L.A. Grapevine

Sep 1, 2003 12:00 PM, By Maureen Droney


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Recording sessions at West L.A.'s Groove Addicts tend to be fast-paced affairs; for example, the one I sat in on: a series of soundtracks composed by Danny Elfman and orchestrated by Steve Bartek for Disneyland's Where Magic Lives television spots. Harpists, string and woodwind players, a percussionist — with full timpani — and a small choir bustled through the company's industrial-chic lobby, which was also crammed with road cases. In contrast to facilities that cater to advertising and end up with a vibe that's either self-consciously arty or just plain cold, Groove Addicts (with facility designer Boto Designs) has managed to pull off a streamlined, cool decor that's also musician-friendly.

Maybe that's because the company's principals are all musicians. Developed by Dain Blair in 1996 “out of the ashes” of Who Did That Music?, Groove Addicts has four divisions: commercial soundtrack production and sound design for such companies as Pepsi, Disney, Miller Beer and Nissan; and broadcast, which creates radio and TV imaging and IDs for networks including the BBC and stations as far away as Turkey, Germany, Italy, Japan and Kenya and — back in L.A. — KIIS FM, The Wave and KLSX, among others. Groove Addicts also reps for television and radio composers including Elfman and Bartek, Stewart Copeland, BT, Jerry Goldsmith and Michael Kamen. A fourth division, under the coordination of Guillermo De La Barreda, handles the Groove Addicts Production Music Libraries that licenses over 12,000 titles.

The 13,000-square-foot facility was a long time in planning, and it shows, from whimsical art to the lobby's practical, polished concrete floor and the blonde-wood studio furniture custom-designed and built in London by AKA Designs. “Although AKA does most of the major rooms in London, so far, we're the only ones in L.A. to have their studio furniture,” comments chief engineer Gerhard Joost. “We sent our plans to them, and they literally did a 360-degree rotating 3-D perspective of what they wanted to do. The other companies who were bidding on the job were doing hand drawings with magic markers; so, needless to say, we were impressed. And even with shipping, the cost from AKA was less.”

Boto's Brett Thoeny collaborated with acoustician George Augspurger on the overall design. “They'd worked together before and really seem to enjoy it,” comments Blair. “George knew immediately how to get the most out of the design without compromising it.”

Studio A is the facility's centerpiece. A 5.1 room fitted with JBL LSR 28P monitors, it was designed with several recording spaces, each with different sonics and all with clear sight lines to the control room. About choosing a Yamaha DM2000 96k console, Joost says, “I couldn't be happier. We produce music for radio, TV and film with some of the best musicians in town; the pace can be staggering. I find having a surface you can manipulate sounds on immediately is far more constructive to the final mix than trying to mouse around. My design concept for the room was to rely on the board as a front end for tracking, with Pro Tools|HD as the ultimate mixing environment. But I kept the options open. We can also record into Pro Tools through outboard preamps using the DM2000 only as a monitor mixer, and I've also mixed entire projects relying solely on the console, including our first 5.1 spot, which I mixed for Nissan and the Creative Domain Agency, which just won a Belden Award.”

Studio B is a multipurpose room for overdubs, voice-overs and mixing with a Yamaha 02R console and Pro Tools. There's also a sound design room manned by Groove Addicts' house designer and remixer Robert Wear. Amenities at the facility include a full kitchen, pool table, large plasma-screen TVs, a spacious outside patio with gas barbecue and a comfy conference room where the walls are lined with guitars signed by such luminaries as Don Henley, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and Sting.

L.A. has an astonishing number of working musicians, along with an equally astonishing number of recording studios. In Van Nuys, I visited another new one, M-Pire: the very handsome home facility designed by Stephen Klein for (and with) singer/songwriter John M. A Nashville transplant who specializes in unpretentious, rootsy pop/rock, M. (real name Mollenhauer) has two well-received CDs to his credit and has been called by reviewers as “someone to keep an eye on.” In person, he's as likable as his music, espousing a DIY ethic honed on his own projects that he now also applies to productions for others.

