Blaine man’s audio restoration business is taking off

When Nathan Clark saw his career path tumbling to a near halt, trapped in a cycle of more than a dozen menial, dead-end jobs and a stack of maxed out credit cards, he did what any enterprising entrepreneur would do. He started a new business.

Nathan Clark worked three jobs to get his business up and running. Here, he checks over equipment. Clark receives customer orders for his audio restoration and forensic services nationwide and from Canada. Photo by Elyse Kaner

Nathan Clark worked three jobs to get his business up and running. Here, he checks over equipment. Clark receives customer orders for his audio restoration and forensic services nationwide and from Canada. Photo by Elyse Kaner

After a stab at several futile beginnings, Clark, 36, started Immure Records in 2007 in a specially built studio in the backyard of his Blaine home.

Clark, a tattooed ex-rocker – a cross between actor/comedian Seth Rogen and stand-up comic Steven Wright – came up with the name of the business, meaning to confine or enclose within, as within closed walls, to describe how he was feeling at the time. Strapped. A lackluster future. Not sure where he was headed.

But it was his father, Bill Clark, who influenced what the younger Clark hopes is a stable and final career. Bill Clark died in 2004.

“I didn’t have anything of him on tape or on video or anything like that,” Clark said. “That’s kind of the main reason that I wanted to do what I do.”

Clark now owns and operates an audio restoration and audio forensics lab, where he specializes in audio forensic examination and in restoring and preserving recorded audio records and tapes.

If you have an old reel-to-reel tape that you want transferred onto a CD, Clark works his magic. The same with vintage LP albums. He removes the hissing, buzzing and crackling from old recordings and restores them to pristine sound. Clark also does audio post-production mastering for bands, solo artists, film and radio.

A fourth job

Nathan Clark in his studio with one-foot thick walls. “It’s so soundproofed in here, if tornado sirens are going off, you can’t hear them,” he said. Photo by Elyse Kaner

Nathan Clark in his studio with one-foot thick walls. “It’s so soundproofed in here, if tornado sirens are going off, you can’t hear them,” he said. Photo by Elyse Kaner

It took an entire year for Clark to build his soundproof studio at 1740 130th Ave. N.E., where he now spends a majority of his day.

That’s because at the time, he was working three jobs, teaching an auto body class at Century College in White Bear Lake, working weekends at NAPA Auto Parts and working on launching his nascent business.

Building the studio, with the help of his younger brother, Eric, 35, in essence, became his fourth job.

The studio walls are a foot thick.

“It’s so soundproofed in here, if tornado sirens are going off, you can’t hear them,” Clark said last week sitting in his one-room studio surrounded by audio equipment, mixing boards, turntables, equalizers, speakers and stacks of old vinyl record albums, some sent from as far away as Hawaii.

But before Clark could start his recording restoration business, he needed to restore his studio.

The move was fueled by a neighbor whose complaints about his loud music landed Clark in court about seven times.

“I was sitting there with a tie on,” Clark said. “I look over and there’s a guy with an orange jump suit and he’s shackled. I thought, ‘Crap! What did this guy do? I’m, like, I’m here. I just play drums, man. I’m like, what did this guy do? Did you kill somebody? I thought, oh my God. I so should not be here. I’ve never been in trouble in my life.’”

The renovation

With the neighbor’s complaints piling up, Clark set to work reconstructing a more soundproof work space.

For starters, the 510 square-foot building was in bad shape. It was filthy. Clark believes it was an old woodworking shed. “It just stunk,” Clark said.

The previous owner left eight 30-gallon barrels filled with a questionable, murky substance in the building. (Clark said he disposed of the barrel contents responsibly at an environmental company.) Clark worked for hours cleaning up the mess.

“There were so many times I looked around… I just threw my arms up in the air and said ‘what the hell am I doing?’” he said.

Clark tore the walls down to the bare studs. He added two layers of Sheetrock with green glue slathered between both layers. He added a decibel block, a heavy rubber membrane, to further soak up the sound. He re-insulated the walls and the eight-foot ceiling.

