Engineer/producer Mark Howard has a penchant for non-traditional studios; recently, he opened a particularly stunning one, high on a Silverlake hill in the Paramour Estate. Howard, whose credits include Bob Dylan and U2, collaborated for more than 15 years with musician/producer Daniel Lanois, and previously operated Teatro Studios, the Oxnard, Calif., facility that was housed in an old theater. His new venture, Paramour Studios, has been up and running since March. Located in a 22-room mansion set on 4-½ acres of terraced gardens, it boasts a 360° view, a white marble-lined swimming pool and four residential suites. Currently, there are two studios available for rental in the building: the large live room operated by Howard, and a smaller Pro Tools suite, fitted with a Fazzioli adjustable-action piano, which belongs to Pierre Marchand, Sarah McLachlan's longtime producer.
The Paramour Estate was built in the early 1920s as a wedding gift from an oil tycoon to his daughter and son-in-law, both of whom were silent movie stars. The elegant structure and its grounds were, until recently, used for numerous film shoots, such as Scream II.
Howard, who lives nearby, discovered that one of the Paramour's high-ceilinged rooms had originally been designed as a music performance space, making it a natural choice for the all-in-one-room recording style he prefers. “As a producer and an engineer, I work hands-on with the band,” he explains. “Working this way makes it easier to juggle hats between the production and technical ends.”
On the day I stopped in, Howard was setting up for a 5.1 mix of Hootie & the Blowfish's multi-Platinum Cracked Rear View, using a multinational speaker system comprising Canadian Paradigms, English Spendors and three kinds of Westlakes (BBSM twin 12s with 18-inch subwoofers, BBSM 5s and the brand-new LC 5.75s).
The main console in Howard's large recording space is an Amek Media 5.1 surround console that features preamps and EQs designed by Rupert Neve. Howard, who is into hybrid recording, cuts tracks through a Neve BCM10 console onto 2-inch analog tape. He then transfers the program material to Otari RADAR and Steinberg Nuendo, and mixes through the Amek.
About the Amek he says, “The whole console is recallable, which is great because I always like to be in mix mode. The analog recall is a snapshot, and the dynamics are a digital insert, so you get a great combination: warm analog preamps and EQs, and on 48 channels, your choice of digital gates and compression.”
Celebrating its sixteenth year in operation, the Los Angeles Recording Workshop recently made major equipment upgrades, both digital and analog. Now, in addition to an SSL 4000 G-Plus console and four Pro Tools|24 systems, the facility features five Sony DMX-R100 consoles, and two additional large-format desks: a 72-input Sony Oxford and a Neve VR Series with Flying Faders.
Located on Lankershim Blouvard in the Noho Arts district of North Hollywood, LARW offers a 900-hour recording engineer program that provides hands-on training in small groups. While most conventional recording classes begin with basic audio theory, at LARW, students start out working on R100s during their very first week. “We think it's important,” says owner and director Christopher Knight. “Rather than very basic things, we start them on fairly high-end technology. The R100s are terrific — touch-screen operation, moving fader automation and every feature is fully automated. It's a great way to begin.”
All of LARW's classrooms are outfitted with Tascam MX-2424 hard disk recorders with DVD RAMs, enabling students to transfer their projects between the complex's 12 studios as they progress through the program. In addition to traditional recording and mixing, curriculum segments include workshops on Pro Tools, 5.1 surround, audio post, and the basics of computer hardware and software. Students get practice on 21 different consoles, and there's also plenty of theory on topics from microphones, mixing, outboard equipment and MIDI, to maintenance and general music business.
“Some students come here knowing that they want to work in a specific area of audio recording,” Knight comments, “but many aren't sure exactly what they want to do. Part of our job is to show all the possibilities to them.”
Knight is a musician and producer/engineer in his own right who, before opening LARW, taught recording classes at the University of Oregon and Santa Monica College. Although his roots are in analog recording, his enthusiasm for current technology is infectious. “The audio world is a computer world now,” he states. “We make sure that our students have a basic understanding of hardware and software, for both PCs and Macs.
