“My dad was a huge influence on me,” begins Jess Charlton, studio manager, engineer, course administrator and instructor at Alchemy Studios Inc. in Calgary’s northeast. “When I was growing up, he was signed to Aquarius Records in Montreal (with metal act, Mindstorm), and I was born there because he was recording his second studio album.”
Combine that with her mom being a drummer and Charlton was “exposed to the industry at a very young age.” She recalls going “to his jams and we would record his jams together so I’d take them home and mix the content.”
At the young age of 24, Charlton has already worked for Calgary studio The Beach Advanced Audio Recording and has now set up shop at Alchemy. She has recorded local bands We Found the Body, Whorehouse Massacre, Dead Salvation, Fetal Defilement and Train Bigger Monkeys. Her resume also boasts tracks from Nas, Queens of the Stone Age, the New Pornographers and IllScarlett.
“There is not an aspect of music that I won’t touch or that I won’t do,” she explains enthusiastically from one of the studios gorgeous mixing rooms. In the same studio she teaches courses – in a curriculum she designed – through the Alberta Academy of Recording (AAR).
“Courses are 200 hours,” says Charlton, who explains she wanted to provide an alternative to the Academy of Production and Recordings Arts (APRA), whose cost ranges from $6,289.50 to $22,543.50. Charlton previously taught the advanced APRA course while she worked at the Beach. “It’s just providing an alternative. It’s not accredited, I don’t meet the requirements, because I don’t ask for prerequisites… Most people who excel in the audio industry are not book people… because this is a way to focus energy.”
Charlton further explains she has avoided accreditation – which ultimately means you receive a certificate at course completion and is transferable to other institutions – due to age caps. Currently, her youngest student is aged 17. Besides, she argues the advantage of AAR program is that one graduates with “a demo reel. I have yet to get hired on anything but my demo list and a credit reel.”
This inclusive approach to teaching extends to literally every element of her work, from the types of bands she records to the services she provides.
“I really enjoy working with everything,” she says, though she admits metal is her soft spot. Charlton fondly recalls “buying …And Justice for All when I was six and getting it on tape and wearing it out,” and when Far Beyond Driven was released, “it changed my life.”
“I really like working with metal because I find it’s a challenge,” says Charlton. “It really does challenge you to bring it up to the next level and step up… you have this plethora of tracks to deal with and there is so many different parts and so many intricacies, and a lot of those people have a really strong foundation in music so if you can’t keep up with that, forget you.”
As such, Charlton has a basis in drums, keyboard, percussion, and guitar, to enable her to “have a theory in music, to be able to speak to musicians about the structure of their songs.” She finds it important to provide input on “the progressions, maybe try this here try this here, maybe put a third on this. And you can actually talk on the same level as the bands, which is nice.”
Did we mention she also refuses to take copyrights away from bands for any of her input? Also, that her studio offers free sessions through AAR to help her students get a demo reel? Just send in the online form.
Charlton’s rates are variable based on a band’s budget, and day rates are available at alchemystudio.ca. If you’re interested in her work, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at 403.457.0950. The Alberta Academy of Recording course costs $3,495.00, including books.
Story and photo by Sarah KitteringhamAB, Alberta