Dan Hartman: Rockin' in the Schoolhouse

Inside the home studio that produced hits for Foghat and other rockers looking for intimate feel

Dan Hartman, 1978 Credit: Gems/Redferns/Getty

As an example of the individualism that's possible in home studios, consider Dan Hartman's Schoolhouse. The name comes from the studio's location in one room of a sixteen-room Connecticut colonial, just outside Manhattan, that was built in 1760 as a boys' school. Over the past three years, albums by Foghat, .38 Special, Muddy Waters, Rick Derringer, Johnny and Edgar Winter, David Johansen and, of course, Hartman himself have been recorded and/or mixed there.

Bitten by the recording bug while in his teens, keyboardist-guitarist Hartman, who had a solo hit last year with ''Instant Replay,'' first rigged up a home studio while playing with the Edgar Winter Group. After the band dissolved, he went house-hunting with a studio in mind.

''I was looking for a house with at least one large room that could get a big Led Zep drum sound if we wanted,'' he says. ''The School-house is that room; it's responsible for all those big-sounding guitars on Foghat's Night Shift album — that really big sound rock & roll demands.''

In the Schoolhouse, Hartman found an ideal studio situation almost ready-made. Although carpeting and curtains were added to soak up sound in the twenty-by-twenty-six-foot room, Hartman has done remarkably little acousticizing — a fact he's proud of.

''I could move tomorrow, and you'd never know there'd been a recording studio here,'' he says. ''I didn't want to rip things out or acousticize it or do any of the shit that makes you feel like now you've spent a million dollars and have this big important studio. I like to use an acoustically interesting house as it is.''

And he does mean ''house.'' Besides the studio proper, all three floors of the building are wired for recording. ''We have used almost every room in the house for different sounds,'' he says. All of the wiring leads to an eight-by-fourteen-foot control room, also known as the master bedroom. The control room commits engineering heresy by being one story above, and diagonally across from, the Schoolhouse; there is no visual contact.

''As an artist, I don't like being able to be seen,'' Hartman explains. ''If you're having difficulty getting a part, it adds to the tension when the assistant engineer, engineer, producer and producer's wife are hanging out. With the School-house, my engineer's in the control room, and I could be doing vocals while stretching my T-shirt over my head and it wouldn't matter. Everyone who's worked here has gotten used to this nonvisual communication and actually found it to be advantageous. That's what home studios are about — that funky thing.''

The Schoolhouse's twenty-four-track, $300,000 setup (Hartman uses MCI recorders and control console; Altec Big Red monitors; two Crown DC-150 power amps; Sony, AKG, Senn-heiser and Neumann mikes; and Sony and Teac accessory tape machines) may not be everyone's idea of a funky thing. But the philosophy behind home studios remains the same regardless of economic outlay. As Hartman notes, a home studio is a place ''to feel like a person rather than the next number coming up on the charts. When I go back to a real studio to mix something, I look at the playing room and say, 'Wow, how could I ever play in that?' ''