L.A. Grapevine

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Hollywood's popular recording and rehearsal facility Swing House(www.swinghouse.comcelebrated its latest venture — the release of a split CD by local faves Silent Gray and The Pacific — with a mid-September Monday night bash at the Knitting Factory. Ten other bands, all Swing House clients, also graced the KF's two stages in an evening that turned into a meeting of the minds for some of L.A.'s hippest young performers.

“It went great. We had a good turnout, and all the bands were amazing,” proclaims a weary Philip Jaurigui (Swing House owner, show promoter, equipment provider and house mixer for half of the bands), when I spoke with him the day after the event. “I wanted to have a night to show our appreciation for the bands who work here, and also to promote Silent Gray and The Pacific, two bands that Warren Huart is producing. They co-headlined, and we picked the other bands from ones we really liked who've recorded here over the past year.”

The CD is the first release on the Swing House imprint, and Jaurigui sees it as having a twofold purpose. “We think the CD as a promotional EP will help take things to the next level. It will promote the bands, and also promote the studio because [the CD] sounds great.”

The concert and CD are a part of a natural progression for the energetic and personable Jaurigui, who started Swing House in 1994 at its previous one-room location with little more than a P.A. “I was working for a friend at his little rehearsal room and 16-track studio,” he recalls. “Just as I was getting really good at booking the place and getting to know all of the bands, the earthquake happened and the building was red-tagged [declared uninhabitable]. It was, ‘Now what?’ I had no money, but I cash-advanced two Visa cards, bought his little P.A. and started looking for a place in Hollywood. Between the [1992] riots and the earthquake, the neighborhood was really depressed; I found a place for dirt-cheap. Basically, I put in the P.A. and some extension cords, turned on a lamp and went. We didn't even have air conditioning. The first few bands worked in 100° heat. A few months later, Sugar Ray came along, just another struggling band that couldn't pay their rehearsal bill. They liked how the rehearsal room sounded and, with producer David Kahne, ended up recording most of their first two hit records there. After that, we got popular and had in Green Day, the Goo Goo Dolls and the Chili Peppers.”

With more bands wanting time than he had room for, Jaurigui began looking for a larger facility. The search and the process of funding the larger business with an SBA loan took two years. The result is today's Swing House. The facility encompasses three stages, a pre-production room, a recording studio with two iso booths and its own lounge attached to a 1,000-square-foot stage. Housed in a building that was once home (literally) to film director Tim Burton and his production studio, Swing House also offers P.A. and equipment rentals, cartage and storage.

Another separate business in the friendly complex is Brad Vance's busy Chris Cooper-built Red Mastering. Vance, known for his work with Newfound Glory, Young Noble and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, was previously at DNA Mastering. Since settling in at Swing House, he's done projects for Toto, Richie Blackmore, Six Feet Under and Mr. Big.

The three stages each have a different size, color scheme and vibe, but all are outfitted with cozy couches and JBL speaker systems. Stages 1, 2 and 3 all have Electrotec P.A.s. Stage 1 has a 40-channel Soundcraft SM-12 console. Stage 2, which is connected to the recording studio, has a 32-channel Soundcraft SM-12. Stage 3's board is a 32-channel Allen & Heath, and is a favorite for pre-production by such busy producers as Neal Avron and Lou Giordano. Room 4 comes with a 16-channel Soundcraft Spirit, a drum kit, Ampeg bass cabinet and Marshall guitar cab. And, yes, in this incarnation of Swing House, all of the rooms have air conditioning.

The recording studio boasts some nice vintage gear to complement its Tac Scorpion console, along with Pro Tools MIXPlus. A 12-channel (circa 1971) Cadac sidecar with Class-A EQ, an alumnus of England's Pye Studios, is among the notable outboard. Other gear includes Brent Averill Neve 1272 and 1064 mic pre's; Neve, Urei, Calrec, Altec and dbx (original 160) compressors; and several esoteric items from a vintage BBC stash. Mics include Neumann, Audix, AKG, Sennheiser and Shure, and there's a 6-channel headphone system.

