On the Cover: 25th Street Recording
Oct 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Tom Kenny
Dave Lichtenstein is an avid surfer, so it’s not really in his nature to feel the pressure to do anything too quickly. But he’s also an artist, so he knows what he wants and he cares about quality sound. After nearly 30 years in and around the recording industry—as an engineer, writer and performer, with various sidetracks along the way—Lichtenstein knew he wanted to build a big room that was comfortable for musicians, a place where a band or a small orchestra could come together to play. Now he’s got one, and it’s a beauty.
Located in the hip and burgeoning Uptown district of Oakland, Calif., 25th Street Recording is a modern take on a classic analog tracking room: 20-foot ceilings, large booths, a very “live” sound and a spacious control room that is equally suited to tracking or mixing, stereo or surround. It’s the type of studio that just isn’t being built as much today as the industry moves toward a more direct-line, production-oriented, in-the-box model. But Lichtenstein has always followed his own path, and after completing a record in 2007, he looked around the San Francisco Bay Area and thought there was a hole in the local studio scene that he could fill.
“In the summer of 2007, I went in to Fantasy Studios to record 13 songs I had been working on at home and in my space at Soundwave [rehearsal facility],” the soft-spoken Lichtenstein recalls. “Part of the reason for going in to Fantasy was simply to shake out what it was like to be in a real studio again; it had been awhile since my New York days. We spent about three months, and it was a lot of fun. But right when we finished, Fantasy was going through its changes and we still needed to mix. The only real comparable room to mix in, according to Jeffrey Wood, my producer, was Prairie Sun in Cotati, about an hour north of San Francisco. Like Fantasy, it’s a nice studio, but it made me think that there was room for another big studio in the Bay Area.”
NEW YORK CITY ROOTS
While Lichtenstein is the new kid on the block, he is hardly a Johnny-come-lately to the recording scene. He’s a self-described electronics nerd who started drumming in the fifth grade in Princeton, N.J., formed a band in the seventh grade, learned guitar, took a break to surf for a year, then took a road trip to Dallas with his new band and saw the inside of his first professional studio. He then came back to New York and enrolled at the Institute of Audio Research. “I was always into the ‘sound’ of things back then,” Lichtenstein says. “And I think that’s part of why I wanted to build a studio today. I see signs out there that people are starting to turn back to high-quality sound.”
Shortly before finishing at IAR, he took an apprentice job with Paul Wickliffe at a small 8-track studio on 28th Street in Manhattan. While assisting and sometimes mixing, he also did maintenance, and when Wickliffe started building Skyline Studios in the late-’70s, Lichtenstein got a real-world education in what it took to put a top-notch facility together.
While at Skyline, the first record he did on his own was for Alan Vega of the proto-punk band Suicide, followed by The Fleshtones. Soon after, he was engineering a John Cale session when Cale asked him to sit in on drums. That led to three years of touring with Cale in the early ’80s, throughout Europe and the States. That was followed by the formation of his own band, Cowboy Mouth, where he wrote, played guitar and sang. Then he left that behind and enrolled full time at Columbia University, earning an EE degree in the early ’90s.
Lichtenstein came to the Bay Area in 1994 and took a job writing code for a software company. By 2002, he was back writing music and bought his first DAW—Cubase—then got the rehearsal space at Soundwave, then did the record at Fantasy, then decided he wanted to be a studio owner. But first he needed a building.
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