L.A. Grapevine

Marcussen Mastering's new four-room facility on Wilcox in Hollywood was still being built when I visited in mid-November, but that didn't prevent Stephen

Marcussen Mastering's new four-room facility on Wilcox inHollywood was still being built when I visited in mid-November, butthat didn't prevent Stephen Marcussen from completing projectsthere for clients ranging from Aerosmith, Everclear and Sammy Hagarto Cher, Patti Austin and Seal.

Studio A, the first completed room, was an oasis in the middleof all the construction on the day I dropped in. It was masteringbusiness-as-usual behind the airlock doors; Studio A has been fullybooked since it went online in July 2000. That's when Marcussenleft his temporary home at A&M Studios, where he'd been sharingspace with longtime A&M chief mastering engineer Dave Collins.The two hooked up when Marcussen departed Precision Mastering,where he'd garnered a loyal clientele and credits such as REM'sAutomatic for the People and Tom Petty's Grammy-winningWildflowers. Looking for a temporary location to work out of whilehe built his own facility, he landed at the in-transition A&MMastering. There, he and Collins shared a room and in the processdiscovered that they were a highly compatible team. When themastering division of A&M Studios was phased out by new owners,the Henson family, it was a logical step for Collins, known for hiswork on such projects as Madonna's Evita, Soundgarden'sSuperunknown and Bruce Springsteen's The Ghost of Tom Joad, amongothers, to sign on for a room at the new complex. His suite, StudioB, was scheduled to be up and running as of February 1.

“A&M was a great facility,” comments Marcussen.“And Dave and I, sharing that same room for over a year,really hit it off. It was a pretty crazy time. I'd get up at 3:30in the morning and go in to do sessions. I had rock 'n' roll actsshowing up at 6 a.m. to work with me, because I had to be out ofthe room by one so Dave could get to work. During all that, wefound that we had similar tastes, and we struck up a greatrelationship. It became a natural transition for Dave to come alonghere with me.”

At the new location, Marcussen and studio manager EddieWisztreich walked me past carpenters and electricians for a tour ofthe 6,100-square-foot space, which features high ceilings and anabundance of natural light. Working with architect Frank Glynn ofSAGA and acoustic designer George Augspurger, Marcussen put hisyears of experience to use designing the complex, which encompassesa large reception area, lounges and three mastering studios, eachwith a dedicated production room. Additional staff at the facilityincludes production engineers Stewart Whitmore and Louie Teran andadministrative assistant April Simmons.

“A lot of planning has gone into this,” Marcussensays with pride. “I spent 20 years learning how to cobble astudio together. Now I know what it takes to do it right. I laidout the space even before I signed the lease. And because it wasjust a shell when we started, we were able to bring in everythingnew, which was really beneficial.”

Everything new meant studios fully isolated from each other, andvirgin electrical and air conditioning comprising five differentunits, including a separate one for each suite.

Equipment-wise, the new facility will house many customcomponents. Studio A features a console with custom EQ built byLittle Labs, along with Prism equalizers, Manley and SSLcompressors, and for digital processing, TC Electronic, dbx, Wavesand Weiss. Near-field monitors are Quested, main monitors areB&W Nautilus with Velodyne subwoofers. In addition to the usualarray of Sony 1630s, there are plenty of Sony CD-Ws. “I justbought nine more of them,” Marcussen says with a laugh.“I think I'm the single largest owner.”

Throughout the transition, Marcussen never stopped doingsessions. “I was fortunate to have that A&Mbuffer,” he notes. “I'd work there during the day, thenI'd come over here at night and A/B until I was sure it soundedgreat.”

Plans are for a third suite to be finished as far as acousticaltreatments, with actual equipping being left until a thirdmastering engineer comes onboard. “I've got a lot of peoplethat want it,” Marcussen comments. “It's just aquestion of finding the right mate for the room. We won't doanything electronically yet, because I don't know exactly whatthey'll want.” A fourth room is also in the works, with itsformat to be determined in the future.

