L.A. Grapevine

At Radio Recorders, located on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Orange Avenue, an ongoing effort is underway to restore the oldest studio in Hollywood

At Radio Recorders, located on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Orange Avenue, an ongoing effort is underway to restore the oldest studio in Hollywood — the birthplace of Bobby Darin's “Mack the Knife,” Sam Cooke's “You Send Me,” the Beach Boys' “Help Me, Rhonda,” Bing Crosby's “White Christmas” and Elvis Presley's early RCA sides — to its former glory. Clearly, this is an ambitious undertaking, as the operation attempts to compete with the numerous nearby high-profile facilities. On one side of the nicely landscaped entrance to the building, which was built by RCA Victor in 1928, a recently erected sign denotes Radio Recorders' status as a historic landmark; on the other, a homeless person sleeps on a bus stop bench — the contrast is a microcosm of the challenge facing partners Paul Schwartz (who has operated the studio for the past two decades), Michael Dumas and Pride Hutchison.

Dwight Yoakam looks on as L.A. City Councilmember Tom LaBonge unveils Radio Recorders' landmark plaque

Drummer/producer Hutchison and Dumas, who has done Dwight Yoakam's live sound for years, were scouting studios to work in when they came upon the building, then called Studio 56, and offered to enter into a partnership with Schwartz, who welcomed the infusion of cash, energy and vision. They new co-owners began the renovation in 2000, installing the requisite Neve console (a VRP60) in Studio A, turning Studio B into a Pro Tools suite with a Sony DMX-R100, putting a cherried-out Trident MTA-90 in C and setting up the cavernous Studio E, where all of the above-mentioned classics had been recorded, as well as a soundstage for video shoots and live recordings. The partners refaced the walls and floors, being careful not to tamper with the details that make the facility unique, and brought in their ample collections of vintage gear.

Gradually, clients started to appear, and Radio Recorders got its first high-profile customer with Lucinda Williams, who had her 2004 live album mixed there and then returned to track her next studio album. Meanwhile, Dumas and Hutchison used the studio for their own projects, including the sessions for Yoakam's upcoming album and a number of projects for Hutchison's Explosive Records, most notably the debut LP of alt country newcomer TJ McFarland and a pair from Chambers Brothers' frontman, Lester Chambers.

“We're all here for the music,” says Hutchison, who moves at double speed through the hall, his optimism infecting everyone in the building. “I'm all about John Lennon, Bob Marley — keeping the spirit alive.” From the spring in his step and the sparkle in his eyes, you can't help but believe that these guys are going to do just that.

One longtime Hollywood studio owner who decided the grass was greener on the other side of the Cahuenga Pass is Marc Graue. He moved his Marc Graue Voiceover Studios from a seedy section of East Hollywood Boulevard that was not especially attractive to high-end clients to a two-story brick building in a quiet Burbank neighborhood. The move happened around the same time as the Radio Recorders reclamation project was getting under way.

The affable, dulcet-toned Graue, who began his career in radio, has many more competitors these days than he did 25 years ago, when he started a voice-over operation at the old Cherokee on Fairfax Avenue. Nonetheless, the facility's four rooms and video suite are teeming with virtually nonstop activity. According to Graue, the studio is doing so well because of competitive pricing, a comfortable environment (“It's like owning a bar,” he says. “People feel at ease here.”) and, most of all, a flawless product, professionally delivered.

At Graue's joint, the bulk of activity takes place between the civilized hours of 9 and 5, with an extremely diverse clientele, including “suits coming in from Wilshire Boulevard, a lot of celeb stuff — in 45 minutes we're doing the DVD commentary for another Simpsons release — voice-over demos for people wanting to get into the business, narration for A&E's Biography, ADR for the BBC — like what's happening in Studio 4 — Disney and MTV cartoons, commercial radio stuff. It stays pretty busy.”

In this sector of the biz, mic selection is crucial. “A lot of the time, we find ourselves using Sennheiser 416s, which are shotguns, especially for movie trailers, promos, that kind of stuff,” Graue explains. “We have a full collection: AKGs to Neumanns. But with most of our clientele, the gear is not as important as what they get. Studiowise, we have no live surfaces at all — very dead. If you walk in the booth, you can almost hear your blood, because all you want is that voice right in your face. Most of our stuff is pretty direct — high-end mic pre's going into Pro Tools, and then a gazillion plug-ins after the fact. The bottom line is, when you hear the finished product on the radio or TV, it's gotta be, ‘Damn, that's clean!’”

Another aspect of onrushing technology that has dramatically impacted the VO business is the Internet. “Now we post entire TV shows on FTP sites,” the studio veteran points out. “It's amazing how many clients we have and have a great rapport with that we've never even met in person. Most of the successful voice-over guys have home studios, which is why you don't see anybody at the mic in the session that's going on in Studio A right now. We now have 10 ISDN lines because it's that busy. Plus, we're getting more and more huge QuickTime files. We're running beefy G5 duals in all of the studios with 6 to 8 gigs of RAM, so they're real fast.”

So is the business as a whole, which is hourly in nature and cut to extremely close tolerances. “It's a very quick-paced job,” Graue says, “and you need to be able to think on your feet.”

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