Sound City - Rebirth of a Legend

Posted by Rob B

Learn the inside story behind the recently reopened Sound City Studios, the facility where classics such as Nirvana’s Nevermind and Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled album came to life.

Sound City - Rebirth of a Legend

Sound City hit the headlines with the recent reopening of the studio. Can you tell us how this came to be and who was involved in the process?

Sandy Skeeter and Olivier Chastan joined forces in February 2017 to relaunch the studio. Sandy is the President of Sound City, Inc. and daughter of founder, Tom Skeeter. Olivier Chastan is a veteran music industry executive and the founder and CEO of Iconoclast, a management company and investment fund in the entertainment business. David Andersen was appointed as the studio manager and an in-house recording engineer in March 2017.

Sound City has also strategically aligned itself with Big Deal Music (a major music publisher based in Los Angeles) due to Olivier’s involvement in both companies. This makes Sound City Studios the destination of choice for Big Deal writers, producers, artists, and partners along with further enhancing the studio as the hippest place in LA! 

We noticed there has been some controversy over the studio closure back in 2011. Can you expand?

Let’s put this rumor to bed. The studio never officially closed. It ceased to operate commercially as Sound City in 2011 and was leased as a private studio until Olivier and Sandy decided to relaunch it.

There have also been a few rumours around the relaunching of the studio in terms of its ownership. Can you demystify this once and for all?

The studio has been owned by the Skeeter family since 1969 - plain and simple. No other party was ever involved until Olivier Chastan came along earlier this year.

 

What’s the gameplan for Sound City over the short term and what do you hope to achieve in the long term?

We held our official (re)launch party on July 12th, which was attended by over 400 producers, writers, artists, record executives, etc. We even had fast rising LA band Superet perform at the event! It was our first big push outward toward the professional music community. We’ve also been organizing walkthroughs for past clients, including some of the most recognizable names in the studio’s history, as well as prospective ones, which include some of today’s top artists (we can’t share any specifics yet).

We have found ourselves working within a wide range of music in the short time since the relaunch. Recent projects have included: The Dave Palmer Trio, a string tracking session for a major Sony Pictures film, a drum session for the band Twitching Tongues (Metal Blade Records), as well as pop writers and artists affiliated with Big Deal such as Rokhsan who wrote with hit songwriter Shelly Peiken at the studio and Vauxhall Broadcast amongst others. While we always hope to remain a safe haven for Rock & Roll, we look forward to fostering as many styles of music that we possibly can in this amazing space.

Additionally, we want the studio to be more than just a work for hire place but a complete creative hub. We host a pop-up gallery for the Morrison Hotel Gallery, as well as events for the music community (we have a big pop songwriter summit coming in the fall), and plan on a host of initiatives ranging from masterclasses, room emulation plugins, merchandising, etc.

 

Studio A has been widely featured in industry publications and covered in many interviews and documentaries. But we know that Sound City has a few other marvels besides Studio A. Can you tell us more on them?

Studio B, in many ways, is just as amazing as studio A, but offers a different response. While studio A possesses a quick slap to its sound, studio B is more of a traditional mid-70s dampened room. It’s very reminiscent of the defunct Record Plant studio in Sausalito. It has no reflection but does not suck the life out of the sound. It’s full frequency but controlled. Listen to recordings such as Buckingham Nicks, War “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”, Queens of the Stone Age “Rated R,” and Eagles of Death Metal “Death By Sexy” to get a better idea of what we mean. Studio B also offers an intimate, close feeling that isn’t always present in studio A. When you close the door to studio B, you find yourself in another world, free of distractions, where the engineer, producer, and performer are all in very close proximity to one another.

Let’s talk shop. What are some of the offerings of Sound City in terms of gear?

Olivier’s last studio was operated exclusively as a private use facility so the equipment offerings were very much tailored toward his personal tastes. For that reason, you won’t (immediately) notice some standard pieces such as: 1176’s, LA-2A’s, etc. However, we are adding new equipment regularly and we also expect that clients will enjoy a break from the norm. Obviously, aside from the rooms, the biggest draw to the studio would be our two Helios “Type 69” consoles.

