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Biograph: Jeff Greenberg Revives Classic L.A. Facility

You want to know just how plugged-in Jeff Greenberg is? This descendant of an L.A. family with a long retail and banking tradition (his grandfather founded

You want to know just how plugged-in Jeff Greenberg is? This descendant of an L.A. family with a long retail and banking tradition (his grandfather founded the Harris & Frank chain, as well as the First State Bank of Southern California; his father founded the 50-store Joel’s chain) has been a concert promoter, personal manager, talent agent and the equivalent of a utility infielder for the music industry since he first started managing bands in 1966. Thirty years of networking and experience were graphically illustrated to me when, as we were cruising down Santa Monica Boulevard in his convertible Porsche Boxter, I heard a song I loved on the radio but didn’t have a clue as to the artist. I complained to Greenberg about how radio’s rock-block mentality no longer tells us who we’re hearing. He grabbed one of two cell phones that seem to be anatomically attached to his body and punched in a preprogrammed number, which immediately connected him to the station’s broadcast booth. Three seconds later he turned to me and said, “Rufus Wainwright.”

Greenberg is usually a blur of motion. He seems to have a compulsion to accomplish as much as possible in as little time as possible. His long career in the music industry has included managing producer/ bassist Felix Pappalardi (Cream, Mountain) and The Section (Craig Doerge, Russ Kunkel and Lee Sklar), and long stints with The Nederlander Organization as a concert promoter and with ICM, where he personally represented Aretha Franklin and The Kinks. Recording studios were, for many years, almost peripheral to Greenberg’s career, mainly involving artists he managed or represented. However, as part of his near-obsessive desire to know as much as he could, he put in time learning engineering and doing sessions at L.A.’s Artist Recorders studio.

Looking back on his pre-studio period, Greenberg is proud of bringing L.A.’s classic venue, the Greek Theatre, back from the brink. Now, he is CEO of another L.A. classic, The Village Recorder (now known simply as The Village), a multiroom facility founded in 1968 by Geordie Hormel, a meat packing heir who turned himself into a film and television composer. Hormel had taken over a Masonic Temple built in 1922 and turned it into a home of hits from the likes of The Eagles, Phil Collins, Bob Dylan, Sly & the Family Stone, Supertramp, the Rolling Stones, Tom Petty and Fleetwood Mac.

But by 1994, The Village Recorder had fallen prey to a down-swing in L.A., burdened by a general slump in the city’s music business. It was to the point where Hormel considered selling it. First, however, Hormel and his daughter Julie decided to let Greenberg take a shot at it. Greenberg brought in engineer Al Schmitt, with whom he has had a long friendship, as a consultant and began the arduous task of turning around one of the city’s biggest studios. “Al validated to me that we had a chance,” recalls Greenberg. “The bones were there but not much else.”

The first order of business was the hardest: Greenberg had to let most of the staff go, a move he found personally unpleasant but which he felt was critical to remaking the studio. “You have to re-create a new culture, and for that you need people who subscribe to that idea,” he explains. Getting clients back into The Village was a matter of renovating the facility inside and out, including a revamp of its acoustics by Waterland Design’s Vincent Van Haaff and a critical analysis of every bit of technology, right down to the wires. He added an aggressive, ongoing maintenance program, then began letting the industry know about the overhaul via press releases and word of mouth (that one-of-a-kind Greenberg network). He also toughened up the studio’s marketing effort and extended it to the film and television sound markets with significant success, while adding details like valet parking.

“We basically cleaned it up and then applied Business 101 to the studio,” says Greenberg. “That’s where I think all that heritage in retail comes in, as does a lot of years working with artists as a manager, promoter and an agent. Retail taught me how to take care of customers and what service really means. Once you know what sorts of things your particular type of customers want, then you give to them at a level that they have never experienced before.” He also turned some of The Village’s uniqueness in its favor. “A 30,000-square-foot Masonic temple? That’s a priceless marketing tool,” he exclaims. “Who else has one of those?”

The revamp has been a resounding success, with records in recent years by Smashing Pumpkins, Cracker, Sneaker Pimps, Tori Amos, Tom Petty and the Brian Setzer Orchestra. Two of the rooms have been converted to 5.1. A dedicated 5.1 room is in the planning stage, as are other expansions. And for Greenberg, the key to pulling off The Village’s renaissance was understanding what service is. “One thing you learn when you’re promoting concerts is that you’re building a city that holds 300,000 people at a time, and every one of them needs all sorts of service, from soft drinks to an ambulance standing by,” he says. “There is simply no room for failure in a situation where that many people come to hear an artist just once. Same thing with a studio. Think of all the times that that one great vocal takes place. You need to provide a flawless environment in which that can take place. That’s what you need to know about managing a studio.”

Greenberg plans to continue expanding The Village’s services and capabilities. In what little free time he seems to carve out for himself, he works in martial arts, practices yoga and is very active in promoting the work of the Musician’s Assistance Program in Los Angeles-including running its annual Musician’s Picnic fundraiser concert-which helps musicians with recovery from substance abuse. The parallel between that and helping bring The Village back from the edge is not lost on him. As he puts it, “It’s all a matter of being there for people.”