Show Us Your Space: Oklahoma City's Cardinal Song

Welcome to the latest addition of our Show Us Your Space series, where we explore and celebrate the unique music-making environments of studio owners, independent builders, and musicians at all levels.

Today, we're getting a brief history of Oklahoma City's Cardinal Song—a mixing and production service turned full-fledged and newly opened studio—told by its founder Michael Trepagnier. Follow along below to hear how Michael got Cardinal Song off the ground and to take a look at what's inside.

For more on Cardinal Song, visit its website here or follow them on Instagram @cardinalsongokc. Have you assembled a great practice space, project studio, or music workshop? Be sure to drop us a line at showusyourspace@reverb.com.



Cardinal Song was officially formed as a company as a mixing and production service in Oklahoma City in 2012, but the final physical form is brand spankin’ new! Cardinal Song officially opened for business as a commercial recording studio on March 6, 2020 after nearly two years of continual construction.

My career and the building of the studio casually began before going off to college. I had scraped together enough money to buy a Pro Tools Digi001 rig and a few cheap microphones in the summer of 2000. But the journey really starts to come into focus in my college dorm room with my across the hall neighbor. We built a “studio” between our two rooms, effectively having a control room in one dorm room and a live room in the other. After leaving the dorms, I built a home studio in my rented apartment. I cut a few records and tried to go down the artist path with my own band, realizing that wasn’t my strong suit I really started to focus on the audio and my skills as a recordist.

Once graduating from college I left Oklahoma to officially study audio at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences in Tempe, AZ. I moved to NYC after my time in Arizona, and worked at a handful of studios, getting to know some wonderful and inspiring people. I finally found a home as a house engineer at The Looking Glass Studios in Manhattan until it closed its doors circa 2009 (RIP).

Common Space

So much of who I am as a person, engineer and producer comes from my tenure at The Looking Glass and I’m eternally grateful for the opportunities I was afforded during that time and being part of some very cool and important (to me anyway) records. I studied under James Brown as an assistant engineer for a few years as well as Hector Castillo, Dan Bora and a ton of other world class engineers.

I left NYC in 2010. My wife and I moved back to OKC and I started teaching audio at ACM@UCO, I really enjoyed connecting with the students and helping them realize their goals as burgeoning engineers and producers. I left that position in 2017 to focus on building the studio and to finish a host of touring commitments, as a drum tech and monitor engineer, for the band Hanson.

Studio A

When I sat down to draw what the studio might look and feel like as a creative and technical space, I settled on building the entire structure inside what looks like a conventional home from the exterior, but is conceived and built from the ground up as a full fledged recording studio. I believe that it gives us a very unique space to be creative in and avoids the sterile look and feel of some traditional studio construction.

Clients enter into the large common space that feeds all the various rooms. This is a feel that I borrowed from the way the Looking Glass flowed down it’s long railroad-like corridor. I always enjoyed how that layout converged in the kitchen and naturally encouraged conversation and creative interaction of everyone in the building. So, I applied a similar feeling to our space. The studio is built on three lovely acres of land, so if it’s privacy you need, you can take a break from the recording process and get some fresh air on a walk around the property.

Studio A, North

Everything in the studio is custom-built and/or designed by either myself or my father, who is a proper engineer and a massive part of why this place is what it has become. To say that I learned a lot from him during this process would be a massive understatement. The custom API console furniture, all the acoustic treatment and pretty much anything outside of the general construction was built by hand to exacting specifications and to exceed capabilities of pre-existing “off the shelf” products.

The joy of being able to take the time to design anything we could imagine was that we were able to digest and re-engineer a lot of preexisting sorts of products. Dad and I gleaned a lot from looking at other companies’ products and re-thinking and expanding on their designs, where one-size-fits-all designs could become something more personal and specific to fit our needs. Of course, that’s no slander to those companies, doing things our extremely custom way is NOT a feasible business model for mass consumption (if you could consider the pro audio market a mass).

