Entertainment output remains strong but how is the pro-audio industry faring in the US? United Recording studio manager Robin Goodchild says that there is still a healthy market for studios.
Has the market changed in the past 5-10 years?
The market really has changed considerably over the last 5-10 years. In the early 2000s recording studios started dropping like flies, it seemed. Improved home-recording technology coupled with steadily decreasing record sales meant that budgets dropped and labels started to favour the cheaper project-studio options or even rent-a-house-and-fill-it-with-rental-gear option. You can see a marked difference in the sound of the records that have been produced over the last 10 years. Lo-fi became cool again and bands that recorded in someone’s garage have been able to enjoy top 10 album positions. But everything is cyclical and although overall budgets are unlikely to be increasing anytime soon I think artists are placing more emphasis on the sound of the product and making the recordings a priority. With the greatly reduced number of high-end studios still operating market share between them has increased.
Do you see more demand for personal studios over larger commercial spaces?
This has certainly increasingly been the case. We get a lot of calls for production space; that is just an acoustically treated space, completely unequipped. Right now our tenants include the highly acclaimed composer Chris Walden and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes engineer Matt Linesch. They both have their own gear in their rooms. Chris uses his space mainly to write with the odd overdub and then he’ll book one of the larger rooms if he wants to record a full section. Matt has his own full-on mix set-up in there and it sounds fantastic. But again, when he runs into a project which needs a bigger space, he’ll book one of the rooms.
I get calls for production space all the time. The last two or three years has seen a real increase in demand.
What sort of clients have you had through your doors since you opened?
There’s an amazing amount of history here; Sinatra recorded almost everything he did after 1961 here, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney through to Radiohead, Green Day, and Beck… the list is endless. And through it all, the recording spaces here have remained almost exactly the same. The artists who record here stand on the same floor Frank Sinatra was standing on when he recorded It Was a Very Good Year. And they’re probably using exactly the same microphone as well!
Tell me a bit about your studio set-up gear-wise.
Starting with the consoles: Studio A has a custom 72 input Focusrite console. Only 10 of these consoles were ever made and it’s my understanding that there are only six left in operation. There’s also a BCM 10 in there for good measure. In Studio B there’s a custom 68 input 8068/8088 Neve and in Studio D, which is mainly a mix room with a couple of smaller overdub spaces, we have a Neve 88R.
Studio A has a custom 72 input Focusrite console
There’s a plethora of vintage tube gear in each room including Fairchild 670 stereo compressors, URIE 1176s, LA-3As, API 550As (in Studio B we have 48 in-line original 550s), there’s an EMT 250 in each room… We have a lot of vintage gear. And a lot of it was made here. Universal Audio was Bill Putnam’s company and it moved to Los Angeles from Chicago with him and became UREI (United Recording Electronics Industries). For a long time all that gear was manufactured upstairs in this studio facility. Some of it only made it as far as the control rooms in the same building!
We still have a fleet of fully operational and maintained 24 track and two track tapes machines. There aren’t too many studios around today who can say the same. We are running Pro Tools | HDX and | HD 11 with full compliment of plug-ins including the UAD-2 Oct plug-ins. Regardless of the original outboard gear we have in the racks, these are amazing sounding plug-ins and there’s a high demand for them. They also speed up the recording and mixing process.
How is the USA studio industry unique?
I think historically studios in the USA can tell the musical story of their location and had an enormous effect on the sounds of their respective cities. The Wrecking Crew played on so many records in a handful of Los Angeles studios (United Western, Capitol) and for years California had a ‘sound’: The Beach Boys, The Mamas & Papas, The Monkees, and so on and so forth. You could say the same about studios in Nashville telling the story of country and studios in Chicago telling the story of the blues.
From a business point of view I think the history of these studios is a big part of the appeal and today the records produced in them are less indicative of specific musical styles or sounds but more a result of the records that have come before them.
What are your plans for the future?
Since 2013 when Hudson Pacific took over the studios there have been many improvements made, both aesthetically and technically. Of course, we haven’t touched the rooms themselves, but we’ve upgraded the lounges, hallways, and lobby and also made many technical upgrades. We have plans to upgrade the building further as well with communal lounge areas and common spaces.
Lastly, do you have any predictions for the future of the industry in the USA?
I’m optimistic. Just as vinyl has its place in the consumer market because it just sounds so bloody good, I feel there will always be a market for high-end recording studios. The high-end market seems to have levelled off and is probably seeing a bit of an increase. I see a higher demand for good-sounding smaller studios and production spaces in already established recording facilities as producers and writers are often looking for a sense of community and creative atmosphere you just can’t get in home studios or a warehouse in the middle of the valley.