“It's been great getting to do all the things I reallywanted to do,” he concludes. “You can literally walkaround the room and the sound doesn't change—this room soundsfabulous even back on the couch. It's the integration of George's[Augspurger] work, the monitors and the console, and it's been verysuccessful. I'm overwhelmed by how many clients, who normally juststay for an hour, have had such a good experience that they decideto stay for the whole session. That's a great vote of confidencefor me, which is wonderful, because it's been such a largeendeavor. The room had to be at 110 percent when it opened. It hadto be right. And I knew it was when my very first client, who isparticularly critical, felt so comfortable that an hour into thesession he literally fell asleep on the couch.”

I stopped in at Westlake Audio one evening for a visit withsales manager John Conard. Not everyone realizes that WestlakeAudio consists of four divisions: the studios, of course, witheight rooms in two locations, the manufacturing division inWestlake Village, where the loudspeaker lines, including the newLc3W12V vertical monitors, are designed and built, and theequipment repair service. And then there's the busy Pro Audio Salesdepartment, headed by Conard, with a staff of 13—two productspecialists and 11 salespeople.

An engineer in his own right, Conard has a background thatincludes studio ownership, as well as a stint with Sam Ash in NewYork. At Westlake for eight years and a sales manager for five, hewas definitely the guy to fill us in on what's been happening atthe company, which handles about 10,000 products—fromconsoles, recorders and microphones to computers, software, soundeffects libraries and all necessary support equipment.

“We carry just about everything in pro audio, from largeto small,” he says. “For instance, we're the SouthernCalifornia rep for Sony, so we sell the 3348HR, the Oxford console,as well as the new, very popular, DMX-R100 console. We're a dealerfor Digidesign; we've been selling Pro Tools systems for a longtime. We have Alesis, Mackie, Neumann, Lexicon, Neve,Genelec—as a matter of fact, Genelec just named us‘Dealer of the Year.’ It's pretty much, ‘You nameit, we carry it.’ And, of course, we're the SouthernCalifornia dealer for Westlake speakers.

“It's funny,” he continues, “but even somepeople who own Westlake speakers don't realize that we have thesales group. And a misconception people sometimes have is thatwe're only high end. That's why when people come here for the firsttime, I try to meet them and find out what they'redoing—especially if they're new in the business. Because tome, this whole business is about developing relationships. That newcustomer might not be a hugely successful engineer right now, butsomeday he's going to be. And if we help him out in the process ofgetting there, he becomes a client with longevity. So even ifsomeone is just coming in to buy a pair of speakers, we don't onlygive them price and availability. We try to help them figure outwhat's the best pair of speakers for their purposes.”

Daily meetings and regular visits by manufacturers' reps helpkeep Conard and his staff abreast of new products. In addition,there are on-site demo rooms, including a Pro Tools suite that ispart of Westlake Studios.

“It's a working part of the studio,” Conardexplains. “But twice a week, a Digidesign representative ishere doing demos for customers. Mackie, Sony and many of our othermanufacturers also come here to do demos. And, because we have twoproduct specialists, if a client wants a demo on an off day when amanufacturer isn't here, we can facilitate that as well. One of ourstrong points is our relationship with manufacturers. That helpsthe client feel secure about buying the product here and about theproduct itself.”

Some current hot items, according to Conard, are the Lexicon960L, Cedar's DNS1000 background noise eliminator and Alesis'Masterlink. And, of course, Pro Tools and peripherals. Westlakespecializes in Pro Tools system design.

“We got involved with Pro Tools at the beginning,”Conard explains. “Originally, a lot of our Pro Tools marketwas in post-production, because, until it went 24-bit, the soundjust wasn't there for a lot of music people. Now, of course, it'severywhere. But we still have an edge, because we became knownearly on for being able to deliver a turnkey system. We treatsystems design a little differently than a music store might.People think, ‘I'll just get my computer and my Pro Tools,and everything will be fine.’ Well, there's a lot more to itthan that. Part of what people get here is the experience andknowledge of our product specialists—sometimes they'reputting fires out all day long.”

From an MRL for your analog Studer to an API console to Emagicsoftware, they really do seem to have it all at Westlake.“You can call here and get an LL2B,” laughs Conard.“You know, the little mount that goes on the end of a standso you can get a mic off fast. There are dealers in town who won'ttouch that stuff, but we do, because when you need it, you need it.And that's what we're about. We want to have what you need and tobuild a relationship and maintain it. With over 10,000 products, wecan't know everything, but we work hard to stay on top of things.And, if we don't have the answers, we get them. We really want tohelp our clients do what they do better.”

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