Audeze catches up with producer, engineer and musician Rick Barnes

January 19, 2023

Audeze catches up with producer, engineer and musician Rick Barnes

Rick Barnes is a Grammy Nominated producer/engineer/musician working out of his favorite studio in Chicago, Rax Trax Recording.

Rick Barnes in the studio with his Audeze LCD-X headphones
"I use the LCD-X to really dig in and listen deep into a mix or tracking session."  - Rick Barnes
Here's our talk with Rick:
Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?

I've been very proud working with The Nicholas Tremulis Band for many years as a guitarist while engineering and producing the many records we've made over the years.

I've also had the honor of working with some of the world's finest Blues greats like Koko Taylor, Eddie Clearwater, Buddy Guy, Willie Kent, Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, Otis Clay, Sugar Blue, Billy Branch and many others. One of the things I'm particularly proud of is helping young musicians in a professorial role in the Music Department at Columbia College, Chicago. One of my students Jonathon McReynolds is quickly becoming a New Gospel favorite by winning a Gospel music Grammy this past year.

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

In this day and age you basically have to do as much as possible to help your clients. I produce and engineer while lending them my musician skills when needed.

How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?

I started playing guitar as an early teen and was listening to the new exciting sounds of Led Zeppelin, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and of course The Beatles. These were groundbreaking bands with very fresh musical ideas. Even today I pretty much only gravitate to groundbreaking artists. Fad music and bands d'jour really don't do it for me.

Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

As a very young musician, I got a chance to see many mind-blowing incredible concerts. 3 concerts come to mind: Jimi Hendrix at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago, he just came out with Purple Haze. The Who on their My Generation tour played a tiny little beer garden outside of Chicago. When I saw them trash their (rental) gear at the end of the show, I was hooked as a musician for life. And third, James Brown performing at a Soul Bowl Concert was one of the most electric performances I ever saw!

I have never been one for Hero worship or role models, but my interactions with some of the Blues legends I've worked with were truly inspirational.

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

Moments of frustration in the recording world can sometimes come from the inability to help your artists achieve their best performance. At these times you need to be a producer/engineer and psychiatrist.

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

I mix hybrid style so I'm using an ever changing array of fantastic plug-ins and on the hardware side, I'm using Distressors, LA2A's, Dolby 365 for vocals, Retro Sta Level and 176, Manley Vari Mu and our Lavry Gold converter, among others.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

I spent many years producing, engineering and being a studio owner. My advice is to love what you do because this isn't the easiest way to make a living. But if you have a love for music and recording, it will be very gratifying.

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

I haven't been working with headphones until fairly recently. It's been incredibly helpful in the final stages dealing with those awful ProTools clicks and ticks and the occasional clocking ticks that make their way into your recordings. Also certain balancing issues are easy to assess with headphones.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work? Can you tell us what you've been working on with them so far?

I've auditioned quite a few headphones recently and Audeze was, by far, the best headphone I tried. No doubt about it, my LCD-X was the clear winner.
I work with ATC 45 and ATC 50s speakers and I've found the LCD-X translates nicely from headphone to speaker. When not on speakers, I use the LCD-X to really dig in and listen deep into a mix or tracking session.

A couple recent projects I've worked with are Chicago blues great John Primer, Jazz composer and percussion multi-instrumentalist Kahil El Zabar and Chicago fave Nicholas Tremulis and the Prodigals.