Recording sessions at West L.A.'s Groove Addicts tend to befast-paced affairs; for example, the one I sat in on: a series ofsoundtracks composed by Danny Elfman and orchestrated by Steve Bartekfor Disneyland'sWhere Magic Livestelevision spots.Harpists, string and woodwind players, a percussionist — withfull timpani — and a small choir bustled through the company'sindustrial-chic lobby, which was also crammed with road cases. Incontrast to facilities that cater to advertising and end up with a vibethat's either self-consciously arty or just plain cold, Groove Addicts(with facility designer Boto Designs) has managed to pull off astreamlined, cool decor that's also musician-friendly.
Maybe that's because the company's principals are all musicians.Developed by Dain Blair in 1996 “out of the ashes” of WhoDid That Music?, Groove Addicts has four divisions: commercialsoundtrack production and sound design for such companies as Pepsi,Disney, Miller Beer and Nissan; and broadcast, which creates radio andTV imaging and IDs for networks including the BBC and stations as faraway as Turkey, Germany, Italy, Japan and Kenya and — back inL.A. — KIIS FM, The Wave and KLSX, among others. Groove Addictsalso reps for television and radio composers including Elfman andBartek, Stewart Copeland, BT, Jerry Goldsmith and Michael Kamen. Afourth division, under the coordination of Guillermo De La Barreda,handles the Groove Addicts Production Music Libraries that licensesover 12,000 titles.
The 13,000-square-foot facility was a long time in planning, and itshows, from whimsical art to the lobby's practical, polished concretefloor and the blonde-wood studio furniture custom-designed and built inLondon by AKA Designs. “Although AKA does most of the major roomsin London, so far, we're the only ones in L.A. to have their studiofurniture,” comments chief engineer Gerhard Joost. “We sentour plans to them, and they literally did a 360-degree rotating 3-Dperspective of what they wanted to do. The other companies who werebidding on the job were doing hand drawings with magic markers; so,needless to say, we were impressed. And even with shipping, the costfrom AKA was less.”
Boto's Brett Thoeny collaborated with acoustician George Augspurgeron the overall design. “They'd worked together before and reallyseem to enjoy it,” comments Blair. “George knew immediatelyhow to get the most out of the design without compromisingit.”
Studio A is the facility's centerpiece. A 5.1 room fitted with JBLLSR 28P monitors, it was designed with several recording spaces, eachwith different sonics and all with clear sight lines to the controlroom. About choosing a Yamaha DM2000 96k console, Joost says, “Icouldn't be happier. We produce music for radio, TV and film with someof the best musicians in town; the pace can be staggering. I findhaving a surface you can manipulate sounds on immediately is far moreconstructive to the final mix than trying to mouse around. My designconcept for the room was to rely on the board as a front end fortracking, with Pro Tools|HD as the ultimate mixing environment. But Ikept the options open. We can also record into Pro Tools throughoutboard preamps using the DM2000 only as a monitor mixer, and I'vealso mixed entire projects relying solely on the console, including ourfirst 5.1 spot, which I mixed for Nissan and the Creative DomainAgency, which just won a Belden Award.”
Studio B is a multipurpose room for overdubs, voice-overs and mixingwith a Yamaha 02R console and Pro Tools. There's also a sound designroom manned by Groove Addicts' house designer and remixer Robert Wear.Amenities at the facility include a full kitchen, pool table, largeplasma-screen TVs, a spacious outside patio with gas barbecue and acomfy conference room where the walls are lined with guitars signed bysuch luminaries as Don Henley, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons andSting.
L.A. has an astonishing number of working musicians, along withan equally astonishing number of recording studios. In Van Nuys, Ivisited another new one, M-Pire: the very handsome home facilitydesigned by Stephen Klein for (and with) singer/songwriter John M.A Nashville transplant who specializes in unpretentious, rootsypop/rock, M. (real name Mollenhauer) has two well-received CDs to hiscredit and has been called by reviewers as “someone to keep aneye on.” In person, he's as likable as his music, espousing a DIYethic honed on his own projects that he now also applies to productionsfor others.
