The Society of Professional Audio Recording Services has been making new waves in the Los Angeles studio community, thanks largely to the efforts of Extasy Recording's director of recording Bill Dooley, who is also a member of SPARS's board of directors. Two recent luncheon meetings attracted capacity crowds of industry movers and shakers from studios, labels, manufacturers and rental companies. The focus of the meetings, aside from some high-quality networking, was hot-button topics: a forum on equipment leasing hosted by All Media Capital, and one on hard drive issues such as archiving and ownership, hosted by Glyph Technologies and Recorded Media Supply.
At both meetings, Dooley made a strong case for the rejuvenation of SPARS into a vital organization and a strong force to deal with issues and problems of our industry.
“This is not about a bunch of stodgy guys smoking cigars and making decisions for everybody else,” he comments. “During its history, SPARS has been instrumental in lobbying for a number of things, including sales tax code changes. The organization is dedicated to improving the business environment for audio production services, and there are levels of membership for everyone, from individual to corporate. There are many benefits, not the least being that members share practical, hands-on business information.
“As a commercial facility, you're up against a lot,” Dooley continues. “We all have common problems, whether you're in New York, L.A., Florida, Chicago or Nashville. We all have to keep our places booked and our equipment current, we have to keep a good staff and we have to keep clients happy. People in the industry come from all different backgrounds — business, technical, marketing, promotion or artist management. Through SPARS, it's sometimes like you are meeting people who are thinking outside the box — or at least your box! It can give you insights on how to make your business better — something we all need. Because, as we all know, there isn't much profit margin in the recording business, and you really need to maximize yours to survive.”
In the Larchmont Village area of Hollywood, Skip Saylor Recording continues to expand. In July, an SSL 9080 J Series console was installed in Studio A, and Studio B is now home to a refurbished version of the popular SSL 4080 G Plus that was previously in Studio A. Meanwhile, owner Skip Saylor has taken possession of the adjacent property and started construction on a Vincent Van Haaff-designed 5.1 mix room that will house the SSL Axiom-MT console that was, for the past two years, garnering a loyal clientele in Studio B. Whew! No wonder Saylor and studio manager Rollin Moon were looking a little weary on the day I visited; that's a lot of console-moving in a very short time.
Why add the 9k? “It's the console of the day,” says Saylor. “The highest number of clients use it, know it, understand it and request it. But I also have a number of clients who still prefer the G Plus. And I have other clients who really want the MT. Now we'll have something for everybody.”
Upgrades, both technical and cosmetic, have been going on pretty much constantly over the past two years at Saylor. Custom outboard racks were constructed for both rooms to hold the vast array of gear the studio is known for. Studio A's lounge was upgraded, and two new lounges were added to Studio B. Now, Studio B has been acoustically revamped to sound more like Studio A with the help of Van Haaff, its original designer.
“When I first built Studio B, I didn't own the property,” Saylor notes, “so we couldn't build it exactly as I wanted. With what we've just done, we have evened out the sound of the entire room. Now, you can go just about anywhere in the room and hear the same mix. Studio B has always been a good room for the engineer, but now it's a good room for the people sitting in the back as well.”
The 80-in G Plus, which was installed in 1991 and is fitted with Ultimation, was recapped and reconditioned by Mad Labs before its installation into B. The main monitor amps in B were also changed to a lot more power, going from 800 watts a side to 1,300. “The board is like brand new,” says Saylor, “and the extra power allows the bottom end to develop much better. Now it's much more defined and in your chest.”
Saylor's engineer management company, HitMixers, has also continued to expand. Its roster now numbers 13, and includes new additions Jon Gass, Keith Cohen, Booker T. Jones III, Tommy D, and Brazil's leading mix engineer, Enrico De Paoli, as well as longtime clients Chris Puram, Danny Romero, Keston Wright, Taavi Mote and Claudio Cueni, among others. One of Saylor's stated goals is, as he puts it, “to put the luster back on the recording industry,” and he sees the symbiotic relationship of his studios and management company as integral to that goal.
