L.A. Grapevine

I'm sitting behind the just-installed SSL 9080 J console in the Record Plant's (www.recordplant.com) Studio One (also known as SSL-1) rapping it down

I'm sitting behind the just-installed SSL 9080 J console in the Record Plant's (www.recordplant.com) Studio One (also known as SSL-1) rapping it down with Rose Mann-Cherney, the first lady of the L.A. recording studio community, and head tech engineer Jason Carson. On the front wall, the waves break in a video seascape of the Southern California coastline on four synched-up 37-inch Panasonic plasma screens, adding to the serene vibe of the womblike, completely redesigned room.

Geffen A&R rep Justin Sigel (left) with the Record Plant’s president, Rose Mann-Cherney, and head tech engineer Jason Carson.

This snazzy, ultramodern recording environment is the product of a team effort, with renowned acoustic designer Vincent van Haaff contributing the sleek yet inviting décor and Carson handling the hardware updates, which also include Neve 1073s, Crane Song Ibis EQ, Chandler TG1, Tube-Tech CL 1B and SPL Transient Designer 4, along with the requisite Microsoft Xbox. Carson talks about the 2001 model J Series console (fitted with 72 inputs and winged with a Surround 959 module), which he'd located in London, as if he'd scored the deal of a lifetime on a cherry late-model sports coupe that had only been driven by a little old lady on Sundays. Across from the control room is a cozy, well-appointed lounge. All in all, the new, improved SSL-1 is a posh yet super-comfortable spot for making a record.

“Our business is based on state-of-the-art technology and personal service,” says Mann-Cherney, a 30-year veteran Record Plant president, manager and partner. The combination seems to be working — among the A-listers who have produced and mixed at the Record Plant in recent months are will.i.am (Fergie, Talib Kweli, the Freedom Writers score), The Neptunes (Gwen Stefani, Gavin Rossdale), Kanye West (Common), Matthew Wilder (Lucy Walsh, Joe Walsh's daughter), Lil Jon (Ciara), Julio “Doki” Reyes (Jennifer Lopez) and Rudy Perez (Beyoncé).

“The idea of turning this room into a living space and a recording studio was behind the whole thing,” says Carson, a 2001 Berklee graduate who started as a runner and got his present gig two years ago. “We removed a bunch of diffusers from the back wall and some Dolby racks that hadn't been used in years — that sort of thing. The construction took a month, and it took us six days from the time the console showed up to have the room ready, but the process of deciding what would go in here took four or five months. I was the guy who got to go around and look at all the gear, and it was interesting to see how different companies were trying to evolve and what they were leaving behind.”

Breaking in the remodeled room is Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger working with producers Akon, will.i.am and West, with Geffen Records chief Ron Fair, who has made the Record Plant his base of operations for the past five years. “It makes sense to work out of this place,” says Fair. “I can make calls in a studio, but I can't make records in an office.”

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When Mix visited, Kanye West was on-site producing Nicole Scherzinger of Pussycat Dolls.

Working closely with Fair is another recent Berklee grad, Justin Sigel, who pops into SSL-1 to tell me what he's been up to. Sigel spent the summer after his sophomore year as an Interscope intern, splitting his time between learning the ropes of radio promotion at label HQ in Santa Monica and getting a crash course in record making right here as Fair produced the Black Eyed Peas' track for Legally Blonde. Back at Berklee that fall, Sigel, a music business major, was appointed the head of the school's Heavy Rotation label. A year after graduating, Sigel took a job assisting Fair in the studio, and just a few months later joined the A&R staff of A&M Records, Fair's previous fiefdom, working with the producer/label head on projects for the Pussycat Dolls and Keisha Cole, as well as the Black Eyed Peas' last album, Monkey Business.

“That's when things started exploding,” Sigel recalls. “I did odds and ends for Ron when he was in the studio, which allowed me to become a sponge. It was an unbelievable experience sitting there and watching him make records and phone calls for a year, just to study how he did both at once. But then all those records happened, and Jimmy [Iovine, Interscope Geffen A&M chief] asked Ron to become chairman of Geffen and we moved over there about nine months ago.”

After our conversation, Sigel will try to locate a 1-inch tape machine and then head over to Bernie Grundman's facility for the mastering of Macy Gray's comeback album, a project that Fair, who signed her, is over the moon about. Grundman himself will master half of the album produced by Fair with a human rhythm section, while Brian “Big Bass” Gardner will handle the hip hop-inflected tracks produced by will.i.am.

Before he has to take off, the cerebral 25-year-old takes a minute to tell me about an intriguing project he's working on. Sigel agrees that the CD's days are numbered, but he believes there will continue to be a demand for physical product, and to that end he's developing a configuration with producer Jack Joseph Puig, another recent Fair hire, though he still operates out of Ocean Way Studio A. “It caters more to where kids' minds are at right now in terms of being customizable,” he says. “I don't want to say too much about it, but it links up to the computer, it engages the listener and it's a piece of marketing, whereas there's only so much you can do with a compact disc.”

As Sigel talks, I recall what a friend once said about the young John Mayer after seeing him perform in 2001: “That kid will be the dictator of a small country in a few years.”

“I love having these kids around,” says Mann-Cherney with obvious affection. “They really energize the place.” She then turns reflective. “Y'know, I was just thinking about my very first day at Record Plant all those years back. Stevie Wonder was in one room, The Eagles in another and Van Morrison in the third, with Buddy Miles and a bunch of CBS Records execs just hanging out — it was like a private club. Last night, I'm walking out and there's Kanye and Common, Pharrell and Britney [Spears], will.i.am and Macy, Jennifer Lopez and Jimmy Iovine all hanging out upstairs. The vibe is always the same; it's just the faces that change.”

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