L.A. Grapevine

Feb 1, 2001 12:00 PM, by Maureen Droney


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Marcussen Mastering's new four-room facility on Wilcox in Hollywood was still being built when I visited in mid-November, but that didn't prevent Stephen Marcussen from completing projects there for clients ranging from Aerosmith, Everclear and Sammy Hagar to Cher, Patti Austin and Seal.

Studio A, the first completed room, was an oasis in the middle of all the construction on the day I dropped in. It was mastering business-as-usual behind the airlock doors; Studio A has been fully booked since it went online in July 2000. That's when Marcussen left his temporary home at A&M Studios, where he'd been sharing space with longtime A&M chief mastering engineer Dave Collins. The two hooked up when Marcussen departed Precision Mastering, where he'd garnered a loyal clientele and credits such as REM's Automatic for the People and Tom Petty's Grammy-winning Wildflowers. Looking for a temporary location to work out of while he built his own facility, he landed at the in-transition A&M Mastering. There, he and Collins shared a room and in the process discovered that they were a highly compatible team. When the mastering division of A&M Studios was phased out by new owners, the Henson family, it was a logical step for Collins, known for his work on such projects as Madonna's Evita, Soundgarden's Superunknown and Bruce Springsteen's The Ghost of Tom Joad, among others, to sign on for a room at the new complex. His suite, Studio B, was scheduled to be up and running as of February 1.

“A&M was a great facility,” comments Marcussen. “And Dave and I, sharing that same room for over a year, really hit it off. It was a pretty crazy time. I'd get up at 3:30 in the morning and go in to do sessions. I had rock 'n' roll acts showing up at 6 a.m. to work with me, because I had to be out of the room by one so Dave could get to work. During all that, we found that we had similar tastes, and we struck up a great relationship. It became a natural transition for Dave to come along here with me.”

At the new location, Marcussen and studio manager Eddie Wisztreich walked me past carpenters and electricians for a tour of the 6,100-square-foot space, which features high ceilings and an abundance of natural light. Working with architect Frank Glynn of SAGA and acoustic designer George Augspurger, Marcussen put his years of experience to use designing the complex, which encompasses a large reception area, lounges and three mastering studios, each with a dedicated production room. Additional staff at the facility includes production engineers Stewart Whitmore and Louie Teran and administrative assistant April Simmons.

“A lot of planning has gone into this,” Marcussen says with pride. “I spent 20 years learning how to cobble a studio together. Now I know what it takes to do it right. I laid out the space even before I signed the lease. And because it was just a shell when we started, we were able to bring in everything new, which was really beneficial.”

Everything new meant studios fully isolated from each other, and virgin electrical and air conditioning comprising five different units, including a separate one for each suite.

Equipment-wise, the new facility will house many custom components. Studio A features a console with custom EQ built by Little Labs, along with Prism equalizers, Manley and SSL compressors, and for digital processing, TC Electronic, dbx, Waves and Weiss. Near-field monitors are Quested, main monitors are B&W Nautilus with Velodyne subwoofers. In addition to the usual array of Sony 1630s, there are plenty of Sony CD-Ws. “I just bought nine more of them,” Marcussen says with a laugh. “I think I'm the single largest owner.”

Throughout the transition, Marcussen never stopped doing sessions. “I was fortunate to have that A&M buffer,” he notes. “I'd work there during the day, then I'd come over here at night and A/B until I was sure it sounded great.”

Plans are for a third suite to be finished as far as acoustical treatments, with actual equipping being left until a third mastering engineer comes onboard. “I've got a lot of people that want it,” Marcussen comments. “It's just a question of finding the right mate for the room. We won't do anything electronically yet, because I don't know exactly what they'll want.” A fourth room is also in the works, with its format to be determined in the future.

“It's been great getting to do all the things I really wanted to do,” he concludes. “You can literally walk around the room and the sound doesn't change—this room sounds fabulous even back on the couch. It's the integration of George's [Augspurger] work, the monitors and the console, and it's been very successful. I'm overwhelmed by how many clients, who normally just stay for an hour, have had such a good experience that they decide to stay for the whole session. That's a great vote of confidence for me, which is wonderful, because it's been such a large endeavor. The room had to be at 110 percent when it opened. It had to be right. And I knew it was when my very first client, who is particularly critical, felt so comfortable that an hour into the session he literally fell asleep on the couch.”