Studio A Console

The custom API 1608 console furniture and floating desk are wonderful examples of that ethos. Taking technical drawings and fussing with them until what was constructed became very uniquely our design and fostered a workflow unique to Cardinal Song. This mindset extends into nearly every aspect of the space, from building our acoustic treatment, the size and shape of the studio windows and so many more projects.

The most obvious acoustic treatment piece is probably our QRD diffusor that we designed and built in house to work at our own pre-planned frequency range. It’s an impressive piece of kit, and I’m grateful for the experience of that project, but I also hope not to have to build another one for a very long time! In all, I believe from a functional design perspective my father and I did a very nice job in designing and overcoming a lot of obstacles and pit falls while planning and building Cardinal Song.

Studio A, East

The fun stuff to read about is all the gear right?! I’d imagine that’s what most people are wanting to see in the article. So let’s jump in! I’ve been collecting gear since I was in high school, and it all started with my mid-'70 Gibson Les Paul Triumph bass. I quit violin after middle school, and wanted to be in rock band. I got a cheap bass initially, but quickly moved up to that Gibson after a few years of practicing and playing with friends. That was the first “real” instrument I owned, and I still have to this day.

From there the next “real” pieces I got were my two Altec 1567a mixers I got off a church during college for a criminally cheap price. They needed some work, but sounded incredible straight away. I also believe that was my first experience with proper tube amplification and distortion. At the time I had no idea how to wrangle that sort of harmonic texture, but I loved the way they sounded. They bring something to the party every time they got turned on, and I love them very much.

Altec 1567a

If you look at the racks you’ll notice lots of vintage equipment interspersed with newer pieces. The studio’s workflow is firmly planted with one foot in the past and the other reaching into the future. I am of the mindset to have an analog front end that is balanced with a digital backend. While this isn’t a new concept now, it certainly felt new to me when I helped wire and put together the studio B space at The Looking Glass in or around 2008. Hector Castillo had a cool vision of a hybrid workflow for that space, and I learned a lot from his vision and kindness during that build. The hybrid workflow all started for me at that point in time.

I believe that there are a few things that you cannot fake or use DSP to get your way through, getting sounds and textures correct at the mic is one of them. For me that means mics, mic amps and dynamic processors at the initial input to the DAW.

That’s just my take on things at this point in time, and as technology gets better there are certainly less obstacles in the path, but I still resort to the tried and true skills of getting the right mic, mic amp and dynamics processing on the source. I don’t really entertain any analog vs digital arguments because treating them as equals is where the sound and the workflow both end up benefitting each other. You’ll notice a lot of pieces that exhibit this sort of mindset in the fray here at Cardinal Song.

Studio A Outboard Rack

The studio has a beautiful API 1608, and lots of other cool mic amp and compressor textures from companies like Chandler, Neotek, API, Altec, UREI, RETRO and Ampex. As far as mic amps goes, the API 312s are certainly nothing to scoff at, and I’m very lucky to have 16 of them.

As far as other outboard mic amps I absolutely adore my Ampex 601s. I got hip to these doing a session at my buddy Brian Bender’s, The Motherbrain studio. He had a pair of 602s that had been modded by a tech in Tempe AZ, Andy Barrett. Once I got home from that session I found a pair of 601s, and immediately sent them off to Andy for his wonderful mods, and they sound killer!

Studio A Outboard Rack

On the compressor front the shining stars are the UREI 1176 (series F) and the WSW U373a. I purchased the 1176 from The Looking Glass as it was closing its doors, and I feel like a very lucky boy for getting ahold of that specific one. It’s the best 1176 I’ve heard to date, and a wonderful example of that era of 1176!

The WSW is another of Bender’s influences. Much like his 602s, once I heard his set, I had to have some. Those compressors are wonderfully rich and spongey, and if I’m correct in my history, they’re some of the earliest examples of solid-state compressors to be manufactured. I’ve got many other compression flavors from Retro, Smart, DBX and Langlavin to round out the dynamics processing.

