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On the Cover: EastWest Studios, Hollywood

When Doug Rogers purchased one of the world’s most storied recording facilities back in 2006, right in the heart of Hollywood, there was no doubt rampant speculation around L.A. about what it all meant. High-end and mid-level commercial facilities had been hit hard over the previous decade, many of them shuttering in the face of lower budgets and lower-cost competition. The strong had weathered the storm and adapted their business models. And now here comes a guy who had made his millions in software—not just software, but sophisticated, high-quality sampling and virtual instrument software, one of the very advances that allowed composers and engineers and producers to get high-quality sounds without stepping in a studio.

The studio is the famed Western Recorders at 6000 Sunset Boulevard, originally built in 1961 by Bill Putnam, then sold to Allen Sides in 1989 and becoming part of Ocean Way, before being renamed Cello when Rick Adams purchased it in 1999, and finally reopening in 2009 as EastWest Studios. The software company, of course, is EastWest Sounds, the world’s leading purveyor of sampled sounds and virtual instruments. Nearly eight years later, both entities are thriving. As a studio, projects associated with EastWest have garnered 26 Grammy nominations over the past two years alone. As a software company, by the time you read this, the final installment of the flagship product, the Hollywood Orchestra Collection, will have been released.

“It’s simply not possible to do what we did with the income from a recording studio,” Rogers says. “Those funds have to come from a larger company, and fortunately the software company required state-of-the-art everything in order to produce superior products, so we could justify the investment on that basis. The Hollywood Orchestra Collection was the catalyst for wanting to purchase the studio, without which we would never have been able to spend five years on the project. The software we have produced since purchasing the studios is vastly superior than our prior releases, and it’s partly because of the great sounding rooms, the unlimited time we have available, and the unique vintage gear we use, so it’s a good synergy.”

The story of the makeover at EastWest has been told before, including in these pages. The short version: Rogers enlisted international designer Phillipe Starck to re-do all of the common areas, leaving the walls and studios completely untouched. “It already had the best-sounding rooms I had ever worked in,” says Rogers, who owned studios in his native New Zealand before he started creating samples and moved to the States. “We never planned to change the actual recording spaces.” Studio 1, with its 80-channel Neve 8078, is the big room that has hosted Sinatra and countless Hollywood scoring sessions. Studio 2, with a custom RCA Neve 8028, became the Rock room of sorts and saw lots of Rick Rubin projects through the ’90s. Studio 3, home to a rare Trident A Range, was host to classic Mamas & the Papas songs and, of course, Pet Sounds. Studio 5, built during the Ocean Way days primarily as a mix room, was scheduled for re-equipping from the beginning. It took awhile to find the right console, but the room was finished earlier this year, and now it’s on this month’s cover of Mix.

Soon after EastWest officially re-opened for business in 2009, Rogers hired Candace Stewart, a magnetic personality and longtime L.A. studio manager (she had previously managed Cello in the same space) to run the place. “When I returned in January 2010, I was already thinking about ways to be as competitive as possible,” Stewart says. “As a booker, versatility has always been key for me, having what people want. If people want to track on a Neve then leave to mix on an SSL, I was determined to get an SSL and keep them in the building. Back in the OceanWay days, Scott Litt, the producer, had a Neve in the room. When it was Cello we had an SSL J Series. It only seemed fitting that since we have two Neves and a Trident A Range, we add an SSL to round things out. Doug had the exact same thing in mind.”

The legendary Studio 1, designed by Bill Putnam and left intact since 1961.

Photo: Brendan Dekora

The search for the right console actually took a couple of years, with Rogers and Stewart polling top producers and engineers in town to get their opinions. In April 2013, they hired Lawrence Malchose as chief engineer, and the first question they asked him was if he could have an SSL room in Studio 5 ready in 2014. He said, “Sure.” They still didn’t have the console model; the polling continued.

