No matter what type of music you make, there's a place in North Iowa where you can get it recorded

Not only are these studios close to home, but they also offer sophisticated audio production technology.

At the Esther Strickland Studio in the conservatory at The Music Man Square in Mason City, the acoustics can be changed to resemble an auditorium, an arena or even a cathedral simply by pushing a button.

Jack Wilcox, head technician for the studio, said the technology allows a number of voice and instrument parts to be recorded on top of one another without any hiss.

The recording fee for students and amateur musicians is $25 an hour. There's a $100 an hour fee for professionals, but "we are not trying to make it a commercial studio," Wilcox said.

The studio is a popular place for students to record audition tapes and CDs for college scholarships.

Small choral and instrumental groups including jazz ensembles do some recording there. Members of the River City Barbershop Chorus, which Wilcox belongs to, also use the studio.

The recording process can move quickly. Wilcox said one Christian music group from Wisconsin that happened to be in the area during a tour recorded 18 songs in four hours at the studio.

Only about six or seven people can fit into the studio at once. The goal is to expand it so larger groups can use it.

Comprehensive Sound Services in rural Greene has a 48-track digital recording system, "but we're not a big-city, rock 'n' roll studio," said owner Richard Chitty.

In fact, much of Chitty's work is done on the road.

Chitty, a former vocal music teacher at Iowa Central Community College, does a lot of on-site recording for large ensembles such as high school bands and choirs and the North Iowa Concert Band.

High school groups sometimes come to the studio for a retreat and recording session. Smaller ensembles such as St. Cuthbert's Cow, a North Iowa Celtic folk band, also come to Comprehensive Sound Services to record CDs.

Chitty's background in music has given him a lot of contacts. Many of his customers are band and vocal instructors he met during his teaching career.

It also gives him something extra to add in the studio.

"People appreciate it if you can help them out from a musical perspective as well as a technical one," he said.

Like Comprehensive Sound Services, Rancho Bizarro Studios of Osage is located in the countryside.

The quiet, peaceful atmosphere helps musicians with the creative process, according to owner John Steiert.

"Everyone talks about how at ease and comfortable they are here," he said.

The studio has a small room for recording vocal tracks. There's a bigger room for recording drums, guitars and other instruments. But musicians aren't necessarily limited to recording there.

"We have actually cut acoustic guitar sitting on the steps," Steiert said.

Rock, blues, country, jazz and even polka musicians from all over North Iowa and southern Minnesota come to the studio to record.

"It's a good spot for younger bands or bands that need a demo," Steiert said.

Steiert charges $100 per song for demos. If a band is doing a four-song demo, they can get it done in three days: one to record the tracks, the second to do overdubs and a third to finish.

More established musicians also come to the studio to record full-fledged CDs. In addition, Rancho Bizarro offers on-site recording services for live concerts and special events.

The North Iowa rock band X-Factor-J is recording a CD at the studio.

"We were just going to come in and bash out some songs," said drummer Dan Kelly of Charles City.

However, the tunes are turning out even better than they hoped.

"Johnny did us proper," Kelly said.

Reach Mary Pieper at 421-0578 or


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