“Pro Tools is absolutely critical for audio training now,” he continues. “The students love it. They've grown up around computers, and they find it very natural. Our graduates sometimes walk into situations where there are engineers, with incredible talent and credits, who just haven't had a chance to stop and learn some of the new technologies. That's great for our graduates, because they can walk in with experience and knowledge that a studio really needs.”
The installation of a cutting-edge Sony Oxford digital console fits in with that “out-in-front” philosophy. “There are two consoles that you have to train on,” Knight asserts. “Solid State Logic and Neve VR, because there are so many of them out there. Beyond that, the Oxford offers an innovative design that is critical to our training. Analog consoles are built the same way, and there's an ease of that. But going fully digital, working in layers and being able to select what appears right in front of you, gives this console incredible power. You get to decide, channel by channel, how to arrange the signal flow. You might have been able to do most of that previously with lots of patch cables, but there are some things that you couldn't have done at all. Once engineers get used to the idea of accessing, and having everything software based, it [becomes] very intuitive.”
I finally got to put faces to the friendly phone voices at Recorded Media Supply, when customer service rep Heidi Rodewald and general manager Tim Davis gave me a tour of their Burbank facility, providing a look at how the company has diversified.
With a fleet of six delivery vans and a “can-do” attitude, RMS is known for excellent service. Many L.A. studios depend on the company, not only to be fully stocked with media for every possible format, but also to provide information on new technology — and, of course, to deliver whatever the customer needs on what is sometimes very short notice.
“We thrive on the honesty of our clients,” laughs Davis. “If they say it's an emergency, we believe them and we will knock ourselves out to accommodate that.”
RMS began life in the early '90s when musicians Jeff Burgess and Scott Mullen, searching for a way to supplement their gigging income, started a cassette duplication service. As they met more engineers and musicians, they saw a niche to fill — rapid delivery of recording supplies.
“When I started as a driver,” Davis recalls, “we just had to carry 2-inch, half-inch and DATs. Now, there's so much — and more all the time. We stock many brands and can advise you of the best disk or drive to purchase for your application. We work at getting a jump on what's new, to make sure that we have everything that our clients might need.”
The staff keeps up with trends by reading trades, interfacing with manufacturers and getting feedback from customers. They pride themselves on helping clients help themselves: They ask the right questions, and more than once, they've saved clients from making expensive mistakes. Besides the usual — multitrack analog and digital tape, DATs, CD-Rs, DVD-R and video products — RMS carries every current backup format from MO to Zip and DLT to AIT.
“AIT dominates right now,” says Davis. “But every six months, there's a new version that may have a higher data storage rate. We have to be careful, because they might not be cross-compatible with machines. For example, some studios that have multiple locations will use different generations at different locations. We're always careful to double-check.”
Every other studio necessity is also in stock, from woofers and tweeters for Yamaha NS-10s to console labeling tape, headphones, storage racks, Apogee analog/digital cables, china markers, both gaffer's and duct tape, and yes… ear plugs. New items available for purchase at RMS include Digidesign's Digi-001 recording system, Apogee Rosetta A/D converters, Glyph Technologies Hot Swap drives, various software plug-ins and Marshall microphones.
“The Marshall mics are doing really well,” notes Rodewald. “Especially the MXL V77S tube and the 600 condenser FET. They sound great and they have a very cool look. People who try them almost always buy them.”
With the proliferation of home studios, drivers have become an important part of the business, and another point of pride to the company is the quality of their delivery service. “We hire people who are professional and discreet,” Rodewald notes. “We have many well-known clients with home studios, so privacy issues are something we're always very sensitive to. From the beginning, we thought about what kind of service we wanted to provide. We had to decide, if somebody wants one item and we have to take it to Santa Monica, is it worth it? But for our good clients, it is. They remember us. Every one of us has been out in our car, late at night, delivering something. We have a lot of great customers, and we really do feel like we're all in this together.”
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