L.A. Grapevine

The abrupt closure of Hollywood's Cello Studios (www.cellostudios.com) at the end of January sent its loyal clients including producers Rick Rubin, Patrick

Gary Myerberg and Candace Stewart in Cello Studio 3
photo: Maureen Droney

The abrupt closure of Hollywood's Cello Studios (www.cellostudios.com) at the end of January sent its loyal clients — including producers Rick Rubin, Patrick Leonard, Don Was and Jon Brion, producer/engineer Jim Scott and resident composers Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman — scrambling for new workplaces. Although many of the circumstances leading up to the historic facility's closure were semi-public knowledge, the actual event came as a surprise, putting 22 staffers out of work with only a few hours of warning.

“As far as we know,” comments Cello studio manager Candace Stewart, who helped relocate clients over the course of the tumultuous afternoon, “it's the first time in over 50 years that the studios haven't been in operation.”

The multi-room complex at 6000 Sunset Blvd. is believed to have been originally constructed in 1952 and was called Western Recorders. In 1961, it was acquired and remodeled by legendary audio engineer and equipment designer Bill Putnam, who changed the studio's name to United Western Studios. Staff engineers included such luminaries as Bones Howe, Wally Heider and Lee Hirschberg, and artists such as Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Elvis Presley and the Mamas & The Papas have recorded hits there, as well as Frank Sinatra's “Strangers in the Night” and the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album.

In 1977, the 6050 building was purchased from Putnam by engineer and businessman Allen Sides. Shortly thereafter, 6000 Sunset was added to the complex that became Sides' Ocean Way Recording, and the two buildings together continued under Sides' ownership to produce many hits of the '70s, '80s and '90s, including albums by Rod Stewart, the Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Elton John and Eric Clapton.

In 1999, Sides sold the 6000 Sunset facility, along with its vintage equipment inventory, for a reported $7 million to successful Internet entrepreneur Rick Adams and his minority partners, who also owned a record label and a manufacturing company. Additional equipment was added and improvements were made to the complex, which was renamed Cello Studios. Wisely, however, the studios themselves were not altered and have retained the acoustic properties designed by Putnam. Under the management of Stewart (who, along with producer John Porter, had been instrumental in facilitating the purchase and overseeing the transition) and director of technical operations Gary Myerberg, Cello Studios thrived as a haven for live music, hosting such artists as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Elton John, R.E.M., the Barenaked Ladies, Stone Temple Pilots, Matthew Sweet and Blink-182.

It's no secret that in today's music business climate, even busy studios don't necessarily generate profits. Vintage equipment is expensive to maintain, and Cello was also dealt a blow from being one of many studios affected by the bankruptcy of Terminal Marketing, one of the audio industry's primary equipment leasing firms. Terminal's collapse left lawsuits in its wake, and Cello struggled under the burden of payments for a console it had never actually received.

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Jane Scobie at her Royaltone Studios office, which she called home since 1995
photo: Curt Kroeger

Given those circumstances and changes in his other related businesses, by 2003, owner Adams was ready to divest himself of the studios. Since then, an exhaustive search for a new owner has been underway, spearheaded by Stewart and Myerberg, who have been determined to preserve the studios. Finally, with lawsuits, attorneys' fees and the possibility of settlement costs looming, Cello Studios LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

On January 28, 2005, dubbed Black Friday, clients and staff were informed of the closing. As word got out, people dropped by and an impromptu jam session ensued. The news quickly spread around town, with most in the business expressing sadness at the thought that the venerable studios might be slated for demolition. According to Stewart, however, sadness may be premature. The doors are locked, but the studios and equipment — including Studio 7's Neve 8078, Studio 2's Neve 8028 and Studio 3's 80-input API Legacy console — remain intact as the business winds its way through the courts.

Stewart, an industry vet who, prior to Cello, managed several other major studios, was fielding other employment offers at press time. However, she acknowledges the word on the street that there are still numerous parties interested in the facility — if the price is right. “I've never been in a studio that felt so much like home,” she comments. “I really believe that certain studios will always have a place in the market. You can't keep a good thing down and I expect this phoenix to rise from the ashes.”

North Hollywood's Royaltone Studios isn't closing, but it is closing its doors to the public. Certainly one of the world's most uniquely styled studio environments, the two-room facility has been bought by a company involved with red-hot songwriter/producer Linda Perry and will become a private studio for Perry's projects.

Built by Alias Records owner Delight Jenkins, the studio bau:ton-designed Royaltone opened in 1995. Two years in the making, it features the look and atmosphere of a European castle, complete with slate floors, skylights, heavy velvet draperies, antique furniture and an attention to detail that even includes custom candlelit music stands.

Jane Scobie has been with Royaltone since shortly after it opened, and since 1999, she has been company president. Originally a manager of producers and engineers in her native England, she also consulted on management and marketing for various studios and audio manufacturers before coming to work for Royaltone. Her diverse music business background and service-oriented management style made her a perfect fit for the upscale facility, which attracted a wide variety of artists. “We've made over 100 albums at Royaltone during the past five years; I'm very proud of that,” Scobie comments. “We've had the support of an amazing staff — including my colleague Roger Sommers, who oversaw technical and engineering operations — that made a great place for artists to come and record their music.”

Albums worked on at Royaltone have included Alanis Morissette's Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie and Under Rug Swept, No Doubt's Return to Saturn, Melissa Etheridge's My Little Secret and Toto's Minefield. Also recorded and/or mixed at Royaltone were projects for Audioslave, Rage Against the Machine, Christina Aguilera and Vanessa Carlton, among others, as well as the soundtracks for Moulin Rouge and 8 Mile.

“In some ways, I'm sad that the Royaltone legacy won't live on,” says Scobie. “However, Linda [Perry] is an amazingly talented person who appreciates the special kind of place that Royaltone is. There isn't anything else like it. I really think it was the first studio in L.A. where the environment was designed to be creative for the artists from the moment they walked through the door. Working here, with the wonderful clients we've had, has been an amazing experience. Royaltone excelled at creating an artistic environment, but studios like that are going away really quickly right now. I've watched the industry change; now, I'm ready for a change myself. I'm looking forward to moving on to new ventures.” Scobie can be contacted at 323/646-7345.

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