L.A. Grapevine

Even in the maverick world of recording studio owners, Conway's Buddy Brundo stands out as contrarian. For one thing, Conway, which Brundo and his wife Susan bought in 1976, doesn't look like any other recording facility.

Even in the maverick world of recording studio owners, Conway'sBuddy Brundo stands out as contrarian. For one thing, Conway, whichBrundo and his wife Susan bought in 1976, doesn't look like any otherrecording facility. As a matter of fact, unless you're actually inone of the control rooms or recording spaces, it doesn't look like astudio at all. The complex feels more like a tropical hotel, with threestudios hidden along winding paths behind lush greenery and privatepatios. Conway was also one of the first recording studios toincorporate natural light and — back in 1978 — wheneveryone else was building acoustically dead control rooms withcompression ceilings, Brundo had acoustical designer Vincent van Haaffof Waterland Designs come up with a more live, expansion ceiling designthat was conducive to the sound of rock and pop. Most recently, whilemany studio owners have postponed major equipment upgrades, Brundopurchased a new 80-input SSL 9000 K Series console.

The Conway operation occupies a big chunk of real estate —approximately 48,000 square feet — just a stone's throw from theParamount movie lot and the Raleigh Stages. Brundo's been adding to theproperty during the past couple of years, with the goal of building afourth studio. Instead, with business tight, he's invested in newconsoles for the existing rooms and leased out a portion of thecompound. Now, at the opposite end of the property from the studios areoffices occupied by Brundo's friends and collaborators van Haaff andtechnician/equipment designer John Musgrave. On the day I visited,Peaches and Herb's single “Reunited” kept running throughmy brain. Musgrave, before going out on his own and forming Mad Labs,was for many years the chief engineer at Conway, where he developed andimplemented the patented Neve VR upgrades that contributed to Conway'sreputation for high-quality sonics. Now, Musgrave's moved Mad Labson-site and has also entered into a maintenance agreement for theConway studios.

While Brundo is well known for his colorful personality, he's alsorecognized as an astute and conservative businessman. Some have beenwondering if, after 30 years in recording and with the studio businessuncertain, he'd be tempted to throw in the towel and sell his nowextremely valuable property. Instead, he's purchased a new console, aparticularly strong statement considering that more than a year ago, hetook the leap of buying a Neve 88R console, with remote 1081 and“Air Montserrat” preamps, for Studio A.

“The Neve VRs we had were getting old,” he saysmatter-of-factly. “But I have to buy things right. I was the veryfirst to sign on the dotted line for an 88R, so I got a good deal onit. With business in general not so great, I was also able to get agreat deal on the K Series. Our SSL J Series in Studio C has been verysuccessful, and I got good reports about the K. It's a big step up fromthe J: improved sonics and speed of operation. And there were no issueswith installation. SSL has ironed out any problems. You just plug it inand it works.”

With state-of-the-art consoles and the recent acquisition of ProTools|HD systems, Conway is set for big-ticket items, and Brundo'shunkering down to weather the economic storm. “I guess you canget used to anything,” he comments. “I adjusted to thereality of the length of this downturn. I've reorganized my debt tomake it more rational, we've cut expenses and we're through for nowspending money on the property. When we purchased the additionalproperty, we had demolition, grading, paving, landscaping…It wasa big chunk of money. We got through that, repositioned ourselves andnow we'll see what happens.

“With John Musgrave back, who was responsible for all of thestellar Neve VR modifications, we want to get into doing the same kindof enhancement to the consoles we have now. They're great, buteverything can be improved. I'm interested in doing R&D again, andthere are other people who've expressed interest in joining the team.The only thing I'm looking to purchase now is another apartmentbuilding where we can put more offices.