“I think that everybody who makes records for a living right now would agree that we — engineers and studio owners — are currently seen as relatively insignificant to the process. With accountants at major corporations making musical decisions, often that basic marriage of engineer and studio is not seen as the key part of the business that it truly is. You know, The Beatles had their room at Abbey Road, and Brian Wilson had his at United Western, where their labels let them create. The studio and the engineer always have been, and continue to be, important. And the overall sound is important. One of the things that seems to have been forgotten is that all the great records that maintain good catalog sales to this day — The Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Motown hits — were very well-recorded. They still stand up, while the bad-sounding records of those days are gone.
“What people need to realize is that when labels weren't quite so concerned with this minute's bottom line, they actually did a better job of selling music. Extra time, care and effort will get a better product now, and better catalog sales later.”
An SSL 9080 J Series has become the first Solid State Logic installation ever in the historic 6000 Sunset Boulevard complex that is home to Cello Studios. The desk, fitted with multiple custom options requested by chief engineer Gary Myerberg and studio manager Candace Stewart, is housed in Cello Mix, a suite that was previously the longtime home of producer/engineer Scott Litt. Cello Mix went online July 23, with its inaugural date hosting a 5.1 live mix of Red Hot Chili Peppers with engineer Ed Thacker. On the day I stopped in, setup was under way for some Rusted Root sessions with engineer/producer Bill Botrell.
“We knew that people, from R.E.M. to the Chili Peppers, loved the comfortable, open aspect of the room,” comments Myerberg. “It's always been a great creative space. When it opened up, we looked at our client base and saw that if they went somewhere else to mix, at least 75 percent of the time it was to a 9k. But Candace and I firmly believe that we can't have a room that is application-specific. We needed a room where people could mix, overdub and also do multiformat work. The 9k was our choice, but doing 5.1 work on a stock board can be problematic. Fortunately, we had the advantage that other people, especially at film studios such as Todd-AO and Fox, had developed modifications. Working with SSL L.A.'s Brian Baer and Patrick MacDougall, and with Steve Drummond and others in England, we combined those mods with our own into a package to make a true 5.1 console.”
Those modifications included making both large and small faders on each channel available to the subgroup buses at the same time, selectable LCR panning per channel, and a 12-channel center section with de-select to the sidechain, in effect making the SSL “quad” compressor a 12-channel compressor.
“The mods are based around a re-route,” Myerberg elaborates. “Buses 41 to 48 can now be sent through the center section to the ABCD subgroup stereo buses. On the regular J, you can't get both the large and small fader on the same channel to the subgroup buses at the same time, but with this inject we can. Also, SSL has a brilliant software quad panner, but it was limited in how and where it could pan. We now have the flexibility of panning into any quadrant, and that dovetails into the center-section compressor. Each stereo subgroup bus is independently selected to track the master fader, so now we can have up to a 12-channel compressor. In addition, we've dealt with the problem of LFE subwoofer material taking over the sidechain by adding buttons that can de-select those subgroup buses from the sidechain — whatever you select to be your subwoofer can blow by and not drive the sidechain.”
West Coast Studio Services' Scott Hasson, who has worked with Myerberg on projects for Bob Clearmountain, Bruce Springsteen and A&M Studios, consulted on the room's infrastructure design and also wired it. Although the basic structure of the control room was unchanged, to add a bit more liveness the wood floor under the console was enlarged and modifications were made to the perimeter trapping. The main Ocean Way-style monitors have been fitted with new components and new amps: Krell home theater standard with 800 watts a side for the woofers, Classe's 150s for the midrange horns and a McIntosh 2300 for the high-frequency drivers. Near-field monitors are now powered by a 5-channel Class-A Aragod X5 with 200 watts per channel.
The J Series complements the other three highly customized consoles in the Cello complex: Studio 1's 80-input Neve 8078, Studio 2's 40-input 80 Series and Studio 3's 40-in 8078. “We don't want our clients to ever have to look outside Cello for anything they may need,” concludes studio manager Stewart. “Whether it's tracking, mixing or 5.1, we want them here, and we will embrace anything, technically or otherwise, that will help make that happen.”
Meanwhile, over in the always-happening Silver Lake area of the Hollywood Hills, Soundcastle Studios is now home to a “Raven” SSL 4080 G Plus “Classic” console, the first of its kind. Housed in Studio II since January, the console has been used since then on projects for Eric Benet, Debra Cox, Brian McKnight and Busta Rhymes, among others.
