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Los Angeles is still considered the heart of American media culture.
We look at 7 of the most iconic recording studios in LA.
Discover the history of these locations and the famous artists that graced their halls!
Los Angeles is without a doubt the heart of the American media production powerhouse.
With big-name Hollywood movie studios situated right in the center of the action, Los Angeles has always been an alluring point that draws in artists with the promise of fame and fortune.
Although not everyone finds the success that they crave, Los Angeles’ famous recording studios have birthed some of the most renowned recording artists and bands the world has ever seen (or heard), and many of these studios are considered to be amongst the greatest on earth.
This list aims to outline some of the more detailed aspects of the history and contents of some of the biggest recording powerhouses in the history of LA/Hollywood.
What Are The Most Famous Recording Studios In Los Angeles?
1. Paramount Recording Studios
Paramount records are synonymous with American recording artists and have produced some of the most notable records of our time – cementing its place as a global recording powerhouse.
Built in 1917 by the Wisconsin Chair Company (that made wooden phonograph cabinets) Paramount Records quickly became a huge player in the field of record pressing and the recording industry in general.
Paramount wasn’t always successful and relied heavily on its jazz and blues labels in the early years.
These days Paramount Recording Studios are host to clients and artists like Childish Gambino, Skrillex, Wiz Khalifa, Ashanti, and Lil’ Wayne to name a few.
The studio started to snowball into greatness in the 1970s and 1980s with albums being produced for Jimi Hendrix, The Talking Heads, Devo, the Police Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson, among countless others.
Elvis Presley – Blue Hawaii
Wu-Tang Clan – 8 Diagrams
Deftones – Diamond Eyes
Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere
Skrillex – Recess
Founded in 1917 by United Phonographs, Paramount studios was instrumental in the development of America’s blues and jazz music scene. Through the likes of recording artists such as Thelonious Monk, Wes Montgomery, and Cannonball Adderley, Paramount studios paved the way for some of the more modern and popular recordings of our time.
After opening in 1917 and successfully recording a plethora of well-known artists, Paramount recording studios stopped recording in 1932 then closed down in 1935 during the years of the great depression.
In 1948 Paramount records was bought by John Steiner with the sole purpose of re-releasing and reissuing Paramount’s historical jazz and blues recordings, before it exploded into relevance in the late ’60s.
Most of the original masters and pressings were sold by the studio for scrap during the great depression years and a lot of master recordings were (reportedly) thrown into the Milwaukee river by disgruntled employees when the studio first began its closures in 1932.
Although no solid evidence of this has been found; two TV shows (one in 2006 and one in 2014) have endeavored to find some of these ‘thrown away’ records, but haven’t had any luck.
Started in the early ’70s by Tom Hidley, Westlake Studios are renowned for their high-quality acoustic treatment and were some of the first ‘standardized’ recording studios in the USA.
Westlake was designed so that the recording position of each studio would deliver a ‘flat response’ using extensive acoustic treatment and bass traps, whereas other studios at the time didn’t have as much science behind the size and scale of their recording studios.
Westlake takes the cake when it comes to high-quality acoustics and top-tier design and has drawn in artists like Quincy Jones, Billy Idol, Missy Elliott, Madonna, and Michael Jackson.
Britney Spears – Britney
Michael Jackson – Dangerous, Thriller
Rihanna – Anti
Chris Brown – F.A.M.E.
Marilyn Manson – Mechanical Animals
Westlake has 7 recording rooms, four being full-size live rooms, two being production rooms, and one singular mixing suite.
Studio A has a 60 channel Neve V3 console, Studio B has a 72 channel 4072 G Series SSL console, Studio C has a 72 channel 9072 J Series SSL console.
Studio D, the largest room at 104 sqm, has an SSL XL 9000 K series console, while Studio E has an SSL 9072 J series console. It also boasts the largest selection of outboard gear out of all the rooms at Westlake Studios.
Tom Hidley, founder of Westlake, was very knowledgeable in the field of audio technology, having worked on the first-ever car stereo in 1959.
After setting up TTG Studios in Hollywood in 1965 – Hidley was widely sought after for his deep understanding of music in all its forms, and he has been credited as “one of the first big commercial efforts to produce acoustically standardized interchangeable rooms.”
This meant that they endeavored to make all of their 7 rooms sound the same despite any differences in size or shape.
3. The Village Studios
Originally a Masonic hall built by the Freemasons in the 1920s, and then a Transcendental Meditation hall in the 1960s, The Village Studios has had an interesting ride from concept to creation.
The Village Studios is a magnificent building filled with ornate carvings, stained glass, and other interesting historical artifacts relating to the building’s interesting past life as a multitude of places of worship.