“Look,” he concludes, “our industry has numerousproblems. The battle is not over yet, and this could go either way. Butfor now, we're still here.” And at Conway, there has been adiverse batch of clients: In Studio A on the Neve 88R was Luis Miguelwith producer Francisco Loyo and engineer Moogie Canazio; A PerfectCircle with producer Billy Howerdel and engineer Steve Duda; andVishiss, with engineer Michael Patterson. Engineer Peter Mokran hasbeen locked out in B on the new SSL K Series, mixing for Dave Koz andAvant. And in Studio C, Fuel tracked with producer Michael Beinhorn andengineer Frank Filipetti; Alien Ant Farm tracked with producers Deanand Robert DeLeo and engineer Dave Schiffman; Blink 182 camped out withproducer Jerry Finn and engineer Ryan Hewitt; and Jamiroquai trackedfor Santana with producer Lester Mendez and engineer Ryan Freeland.

It was a typical weekday morning at Burbank's O'Henry SoundStudios: By 11:30 a.m., a string session for the day's first of twojingle sessions in Studio A had already come and gone, while Studio B'spop clients were just getting rolling. Owners Hank and JackieSanicola and their staff have worked hard to make O'Henry one of thefew studios that successfully combines record dates with scoring forfilm, TV and advertising. Now with the completion of Studio C, O'Henryhas become the three-room facility the Sanicolas have alwaysenvisioned, and Hank, who has been in charge, is retiring fromday-to-day operations. Harold Kilianski, O'Henry's chief engineer forthe past five years, has been appointed operations manager for thestudio.

The personable Kilianski has the right combination of skills to wearboth hats. A classically trained musician, he did post-graduate studyat McGill University in the prestigious Tonmeister program (theEuropean educational curriculum for recording engineering that combinesstudy in recording theory, acoustics and physics with hands-onpractice). He subsequently worked as a recording engineer for theCanadian Broadcasting Corporation and was a partner in a Toronto studiobefore relocating to Los Angeles.

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Another reason Kilianski is a natural for the job is that, sincehired on, he's been through nonstop renovation, design and constructionprojects at O'Henry. “Within a year of starting here,” herecalls, “we renovated Studio B and installed the SSL 9000. Thatconsole wasn't even online for a year before Hank decided to begin workon Studio A.”

Work on Studio A included the painstaking rebuild and enlargement ofits popular custom API Flying Faders-equipped console into a 5.188-input mixing and monitoring desk that is one of the largest fullydiscrete consoles in the world. “It's an amazing console,”Kilianski states, “for both tracking and mixing. There will neverbe another console like it.”

At the time of renovation, Studio A's large recording space was alsorenovated, making it more friendly to rock and pop, as well as toorchestras. The changes paid off: There are still plenty of orchestradates in A, and it's also become popular with acts such as The Eagles,Macy Gray and Lyle Lovett, who appreciate a quality acousticenvironment.

“One of the things that Studio A has to offer — and TheEagles sessions are a great example — is that large trackingsessions can set up drums in the big room,” notes Kilianski,“with guitar amps, piano, etc., in the glass-walled iso boothssurrounding it. You get a sound you just can't achieve by putting thedrums in a small iso booth. For the same reason, a lot of stringarrangers — like David Campbell and Paul Buckmaster — liketo work in A. It's live, but very smooth with greatcharacter.”

The third room, Studio C, boasts a large control room, like allO'Henry Studios, and is fitted with a Yamaha DM2000 digital console andwas built from the ground up in 2002. “Studio C is particularlygood for clients who want to camp out on a long-term basis to do vocalsor production,” comments Kilianski. “It has its own kitchenand bathroom, a separate entrance and even private parking.

“We made decisions with Studio C to build it in a moreeconomical way, although,” he says with a laugh,“construction at the level Hank insists on is always first-rate.Instead of installing another large-format console, we decided on aYamaha DM2000. We went digital because it's neutral, unlike analogwhere everyone has their own opinion about which sound they like. It'sworked out quite well. We've had a lot of great people in C like DallasAustin working with Gwen Stefani, and Samantha Ronson.”

For Kilianski, a perk of working at O'Henry is that L.A.'s finestsession musicians are regular visitors. “I come from the musicside originally, where I studied orchestration and composition,”he says. “It's still a complete and sincere thrill for me to workon a daily basis with such amazing musicians. It was actually verylucky that I ended up at O'Henry. I knew nothing about L.A. when Iarrived; my first job was right here. In hindsight, it's the bestpossible place I could have landed.”

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