Musician, producer and self-taught engineer Jono Manson formed his first band in New York City at the precocious age of seven. In later years he graduated to N.Y.’s explosive club scene, where he hit legendary venues including CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. His first recording space was established in his Brooklyn apartment, but ultimately he relocated to Santa Fe, NM in 1992. There he launched his studio, The Kitchen Sink and has since worked with artists including John Popper, Tao Seeger and American Idol season nine runner-up Crystal Bowersox. Manson was a founding member of ‘80s band, the Worms, and has twice been named Producer of the Year by the New Mexico Music Awards.
The population of Santa Fe trails New York’s by a staggering 8.4 million souls. Despite the massive difference, Manson’s managed to carve out a successful career. “My work as a producer reaches far beyond the local and regional community,” he says. “I work with people [from] all over the world: I produce a lot of records for Italian rock bands and singer-songwriters. Fifty percent of my business is drawn from regional clients and the other half is people from the rest of the world. So it’s kind of limiting––I don’t have a large [musician] pool to draw from––but I’m also something of a big fish in a small pond. It takes more doing [to establish a studio] in a community like this. But once it exists, there are advantages to being one of the only real ones for hundreds of miles.”
Manson has operated his own space for years. Accordingly, he’s learned some of the keys to making it successful. One is the willingness to work across genres. Another, of course, is to remain affordable. “You have to find a [cost] formula that works not just for larger acts with budgets but also for the local heroes,” the producer observes. “If someone calls me and says they have three grand to make an album, my answer is invariably that it can be done. But it’s often followed by a series of conditions. I had a blues band that wanted to do an album of 12 songs but they only had a day to do it. I explained that it was possible but they’d have to be rehearsed and be prepared not to be too picky. We did their dozen songs in 11 hours and it cost them six hundred dollars, our daily lockout rate.”
Wiring The Kitchen Sink, Manson’s latest studio, proved to be a substantial challenge. However, one that he finds markedly more vexing is balancing his personal and professional life. “You have to remember to keep your health together,” he asserts. “Sometimes you’re sitting at the desk for 15 hours. You have to maintain your stamina and enthusiasm. When a band hires you to do their album, you have to bring your A game.”
In 2016 Manson released his roots rock record The Slight Variations and he looks forward to the June release of Crystal Bowersox’s Alive, which was recorded live at The Kitchen Sink. He regularly hosts concerts in his tracking room and sometimes artists record the shows for release, as Bowersox did.