This month, I'm delighted to offer a pair of feel-good stories. On one end of the spectrum is posh Chalice Recording. “It took us awhile to find our niche, to figure out where we fit,” says studio manager Stacey Dodds, who came to Chalice from Burbank's Ocean Studios in 2001, a year before the facility opened its doors. Opportunity knocked in 2005, when producer Pharrell checked out the place and fell in love with it, initiating what turned into a parade of high-end clients from the worlds of hip hop and pop, including Kanye West, Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani and Mary J. Blige. Business has been so good at Chalice — the former home of Mix Magic, housed in two adjacent buildings on Highland Avenue between Santa Monica Boulevard and Melrose Avenue — that owner Ben Tao has green-lighted a wide-scale expansion under Dodds' supervision.
Studio designer Hanson Hsu of Delta H Design (left) and Chalice studio manager Stacey Dodds on-site at the under-construction Studio F
Chalice North, which now houses two SSL 9000 J Series consoles in Studios A and B, has been the scene of so many high-profile projects in the past year-and-a-half that a security gate had to be erected around the entire complex to keep the paparazzi at bay. Studio C, in the same building, is the home of producer Jonathan “J.R.” Rotem, whose hits include Rihanna's “SOS.”
The totally renovated Chalice South, where the expansion is taking place, was envisioned as a homier, more comfortable alternative to its “no-expense-spared” neighbor across the parking lot, and the concept must be working: Presently ensconced in Studio E is Emanuel Kiriakou (Nick Lachey, Katharine McPhee), while Brent Paschke, a guitarist who works with Pharrell in N.E.R.D.'s backing band, leases another production space. Studio D is a small Pro Tools suite, and Studio G, the newest operational room that boasts an SSL 4000 G+, has become a new favorite of UK-based producer Alan Moulder, who alternated between G and B while mixing the latest LPs from Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age, along with tracks for the new Arctic Monkeys release, bringing Chalice into the rock arena in one fell swoop.
In March, construction began on what will be Studio F, “a new production room on a much bigger scale,” according to Dodds. Its centerpiece will be an SSL AWS 900+, a 24-track small-format console and Pro Tools control surface. The board is already on-site, wrapped in plastic and waiting for its close-up. Handling the acoustics and interior design of the 24×19-foot space is Hanson Hsu's Delta H Design (“L.A. Grapevine,” November 2006), whose ZR (short for “zero-reflection”) technology makes a rectangular space mimic a polygonal room so that it's free of standing waves and resonant frequencies at the mix position after the direct sound has passed the sweet spot. Thanks to ZR, the existing walls are being retained, with an iso booth being built along the rear wall.
“The monitors will be free-standing to give the room an open feeling,” Hsu explains. “We're using Augspurger mains with BBI subs, which we're bolting together and then bolting to the slab, angled down at the mix position. And we've designed the ZR wall behind them on the front wall to work as if it were a baffle wall. There will be a plasma screen between them, and they'll have curved black grille covers. The back wall's going to be an open metal weave covering an acoustic cloth with lighting elements in the back, but all acoustically permeable, on top of a hidden ZR wall behind the cloth.”
“We've been in construction mode since the beginning of last year, so it feels like it's never-ending,” says Dodds. “Chalice was fortunate to have start-up funding, but it's become a viable company that's self-generating. I feel very lucky to be part of it.”
At the other end of the spectrum or, more precisely, in Glendale, I caught up with producer/engineer Mark Linett (best known for his work with Brian Wilson and his impeccable treatment of the Beach Boys catalog) during a brief stopover at his cozy poolside home studio, Your Place or Mine, between gigs with his bustling location recording business. After recording SXSW sets by the Kaiser Chiefs, The Cinematics, Mondo Diao and the Horrors in Austin, Linett was packing for a trip to the Caribbean island of Anguilla to record a Jimmy Buffett charity concert.
Your Place or Mine Location Recording (www.yourplaceorminerecording.com) completed around 30 jobs in 2006, ranging from nine Santana shed dates up and down the West Coast to the original Raspberries' first show in 30 years at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip, which Linett did on spec out of his fondness for the band. Most of the jobs were done for Control Room, which produces concerts for airing on radio, TV and the Internet.
“Business picked up last year, primarily because of these Internet video broadcasts,” Linett explains. “But we've been doing more live stuff in general. A large number of these jobs are what they call ‘captures’; we're just trying to get it to Pro Tools and then the mix is done later.”
Linett has been doing location recording for a quarter-century, starting with a Stephens portable 2-inch 16-track, transitioning through 24-track, ADATs and Tascam machines before purchasing a pair of Genex 9048 48-channel hard disk recorders a couple of years ago.
“So last year, with all these gigs, I decided it was time to build the system up,” he says. “We did it from scratch, with Aphex 1788A remote mic pre's, a Mackie dXb console and a 48-channel splitter, and then we added a second 48-channel front end with ATI preamps. Several shows we've done recently were live to the Internet. The dXb•200 is great because you can preset everything and bring it back in one click, and the same with the Aphex pre's.”
The gear is transported in airpacks; due to all of the activity, Linett is now up to three airpack systems. “That's what I've got waiting for me in Anguilla, and that's why we were hired,” he says. “You can't really drive a truck to the Caribbean.”
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