Seeing the finish line

Clark figures start-up costs for his business at about $60,000. Getting money for the start-up was rough going. He didn’t qualify for a small business loan. So he took a risk. He maxed out his credit cards. All eight of them. His credit score plummeted.

“I knew if I wanted to be successful in this, I had to sacrifice something,” Clark said. “So I said, ‘fine. I will sacrifice my credit score. That’s the only way I can do it.’

“Sometimes you’re so driven in your thinking, you know. All I could see was the finish line. I didn’t care about anything. I didn’t care about running through the coals. I didn’t care about getting beat up along the way. Living on ramen noodles. I just didn’t care. All I could see was that finish line and I had to get to it.”

He borrowed from his mother, used his meager savings and worked the third job at NAPA to make ends meet and to infuse revenue into his new business.

Clark figures the initial cost of his electronic equipment at more than $25,000. That’s not including the software.

Gradually, customer orders came streaming in. At first, a small order to hear a sampling of his work. Later, larger orders followed, requesting a transfer of albums to CDs. Some customers shipped him more than 100 albums.

Eventually, Clark was able to quit his job at NAPA. Today he devotes more than 85 hours between his two jobs. About 50 hours a week at the studio and about 35 hours a week at Century.

The first year Clark was in business, he made about $2,000.

This year, he’s on track to earn from $40,000 to $45,000. This fall, he’s also on track to pay off his final credit card debt, he said.

A one-man show

As CEO of Immure Records, Clark is a one-man show. He markets the business and does the recording transfers and forensic work. He’s the IT guy, the accountant and the maid all rolled into one. His wife, Chrissy, who works in a Blaine dental office, has started helping him keep the books.

Clark charges $15.95 per album transfer. The transfer takes three to four hours. Reel-to-reel transfers are $19.95, beyond 80 minutes is $21.95 and a reel-to-reel transfer of up to three CDs is $23.95. His forensic work starts at about $75 an hour.

He advertises on the Internet and, so far, has attracted customers nationwide and from Canada. Immure Records now preserves and restores thousands of records and tapes per year.

A whirlwind of jobs

Clark was raised in Mounds View and graduated from Irondale High School. His high school counselor told him he would be lucky if he managed a gas station someday. But Clark had other aspirations. He wanted to be a professional skate boarder.

After high school, it was his mom, Sandi Clark, who finally gave him an ultimatum. Go to school and get a job or move out, she said. Clark chose school. He enrolled in Northeast Metro District 916’s auto body program. After two years, he graduated with an auto body tech diploma.

From there, he worked a whirlwind of assorted jobs. Some for days, others for a year or so.

They ranged from vending machine repair to repainting office filing cabinets, from head painter at an auto body shop to sorting mail and delivering packages at Land O’ Lakes corporate office. (The idea was to work his way into the IT department.) He soon found himself back at the auto body shop. Many times he bounced back to a restaurant in Mounds View, where he first started out as a dishwasher at age 16 and worked his way up to a cook. Career wise, Clark was spinning his wheels.

Tired of working jobs he detested, he next opened his own auto body shop.

“That was a two-year nightmare, too,” he said.

In 2002, he landed the job teaching auto body and welding at Century College.

Clark started Immure by recording bands in his backyard studio. Heavy metal bands, jazz musicians, blues, rap and hip-hop singers streamed through his door.

Besides, Clark had always been into music. He played string bass as a third-grader. In ninth grade he switched to bass guitar and in 2002 switched to drums. He joined a rock band American Rust and later Ten Crowns, a regional touring band. Music was his passion.

A noisy venture

But recording bands in his studio proved to be too noisy for the neighbors. And the pay wasn’t exactly what Clark had hoped for. Weed or beer for some of his services. He was searching for more lucrative means.

That’s when Clark switched to audio restoration.

