Studios are looking to cut overhead without cutting out services.
By JIM ABBOTT
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
ORLANDO, Fla. -- It's a holy place in rock mythology, where fragrant incense burns, mineral water flows and M & amp;Ms of offensive hues never melt in a pop star's mouth.
In reality, a recording studio is more utilitarian than the caricature that has lingered since "Spinal Tap." Music is flowing out of converted bedrooms and warehouses, as well as state-of-the-art complexes where sorting M & amp;Ms is a detail that can be worked out.
It's a universe where one can spend thousands of dollars laboring over something for months, or bang out a few songs in someone's kitchen for the price of a bottle of wine.
No matter what the setting, the goal is the same: To get singers and musicians comfortable enough to forget the red light is on.
The recent explosion of technology has changed a great many aspects of the recording business. With laptops, the proper programs and some technological and musical sense, studio-quality music can now be produced at home.
Acts such as singer-songwriter John Darnielle, who records and performs under the name the Mountain Goats, specialize in a do-it-yourself mind-set that has created new competition for traditional studios.
Although traditional studios still offer such rock-star amenities as a billiard room, big-screen TVs, showers and a kitchen -- complete with personal chef -- a combination of factors has created a "perfect storm" that makes for challenging times in the record business. Studios are looking for ways to cut overhead without cutting services.
Even studios without chefs are finding it tough. Kyle Cook, lead guitarist for Matchbox Twenty, plans to close his Central Florida studio.
He's moving to Nashville, Tenn., a market with a busier songwriting and publishing community.
"It has been a struggle getting steady business in Orlando," said Cook, 30. "It's a very transient town. This year has definitely been slow."
At his studio, housed in a warehouse, Cook courted rock-oriented bands with an assortment of vintage guitars, amplifiers and sound gear.
Cook sees a connection between the issues facing traditional studios and the phenomenon of digital music and file-sharing. He points out that legendary studios such as the Hit Factory in New York and Cello Studios in Los Angeles also have closed in the past year.
"That sort of woke me up to the idea that I needed to be cautious of the steps I was taking," Cook said. "There are some sort of indirect relationships. Downloads are up; record sales are down a bit."
"Equipment being more affordable, now all the major advertisers are getting into it," he added. "There's a whole 'American Idol' generation that doesn't see the difference between really high quality audio or Microsoft selling them an application for their laptop."
Home sweet home
Lo-fi is a good thing at the home studio of Ralph Ameduri, 38, bassist for Orlando club fixture the Legendary JCs.
At his one-story block home, Ameduri records the members of the JCs, and whoever else happens to drop by. With albums, books, equipment and cables all over the place, it looks like a clubhouse.
The equipment is defiantly outdated. Ameduri's technology of choice is either quarter-inch 8-track tape or a 4-track cassette player, if the 8-track doesn't sound dirty enough.
"It's got a lot of punch, and punk rock should sound dangerous," he said. "It's really just a swatch pad for bands that we think are cool. They can try something for a bottle and a pizza."
Veit Renn, the producer at RMP Studios, said there are limitations to home recording that will keep musicians coming to professional studios.
"Guys that know sound realize there's only so much you can do in a home studio," said Renn, 37, whose r & eacute;sum & eacute; includes sessions with the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync.
Like other producers, Renn keeps the studio busy by booking commercial jingles. Virtually every inch of the studio is usable space, with fold-out walls, soundproofed flaps that cover windows and a microphone jack in the bathroom.
The best studios provide a combination of skill and atmosphere that can't be duplicated, where musicians and producers feel at home.
"I never really built this studio as a place where we have to have this $10,000 mike to get this client here," said Davey Schweizer, owner of Richter Studios in Orlando. "It's more about the vibe of the project than having state-of-the-art gear."