Crew Call: Tom Ohmsen

The Audio Engineer

Tom Ohmsen is more than an audio engineer. He is also an extraordinary musician, songwriter, a published author and a business owner.  Roots2Rock is lucky to have him as its “sound guy.”  The musicians performing on Roots2Rock will be working with the audio engineer who recorded many of the songs on Dave Mathews’ first album, and who has since recorded hundreds of musicians in his studio at Flat Five Recording and Press.

Ohmsen got into music in college. At first it was through radio work. “I was doing a radio show at Virginia Western Community College (VWCC) for WVTF,” remembered Ohmsen.  “At that time the station was a part of Virginia Western.”

While interning at WVTF he was doing a Saturday morning bluegrass show with records (you remember those right?) and convinced the station managers to let him go out and record local groups while they performed live.

“So, they gave me a half hour show,” continued Ohmsen.  “They gave me some equipment and I went out to places like the Coffee Pot [an historic roadhouse in Roanoke, Virginia] and badly recorded bands.”

He got a two-year degree from VWCC and then honed his audio engineering skills while he earned a four-year degree from James Madison University (JMU) in broadcast and production. Ohmsen also picked up the mandolin.

Picking up Music

“We had a guitar sitting around home when I was a child and I learned a chord or two,” added Ohmsen.  “I got into playing the mandolin because I had a roommate at JMU that had one just kind of sitting in the corner.  He never played it.  I picked it up just looking for something to do.”

Ohmsen continued his radio work at WMRA in Harrisonburg.  Musicians performed live every Friday and that is where he met a teacher that would change his life.   “One of the musicians was Two-gun Terry a real character and excellent mandolin and fiddle player. I started taking lessons from him and really enjoyed that.  I figured there was already a million guitar players out there and not that many mandolin players, so I would have a better chance of getting gig.”

He did get gigs.  By the late 1970s, people were coming to his house to record demos.  “I was recording demos with simple equipment for the bands I was in, so I made a room in the basement of the house I had at the time.  That was 1982-83.”

That led to the formation of his business.  “The reason it’s called Flat Five Recording and Press is because it started with four instruction books I wrote. Two of them were about 300 pages each on Music Theory for Modern Mandolin and Music Theory for Modern Guitar. They were based on a Juilliard correspondence course I had taken in the 70s.  Over time we probably sold about 20,000 copies of all those books. The mandolin book is in the library at Harvard.”

Ohmsen used the money from the sale of those books to open his recording studio in Salem, Virginia, in 1991. At the same time, he was working for an equipment rental and event company that had ties to Coran Capshaw who manages the Dave Mathews Band.

“Dave was just starting out in the early 90s. He was being chased by record companies and they were trying to record at a studio in Charlottesville and couldn’t get anything done because of hangers-on,” explained Ohmsen.

The company recommended Ohmsen’s studio as a discrete place to get work done.  “So, I ended up working several hundred hours on his music in 92,” remembered Ohmsen.  They used several of the songs on his first album, “Remember Two Things,” which they released independently. It ended up going gold and platinum.”

Mathews got a deal with RCA Records after that and Ohmsen ended up booked solid for years.  In addition to a busy recording studio, Ohmsen is playing with the Blue Mule Band in Roanoke.

“We currently have a side group, the Jazz-Alachian Playboys,” added Ohmsen. “We take jazz standards and old fiddle tunes and mash them up. We’ll take an old fiddle tune and turn it into a swing arrangement or we’ll take a standard bluegrass vocal song and turn it into slow blues.”

The Jazz-Alachian Playboys is Tom on mandolin. Jerry Wood on the Five string electric fiddle. Eli Williams on guitar and Brian Jones, who plays with the Kings and Cimarron and other bands around Roanoke, is on upright bass.

What is Tom’s most exciting musical moment? “All of them, I’m looking forward to what the next musical moment will be,” said Ohmsen.  There are sure to be many of them.

What is Roots2Rock on the road?

Our Roots to Rock on the road series is just as it sounds. Our crew packs the gear in the wagon and hits the road to bring you live music streamed on our Facebook page. These live streams come from taprooms, smaller listening rooms and even recording studios. When we say live we mean a multi-camera switched live stream that will immerse viewers into the performance. In addition to music you see interviews with the artists and the people who run our unique venues. Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to find out when the next live stream will be.

Our Mission

Our mission is to help promote artists and small businesses by telling their stories. We invite you to watch Roots2Rock then visit our venues, restaurants, shops and outdoor recreation opportunities that make the Virginia’s Blue Ridge region so special. To learn more about our region click here

Contact us to learn more about Roots2Rock.

Roots2Rock is a production of New Moon Creative Media, LLC. New Moon Creative Media is a full service video production company. Let us help you tell your story through video in the form of commercials, television shows or web videos. Reach your clients through multi-camera live streaming and receive instant feedback on new products or services

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