The process to convert a vinyl record to CD takes about three to four hours. Clark says he goes a step beyond.

“I make sure everything is crystal clear as possible,” he said. “I remove all the hisses and the pops.”

Clark’s first attempt at vinyl restoration proved to be expensive. In 2005, he bought a junk turntable from a thrift store off the Internet and some old LPs at Cheapo Records. He spent $500 to make $20.

“I said to myself, ‘you must be really dumb,’” he said in his humorous, self-deprecating way.

But Clark pushed forward with his fascination of music, sound and electronics. He read up extensively on audio engineering.

In 2010, he got out of the band recording business and went the audio and video restoration and audio forensic examination route.

“It’s kind of funny,” said Nathan’s mother, Sandi Clark. “For someone who didn’t like school, he just blows me out of the water.”

She describes her son as a kind, hard-working person. Someone who roots for the underdog. He was an inquisitive child, always wanting to know how things worked.

Clark is amazed at how much her son has accomplished on his own. As a kid, he wanted to play guitar. He taught himself. He wanted to join a rock band. He joined two bands. He wanted to build a 10-foot high, U-shaped skateboard ramp behind their Mounds View home when he was a teen. He and his brother built it together.

“If he’s going to do something, he’s going to give 110 percent. He never gives up,” Sandi Clark said.

‘Easy to work with’

Clark’s Immure Records has come a long way from its paper thin walls and Clark’s once thinly lined wallet.

Tony Sandler, international singer and performer, and half of the former Sandler and Young duo, heard about Immure Records through networking. Clark is now restoring Sandler’s 675 collection of songs in six languages that he’s recorded since 1952. He hired Clark for his ear for music and attention to detail.

“I love him. He’s great and easy to work with,” Sandler said in an interview. “He’s a very musical man who knows computers.”

For his audio forensic services, Clark analyzes 911 calls by using computerized digital enhancement. He edits for witness protection and performs recovery of audio recordings from damaged recording devices and tapes.

Among his other services, he analyzes tapes and digital recordings for authenticity and establishes the source and recording history of audio recordings. He also does voice comparison and analysis.

Attorneys seek out his work. In one case, Clark spent 17 hours fine-tuning a seven-second clip to pull two nearly inaudible words from a noisy background.

In the private sector, spouses, in an attempt to crack the question of whether their mates have been cheating on them, find their way to Clark. He works with voice mail messages.

“They call it the accidental butt dial,” Clark explains. “That’s where your phone is in your pocket. The husband is off somewhere where he probably shouldn’t be and then he kind of rolls over and accidentally hits, like, redial on his phone and, of course, the last person he was talking to was his wife. And he doesn’t know it, but then it rings through to his wife with that thing in his pocket and it goes to her voice mail and, all of a sudden, it’s him and another woman going to voice mail.”

‘Good tears’

So what’s the best part of Clark’s job?

Customers come to him with old tapes and records and with no way of playing them. Some are old family recordings from 30 and 40 years ago. Clark restores them.

“They put them on the stereo and it sounds like they’re standing right there,” Clark said, adding “that, and I love music.”

Clark launches into a story about a customer hearing a restored tape for the first time.

“She had a reel-to-reel tape of her dad… . I hit play and she started crying.

“I said, ‘oh, my God, don’t cry.”

“She said, ‘No, these are good tears. I haven’t heard my dad’s voice for about 35 years.’”

Clark believes he has finally found his niche with Immure Records. He’s thankful for earning enough to have a roof over his family’s head (he and Crissy have two children, Gavin, 9, and Emily, 6) and food on the table, plus a little extra, he says.

“If they’re clothed and fed, then I’m happy,” Clark said. “I’m not in it to make a million dollars. That’s how I’ve always been.”

As for Clark’s future and Immure Records?

“This is all I want to do until I can’t do it any longer,” he said.

For more information on Immure Records, visit www.immure records or call 763-862-5992.

Elyse Kaner is at elyse.kaner@ecm-inc.com


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