The Village Studios have been a staple in the LA music scene, having produced some of the greatest and most timeless artists of our lifetime, with names like Steely Dan, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, and Muddy Waters, to keep the list short.
Steely Dan – Aja
Bob Dylan – Planet Waves
Frank Zappa – Joe’s Garage
John Mayer – Continuum
Odesza – A Moment Apart
The Village Studios are not only responsible for some of the best and most polished studio recordings of our time, (Steely Dan!!) but is also a multifaceted production studio.
It has been instrumental in the creation of sound and dialogue for films such as Toy Story 2, Ace Ventura, Dead Poets Society, Walk the Line, Shawshank Redemption, and quite a few more.
One of the main draw-cards The Village Studios has up its sleeve is that it is one of the few studios to own a working Steinway & Sons Model A piano. It also boasts a selection of echo chambers.
Producers have access to a wide array of vintage microphones and other priceless outboard gear, making The Village Studios one of the hottest and most authentic places to record music in LA.
Having been built in 1958 by Tutti ‘Toots’ Camarata (Walt Disney’s director of recording) – Sunset Sound Studios has been solidified in the Los Angeles recording scene since its early opening days.
Having been built with encouragement from Walt Disney with use for Disney productions in mind, Sunset Sound had a roaring beginning and was the location for the recordings used in 101 Dalmations, Mary Poppins, Bambi, and several other notable Disney films.
The Studio was originally an old auto repair shop and was chosen as a location because it was believed that the sloping ‘ramp style’ floor of the establishment would help dissipate and eliminate standing waves and help with the overall acoustic response of the venue.
One of the more interesting aspects of Sunset Sound is its selection of echo chambers.
Due to modern space limitations, most studios don’t have anything close to an echo chamber, and echo is applied with digital delay and virtual plugins, rather than a tuned room.
The legends at Sunset Sound have preserved something special by keeping their echo chambers well preserved, giving them an edge over the competition.
Chamber 1 was included in the building of the original studios in 1960, chambers 2 and 3 were added in the late ’70s just as studio 3 was being completed. Prince was a huge fan of the echo chamber and used it on all of his records from the 1980s.
The Doors – Strange Days
Isolation – Toto
Led Zeppelin II – Led Zeppelin
Time – Fleetwood Mac
Prince – Purple Rain
Sunset Sound was built with an initial focus on working with Walt Disney and from the get-go was a huge success.
Although the owner ‘Toots’ was a qualified musician with a background in scoring for film and animations, he was more interested in recording the music of bands and artists, and shortly after opening Sunset Sound Studios, he moved into the commercial music industry with a bang.
Being built in an old auto shop, the design of the building lent itself nicely to a spacious studio complex. The large open plan spacing of the building allowed for the construction of 3 separate studios.
In 1981 Toots purchased ‘The Sound Factory’ from David Hassinger and added it to his repertoire.
Today, the business operates two studios in tandem, Sunset Sound Studios and The Sound Factory, and services a huge range of clients and artists boasting over 300 gold records in its 60-year tenure.
5. East-West Studios
East-West Studios is one of the most well-known recording studios in Los Angeles, with a working history of over 80 years and a massive colláge of influential artists who have recorded there. It comes as no surprise that the facilities are so perfect and polished.
The history of this studio space followed an interesting (and important) trajectory:
East-West Studios started as the ‘Cash is King’ grocery store in 1933 before being turned into Madame Zucca’s Hollywood Casino in 1942.
In 1950, the establishment was closed down to be turned into a radio broadcast center called West Coast Productions and then in 1954 was renamed Radio Center Theater under the umbrella of ‘Western Recorders’.
Western Recorders was sold after 1957 to a man named Bill Putnam who was (at the time) Frank Sinatra’s recording engineer.
Putnam, the man who essentially invented the modern-day recording console, renamed the studio to ‘United Studios’ and held onto the building until 1985 before selling both Western Recorders and United studios to Allen Sides.
In 1999 Allen Sides sold the building to a man named Rick Adams who changed the name to Cello Studios. Cello studios ran until 2005 when it was bought by current owner Doug Rogers who owned East-West sounds and promptly renamed the studio to East West Studios.
Madonna – Like A Prayer
Elvis Costello – Spike
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Mother’s Milk
Iggy Pop – Raw Power
Tool – Ænima
East-West is a studio with a huge amount of history and is one of the oldest operating recording studios in LA.
After Doug Rogers purchased the building, he wanted to bring it into the 21st century with a more forward-thinking design and aesthetics, so he hired Phillipe Starck, a well-known French designer who has won countless awards for his modernist designs and unique approaches.