Malchose is one of those talented, jack-of-all-trades, largely self-taught and mentored engineer types. He’s a musician and recording engineer who moved into tech. He worked for years at Music Grinder, both assisting and doing tech, and integrated three rooms including an SSL and a Neve 8108 from Conway. He helped wire up Studio 2 at Sunset Sound for a time, then served as assistant tech. He then moved on to be Senior Technician at Cello, then as Head Tech at Big 3 in St. Petersburg, Fla., and stints at Conway and The Village. When called by Rogers and Stewart, he was working for SSL. He came back to EastWest and started in on re-switching the Trident, waiting on the SSL for Studio 5.

“It was pretty much unanimous that we wanted an SSL 4000 G+ with both E and G EQs,” Malchose says. “But finding the perfect board was no easy task! We were looking for a ‘pedigreed’ console, one with a long list of fantastic records associated with it. It turns out it was right in our back yard and belonged to none other than Rich Costey, who had been a resident in Studio 5 back when it had a 9000J in there. The console frame had been modified to accommodate a DAW monitor and keyboard in the center section, which is perfect for the modern workflow. To accommodate that, 16 channels had been pushed to a sidecar. We ended up having to split the desk into five pieces to get it in the room, so I ended up rebuilding the frame and the wiring to make it in to a proper 64-channel desk.”

The console was purchased on December 5, 2013, and Malchose and team started in earnest the following month. Although the space was already mostly built out, the rear wall had to be demolished and rebuilt, air conditioning and power added, flooring, walls, ceiling, custom outboard racks, interface panels and a great deal of time experimenting with materials and design on the back wall to get the most out of the space sonically.

“It was very important to us to make sure the bottom could pump for our R&B clients and the range and imaging was stellar for our golden-ears clients,” Malchose explains. “Fortunately, I had the help of Gonzalo ‘Gonzo’ Lopez to turn drawings into reality. It turns out he built the room for Ocean Way 20-some odd years ago, so he knew where all the skeletons were buried. We left the front wall alone, so we went to George Augsperger to custom design a speaker system to fit the room. They’re slightly taller and thinner, with these JBL 18-inch subs. They sound fantastic in that space, and clients love the low end.”

The spacious Studio 5 control room, with an SSL 4064 G-Plus, G/E Series EQs.

Photo: Brendan Dekora

“One of the things that’s so great about EastWest is that we appeal to all styles of music and are not typecast or working with any one single genre,” Stewart says. “We work with big name artists like the Chili Peppers, Metallica, Justin Timberlake and Arianna Grande, as well as lots of indie artists like LP, Brother and Bones, Attica Riots, 5 Knives and Grizfolk. We also see a lot of hip hop artists/producers, Latin artists, film and TV dates in Studio 1—Mad Men, Glee, American Horror Story, Eat Pray Love, Iron Man 2. While we rely on outside bookings for the most part, we are all extremely proud to be associated with EastWest Sounds and the awesome libraries they create.”

Impeccably maintained vintage gear, cutting-edge 64-bit virtual instruments, and some of the finest recording rooms in the world has proved a winning formula for EastWest, and the synergies are working out precisely as Rogers intended when he took the plunge and put up a reported $10 million for the studio makeover.

“To me, the sound is all that matters,” Rogers says. “That’s all that leaves our studios, whether it be for records or software. I always say to those mourning the loss of the former recording studio business, ‘You can’t swim against the tide of progress.’” Rogers says. “Computers changed everything, even the recording process. Studios are now full of computers and software, and of course a lot can be done at home with inexpensive recording equipment. We cater to that market with our software.

“But two things that are important in my view that distinguish facilities like EastWest Studios from home studios are (a) the home studio typically does not have great-sounding recording rooms, and acoustic instruments only sound good in a great-sounding environment, and (b) people tend to work alone at home, resulting in a lack of objectivity that often impacts the end result. Making music is a people business, and you need to surround yourself with pros who can tell you when something is great or it sucks. That’s what we provide.”