Michael Peterson sits in the control room of his Martinez recording studio and ponders a journey that’s taken him from musician to DJ to engineer to record producer and label owner.
Peterson founded Harvest Moon Studios in 1995, as an outgrowth of what began as a hobby.
“I was a working musician, and always around equipment,” he said. “One day I bought a four-track reel-to-reel, and my friends were asking me to record them. One day I decided to build a recording studio. I had no idea what I was doing. I got plenty of advice on what equipment to buy, but I had no training in how to operate it.”
Peterson enrolled in a recording class at Los Medanos College, but found the process far too slow to fit his needs.
“I raised my hand and asked the instructor when we were going to start learning how to engineer recordings. He said ‘not until next year.’ I had a session booked that night. That was the end of my college experience.”
Peterson instead started bringing in outside engineers and watching what they did. He was mentored by a man who learned his trade from the engineer of the Beatles’ White Album, and attended lectures by well-known producers and engineers. Things began to fall into place.
“I started out recording mostly punk bands,” he said. “Those are the hardest sounds to mix, because of all the clashing frequencies. Eventually, though, I learned how to do proper equalization. That’s my toolbox. What people don’t realize is when you purchase a professional recording, it’s gone through a lot of professional hands.”
These days, recording software is extremely inexpensive, and a lot of would-be music stars are recording songs in their bedrooms and living rooms. But owning recording software doesn’t negate the need for knowledge and experience.
“You can’t buy experience,” Peterson said. “You still have to learn the craft of recording. It takes years. It’s like learning to play another instrument.”
Peterson said his years as a musician, married with his years as an engineer and producer, have brought him a level of maturity that now helps him produce other musicians.
“It’s easy to find a studio,” he said. “It’s harder to find someone who is going to give you guidance.”
Peterson is always on the lookout for bands who want to make a record with someone who can help them find their sound, not just in the studio, but on stage as well.
“My belief is, if you come in and record, I want to make sure you sound as good on stage as you do on the record.”
In addition to musical acts, Peterson records commercials, voice-overs, training tapes and a variety of other projects that require professional-level recording.
“My entire goal is to move people with my work,” he said.