L.A. Recording Workshop founder Chris Knight in front of the school’s SSL XL 9000 K console
Photo: Maureen Droney
The Los Angeles Recording Workshop (LARW,
www.recordingcareer.com) has a much larger location, new gear and a very impressive new partner: Full Sail's owners. Founded by musician/engineer/producer Christopher Knight, LARW has been in business and growing since 1985. However, the past couple of years have been particularly challenging for the company as Knight struggled to comply with city redevelopment issues at his longtime North Hollywood location.
Knight is no stranger to adversity; the first incarnation of LARW was a graffiti-scarred, 500-square-foot space in Eastern Hollywood, which, Knight notes, also included his bedroom and bathroom. “In the beginning,” he recalls, “I'd spackle walls in the morning, make phone calls in the afternoon and teach in the evening. The first term, I had six students.”
That was almost 20 years ago. Since then, LARW has become one of the top recording schools in the country, with a student body averaging about 300. Since its inception, Knight envisioned a hands-on program. In 1986, LARW moved to 3,000 square feet in Studio City; in 1994, Knight bought a former Bank of America building on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood encompassing 12,000 square feet.
That building, however, was in an area slated by the North Hollywood Community Redevelopment Agency for, well, redevelopment. In 2003, a saga began that rivals the best bureaucratic nightmare stories.
“Basically,” Knight explains, “the CRA bought my building under ‘threat of condemnation.’ I had to find another place with the possibility of them taking over in only 90 days. I found another North Hollywood building and hired a city consultant to help with the required zoning variances. We were under enormous time pressure, so with the support of the deputy councilperson, we bought the building and began renovation — to the tune of almost $2 million. We were literally putting up walls when the zoning administrator called to say we'd been misinformed; a public hearing was required. Long story short, the neighbors objected to the school, the councilman pulled his support and we had to sell the building. Since we could no longer afford to buy another one, we had to look for a rental property.”
In October, Knight lucked on a space that previously housed Hollywood Digital. In short order, he signed a lease and started construction. With the help of MGA Design and Rudy Skedel's RS Construction, the work was completed in time for a July move-in.
Now serendipity: During construction of the aborted North Hollywood facility, Knight entered into discussions with Winter Park, Fla.-based Full Sail regarding a possible partnership. The talks ended when construction went awry; once the new location was secured, Knight got back in touch.
“In the meantime,” he relates, “Full Sail had developed a strategic partnership with L.A. Film School, which is, amazingly, three blocks from our new building. That made it even more exciting to reconsider an alliance. It led to a deal where I'm selling the school to Full Sail but will stay on and run it, essentially the way I always have.”
The name, at least for the present, will remain Los Angeles Recording Workshop. “Full Sail has long-term vision,” Knight explains. “They're bringing us enormous resources and a great deal of knowledge about how to operate an extraordinarily high-quality school. We already do a lot of things similarly because I've studied them over the years. Now, we'll be able to incorporate so much more of what I've always wanted for the school.”
The new 35,000-square-foot facility has almost doubled the number of studios to 15. It boasts SSL XL 9000 K Series and a 4000 G+ consoles. Knight is especially proud of the K Series, noting that it's the first in an educational institution in the United States. “We have a great relationship with SSL,” he says. “They've always been very concerned with what's good for us. [SSL senior VP] Phil Wagner knows us as well, or better, than we do ourselves.”
The curriculum remains at 900 hours. Other equipment includes a Neve VR and a Sony Oxford; Pro Tools, Reason and Cubase labs; and student lounges and gathering spaces.
Knight remains as infectiously enthusiastic as ever, even putting a positive spin on the recent tribulations. “There are always obstacles,” he reflects, “but there are also great opportunities. Because I spent all the money on a property that didn't work and I had to rent, I ended up three blocks away from the people I truly wanted to be involved with. I couldn't know all this would happen, but I never had any doubt that things would work out.”
Producer Philip Steir (l) and mix engineer Chris Haynes at 5.1 Entertainment
Photo: Maureen Droney
I expected to hate
Warner Bros. Remixes Volume I. As an engineer who's spent way too many wee hours laboring over dance remixes, I'm unimpressed with barrages of quarter-note delay, repeatedly sampled vocal phrases and boring breakdowns. But it only took one listen to Volume I's fresh versions of such '70s classics as the Doobie Brothers' “Listen to the Music,” America's “Ventura Highway,” Rod Stewart's “Do Ya Think I'm Sexy” and Seals & Croft's “Summer Breeze” to win me over.
It was the brainchild of producer/remixer Philip Steir, who (with Leah Simon) co-executive — produced the project, combining vintage hits from the Warner Bros. catalog with creative remixers like Mocean Worker, DJ Malibu, Meat Beat Manifesto, Supreme Beings of Leisure, Halou and Nightmares on Wax.
Steir, who worked on Devo's “Whip It,” Todd Rundgren's “Hello It's Me” and “Summer Breeze,” explains: “I'd done a remix of Steppenwolf's ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ in 1999 for the movie Go. It was supposed to be just a short segment, but they loved it so much that it went on the soundtrack album and became the movie's single. Since then, I've always wondered why more people don't do this with classic songs. I pitched it to Xavier Ramos and Jeff Ayeroff at Warner Bros. Jeff had previously run the Work Group, which released the Go soundtrack, and he said, ‘Let's do it!’”
The first hurdle was choosing songs from Warner's vast library, with tempo, lyrics and rhythmic style in mind. “A swing song or one that's not in 4/4 time doesn't lend itself to a great remix,” Steir points out.
Next came permissions, finding master multitracks and ensuring that versions were complete. Most of the tapes hadn't been played in more than 20 years and required baking at Eagle Rock's Penguin Studios, where they were transferred to .WAV and .AIFF files.
“Summer Breeze,” remixed by Steir with Ramin Sakurai, has already received significant radio play in addition to it being in a Gap commercial. “For that mix,” says Steir, “we re-did the arrangement, put on a hip hop beat and added keyboards and strings, but kept their awesome acoustic guitar and bass tracks. It was one of my first choices, but, originally, Seals & Crofts weren't interested. Then the Gap expressed interest in the song, but they wanted a modern version, so Seals & Crofts let us try it. I did a rough version and they loved it. I ended up using a stripped-down version for the commercial and a full version for the record. When it aired on the Gap commercial, we weren't prepared for the response: an onslaught of iTunes searches and a big jump in sales of the original album. That was pretty exciting!
“My intention was always to take classic songs and redo them artistically to make them more accessible for today's ears,” Steir concludes. “People hearing the remixes often think that we haven't changed much, when in reality we changed almost everything. But we didn't remix them to be dance hits. We wanted to keep the integrity but make them modern.”
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