From left: Gene Joanen, John Storyk and Dave Fortman
Multi-Platinum producer/engineer/mixer Dave Fortman and partner/artist development executive Gene Joanen have opened a new, second recording studio for their company, Balance Productions. The new facility is located in Mandeville, La., on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain and directly across the lake from New Orleans. The new complex is also located 30 minutes away from Fortman and Joanen’s original Balance Productions facility, and was designed by architect/acoustician John Storyk of Walters-Storyk Design Group (WSDG).
A former guitarist with heavy metal cult group Ugly Kid Joe, Fortman’s talents as a producer/engineer proved a magnet to such groups as Evanescence, Simple Plan and Slipknot. The first Balance Productions Recording Studio, co-designed by Fortman and Joanen, thrived until Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in August 2005.
“For over 10 years, Dave and I had run a small, classic overdub studio,” says Joanen, a successful environmental engineer and co-founder of the Voodoo Music Experience. “I had a rich stable of producers and engineers to reach out to, and after Katrina, most of these guys fled to California, Canada, Nashville and all points between. So we really wanted to build a studio that would attract producers and engineers that would want to come down here to do projects—kind of a ‘build it and they will come’ scenario.
“Prior to Katrina, we had already started making plans to expand, and build a perfect mix room where Dave really could do his work,” Joanen continues. “And after Katrina, despite the market direction, we went ahead and built this new studio, and it took us almost two years from beginning to end to complete it. The smaller studio is predominantly used now for overdubs, for radio and for Web broadcast, and it’s an adjunct to a multimedia house that we have now. The larger studio came to fruition out of a desire for Dave to be close to home and have a recording studio.”
“We outgrew our first studio long before Katrina hit, and had already found a 4,000-square-foot warehouse in Mandeville that more than doubled our size,” Fortman adds. “When the waters rolled back and things dried out, we decided to move ahead.” Committed to New Orleans, and confident of their ability to continue drawing out-of-state as well as local business, Fortman and Joanen contracted WSDG to create their new studio.
“Working with them was fantastic,” Joanen says. “We interfaced almost every step of the way. John Storyk came down, met with us, and he has this wealth of experience [with] professional studios all over the world in multiple situations. It was a logical step, and he delivered. At one point we were designing a studio we probably couldn’t afford, and we scaled it back and ended up doing what we originally wanted.”
“He came up with the entire design of the layout,” Fortman adds. “The space is comfortable. He was willing to adjust as we went [along]. It’s been a great process. I can’t wait to do a full project front to back in the new studio.”
“Dave and Gene had discovered a terrific building for their new home,” John Storyk says. “The loft-like open space provided expansive flexibility for our design program. We developed a spacious 500-square-foot control room positioned in the complex to provide maximum visibility into the 900-square-foot live room. The existing warehouse allowed us to create a recording room of nearly 15,000 cubic feet, providing a very flexible recording environment for Dave’s music. Two oversized sound locks afford symmetrical access between the live and control rooms as well as iso booth capability. Each of the two spacious rear machine rooms features 4-rack capacity to accommodate Balance’s formidable technological arsenal. Warm, homey interiors heighten and support the creative environment. The acoustics were fine-tuned to enhance the full range of indigenous music production, from rock through blues, jazz and zydeco.”
Balance Studio’s control room
The control room is centered on a Solid State Logic 4000 G+ console loaded with 32E and 32G modules, and Digidesign Pro Tools HD with 24 ins and 64 outs provided by Boston-based Professional Audio Design (PAD). Company principal Dave Malekpour reports that the vintage SSL desk was originally owned by hit producer/composer Robert Clivillés of C+C Music Factory fame (“Everybody Dance Now”).
PAD also designed the Dynaudio Acoustics custom main speaker system. “Dave Fortman has done a lot of work at L.A.’s NRG Studios,” Malekpour says. “He loved their Munro C4/M4 system and wanted to duplicate that sound. The WSDG Studio design called for a soffit system in a vertical box, so we developed a custom rectangular orientation for a perfect match to the room’s large control room window. Powered by Dynaudio T2000 amplifiers and XTA speaker management systems, the mains deliver a true kick-ass sound.” PAD senior service engineer Eric Cline handled the wiring design, build and implementation.
The live room provides an intimate setting for tracking and overdubbing drums, horn sections, strings ensembles or vocalists. Balance Studio’s outboard rack features six Empirical Labs Distressors, two UREI Blue Stripe 1176s, a Summit Audio stereo tube compressor, two Neve 2264 modules, 10 Neve 31102 preamps, and more. The studio also has a custom 8-channel sidecar fashioned from a Harrison recording console that previously resided at Studio In The Country in Bogalusa, La. The new Balance Productions studio also features an expansive kitchen and dining area.
“Our original studio will now assume a satellite role,” Joanen says. “It’s got a great sound, and has turned out some terrific music, but our new studio provides us with the room to offer video and Web production, in addition to music recording and mixing. We’re a full-service production company, and my background in artist development will support that game plan.
“During construction, the state of Louisiana created some tax incentives for recording studios and record labels,” Joanen continues. “We participated in that. Their cultural resources were really diminishing. You had a lot of artists, producers and engineers that left town. We were the first approved new studio for the state of Louisiana to get tax credits. And the tax credits don’t just apply to brick-and-mortar recordings; bands can come in from out of town, from out of state, and get a 25-percent tax credit the following year for any [project costing] over $15,000. So that’s a huge incentive. If you’ve got a $100,000 project, you’re going to get $25,000 back from the state if you get your paperwork in order prior to that window for that year. It’s another incentive for people to come do their projects here in Louisiana. We’re beating rates that other folks see at other studios.
“We’re really proud of our studio. It is a state-of-the-art facility. It’s about as good as you’re going to get as far as sound quality, facilities and amenities.”
“I’ve worked in many wonderful studios, and they’ve all got their unique souls,” Fortman concludes. “John Storyk brought an extremely comfortable and great-sounding vibe to our new studio. He’s built a genuine all-star team: project coordinator Joshua Morris, systems integrator Judy Elliot Brown, PAD’s Dave Malekpour. They’re all experts in their respective fields. They kept this job on-track and rolling, and the results are worth the wait. Our studio looks, sounds and feels as good as the best rooms I’ve worked in, and I’ve seen a few.”