Soundcastle owner Buddy King, who two years ago installed a 9080 J Series in his tracking and mix room, Studio I, worked with Solid State Logic to develop the G Plus “Classic” custom features. Those include: LCR surround panning with two programmable joysticks, 5.1/7.1 compression and master fader, stereo AFL, patchable VCAs that track the master fader, and a custom Martinsound MultiMax 5.1/7.1 monitor panel. In addition, the console has been configured with eight extra effects sends per channel for a total of 12. According to King, these features, along with the smoothness of the J Series-style faders, “make for a real nice package.” While Studio II received new cosmetic treatments at the time of the console's install, in deference to clients who are content with its sonics, no major changes were made to the control room.
The unique look of the quite stunning console was achieved by resurrecting the “Raven” black color scheme of early SSL consoles and fitting the small faders with silver knobs. About the aesthetics of the desk, King says, “We wanted VU meters and, when we were talking about the look of the desk, SSL senior VP Phil Wagner suggested the black Raven color that they haven't done in years. It was a great idea, and when it was finally done, we found that it looked very contemporary.
“To me, this is the equivalent of having an older Neve and an SSL,” he continues. “Our music clients really love analog consoles; they feel that there are some sonic characteristics that the digital consoles just won't obtain. Our J has been very successful, but some of our clients are really loyal to the G Plus. So, for a new console, we wanted the character of a G Plus, but with some of the features of the J Series. People said I was crazy, and maybe I am, but we did a lot of research in the market, and we decided that this hybrid was right for us. It's been a long time since we've heard a new 4000, and boy does it sound good! It still gets that crunch that the rock 'n' rollers and the R&B people like. Now what a lot of our clients are doing is tracking on the J in Studio I and mixing on the G Plus Classic.
“Our industry is a bit screwy right now,” King observes, speaking with the perspective of over 30 years in the business. “Look how everyone couldn't wait to go digital so that everything could be archived digitally, until we found out that when digital goes wrong, there's nothing to be done. Now we're back to archiving to analog. Digital is quick, but quick isn't necessarily better. I suspect that digital will happen with recorders, and that project studios and smaller studios will go all-digital because analog costs more. But people on the higher end are going to continue to want some of that analog sound. We find that from jazz and rock to hip hop and R&B, our clients like either the J or the G Plus. So for now, we've got the best of both worlds!”
Other new console news: Atlantis Studios in Hollywood has replaced its Neve VR with an SSL 9080 J Series, fitted with a 959 center section modified for 5.1 surround. Studio manager Michelle Moore reports that the main speakers in the studio bau:ton-designed Studio A have also been upgraded and now sport TAD components. Acts in since the console install include Warner/Reprise artist Bobby Ross Avila with engineer Neal Pogue and producers Shavoni and Buster Brown, producer/engineer Tom Rothrock working on projects for BongLoad Records, and engineer Brad Gilderman mixing the soundtrack to 'N Sync's upcoming feature film.
In the Fairfax District, Cherokee Studios has taken delivery of the largest API Legacy ever assembled. The fully automated 80-in desk, which will be housed in Studio One, has full dynamics on every channel, and replaces the Trident A-Range console that has lived in Studio One for the past 17 years. “We've had three Tridents in that room over the past 25 years,” says Cherokee co-owner Dee Robb. “And this is the first console that we've heard that fills the bill of replacing the A-Range. It's hand-built in the traditional manner, with discrete amplifiers, and it fits the sonic philosophy that we've always had here at Cherokee.”
In other changes at Cherokee, a 96-channel SSL 4000 G Plus with automation is now online in Studio 2. The studio itself is being refurbished by George Augspurger as a 5.1 room with all-JBL monitoring.
North Hollywood's Track Record has also purchased a new SSL 9080 J Series desk that will be housed in its tracking and mixing North Studio, replacing a 60-channel Neve V3. The very busy Vincent Van Haaff of Waterland Design Group is consulting on design and acoustical enhancements for North's control room. Track, as the two-room Lankershim Boulevard facility is often referred to, has had a busy 2001, playing host to projects for Dishwalla with producer Greg Wattenburg and engineer Brian Scheubel, Crash Radio with multiPlatinum producer Matt Serletic and engineer Noel Golden, and Warren G with engineer Booker T. Jones, among others.
Keep those cards and letters coming folks; e-mail L.A. news toMsMDK@aol.com.