Friday, July 24, 2009

A Short Survey of Resources About History of Recording Studios

Maybe because I am reminded every day by ghosts of so many sessions past, I have an appreciation of other studios with long histories, particularly those that came before us. I suppose we are just one link from a long chain of recording history that is still evolving right before our eyes.

It is not easy to operate a studio, much less keep it running for many years. I hear a lot of stories from the "old days" from clients, engineers, musicians and vendors reminiscing about their experiences and memorable sessions they've had here and at other studios in town. New York used to have so many studios.

Are any of these stories documented? There have been a few books written specifically about recording studios and I'll introduce some of them in this entry. I feel there has not been enough documented and many people who actively participated in the "golden age" of recording are getting on in years.

I am by no stretch a historian or an archivist, but I am an enthusiast and would like to share with you what information I have collected.

The book that covers most of the famous recording studios throughout the country is Temples of Sound by Jim Cogan and William Clark. The book covers the late '40s into the '70s and includes studios like Capitol, United Western Recorders, Stax, Sun Studios, Chess, Motown, Sigma Sound, Atlantic, Columbia, Criteria and others. I would say it is required reading.

Starting regionally with New York, one of the best and concise history of recording studios in New York that I have run across was a September 1999 article in Studio Sound magazine written by Dan Daley called "New York New York." Unfortunately, the magazine no longer exists and I cannot provide links to the article.

The best book (the only one I know of) dedicated to New York recording studios is Studio Stories by David Simons. The book covers the period of the '50s through the mid-'70s. At the AES Conference held in New York in 2005, there was a historical panel called "History of the Grand Recording Studios of New York City" (scroll down a bit) which featured representatives from many of the studios highlighted in the book including Mira Sound, Fine Recording, Columbia 30th Street, Bell Sound, A&R, Record Plant and Mediasound. The audio of the panel discussion can be purchased from the AES store. The recording is a little disjointed and you have to guess which panelist is speaking, but it is still pretty interesting. I recreated the map of studios (circa 1962) from the book in Google Maps and updated it with a few more studios.

To AES' credit, they run great historical panels, which are recorded, and they serve as a great source of information. There were two other historical panels at AES 2005 and AES 2007 that covered the history of other New York recording studios. Also at AES 2007, a Grammy Recording Soundtable panel on The Power Station was held. This event was videotaped by The Grammy Foundation. The video can be seen here. It is fascinating to watch and listen to Tony Bongiovi explain in his own words his philosophy / approach behind the design of the rooms.

For Nashville, there is a book called How Nashville Became Music City, U.S.A.: 50 Years of Music Row by Michael Kosser. It is on my list of books to read. Another source of information is an AES 2007 historical panel which traces the history of The Quonset Hut and RCA Studio B.

As far as the Los Angeles scene, I am not aware of any publications specific to that area. There is certainly a lot of rich history there. Maybe someone ought to write a book. There is a memorial / archival site of A&M Studios that is maintained by Stephen Barncard where you can browse Web pages as it were in 1998.

San Francisco Bay Area's recording studio history is lovingly and painstakingly detailed in Heather Johnson's book, If These Halls Could Talk. The book is very thorough and comprehensive of the studios in the area.

For books on overseas studios, there is Abbey Road by Brian Southall, Peter Vince and Allan Rouse. At AES 2006, there was a historical panel called "The Abbey Road Sound - 75 Years in the Making". Of course, a number of books about The Beatles have been published recently, the most notable among them is the monumental and definitive Recording The Beatles by Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew.

Just as a side note, you can also hear Malcolm Addey's own version of his time at Abbey Road as well at Bell Sound and A&R Studios on our Oral Studio History podcast. I think oral histories are a great way to document studio history. A great application of this methodology is AES Historical Committee Oral History Project where experts in the audio field are videotaped talking about their expertise.

By no means is this list exhaustive and if you know of more resources about studio history, please send them in. I'll add them to the list of resources as I get them.

Other Resources:

Too Hot to Handle: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Recording Studios of the 20th Century by Randy McNutt

AES 2003 Panel "Temples of Sound" with Cosimo Matassa from J&M Studios in New Orleans and Joe Tarsia from Sigma Sound.

AES 2006 Historical Panel "San Francisco Studio History"