Audio Art's Neil Meckelborg

Audio Art's Neil Meckelborg

Recording for a Reason, Producing with a Passion

by Levi Soulodre

August 25, 2009

Anyone involved in the Prairie music scene is bound to be familiar with Neil Meckelborg, recording engineer at Saskatoon’s premiere state-of-the-art studio, Audio Art, as his talent, time and studio are constantly in demand. Neil is not only recognized for his engineering prowess, but for his production and musician credits, and an enduring dedication and commitment to Saskatchewan’s musical well-being.

The Session meets Neil, a courteous and cheerful person, diligently working away at his studio console in his second home: the recording rooms of Audio Art, which he now runs alongside owner Glenn Ens. Before being hired by the studio, Neil found a job at Turtle Island Music, where he also won an Aboriginal Music Award for his work. Audio Art originally spent eight years located above HEL Music on Broadway; it then moved its operations to Pacific Avenue in downtown Saskatoon five years ago, and now occupies its present home on the historic corner of 3rd Avenue South. Neil explains that the basement space where they operate was originally constructed as a bank vault, ultimately benefiting their space by keeping studio sounds in, and keeping unwanted sounds from the busy downtown streets out. The Audio Art space boasts two full studio Pro Tools HD 3 processing systems-loaded recording consoles, which both square off the large main recording/tracking room. A professionally constructed vocal isolation room is used for vocal/voice recording and for post-film production work. Audio Art has so many recording tools that even Neil is challenged to recap the wealth of mics and plug-ins they employ.

Neil’s own recording interest and experiences birthed as soon as he began writing and recording with his own bands at home. A chronological listing of his first recording units begins with a Tascam Portastudio 4-track cassette deck, to an 8-track cassette unit. He also bought an old TEAC 8-track reel-to-reel from Glenn, years before he was hired at Audio Art. Neil recalls notorious Saskatoon punk rockers Feederchain’s debut album from 1994 as being one of his most memorable works: “I love those guys, they’re still one of my favourite Saskatoon bands!” The album not only marked his debut into professional recording, but also his first full-length project as a producer.

While Neil believes in incorporating both recording and producing duties together as beneficial to the overall project, he prefers production work, as he’s able to have greater creative input. “As an engineer, your role’s not in providing input and feedback; as a producer, it’s just more fun because you’re more heavily involved in the project, having the players bounce stuff off of you, playing or idea-wise…I tend to have a grey area between recording and producing,” he chuckles.

When asked if he’s ever encountered recording horror stories, Neil guffaws, “there’s always those!” He explains, “When it comes to a bad session, it usually comes out on its own.” Recalling a session just after he started at Audio Art, Neil slugged through one of his single longest sessions, where a singer attempted to track a vocal for one song for over eight hours. He reasons, “When recording, your own name is not on the line as much. If they leave and they’re happy, then it’s good!”

“The songs always determine which projects make for the best recording sessions,” Neil says. He calls to mind Saskatoon groups Slab Drab, Wheatmonkeys and One Bad Son as groups he’s particularly enjoyed working with. “When (a band) comes into the studio, it’s my job to be as productive as possible,” he explains. While an approximate 12-song album usually takes a few weeks, Neil recalls that he’s worked on some albums that progress, on and off, over a period of two years.

Moose Jaw-native and acoustic singer/songwriter Ray Rawlyk worked with Neil for the entire process of his latest album, “Mage in the Moon”. Aside from wholly producing the album, Neil describes the experience as being “a time intensive project…it turned out really good, and was about a month-long process.” He refines the time length to six months, when including the journey from initial ‘hellos’ and pre-production, all the way to arranging the songs, hiring session players and finally handing Ray the master copy.

In some surprise instances, Neil is engaged exclusively for his recording prowess, such as when New York City-based hip-hop legend Nas tracked demos at Audio Art before his Saskatoon performance last May. “I worked with him for an evening, basically before his show; that’s obviously a role where I’m strictly acting as the engineer.” Neil also remembers an enjoyable evening with James Taylor’s bandmates, who also made a recording stop at Audio Art.

While it’s more unusual for Neil to work on national projects, given the wealth of specialized facilities in major centres, he loves the challenge and prospects of working through different mediums. “As a Saskatchewan-based company, you have to be a jack-of-all-trades,” and Neil says this arrives as a bonus; “It’s a lot of fun! I really enjoy the fact that one day I’m producing an album, and the next I’m recording on hardwood floors as a foley artist. I’ve enjoyed working in everything from editing dance music to recording pow-wows.” He adds, “It’s nice to do something different; it keeps things fresh for me. That’s a definite plus.” Neil champions Saskatchewan’s connectivity between people and the arts sector this way: “It’s just a great place to be, and to work,” Neil says. “People are so connected these days, you don’t have to be living in Toronto to work; it’s a good time to be working [in Saskatchewan].” The studio is currently busy with Rabbit Fall, a Saskatchewan-based television series. Neil has found himself in some untypical situations too, especially while doing location audio outside in the middle of winter. He describes “trying to push the record button when you have mitts over your fingers!” as a unique Prairie recording ordeal. Neil was also chosen by Rawlco Radio to direct their enormously generous Project 10K20 in 2006, which amassed an amazing response, and provided recording grants to 29 groups/artists. While Neil says it was a huge undertaking, he calls it “an amazing run” and he’d love to have it happen again, having witnessed the benefits: “The whole province’s music awareness must’ve been boosted by at least 50 percent!”

Like any serious artistic career attempt, Neil notes, “it’s a pretty long road before you’re making a living.” While he has no formal training, he recommends it for aspiring recording engineers, as recording and production remain a lengthy learning discipline; and while he stresses the importance of education, he does mention that with a diploma, you’re still only “one foot ahead of the pack.” In a competitive market, he adds, “there aren’t too many open jobs in the field these days.” For Glenn and Neil, it was “all hard knocks!” Neil believes that you ultimately have to create your own opportunities; he has a keen outlook on a successful engineer’s duties, which he calls the three fundamentals of the role - “You’re part technician, part musician, and part cheerleader,” he says. “Otherwise,” Neil notes, “it comes out on tape!”
Learn more about Neil’s work and visit Audio Art
online at

Note: Sadley, Neil Meckelborg passed away at age 46 in July 2009. He will be remembered by many as a man who helped immortalize the music of countless bands in Saskatchewan.

By Levi Soulodre for SaskMusic. Originally Published Spring 2009.

This article is posted as initially published. For reprint/usage permission or any other questions, please contact SaskMusic.


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