In a serendipitous L.A. story, M. reconnected with Klein — afriend from high school — at a reunion. “John told me hewas moving to L.A. and would be building a studio,” relatesKlein, whose other recent projects include Honda R&D, SparkUnlimited Gaming, JBF Films and Ransom Records. “Small world: Ijust happen to design and build studios, and I'm based inL.A.”
Construction faced more than the usual acoustic challenges: Thehouse is adjacent to a busy thoroughfare: the 405 Freeway andthe Van Nuys Airport-Heliport. “I told John it would make moresense to demolish the existing structure and start anew,” Kleinrecalls, “but he wanted his dream studio, so the concept wasborn. I'm proud of his project, and happy to say it's quiet enough forthe most critical recording, and versatile enough to accommodate anytype of music production.”
“We spent more money on soundproofing than we did on anythingelse,” M. admits. “The walls are something like sevenlayers thick, with vinyl and air channels and two different layers ofsound board. The project grew a little and the budget grew a lot, butI'm happy with what we got.”
The studio includes a large control room, a good-size main recordingroom and two iso booths, one designed specifically for drums and onefor vocals. Two specially outfitted amp closets add flexibility, and amachine room holds the innards of the RADAR recording system that M.prefers. Natural light was incorporated into the recording space usingexisting stained-glass windows, reinforced and soundproofed with glassbricks. The control room also has natural light that is provided byinsulated Solatube skylights.
A striking component of the recording space is its Braziliantigerwood floor; reportedly, the only one in Southern California.“It's expensive,” M. admits. “But once I realized thekind of ballpark money we were in, just sounding good wasn't enough.The studio had to look good, too. Besides being beautiful, thetigerwood is incredibly hard. Actually, Steve wasn't sure we would evenbe able to drive nails in it! Not only is it a good reflective surface,you can roll pianos and road cases on it without marring.”
The drum room boasts a percussion-friendly low-mid frequency boostthat's tunable with movable traps. The vocal room is dry. The maintracking room is live, but neutral. The studio's “break-in”project was M.'s third record, No Overdubs, the bulk of whichwas recorded live in front of an audience. “I brought in about 40people,” he notes, “set up a P.A. and lights, andrecorded.”
His fondness for intimate venue recording is an outgrowth of anotherpassion of John's: house concerts. They're a staple of his tours as hetraverses the country in a Ford van. He's currently editing adocumentary filmed during one of those tours. “We started in NewHampshire and zig-zagged across the country,” he explains.“A film crew followed me and shot everything: the concerts,driving, eating at Denny's, staying at people's homes. It's about mytour and creating your own audience: finding people to let you comeinto their house, perform and stay.”
The centerpiece of M-Pire's control room is a 48-in, 24-bus OtariConcept Elite console. “With the Otari, I got a very gooddeal,” M. comments. “It also sounds great. It has excellentA-to-D converters and preamps, and it's totally recallable with movingfader automation. It's basically an analog console with a digitalcontrol center.”
Surround monitoring is through a Genelec 5.1 system; a MartinsoundMultiMax allows various stereo and surround configurations. Like manyNashville cats, M. is attached to the RADAR format. “I just thinkit sounds better,” he states. “And it's much easier to use.I see computers as a necessary evil; RADAR is a computer, but itdoesn't act like one. It's as easy to use as an analog tape machine,but with the advantages of nonlinear hard disk recording. I do have ProTools, Logic and Digital Performer, but I got them mainly to becompatible to get in and out of RADAR and to make transfers for peopleI work with.”
M.'s current favorite tools for singer/guitarist recording?“I'm a ‘simple-ist,’” he states. “Myfavorite place to start is with a plain old Neumann 87 in front of aguitar with a Neumann 103 for vocals. On a recent jazz vocal project, Iused an Audio-Technica 4033, mixed with a Neumann 184 as a distant,ambient mic, which gave me a nice, live, ‘airy’ sound. MyTaylor 12-string is set up with a stereo direct line out, so I'll usethat blended with a U87. DI doesn't sound anywhere near as good as amic, but you get some of the clarity and detail. I like that combinedwith the ambient sound of the mic.”
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