Studio A boasts the “Arctic” Helios, which was built in 1973 and originally destined for a production room at Olympic Studios in London, though it ended up finding a home at Arctic Studio in Norway and then journeyed to Germany, before crossing the Atlantic and landing in Vancouver’s Mushroom Studio. It was then acquired by Heart and installed in their home studio before being installed by Henry Hirsch (Lenny Kravitz, Madonna, Michael Jackson) at Waterfront Studios in 2001. It is, arguably, the best sounding example of a Helios console in existence today.

The Studio B Helios (pictured above), dubbed the Studio 70 Helios, is the only line console known to have been produced by the company. It offers all of the amazing benefits of the studio A Helios, but with the added flexibility of incorporating external microphone amplifiers. As a very early example of a Helios “Type 69” console (we believe that it was the 7th one produced), it features a few slight differences in the low frequency band. The Studio 70 Helios was originally built for Island Records’ “Basing Street Studios" in London, where it was installed from 1969 to 1971 as the primary mixing desk in the facility. During this stay, it was used to mix various recordings by artists such as: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Bob Marley, among many others. After it was decommissioned at Island Studios, it was installed at Studio 70 in Germany, where it was used to produce seminal Donna Summers records for Giorgio Moroder, as well as albums by Kraftwerk.

Studio A features prototype ATC SCM200A mains finely tuned to the response of the room by a Trinnov ST2 system, ensuring a flat listening environment with a <1db (+/-) tolerance from 40hz through 20khz.

We also have a one-of-a-kind pair of RCA Studio equalizer clones which were custom built by renowned engineer Dave Amels. The filters on these EQs are especially powerful.

We have a large complement of plate reverbs as well! Each studio is hardwired with one EMT 140 stereo plate, but we also have a third EMT that acts as a floating (literally) plate, as well as an extremely rare Ecoplate III. Additionally, the two studios share a magnificent echo chamber, which measures in at roughly 15’ x 18’ x 16’ and offers a decay time of about 5 seconds. It sounds absolutely incredible on just about everything that you can put through it. 

 

What can you tell us about the inner-workings of the studio and the people behind the it?

Sandy worked as the “office girl” in the 1980’s during such productions as “Holy Diver” by Dio, among others. She also spent 30 years working in sales and marketing at Capitol/EMI, as well as several independent record labels prior to returning to Sound City in 2002. Under Sandy’s supervision, the Sound City complex was morphed into a creative campus that now plays home to more than 20 studios and production suites which surround the main studio building.

Olivier Chastan is a music industry executive who has a deep passion for preserving the history and legacy of the golden era of music. His primary business, Iconoclast, is a company and investment fund that is focused on the acquisition and management of legacy artists and pop culture brands. This passion for the great music of yesteryear extends to the process that led to its creation. Resurrecting one of the most iconic recording studios in the world was not only logical but was a true labor of love. Furthermore, Olivier began his career as a producer and continues to produce records, so it is more than just a passion project.

David Andersen is an engineer and the studio manager. Prior to joining Sound City Studios, he managed Waterfront Studio in New York, where he also worked as the assistant engineer to Henry Hirsch (Lenny Kravitz, Madonna, Michael Jackson).

Big Deal Music is part of the extended Sound City Studios family and is one of the leading independent music publisher in the world. Their roster includes Kamasi Washington, St. Vincent, Ray LaMontagne, Blake Mills, Ethan Johns, Jim James and some of the world’s most successful songwriters such as John Ryan (Pitbull, One Direction), Busbee (Pink, Kelly Clarkson), Teddy Geiger (Tiesto, One Direction, Shawn Mendes) and Dan Wilson (Adele, Dixie Chicks, John Legend, Taylor Swift)

The landscape in the professional audio industry has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. Where do you see Sound City fitting into this ecosystem?

As mentioned, the studio needs to be more than just a room that you rent, but an overall experience and the way that it is used and marketed must reflect that. We cannot be just another studio in Los Angeles (which already plays home to some of the world’s finest recording studios). Whether it’s how the space is utilized, the unique equipment contained within, the partners we have aligned ourselves with, or how we leverage our other businesses via the studio - this cannot be run of the mill.

Additionally, we made a strategic decision not to solely serve established artists that can afford to book. A conscious choice was made to price the rooms so as to accommodate up-and-coming and independent artists. We want to be at the center of any new creative endeavor and most of the time, it starts at the bottom, not at the top! ;-)

 

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