On the Cover: Ocean Way Recording's Allen Sides
Feb 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson
Allen Sides really should write a book; very few people in the music business have had as interesting a career. Most Mix readers probably know highlights of Sides’ resumé: He started in the audio business building custom loudspeakers and doing engineering work in a converted Santa Monica, Calif., garage space; he was taken under the wing of L.A. studio owner/audio guru Bill Putnam; took over Studio B in Putnam’s United Recording facility and renamed it Ocean Way; and later acquired Putnam’s nearby Western Recorders. Sides built Ocean Way into a formidable operation through extensive remodeling, the gradual acquisition of his now-legendary microphone and outboard gear collections, and by attracting top engineers and producers to work there. In the late ’80s, he bought the already successful Record One studios across town; later, he made a foray into Nashville, building an Ocean Way space in an old church. His studios have hosted a dizzying number of top musicians—name ’em and chances are they’ve worked there—and developed long-term relationships with everyone from Quincy Jones to Rick Rubin to Rob Cavallo; the list is staggering. Along the way, he’s also engineered and helped out on countless projects by everyone from Basie to Zappa to Sinatra to Cooder to Clapton to Michael Jackson and dozens of others.
Like Josh Groban, who graces this month’s cover with Sides; the duo are captured in the recently renovated Studio B, which has been restored to its Bill Putnam–era glory and improved with the addition of a spectacular 72-input Neve 8088 console and custom Ocean Way monitoring system. Sides has been working on a new Groban album with producer Rick Rubin.
Sides is up for a Grammy this month for his engineering contributions to Bobby McFerrin’s superb Vocabularies album; more recently, he worked on 13-year-old phenom Greyson Chance’s new album. He has studios outside of L.A., a thriving loudspeaker manufacturing business (Ocean Way Monitor Speakers), a hot rental company (Classic Equipment Rentals), a custom studio setup operation (Ocean Way to Go) and a popular library of drum sounds (Ocean Way Drums); he’s certainly come a long way from that first garage. And for a guy who’s so busy, he’s remarkably calm. We spoke recently about some of the successful tangents that have grown from his L.A. studio base.
I understand that you set up a complete studio in the Hollywood Hills for Radiohead to record their new album. Is that part of your Ocean Way to Go business?
Yes, and Radiohead also did Hail to the Thief in Ocean Way Studio B. Nigel Godrich, their producer, has been a great client.
We’ve been doing this for a long time. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Linkin Park, we did MGMT—helped them get set up in a house in Malibu. At any given time, we have at least one [outside] studio we’ve set up going somewhere. I did one for Phil Collins: Rob Cavallo and I went to Switzerland and did a record there in a castle. Those projects are a lot of fun and also an interesting technical challenge sometimes.
Tell me a bit about your experiences outside California. You still have Ocean Way Nashville, but it’s being run by Belmont University?
It’s a great studio! I worked on a Faith Hill album there not long ago. It’s a wonderful place and a beautifully run studio, and it’s doing very well. I think the Belmont connection has worked out really great. We have a license agreement with them to maintain the Ocean Way name and the staff and to keep the whole place up to our standards.
How about the more recent acquisition in St. Barth’s in the Caribbean?
Well, St. Barth’s was already a showbiz destination in itself. I mean, here’s an island with some of the best restaurants you’ll ever eat at, fantastic beaches. The studio is in the premier resort in St. Barth’s, which is called Eden Rock, and it’s in a villa on the beach. The couple who own the place and completely redeveloped it, David and Jane Matthews, have been friends of mine for 20 years and are really into music. David specifically built the 16,000-square-foot Villa Rockstar to accommodate my Ocean Way St. Barth’s. It’s a gorgeous studio with a great discrete Neve with Flying Faders and our monitors. Then there’s a theater next door to the control room—“next door” meaning you walk through two glass doors—and it has a stage with musical instruments and everything else. So we can track or record anything there. Also, it’s not just established musical artists who have used the studio, but also some fairly well-off people who maybe want to keep their musician kids entertained—so we can provide a package where we provide producers and engineers to make their songs something special. It’s an interesting group at St. Barth’s.
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