Somewhere on the fringes of Downtown Omaha, behind a retractable gate that only evokes dystopian fantasies, in an industrial complex turned swanky domicile turned half-built musical fortress, sits Rick Carson, deliberately strumming a Telecaster through a low-humming Marshall JCM800 amplifier.
The studio engineer and brain behind Make Believe Studios looks on through a psychotropic haze as an assembly of bustling bodies prepares the surrounding space for its spring launch.
With each nail they hammer, the realm that Carson, 26, says he dreamt up over a decade ago, when he first became fascinated with recording, becomes more apparent and more available to do his bidding.
“Anything you’ve ever thought of or wanted as far as being a musician, it’s here,” Carson says matter-of-factly. “Whether it’s direction or some stomp box you saw Jimi Hendrix use in a video in the ‘60s—any of those little things that you think can take your music and art to the next level, we’re going to help you with that.”
Though slightly unproven, save for within the ranks of an esoteric guild of gearheads and sonic wizards, Carson has been getting noticed as of late for his broad catalogue of work and polished curation of musical machinery. In fact, his soon-to-be world-class studio recently became the newest entrant into the Miloco group, an international conglomeration of studios that has a client list including U2, Kanye West, and Coldplay.
“Ever see this before?” studio manager Justin Valentine cuts in while exhibiting the faceplate of some PWM compressor. “We think they sent it to us by accident.”
“Since it’s here, let’s build one,” replies Carson decisively. “Tell him to buy the circuit board and parts—I would like one.”
Carson says he came to Omaha six years ago on sheer market research. Before then, he worked in studios in Prague and Chicago. And even further back, the Michigan native says he was, at the time, the youngest student ever to attend Full Sail University, an audio-engineering school located in Orange County, Fla.
“If anybody wants to know the sad truth about Rick Carson,” he reflects dryly, “I left high school my sophomore year and got into college on nothing but a GED for Dummies book, and I didn’t even take the GED or read the book.”
In fact, Carson says he earned his bachelor’s degree before his high school diploma on a technicality. But that’s just where his unconventional nature begins. For instance, Carson doesn’t drive. Instead, he has a former taxi driver, Dan the Cabman, on retainer. Carson doesn’t believe in money, either. He says it changes too dramatically and therefore he refuses to save it.
“I have less than one thousand dollars in the bank and a lot of gear,” he says.
The educated and outspoken Carson, who also isn’t shy about criticizing the local music community for what he calls its nepotistic tendencies, says he hopes Make Believe Studios will foster a culture of musicians who’ll put their product, or music, first.
“Our hope is that Omaha becomes more enriched,” he says. “That more people will get to hear Omaha music.”