Fantasy Studios at 40

Mar 1, 2012 9:00 AM, By Matt Gallagher



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photo of Fantasy Studio D

Fantasy Studio D now offers a new cherry hardwood floor, and its isolation booth received newly installed glass and a sliding door.

Succeeding as a top-flight, multi-room commercial production facility over a span of four decades is certainly no small feat. But Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, Calif., has, continually distinguishing itself as a model of resilience, innovation and vitality. Now 40 years in, Fantasy is thriving as an independently run facility, celebrating with a complete physical upgrade of Studio D, which was originally designed by Tom Hidley, by installing new cherry hardwood floors and creating a new glass isolation booth. The celebrations continue into 2012 as staff members have been busy serving clients in the music, film, television, and videogame industries, who fill Fantasy’s storied rooms week after week.

The name Fantasy Studios evokes its proud legacy as the launching pad for a vast number of historically important album projects. The studios opened in February 1971 as the in-house recording, mixing and mastering facility for Saul Zaentz’s Fantasy Records label, hosting label stars Creedence Clearwater Revival and jazz and blues icons such as Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins, Chick Corea, Tony Bennett, and BB King. Zaentz’s label and studio business grew rapidly in the 1970s as the facility added film and TV post-production (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus) and attracted major recording artists from around the world. Over the ensuing decades, Fantasy built an impressive client list that includes the Grateful Dead, Aerosmith, Santana, Journey, Green Day and En Vogue, on up to Lil Wayne and Joanna Newsom, to name but a very few.

Still, the past few years have perhaps been Fantasy’s most challenging. Following Zaentz’s sale of the label, studio assets and catalog to Concord Records in 2004, Zaentz sold his seven-story building in 2007 to real estate developer Wareham Development, and Concord relocated its label and catalog to Beverly Hills. This created a perception among many in the industry that Fantasy would close, or had closed.

Far from it. Wareham purchased Fantasy’s equipment from Concord and named Jeffrey Wood, a veteran producer/engineer who has worked steadily at the studios since 1995, as its new Studio Director. “They have been trusting the vision, being very supportive,” Wood affirms. “The whole building was renovated when [Wareham] took over. We have all-new carpets, ceilings and lighting. They rebuilt the whole lobby. It was symbolic of their wish to open [Fantasy] up to the community and make it a creative hub for every style of music. We work with new bands and new artists all the time, and every session gets the same care from our engineers and staff.”

Wood cites a number of physical upgrades to Fantasy’s three rooms—Studios A, B and D—over the past four years, starting with new acoustic wall fabric for Studio A. “We’ve spent a lot of time, energy and money on maintenance, and that continues to this day,” he says. “We put in a brand new cherry hardwood floor in Studio D, which has changed the sound in the most positive way. It’s a more focused sound [than Studio A] because [D] has a lower ceiling. However, it breathes. It’s got life to it.” Fantasy also enclosed its Studio D isolation booth in glass, installing a sliding-glass door, which Wood says expanded the usage of the room. “Now you can put drum kits, the piano [and] string sections anywhere. And we can [accommodate] large amounts of people: We [hosted] a 50-piece hip-hop orchestra and we can do that live because we have the space, the mics, the headphones.”

Wood notes that the changes made to Studio D add up to “big changes for Fantasy, because previously we were trying to always honor the sound of the rooms. These were decisions we didn’t take lightly. I got a full all-systems-go on all the changes from everybody we spoke with. The way the flooring was put in was honoring the floating floor underneath, a series of plywood build-ups with high-quality plywood with no gaps so that there are no resonance issues.”

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