Sound Business

By Davis Coen

Twenty-one years ago, audio engineer Jeffrey Reed made the move to Oxford, in part to raise a family, but also to open his own studio in the ever-growing, artistically vibrant community.

Prior to the move, Reed had been working at the world-famous Ardent Studios in Memphis, which is known for hosting numerous legendary recordings artists and churning out scores of Gold and Platinum records. “That was the holy grail of studios that you wanted to go through,” he said. “It set me up to handle any situation that was thrown at me.”

Being a native of Utica, MS (more specifically, Reedtown), an outskirt of Jackson, Reed had also cut his teeth in his early days at Malaco Records, home to some of the region’s greatest blues, Southern soul, and gospel acts.

Similarly at another Jackson-based label, Parallax Records, his role involved the very specified craft of mastering songs, which is the final stage of audio production. Mastering is considered the finishing touch on a recording; enhancing an audio track to the standards needed for radio broadcast, and every other avenue of commercial and private use.

As a young musician, Reed realized quickly that he was drawn more to the technical side of music production. “I was always a little more of a techie. I made it to probably mediocre-at-best on the guitar,” he said jokingly.

It was when his band traveled to Vicksburg, MS for a recording session in an attic, that he became in awe of the engineer’s cool studio and extensive knowledge. “Still at that point I didn’t know that he was called a recording engineer,” recalled Reed. “I just knew that he was the one capturing the sounds. I saw this guy and what he was doing, and said to myself – ‘That’s it! That’s what I want to do.’”

Reed had been spending lots of time in Oxford prior to his decision to permanently relocate. Besides having close friends in town that he often visited, he partnered with a local label called Black Dog Records to take on various roles. Although the joint venture only lasted several years before free file sharing platforms, like Napster, completely upended the entire music industry, leading Reed to another career juncture.

“So it basically came down to a choice,” he said. “It was either back to Memphis, and hopefully get my old job back, or move to Oxford and start my own business.”

Taproot in Oxford

Taproot Audio Design began as a 24-track mastering studio, located in the College Hill section of Oxford. Harking back to his beginnings, Taproot was a name given to Reed when he was a kid, and he liked the euphonic contrast it gave to the complex nature of his business.

Reed stayed at the College Hill location for 14 years, but eventually moved the operation to his house, as he began gravitating towards trying to diversify, and dedicating himself more to film mixing than audio mastering.

“I was a little worried about it at first, but it all worked out,” he said. “I mean, I’ve got my studio right there and the family can actually enjoy it as well – because all the streaming stuff is hooked up through my system. So we’ve got one of the best home theaters in the area,” said Reed with a chuckle. “We can kick back and enjoy it as a family – and everybody has learned how to set it up.”

Reed also said that family viewings at his home studio have helped him continue to stay on the ball with film mixing, and allow him to hear countless finished commercial mixes through his high grade system, as they were intended to be.

Always having an underlying passion for mixing film, it was a field he had first considered when starting down his career path shortly after college. Yet he stuck with music due to the invaluable hands-on experience he would gain at the Ardent studios job.

Reed also had a close friend in Los Angeles that was a driving force, who had also gone the route of music engineering after graduation but eventually diversified to film mixing. Knowing of Reed’s passion for the craft – which is completely different from music mixing – he invited him to visit L.A. to assist with projects and gain more hands-on experience.

“It was nice having a buddy out there that was already set up,” he said.

Staying Innovative

Taproot continues to offer both mixing and mastering services, both in-house and remotely, for music as well as film. Reed’s passion currently lies with Dolby Atmos technology, which is an immersive audio format akin to surround sound, and it’s on the brink of transforming how we take in all of our entertainment in the near future.

Particularly with the classical music projects he’s worked on, Reed says the effect of Dolby Atmos, which creates a highly realistic, three-dimensional sound, can be fully appreciated. “Some of this classical stuff is just stunning, how you can place yourself within a room,” he said.

“A lot of folks just don’t know about it, but it’s available to everybody now,” said Reed. “It’s not going away. It’s going to be the next thing in audio, I think for music and for film.”

With regards to upcoming projects, a record company in Portland, OR has hired Reed to remix their entire catalog of meditative music. It’s an enormous undertaking that he’s excited about. “It’s going to be ongoing work for God knows how long. And it’s the kind of stuff that you can go a little nutty with, as far as panning and things like that. Stuff you couldn’t get away with on a traditional song.”

Despite sometimes outsourcing far and wide for work, Reed still has a passion for his homebase, and has seen a growing number of people coming from L.A., and other places more associated with the film industry. Many of whom are surprised at the full-service capabilities Reed’s home studio has to offer.

“With Oxford, you got a little bit of everything,” he said. “One of the main things is just the massive support of the arts in general. It’s just a really cool, special place, in my opinion.”

Reed urges anyone interested in his services to visit the studio and listen firsthand, which he finds to be the easiest way to show people what exactly he does. “You can tell ‘em ‘til you’re blue in the face, but sometimes it takes giving examples of what it is.”

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