Common Room Mic Locker

I’m a huge 500 series advocate and have been for a very long time. It’s cost-effective and there is such a wild variety of DIY designers and large companies to choose modules from. I love the DIY audio building community and companies DIYRE and CAPI that help us build great gear on a budget. I got into the DIYRE Colour product line a few years back, and have subsequently built six CP5s for the console, 2 Colour Palette’s for the outboard rack and tons of various Colour cards.

I love building kits and encourage folks to be brave and jump into it, you’ll learn as you go! My latest adventure has been into the world of Opamps, and discovering the crazy new textures you can achieve from swapping a single part. I will always be building and tweaking kits, so I’m sure there is more to come on this front.

Studio A Synth Station

The synth world in Studio A’s control room, dubbed “the creation station” was an idea that I hatched many years ago, but I found out that Jamie Liddell (and probably many others) beat me to the punch on this. All the synths and Ableton are controlled from the single MIDI controller and feed a rack mounted mixer so the artist can build totally custom created sounds.

I’ve become grumpy about recording MIDI data, or being the artist’s software instrument knob tweaker, so I took the old recording machine and made it the host of the creation station’s software instruments, mostly running Ableton for more extreme manipulation. Part of what this allows both me and the musician is a separate place where they can freely craft sounds, and I can just take the audio via our DANTE network.

Custom Telecaster

Speaking of DANTE, our integration is still pretty basic but I cannot wait to continue to expand the integration to our planned underground echo chamber. Being in Oklahoma, tornados are a very real thing and when the property was purchased to build the studio on, there was a shelter on the property. Pretty early on, I figured I’d turn that into a real-deal echo chamber! All that I lack now is a good solution for keeping the gear healthy underground and keeping the moisture away from it, and hope to have that finished by the end of 2020.

I’ve been busy collecting instrument too and have amassed a decent collection of things for our clients to play with. I’ve built a lot of our guitars and basses or have done lots of mods to the ones that have been purchased. There are definitely some cool vintage offerings too.

Most of the guitars are housed in a custom-designed guitar chest of drawers. I was thinking about my grandfather’s old map cases when I designed it, and it’s a really nice way to not only showcase the instruments, but to keep them protected while still easily accessible to the artists when they need to grab something else for inspiration.

Common Room Mic Locker
Common Room Guitar Storage
Common Room amp storage.

The amp and mic storage areas in the common room were me tearing a page out of Joel Hamilton of Studio G’s book. I love the way he built the amps into the aesthetics of the space, and that was something I very intentionally borrowed from them during the design stage. Thanks Joel!

Having spent a fair amount of time in the last few years touring as a drum tech I have come to really adore working with C&C kits. I’m super lucky to have a stunning C&C custom drum kit in-house.

I also fell in love with the idea of a 24x12 kick drum, so when I was able to find this kit with the kick dimensions that I was hoping to get, I knew that it was the one. I’m told that it was Andrew Bird’s touring kit for a while. I cannot confirm that specifically, but I think that it’s a fun story if it’s true. The kit is rounded out with a wonderful selection of Istanbul cymbals and some choice snares for options.

Studio A, Keys
Studio A, Southeast

As far as non-synth keys go, I have a wonderful 1965 Kawai K20 upright piano, a refurbished Hammond M3 with a newer model Leslie cabinet, a weird Yamaha electric pump organ and a refurbished 88-key Fender Rhodes piano. I feel super lucky on the piano purchase as it was massively undervalued because it’s old and has been played and dinged up a lot by a loving family. The key bed feels great, and it sounds so much bigger than it is.

I plan on expanding into our Studio B space at some point, but for now I’m looking to rent it to another engineer/producer in the area until the time is right for us to move into a second studio space. As far as future expansions and plans, I’ve got a lot of ideas, but need to get through this global pandemic before getting too excited. All in all I’m super excited to be open and super excited to part of Reverb’s show us your space! Thanks for taking the time to check out Cardinal Song!

Michael Trepagnier on the Studio A couch.
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