When you call Jim Oade, you’re likely to hear a recording of Jim himself saying, in a friendly drawl, “You have reached the number that you thought you dialed, so leave a message, if you please.” And then you may hear some beeps followed by a robotic voice that says, “Memory full.”
That’s the Oade (pronounced “Odie”) experience in a nutshell. Small-town boys, dedicated music fans, and longtime purveyors of customized audio equipment, Jim and his brother Doug want your business, but they’re not going to mount a huge campaign to get it, because they don’t need to: they stay busy all the time, and the phrase “back order” is a way of life to them.
Jim, 49, is actually semi-retired and devotes much of his time to growing the organic mushrooms he sells to Tallahassee restaurants, whereas Doug, 52, spends all his days at the business, just across the Georgia border in Thomasville. “Doug was the one who took apart our toys when he was four years old,” explains Jim, and now he modifies and sells factory audio equipment to make sure clients get the custom rigs they want.
The bulk of their clients are concertgoers who record live shows, just as the Oades began doing decades ago before they realized that their passion could lead to profit. Now, field recording is not for everyone, and you may want to stop reading here if you’re the kind of person who’s philosophically opposed to any conversation that includes a sentence like: “It was a good show, but not as good as the Cow Palace in ’74.”
Yet in the heyday of big-venue shows, many fans were not content to buy corporate product and wanted to do their own recording. In this, they found ample support from those merry anarchists, the Grateful Dead. The Dead and other bands allowed fans to tape their shows, though eventually a typical concert featured a city of microphones large enough to have its own zip code, not to mention warning lights for low-flying aircraft.
Some of those mikes were set up by the Oades. Venues began to crack down on taping, but Jim confesses to smuggling up to 90 pounds of equipment into shows; when asked how he got past security, he wiggles his eyebrows Groucho-style and says, “Jedi mind tricks.”
Why go to all that trouble, though? “Music frees us from the tyranny of the intellectual grip we have on the world in which we constantly describe and anticipate reality instead of participating in it,” says Doug. And Jim adds that “our goal is to transport the listener back to the venue” by presenting not just pure music but also the crowd noise and all those little spontaneous glitches that make the experience real.
As for those stealth rigs, the brothers say they’re used mainly by such clients as an entomologist who needs a compact rig to record insect sounds in a rainforest or an anthropologist recording a shaman going into a trance; in each case, the idea is to not make the subject self-conscious.
And if someone has to wait a few weeks to get a component, well, “they’re used to it,” says Doug with a shrug. “Look at it this way: if you want somebody to work on your house, do you want the guy who’s available immediately?”
If you’re an audioholic looking for a field recording rig—stealth or otherwise—the Oades have what you want. They do all their business on the Web these days (Oade.com), so e-mail or call and leave a message, if you please. The brothers are always busy, but in “taper” chatrooms, their customers say the wait is worth it.
Seriously, though, Jim, how about emptying that answering machine’s memory?