As the music industry continues its wrenching changes, so do commercial recording studios. Amazingly, however, the L.A. recording scene during the past
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Ellis Sorkin of Studio Referral Service sees projects moving back into commercial studios.

Photo: Maureen Droney

As the music industry continues its wrenching changes, so do commercial recording studios. Amazingly, however, the L.A. recording scene during the past year has, for the most part, dug in for the long haul. Surprisingly few studios have actually thrown in the towel, although several have downsized, made major changes or gone on the market. Like anything else, all studios are for sale for the right price, and currently many in Los Angeles are for sale at prices that a few short years ago would have been thought a bargain.

Those who have closed the doors include Music Grinder's two-room Hollywood facility, Santa Monica's Red Zone, and in North Hollywood, the one-room SSL-equipped Master Control. The Enterprise in Burbank has closed E2, its across-the-street annex, and sold the property to a post-production company. As I reported in May's column, Larrabee Studios, taking advantage of L.A.'s red-hot real estate market, sold the building on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood that housed the original Larrabee.

Business as usual is ongoing at Larrabee North and East. Cello Studios in Hollywood continues negotiations with new buyers; plans include changing the name of the complex back to its historic original — Western Recorders. And in Silverlake, the multiroom Soundcastle has been sold to producer Josh Abraham (Velvet Revolver, Staind, Limp Bizkit), who will move his Pulse Recording headquarters into Studio I. Soundcastle owner Buddy King is leasing the facility's Studio II from Abraham as headquarters for his new endeavor, Soundcastle New Media.

Although the equipment sales division at Westlake Audio is in transition, it's also business as usual at Westlake's seven studios. At press time, a buyout of the sales division by another pro audio dealer was in the works. The studios, VP Steve Burdick assures us, are holding their own with regular clients including Josh Groban, Maroon 5 and Latin sensation La Ley, as well as Westlake's busy indie artist development program.

In the Winnetka area of the Valley, Rumbo Recorders — sold some time ago by its original owner, Darryl Dragon (of Captain & Tennille fame) — now has another new owner. Persian singer/producer Mory Barjesteh, who previously owned Metronome Studios, has re-opened what is now called Rumbo/Metronome. The three-room complex retains all of its previous studios and equipment, as well as its phone number.

No one has a better overview of the L.A. studio scene than Studio Referral Service's Ellis Sorkin. “While the trend toward recording at home has become even more popular,” he comments, “I find quite a few people who have turned the corner and want to get out of the house. Whether it's because the family is disruptive to their work or the work is disruptive to their family, or just because they want to separate work from home, there are a lot of artists, producers — and even engineers — trying to lease or buy studios.”

Brokering lease and purchase arrangements are a growing part of Sorkin's business, with deals ranging across the board from “little spaces renting for $1,500 a month to major facilities with tracking rooms, where people can do all of their projects and, when they're not using them, rent them out to others.”

In comparison to 2003, Sorkin sees session volume up. Budgets, however, remain down. “If labels are going to be in business, they have to create something to sell. Now they're working with whatever budgets they can put together, generating product as cheaply as they can. Unfortunately, there will be more studios closing before we see a balance between how much work there is versus how many studios we have.

“It's not new that labels are going for the best deal they can get,” Sorkin continues. “Some labels do realize the value of having a relationship with a studio where they can be forthright about a project's actual budget. But they do need to assimilate that if they're getting rates down just to get the lowest possible price, eventually they're going to drive everybody out of business. At a certain point, there really won't be anywhere to record except in your garage.

“We keep hanging in there,” he concludes, “developing alternate streams of income and trying to keep a positive attitude. You've got to run lean and play smart.”

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Engineer Barry Conley (left) and Zakk Wylde

One studio model that seems to fit the times is Paramount/Ameraycan. Owners Adam Beilenson and Michael Kerns started out with Hollywood's multiroom Paramount Studios in 1987. In 2001, they expanded by acquiring another two-plus rooms at North Hollywood's Ameraycan. This year, they purchased Third Stone Recording, also in North Hollywood, with an eye to leasing out its three studios on a long-term basis.

Paramount, with four studios and a mastering suite, has long been known as a breeding ground for new talent, from Macy Gray to the Black Crowes and Ice Cube, and both Paramount and Ameraycan host a number of loyal producers, some of whom have taken up residence.

“Because we have so many different kinds of rooms, we work with all kinds of artists,” says Kerns. “A lot of clients — producer/engineers like Matt Hyde, Claudio Cueni, Rob Chiarelli, Mike Schlesinger, Jamie Seyberth — started here. We like to think we're nurturing, and we try to cut the right deals with people.”

The acquisition of Ameraycan came at an auspicious time, although, in late 2001, it didn't seem that way. Beilenson and Kerns were buying “up” at a time when the industry was turning down. As it worked out, industry conditions and the partners' facilities met in the middle: Good rooms at reasonable rates have positioned them for today's market.

“In 2001, the good times seemed to be ending,” recalls Beilenson, “but we still knew we needed to be at a certain level in what we could offer clients. It was obvious that the competition was only going to grow more heated.”

Ameraycan now has a producer-in-residence: Tim Palmer, whose recent projects on the main studios' SSL G Plus consoles include Zakk Wylde, Sarah McLachlan, Tears for Fears and Nelly Furtado.

Paramount now boasts three SSLs, including an 80-input 9000 J Series. Recent visitors include Brandy, Pink and the Pussycat Dolls featuring Carmen Electra. Other producer/engineer clients include Andy Johns, Neal Avron, Neal Pogue and Matt Hyde. In residence is producer/engineer Brad Haehnel and Macy Gray returned, taking over the facility's production/rehearsal space with producer Damon Elliott.

In Studio E/Paramount Mastering, Bill Dooley (Madonna, Me'Shell NdegéOcello, Mötley Crüe) is heading into his second year as chief engineer. Studio E is now fitted with ADAM ribbon tweeter speakers, Sonic Solutions and a Merging Technologies Pyramix DAW. Dooley's recent projects include a live DVD for New Found Glory, Wylde's latest release, Hangover Music Vol. 6, and CDs for DJ Quik, country rock artist Andrew Coleman and the soundtrack for Vanity Fair.

Third Stone, located near Ameraycan, was designed by the same architect: Jack Edwards. As we went to press, The Program, the busy film music company owned by L.A. Clipper Elton Brand, was in the process of inking a lease on its second floor, which contains a mix suite and two production rooms. Downstairs is a large 40×50-foot tracking room with iso booths and a large control room. Currently without a console, the studio is available for lease on a long-term or monthly basis; Macy Gray and Gilbey Clarke (ex-Guns N' Roses) are currently in negotiations for the space for use as both a studio and, potentially, a music school devoted to rock.

“Networking is more important than ever,” Beilenson concludes, “and I think our clients like the synergistic energy of our studios. With more online music selling, the labels are opening up a little more again. Things seem to be getting better.”

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