Business is on the upswing, according to Jaurigui. Clients have included N.E.R.D., Black Eyed Peas, the Trauma Club, DH Peligro, and producers Mike Clink and Johnny K. “9/11 almost killed us, then SARS, the Internet and no one selling records…things have been bad,” he admits. “But this past four or five months are starting to feel normal.

“Something good rises up out of every bad musical economy,” he continues. “In the early '90s, it was companies like Epitaph and Sub Pop making independent music that became the normal, popular music. I think that's what's happening now.”

Chances are that Swing House will be part of that new wave; plans are in the works for more CD releases and, maybe, more shows. “We're breaking the ground,” says Jaurigui. “I'm feeling my grass roots way into Swing House recordings by producing and helping bands that come through that I really like. The next step is to take the recording studio to another level, like we did for the rehearsal rooms. There's a plan in there somewhere.”

Because this issue's focus is audio education, it seemed appropriate to take a trip downtown to the hallowed halls of the University of Southern California for news about its music industry program. USC, of course, is famous for its marching band. It's also renowned for the Thornton College of Music, which houses the well-respected Music Industry Degree program headed up by musician/engineer/producer — and, until recently, studio owner — Richard McIlvery. Over dinner in the faculty dining room, McIlvery, who founded the program 10 years ago, described how the curriculum, particularly the music recording segment, is changing with the times to offer a broader education in both business and technology.

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“The new emphasis will be part of the Bachelor of Science in the Music Industry but with a new specialized track in technology, replacing what used to be a Bachelor of Science in Music Recording,” he explains. “There's still a heavy emphasis on recording, with a strong listening component, but now we also include courses in such areas as video editing, how to build Web pages, how to stream audio — all those kinds of things. We want to supply students with the basics to deal with change, because the more skills you have, the better off you are to move with a changing world.

“The traditional path of starting as a runner or a second engineer, generally speaking, is gone. We teach our students skills where, if they actually did get a job as a runner, they could do it. But to be specialized only in audio is going to be difficult. We want our students to have a broader perspective.”

Although classes in economics, business administration, accounting and math are required, along with various general-education requirements, plenty of audio courses are still part of the curriculum. Classes include traditional recording arts and theory, remote recording, film scoring, multichannel mixing, acoustics and speaker design, studio maintenance, and, of course, digital recording and editing, with a flagship Pro Tools program that McIlvery, who himself is certified by Digidesign, is particularly proud of.

“I've been dealing with Andy Cook, who runs Digidesign's training, for a year-and-a-half,” McIlvery notes. “I was very impressed with what they're doing. We've taken their course and materials and adapted and expanded them, applying the expertise of our faculty members who have years of experience in audio. That's something you really need. Students need to be taught — not only answers — but what the problems are. To know that, you've got to have actually done the work.”

Instructors who are industry vets are a cornerstone of the USC program. The faculty includes, among other notables, Grammy™-nominated mastering engineer Andrew Garver, technical wizard Thomas Beno May — currently chief engineer at Bernie Grundman Mastering — and Record Plant founder Chris Stone.

“Our kids have to put together a package set of business skills,” McIlvery elaborates. “They have to take micro- and macro-economics along with statistics and accounting. They learn copyright law and publishing, and they have to learn how to play the piano, which is a real pain for some of them! When they're dealing with musicians, they'll understand what they've gone through to get where they are. We want all of our students to understand recording, even if it's not their industry track. That way, when they're working at a record company or a management company, and someone says, ‘We've got to remix this,’ they'll understand the parameters: why they're doing it, as well as what it's going to cost. And the artist will be speaking with someone who has an understanding of what's going on.

“We're seeing how things are changing,” he concludes, “and we're recognizing what a student is going to need to get into the industry now. We're looking at what's happening and how our students can best take advantage of it.”

Got L.A. news? E-mail MsMDK@aol.com.