In a serendipitous L.A. story, M. reconnected with Klein — a friend from high school — at a reunion. “John told me he was moving to L.A. and would be building a studio,” relates Klein, whose other recent projects include Honda R&D, Spark Unlimited Gaming, JBF Films and Ransom Records. “Small world: I just happen to design and build studios, and I'm based in L.A.”

Construction faced more than the usual acoustic challenges: The house is adjacent to a busy thoroughfare: the 405 Freeway and the Van Nuys Airport-Heliport. “I told John it would make more sense to demolish the existing structure and start anew,” Klein recalls, “but he wanted his dream studio, so the concept was born. I'm proud of his project, and happy to say it's quiet enough for the most critical recording, and versatile enough to accommodate any type of music production.”

“We spent more money on soundproofing than we did on anything else,” M. admits. “The walls are something like seven layers thick, with vinyl and air channels and two different layers of sound board. The project grew a little and the budget grew a lot, but I'm happy with what we got.”

The studio includes a large control room, a good-size main recording room and two iso booths, one designed specifically for drums and one for vocals. Two specially outfitted amp closets add flexibility, and a machine room holds the innards of the RADAR recording system that M. prefers. Natural light was incorporated into the recording space using existing stained-glass windows, reinforced and soundproofed with glass bricks. The control room also has natural light that is provided by insulated Solatube skylights.

A striking component of the recording space is its Brazilian tigerwood floor; reportedly, the only one in Southern California. “It's expensive,” M. admits. “But once I realized the kind of ballpark money we were in, just sounding good wasn't enough. The studio had to look good, too. Besides being beautiful, the tigerwood is incredibly hard. Actually, Steve wasn't sure we would even be able to drive nails in it! Not only is it a good reflective surface, you can roll pianos and road cases on it without marring.”

The drum room boasts a percussion-friendly low-mid frequency boost that's tunable with movable traps. The vocal room is dry. The main tracking room is live, but neutral. The studio's “break-in” project was M.'s third record, No Overdubs, the bulk of which was recorded live in front of an audience. “I brought in about 40 people,” he notes, “set up a P.A. and lights, and recorded.”

His fondness for intimate venue recording is an outgrowth of another passion of John's: house concerts. They're a staple of his tours as he traverses the country in a Ford van. He's currently editing a documentary filmed during one of those tours. “We started in New Hampshire and zig-zagged across the country,” he explains. “A film crew followed me and shot everything: the concerts, driving, eating at Denny's, staying at people's homes. It's about my tour and creating your own audience: finding people to let you come into their house, perform and stay.”

The centerpiece of M-Pire's control room is a 48-in, 24-bus Otari Concept Elite console. “With the Otari, I got a very good deal,” M. comments. “It also sounds great. It has excellent A-to-D converters and preamps, and it's totally recallable with moving fader automation. It's basically an analog console with a digital control center.”

Surround monitoring is through a Genelec 5.1 system; a Martinsound MultiMax allows various stereo and surround configurations. Like many Nashville cats, M. is attached to the RADAR format. “I just think it sounds better,” he states. “And it's much easier to use. I see computers as a necessary evil; RADAR is a computer, but it doesn't act like one. It's as easy to use as an analog tape machine, but with the advantages of nonlinear hard disk recording. I do have Pro Tools, Logic and Digital Performer, but I got them mainly to be compatible to get in and out of RADAR and to make transfers for people I work with.”

M.'s current favorite tools for singer/guitarist recording? “I'm a ‘simple-ist,’” he states. “My favorite place to start is with a plain old Neumann 87 in front of a guitar with a Neumann 103 for vocals. On a recent jazz vocal project, I used an Audio-Technica 4033, mixed with a Neumann 184 as a distant, ambient mic, which gave me a nice, live, ‘airy’ sound. My Taylor 12-string is set up with a stereo direct line out, so I'll use that blended with a U87. DI doesn't sound anywhere near as good as a mic, but you get some of the clarity and detail. I like that combined with the ambient sound of the mic.”

Send your L.A. stories to MsMDK@aol.com.

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