I stopped in at Westlake Audio one evening for a visit with sales manager John Conard. Not everyone realizes that Westlake Audio consists of four divisions: the studios, of course, with eight rooms in two locations, the manufacturing division in Westlake Village, where the loudspeaker lines, including the new Lc3W12V vertical monitors, are designed and built, and the equipment repair service. And then there's the busy Pro Audio Sales department, headed by Conard, with a staff of 13—two product specialists and 11 salespeople.

An engineer in his own right, Conard has a background that includes studio ownership, as well as a stint with Sam Ash in New York. At Westlake for eight years and a sales manager for five, he was definitely the guy to fill us in on what's been happening at the company, which handles about 10,000 products—from consoles, recorders and microphones to computers, software, sound effects libraries and all necessary support equipment.

“We carry just about everything in pro audio, from large to small,” he says. “For instance, we're the Southern California rep for Sony, so we sell the 3348HR, the Oxford console, as well as the new, very popular, DMX-R100 console. We're a dealer for Digidesign; we've been selling Pro Tools systems for a long time. We have Alesis, Mackie, Neumann, Lexicon, Neve, Genelec—as a matter of fact, Genelec just named us ‘Dealer of the Year.’ It's pretty much, ‘You name it, we carry it.’ And, of course, we're the Southern California dealer for Westlake speakers.

“It's funny,” he continues, “but even some people who own Westlake speakers don't realize that we have the sales group. And a misconception people sometimes have is that we're only high end. That's why when people come here for the first time, I try to meet them and find out what they're doing—especially if they're new in the business. Because to me, this whole business is about developing relationships. That new customer might not be a hugely successful engineer right now, but someday he's going to be. And if we help him out in the process of getting there, he becomes a client with longevity. So even if someone is just coming in to buy a pair of speakers, we don't only give them price and availability. We try to help them figure out what's the best pair of speakers for their purposes.”

Daily meetings and regular visits by manufacturers' reps help keep Conard and his staff abreast of new products. In addition, there are on-site demo rooms, including a Pro Tools suite that is part of Westlake Studios.

“It's a working part of the studio,” Conard explains. “But twice a week, a Digidesign representative is here doing demos for customers. Mackie, Sony and many of our other manufacturers also come here to do demos. And, because we have two product specialists, if a client wants a demo on an off day when a manufacturer isn't here, we can facilitate that as well. One of our strong points is our relationship with manufacturers. That helps the client feel secure about buying the product here and about the product itself.”

Some current hot items, according to Conard, are the Lexicon 960L, Cedar's DNS1000 background noise eliminator and Alesis' Masterlink. And, of course, Pro Tools and peripherals. Westlake specializes in Pro Tools system design.

“We got involved with Pro Tools at the beginning,” Conard explains. “Originally, a lot of our Pro Tools market was in post-production, because, until it went 24-bit, the sound just wasn't there for a lot of music people. Now, of course, it's everywhere. But we still have an edge, because we became known early on for being able to deliver a turnkey system. We treat systems design a little differently than a music store might. People think, ‘I'll just get my computer and my Pro Tools, and everything will be fine.’ Well, there's a lot more to it than that. Part of what people get here is the experience and knowledge of our product specialists—sometimes they're putting fires out all day long.”

From an MRL for your analog Studer to an API console to Emagic software, they really do seem to have it all at Westlake. “You can call here and get an LL2B,” laughs Conard. “You know, the little mount that goes on the end of a stand so you can get a mic off fast. There are dealers in town who won't touch that stuff, but we do, because when you need it, you need it. And that's what we're about. We want to have what you need and to build a relationship and maintain it. With over 10,000 products, we can't know everything, but we work hard to stay on top of things. And, if we don't have the answers, we get them. We really want to help our clients do what they do better.”

E-mail your L.A. news to MsMDK@aol.com.

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