Steve Chandler was recently crowned Sound Engineer of the Year at the 2022 International Bluegrass Music Association Industry Awards.
Chandler lived in Owensboro for many years and worked as entertainment director at the Executive Inn but recently moved to Nashville. Chandler works several days each month in Owensboro and said that although the award is special to him, he doesn’t want to be the one to win it more than once because he wants others to be recognized for their talent.
And that’s Chandler: humble and unassuming.
Fifty years ago, he started his interest in music, but it was because he was playing keyboard in a band; First with Maggs and then with Midwest band members Larry Maglinger, Bobby Blackford, Larry Evans and Bill Lewis.
“Larry [Maglinger] And I got down to recording together and that fueled our interest,” he said.
There were no engineering schools when he started out like there are now, so Chandler taught himself to mix and edit. And the equipment has changed over the years, along with musicians, who he said also chart their own music.
“It’s pretty interesting,” he said of learning the different charts artists use.
Chandler is in a studio every day — either in Waynesboro or Nashville — and said part of the reason is that so many musicians spend their time writing Epidemic that there are so many songs to record. He also engineers live music sessions with festivals like ROMP.
While in Owensboro, Chandler did sound engineering at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where he assisted with shows and recordings. He works two weekends a month as a sound engineer at Owensboro Christian Church and sometimes brings musicians from Nashville to the service.
“I like to see things grow,” he said of Owensboro Christian Church. “They’ve moved and adapted with technology.”
Chandler said he’s been with the museum from the ground up, saying their equipment is state-of-the-art and many musicians are drawn to the museum for the performance space and downtown Owensboro.
“The IBMA concert began in Owensboro … then moved to Louisville, Nashville and Raleigh. [N.C.]” Chandler said. “But Waynesboro launched it … brought it to the people. It’s the core element of IBM and brings people to perform.
Chandler often works shows at the Hall of Fame and is instrumental in bringing in acts — whom he mentions on a first-name basis.
Part of this is because Chandler is easy to talk to, but much of it is due to the wide range of talent he’s worked with during his career: .38 Special, Merle Haggard, Ricky Skaggs, the Black Crowes, Bela Fleck and Sam Bush, to name a few.
“Nashville is such a music town,” he said. “Working with Merle at Reba [McEntire] From the studio to hearing from a producer who calls and already has a studio — I go somewhere.”
Rounder Records and Hilltop Studios are two topics Chand discussed but said most sound engineers would go to any recording studio in Nashville.
“Everyone there is family,” he said. “You’ll end up with everyone.”
Chandler enjoys the creative element of the job and said he often requires an artist to do three to five takes without any musical accompaniment so that he can get the emotion of the song and then create it.
“I tell them ‘I want you to think about what you’re singing about,'” he said.
Chandler said that while his work involves tracking, dubbing, mixing and editing, it’s not just about “pushing the faders”.
“It’s about the human element,” he said, about tuning a voice.
He brings in the human element from the vocalists and writers, including co-writing to capture the emotion of some of the best songs he says.
“I love a good singer,” Chandler said. “It makes the players play better and everybody else better.”
After the lyrics were sung, he would mix the various elements and then get together with other editors and artists to brainstorm ideas.
“Sometimes someone will say ‘can we change this…build that,’ and we do,” he said.
Chandler has produced several Song and Album of the Year recipients and has been nominated four times in Bluegrass and twice in Gospel.
In May 2022, Chander was the recipient of the Absolute Gospel Music Awards’ “Dion Unthank Memorial Award”, which she said was a surprise even though her family was in the audience while performing on the show.
“This award was special because it was determined by peers, not a nomination,” he said.
And when Chander says he’s retired, he only means because of his age.
“Freedom is when you can choose to do something,” he said.
And he chooses to continue working to create “good things done.”
“The phone is still ringing,” he said of his 50-year career.