There is an inconspicuous brick building, one with no identifying markers that looks abandoned, with twin doors, the right hand one with an ancient bell. Push that bell and no sound comes out—at least not one that’s audible over the bustle of a major street in North Hollywood. The building’s deserted air might have to do with the fact that those who frequent the place use the discreet doors located in the back alley, accessible only through a gated parking lot.
This air of intrigue is necessary for the space, which houses the one-of-a-kind Pacifique Studios—the place where Beyonce camped out to finish Lemonade, completing overdubs, mixing and mastering; where 50 Cent recorded vocals; where Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top worked on his contribution to an acoustic Jimi Hendrix tribute album. And that’s just in the past year or so. Prior to that, Pacifique Studios provided services to Michael Jackson, Prince, Justin Timberlake and Poo Bear, to mention just a few.
When the studio was just shy of 30 years under its previous ownership, in December 2015, Tony Valenziano (owner of Smile Media Group, President of Something Music, CEO and Founder of both Smile Records and Model Music Group, and a producer on the documentary The Wrecking Crew) and Ted Greenberg (Grammy Award-winning producer/engineer, multi-instrumentalist, audio instructor, and producer, mixer, musician on the movie 20 Feet From Stardom) pooled their resources and expertise to take over Pacifique.
Pacifique Studios has two main “sister” rooms: East and West. Understated furniture, fresh carpeting, warm textiles and fabric draped Arabian Nights-style from the ceiling give the rooms a calming and cozy atmosphere. With a combination of cutting-edge technology and hard-to find vintage analog hardware, either of these acoustically perfect rooms can meet a wide range of needs. The rooms are wholly separate, each with its own entrance, lounge and facilities. Both are equipped for tracking, vocal recording, overdubs, mixing and mastering. The smaller areas of each room are flexible, allowing, for example, for a temporary production suite to be assembled inside, as Beyonce arranged to do while she was working at the studio. Alternatively, the rooms can be opened to one giant space.
West Studio live room.
Photo Credit: Arthur Chambazyan
Up a spiral staircase is the central nervous system: Valenziano and Greenberg’s office. It’s also where many guitars hang, shelves house even more vintage analog pieces plus boxes from every version of recording software; and DATs with labels like Michael Jackson, Destiny’s Child, Prince, Kanye West, Enrique Inglesias, Aaliyah and so many more sit in forgotten boxes.
“The place has major history,” states Greenberg. “There’s magic here. There’s a muse.”
“People who have been here, they come back,” adds Valenziano. “We’ve done some advertising, but it’s word of mouth. People talk about it. Other studio owners have come in here and said, ‘I remember what it used to look like, you’ve done a really good job.’”
The studio was always successful, from the time Natalie Cole recorded “Unforgettable” there in 1991. But for many years, the place didn’t benefit from a lot of upkeep. Valenziano and Greenberg re-hauled the place, aesthetically as well as technically, streamlining and repairing much of the equipment that was either not functioning or not functioning optimally, turning Pacifique into a sleek yet comfortable operation. This has resulted in people like mix engineer Kevin Davis (K. Michelle, Ne-Yo, Dionne Warwick) setting up camp at Pacifique to work with the likes of Emeli Sande.
East Studio, with SSL 9096 XL K Series console. Inset: A small taste of the eclectic outboard gear available.
“You’ve got options,” Greenberg says of the studio. “We have Decca EQs that don’t exist anywhere running through Telefunken amps that the Beatles recorded through. We have compressors from the 1950s. We have Neves and an API. We have Universal Audio 610s console module, the real stuff. We have a whole microphone collection that includes Lenny Kravitz’s RCA KU-3A ribbon mic. You can’t find this stuff. If you do, you’re going to pay rentals for it. Here, it comes with the room.
“We’re recording to 2-inch, mixing to half-inch, but we’ve also got the latest Pro Tools HDX, pro converters,” he continues. “We can do whatever you want. We have the SSL 9096 XL but you can be mixing off your laptop and just use faders one and two. That’s what Stuart White (Beyonce) did and what Josh Gudwin (Justin Bieber) does.”
“Everyone that comes here hears and knows there is a huge difference between their cool stuff in their home studios and our space,” says Valenziano. “We were re-recording some hits with artists who have lived with those songs for years. They know the originals intimately. After re-recording those same songs here, the guys came out saying, ‘These sound better than the originals. It’s the best bass and drum sound we’ve ever had, what’s going on?’ We knew no matter what else was going on here, these rooms were special, we just knew.”
Besides a state-of-the-art facility with unique features, Pacifique Studios offers Valenziano and Greenberg’s skills and knowledge. The two provide a level of personal customer service that’s rare. They can be as involved or uninvolved as clients would like them to be. If an artist needs an instrument that Pacifique doesn’t have—as unlikely as that may be—if the owners feel it’s something the studio will benefit from, they’ll buy it and make it available. And if a client is really well-behaved, a whole host of other rare pieces of gear will make an appearance from the studio’s many hiding places—as well as Greenberg’s seemingly never-ending supply of singular pieces—ready for use.
Valenziano’s strength is his business acumen from years of running companies. He also is the diplomatic one, able to get along with everyone and keep them happy. Greenberg’s strength is his ability and insistence in maintaining the physical studio in top shape. His extensive background in teaching has produced a number of excellent studio rats, many of whom find their way to Pacifique. Arthur and Jack Chambazyan are the current multitalented studio hands, and alums of Greenberg’s, whose abilities lend themselves to many aspects of both studio operations and client services.
“Because I’m self-taught and learned by doing it wrong, I know how to teach you to do it right,” says Greenberg. “I can get directly to the correct way of doing things very easily. I can show you the straightest line between two points so you don’t have to search around in the dark like I did for years. There are careers to be had here. This place is crawling with former students. It’s like graduate school. I haven’t asked any of them to come here, they just do.”
Valenziano’s studio background is not that different from Greenberg’s. He, too, started in a band, using outboard gear, and wants to pass along the tradition. “I was at an old MCI console, learning how to get in there, twisting the needle, trying to splice a beautiful long song into a single,” he recalls. “Back then, you got one shot at it. If you were using the master, maybe you dubbed it down and fixed and spliced from there. There was a certain art and a certain passion for people who wanted to do that, which is a long time gone. We offer that.”
Coming from musician backgrounds and having been signed to record deals, Valenziano and Greenberg remember what they didn’t like about their experiences; they strive to avoid the negatives and focusing instead on what they wished labels had done for them, while keeping their eyes on super-efficiency. The convenience of having a home studio is not lost on them, but at the same time, they know what they offer is above and beyond; the quality they produce is their showcase, something they’re both in complete agreement on.
“He’s the best partner I’ve ever had,” says Greenberg of Valenziano. “He really stands up. He does everything he says he’s going to do. He’s honest, and I’ve never been able to say that about any partner I’ve had.”
“I’ve had success with other partners that weren’t good people at the end of the day,” says Valenziano about Greenberg. “It’s always about money. I am about making everything great and having a business, way more on the community side. I know what it takes to run this whole thing and I now have someone to say, ‘Go, do your thing.’ I can give him a look and he’ll know what I’m trying to say. It’s a nice yin yang, and the artist gets the best of the deal.”