blake Shelton and his mother to the studio: “Blake Shelton has been in a couple of times to do vocals. He randomly found us on the internet when he was looking for a place to take his mom to do a duet. He found us, saw our gear list, knew his producer would like it, and booked it himself.”

What else does Panhandle bring to the table? “We give a shit,” Herbst said. “We’re gonna take good care of you. We really pride ourselves in actually, really trying to find out what’s the best fit for you, because it’s not inexpensive to record, and it’s a passion that these artists are trying to get out there. I take it very seriously, not only to make something that sounds really great but that it’s what they want too.”

Sunland Sound (Lochwood)

Artists who dig it: Jack O’Neill (Jackopierce), Corina Grove, Taylor Young Band
Primary Genres: Indie Rock, Pop, Folk Rock
J. Michael Smith has been making and producing music since he was a teenager. Over the years, he’s been a member of numerous D/FW bands and supported other artists with his guitar skills, among them Madison King, Austin Allsup and Nelly Furtado. But as time went on, Smith’s love for production grew. So, when it was time for him and his wife to buy a house, he made sure it came with enough space for a studio — Sunland Sound.

In 2016, Smith and his family moved into a Lochwood-area home that came complete with a detached mother-in-law suite in the backyard. From there, Smith was able to renovate and build-out a fully functional boutique production studio that’s big enough to track a full band, and offers modern and vintage sound equipment.

When asked about the type of artists he typically works with, Smith said, “I like to say we’re genre-fluid here. Come one, come all. … It’s definitely not just straight-ahead rock, or country. We like to get a little weird over here, sometimes."
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