Burbank-based Ocean Studios' staff is part of an elite group — the intrepid adventurers who've faced the challenge of restoring and enlarging a classic console and lived to tell about it. In Ocean's case, the console is a Neve 8048 — originally 32-in — that now encompasses 56 mic inputs (with 1081, 1073 and 1084 modules), plus a 32-in monitor section fitted with 3-band EQ, 16 buses, four linkable Neve 2254E compressor/limiters and a host of other mods, all wired with new original Neve-spec cable. As is the norm with such endeavors, the process required a lot more time, energy, money and decision-making than anticipated. At Ocean, for example, the art of evaluating connector and cable sonics seems to have been raised to new heights. Take that large, wall-mounted TRS patchbay, for example, and the custom cables fabricated for use between guitar amps and speakers.
“We're somewhat nuts about the little details,” admits studio manager Bob Breen. “For the speaker cable, we got a bunch of different kinds of wire and did blind listens. I have a Fender Combo amp that pigtails right into the speaker; we finally found a wire that we could use 94 feet of and still, in the tests, confuse with the inches-long pigtail.”
An extension of that type of research led to similar tests with wires and connectors used in both the console and the patchbay, built by New Hampshire-based Audio Accessories. The ultimate goal was to make what Breen calls “a real engineers' room.” Part of that goal was achieved by avoiding Elco connectors in the console wiring and choosing TRS over TT connectors for the patchbay.
“Straight cable sounded better than the highest-quality Elcos,” Breen asserts, “and even the best available TT cables didn't sound as good as ¼-inch TRS. Because of the increased contact area, you really do get more highs, more lows, and more definition and detail with TRS. Not all brands of TRS sound alike, so that was another test.
“Our main concern was sonics,” he continues. “For Freddie Piro, the owner, a producer/engineer himself, as well as a gear collector, it was all about making great-sounding recordings. The philosophy is, ‘When you plug in a mic and bring up the fader, it's already going to sound good.’”
The single-studio Ocean had been open for 10 years, when Piro, who owned the nearby Mama Jo's Studio, decided to create his ideal live recording space. Behind an inconspicuous exterior, Ocean is a spacious, split-level structure, with a large studio and control room and extensive collections of outboard gear and microphones. Ocean was a well-kept secret until the refurbished Neve went in. Now, the word is out, and clients have included the likes of producer Jerry Finn and engineer Sean O'Dwyer, producer Jay Baumgardner with engineer James Murray, producer John Shanks and engineer Marc DeSisto, producer Ethan Johns with engineer Steven Rhodes, and engineer/producers Joe Chiccarelli, Neal Avron, Bob Power, Eddie Delena, Johnny K and Rae DiLeo, among others.
Ocean's loft-style, 6,400-square-foot complex was outfitted with an eye to the comfort of groups; there are numerous office and lounge areas with audio, video and games, as well as a fully equipped kitchen with a catering-ready stove, a shower and plenty of secure parking. A Pro Tools editing suite is also available.
“It's all yours when you come in,” comments Breen. “We've tried to make it ergonomically comfortable and well-equipped. Most people don't even make a dent in the mic collection, there's so much! We are also very much into preventative maintenance. We go through a few modules every day to make sure we find problems before the client does.”
Meanwhile, Piro's original studio, Mama Jo's, has been seeing resurgence in rock business, something Breen attributes to reasonable rates, solid equipment and a good vibe. Also a private, single-room facility that's hosted such luminaries as T Bone Burnett, Alan Parsons, Mick Guzauski and Jack Joseph Puig, Mama Jo's is equipped with a 56-in Trident Series 80 desk. Outboard includes vintage Neve, UREI, Teletronix, Pultec and dbx, another cool mic selection and a good-sized recording space. Recent clients at Mama Jo's have included Brian Joseph Dobbs, Dave Fortman, Michael Patterson, James Murray and Sean O'Dwyer.
As radio and record labels founder, artists are seeking alternative ways to expose their songs. To that end, a lot of people are hopping on the trend to meld pop music with advertising. Over in Pasadena, Tena Clark's bustling Disc Marketing has the jump on all of them. A music and new-media marketing company founded in 1998, Disc Marketing has rapidly expanded from its core business: providing in-flight audio programs (22 channels for United Airlines, as well as all of the in-flight audio programming for Air Force One and Two!). Currently, the company's main focus is enhanced-CD production with numerous marketing applications. Target, Victoria's Secret, Betty Crocker and Toyota are all part of Disc Marketing's broad client base, as are high-profile campaigns such as United Airlines' Frank Sinatra/“Come Fly with Me.” Also under Disc Marketing's umbrella are music licensing, source music creation and multimedia production divisions, as well as a publishing company with a large roster of songwriters.
The newest aspect of DM is The Firehouse Recording Studios, a Pro Tools HD3/5.1 complex servicing both in-house and outside clients. Set on a quiet Old Town Pasadena side street, the facility was an 1890s-era firehouse, and is still equipped with some of the firehouse trappings. Up and running since March, the studio had a full house on the day I visited, with sessions going for songwriters Lamont Dozier and Chris Hillman, as well as voice-overs for United in-flight programming.
CEO Clark is a Mississippi native and a successful songwriter/producer with credits that include songs for Deana Carter, CeCe Winans and Gladys Knight, among others, soundtracks for film and television, and commercials such as McDonalds' “Have You Had Your Break Today?” A powerhouse of a woman who speaks in the only rapid-fire southern drawl I've ever heard, she took me on a whirlwind tour of the complex while explaining the business.
“We create marketing solutions using music and alternative media,” she states. “ECDs — enhanced CD-ROMs — are 80 percent of our business. We create the content — everything from writing and/or licensing the music to putting on concerts, like we did with The Go-Go's, Earth Wind & Fire and Lyle Lovett for our ‘Making Tracks’ Toyota launch.”
Convergence is a word that gets used a lot to describe Disc Marketing, as in the convergence of both traditional and new-media technologies. Another frequently heard term is “measurable.” “We've got three different patented processes to collect back-end data for the client,” Clark explains. “Say, for example, a company is targeting 7- to 14-year-olds. The company may want to know, if those target customers put the ECD in the player, do they go online? And when? And for how long? It's not passive, like TV or radio. And most advertisers would rather have this.”
With music a mainstay of the business, it was inevitable that a studio would become part of the complex. Clark expects The Firehouse to be used approximately 30% for in-house projects, with the welcome mat out for others, who no doubt will appreciate the charming Pasadena location and its cool neighborhood restaurants.
The Firehouse was planned to be a combination of old and new, analog and digital, with Studio 440's George Newburn brought in to design, along with architect Paul Cox. The three control rooms are fitted with Pro Tools 192/HD3 systems; two of them access the main recording space, which houses a 7-foot 4-inch Bosendorfer grand piano. The largest control room, Studio A, is set up for 7.1 monitoring and is equipped with a 48-channel Digidesign Pro Controller and a Yamaha projection system. Outboard includes 16 Neve 1073 mic pre's, eight API 550A and -B EQs, eight Calrec mic pre/EQ modules, and Neve 33609 and 2254 compressors. Eventide, TC Electronic, Lexicon, dbx, and Empirical Labs units round out the outboard collection, and mics include Neumann, AKG, Microtech Gefel, Schoeps, Sony and BLUE's Blueberry. For more, check out the June issue's “Class of 2002.”
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