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VALLEY BUSINESS | THE SOUND OF MUSIC

Record Shows Local Studios' Impact on Industry

Operations: A mix of services, proximity to television production facilities and cheaper real estate have helped Valley businesses get on track.

September 05, 2000|BOB HOWARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The San Fernando Valley makes the whole world sing, in a manner of speaking.

The Valley is home to one of the country's biggest concentrations of music recording studios, including most of the studios in the Los Angeles area, according to industry experts.

Phone directories list nearly 200 sound and video recording companies here, and 50 businesses that deal in recording studio equipment.

With so many studios in the Valley, there is even a company that helps match singers and musicians with an appropriate recording location--Studio Referral Service of Studio City.

Company President Ellis Sorkin says the Valley has such a broad range of music recording operations--ranging from one-person home studios to huge facilities big enough for an orchestra--that finding a studio to match a customer's budget and technical requirements can be time-consuming.

Music recording is big business, according to Jack Kyser, chief economist of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. The county's 751 music recording establishments and related businesses generated revenue of nearly $888 million and employed 5,124 workers in 1997, the latest figures available, Kyser said.

Figures for the Valley portion of the business are unavailable, but Sorkin said the revenue generated by music recording companies in the Valley is easily in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Studio operators and others familiar with the business say the Valley is a draw for its cheaper real estate prices and the proximity to television production studios, film companies and other potential customers. An added attraction in Burbank is that the city doesn't charge a gross-receipts tax like that levied by Los Angeles.

"I don't recall the exact numbers, but the prices here were a lot lower than in L.A. when we moved in [in 1984]," said Thom Brown, studio manager for the music division at The Enterprise Group in Burbank.

Enterprise, which has seven music recording and mixing rooms totaling 25,000 square feet in two buildings, was also attracted by the lower business tax in Burbank, Brown said. Burbank charges a flat fee of $66.75 per year plus $6.25 per employee, while Los Angeles charges a gross-receipts tax that can run into thousands of dollars per year.

Enterprise is one of the largest music recording studios, according to Sorkin, a former sound engineer, who said most studios range from a few hundred to a few thousand square feet.

Typical setups include one or more recording or "tracking" rooms for musicians to perform, plus mixing rooms where engineers adjust voice and instrument volume and other technical qualities to achieve the desired sound.

"Recording music is a lot more complicated than most people realize," Sorkin said.

Each instrument in a band or orchestra is fitted with a microphone that is connected with a channel in the recording console, Sorkin explained. On a drum set, for example, each drum may have its own microphone. The result: Consoles have dozens of channels, creating a complex original recording that sound engineers typically modify considerably before the music is considered a finished product.

Producing hit records and other music sold to the public is only part of the business, Sorkin noted. Studios also record soundtracks for television and radio commercials, TV shows, movies and corporate events.

Sorkin said the number of studios has grown quickly in recent years because of the emergence of home studios using recording and mixing equipment that can be operated on a personal computer.

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Many of these are hardly studios at all, operating in a spare room or a den, said Marc Greene, a former staff composer for the soap opera 'Santa Barbara," who has written music for a number of other shows, including "As The World Turns," and "Another World."

Greene operates a home studio, but his differs from most in that it is a separate 850-square-foot facility that was designed and built as a studio from the ground up next to his home in Van Nuys.

Despite the overall size and hefty revenue of the music recording industry, making a profit in the studio business is "extremely difficult," according to Jay Baumgardner, owner of NRG Recording Services, a North Hollywood studio with three studios comprising 10,000 square feet.

NRG is profitable, Baumgardner said, but he said margins are thin in the recording business because there is a greater supply of studios than customers to fill them and competition has kept studio rental rates flat for 10 years or more.

"A lot of the people in this business have other sources of income" and are either just eking out a profit or are losing money, Baumgardner said. But he said many owners stick with the business year after year anyway because they love it.

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While starting a home studio may cost only a few thousand dollars, full-sized operations with performing rooms can run into the millions.

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