Rogers asked Starck to remodel the interiors to make them lush, breathing new life into them. He was asked to do this without compromising the acoustics and interior of the studios and the surrounding spaces.
Another drawcard is the Neve 8078 console found in the studios. It is one of very few remaining in the world today, along with the phenomenally sized studio rooms.
Studio One is a whopping 61,000 cubic feet, giving a huge amount of ambiance, air, and space to the recordings. It has hosted artists like Frank Sinatra, The Rolling Stones, and many other big names.
Studio One has a Bechstein concert piano, Studio Two has a Yamaha C7 concert piano and Studio Three has a Steinway Model B grand piano.
Doug Rogers’ vision for East-West is for it to be a place for artists to meet, mingle, and be inspired while simultaneously shaping the music of generations to come.
6. Henson Studios
Founded by Charlie Chaplin in 1917, Henson Studios is up there as one of the premiere recording destinations in all of Los Angeles.
In 1966 Chaplin sold his studio to the famous A&M Records, founded by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss.
Chaplain used the studio as a film studio and it was originally named Chaplin Studios. This was before A&M Records could use the space, so they had to remove the sound stages and convert the space into recording studios.
A&M Records was acquired in 1999 by Universal Music before being sold on in 2000 to the Jim Henson company, hence the current name of Henson Studios.
Being comprised of 4 studios, a mix room, and the infamous “Fish Lounge”, Henson Studios has been a beautifully preserved building and has been home to artists like Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, U2, KISS, Peter Frampton, Metallica, Korn, and many many more.
Amy Winehouse – Lioness
Megadeth – The World Needs A Hero
Alice Cooper – Dragontown
Rod Stewart – It Had To Be You… The Great American Songbook
The Offspring – Splinter
Henson Studios has a swollen belly full of vintage treasures and is bursting at the seams with outboard gear, microphones, and huge arrays of monitors, speakers, and instruments.
One of the big things about Henson Studios is their huge range of tape machines including the Studer and Ampex ranges.
If you add in the HUGE range of extremely high-end outboard gear from brands like Manley, Neve, Tube Tech, Pultec, Urei, and Aphex; you have a phenomenally kitted-out studio with just about anything you may need to make any style of music.
It’s no surprise that artists continue to frequent the halls of this building, as its rich history and beautiful decor, combined with its skilled engineers and world-class equipment make for a highly desirable recording location.
7. Capitol Studios
Arguably one of the most famous and distinctive studios in Hollywood, Capitol Studios is a landmark building in more ways than one.
Originally opened in 1956 and owned by the label Capitol Records, the studio restricted anyone from recording unless they were on the Capitol Records label. From the late 1960s to the early 1970s Capitol Studios opened their building to the public and allowed artists from outside the label to record there.
Currently, the studios are owned by ‘Vivendi’, the parent of Universal Music Group who is in turn the parent company of Capitol Studios.
These studios have been operating for over 60 years and have been home to some amazing and well-known artists such as Paul McCartney, Nat King Cole, Barbara Streisand, and the Beach Boys.
Crowded House – Crowded House
Oasis – Don’t Believe The Truth
Robbie Williams – Take The Crown
Ella Fitzgerald – Get Happy
Avenged Sevenfold – Avenged Sevenfold
Capitol Studiosis a landmark building with a landmark history, and one of the oldest operating and original recording studios in Los Angeles.
The studios themselves are HUGE, with Studio A having 2700 square feet of floor space (enough space for a 50 piece orchestra). It houses a Neve 88RS console a Yamaha C9 and a Steinway Model B grand piano.
Studio B has 1023 square feet of floor space, a Neve 8068 console, and a Yamaha C9 plus a New York Steinway Model B grand piano as well.
Studio C is primarily used as a smaller mixing studio, studio D is 259 square feet and is used a lot for overdubs, and has a Neve 8058 console at its heart.
Capitol Studios also has a Rhodes, a Wurlitzer, and a Hammond B-3 organ, making it a go-to place for keyboard players and pianists alike. Some of the fingers that have graced those ivories include Nat King Cole, John Mayer, and Neil Young.
Similar to Sunset Sound, Capitol records has EIGHT echo chambers, located 30 feet below the building and made entirely of reinforced concrete. All eight rooms are shaped differently and contain different microphone models, setups, and placements.
The maximum reverberation found in the biggest of the echo chambers lasts for around 5 seconds, which is an amazing way to add natural sounding delay, reverb, or echo to a recording.
These chambers are a cut above the rest and have continued to be used by many famous artists from all over thanks to the ingenuity and passion that birthed them.