studio spotlight: The Bridge Recording

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Greg Curtis, owner/engineer, The Bridge Recording. All photos by Erik Rynearson

At once slickly modern and touched by nostalgia, The Bridge Recording stands true to its name as a testament to bridging past and present. Sparing no effort or expense, owner/engineer Greg Curtis opened the doors of his dream vision in 2010. The 6,500 square foot scoring and mixing facility houses an 1,800 square foot stage with 23 foot ceilings, two large ISO rooms and a spacious control room. Among the equipment and decor are various nods to the past, none more prominent than the behemoth Neve 96-channel console with provenance from Paramount’s historic Stage M.

Besides being the home of the USC scoring sessions and the likes of Adele and Idina Menzel, the studio records a host of today’s top TV shows including “Da Vinci’s Demons,” ”Once Upon A Time,” “Constantine,” “The Simpsons” and “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” to name just a few. At a recent “Person of Interest” scoring session, Curtis welcomed interviewer Linda A. Rapka and photographer Erik Rynearson to share how The Bridge in just a few short years finds itself as one of the hottest recording spots in town.

Tell me how you became involved in the recording industry.
I’ve been a lifelong musician, a trumpet player, since 5th grade in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. That would set the trajectory for my life in music. I still play a little bit, but I spend so much time here and am mainly at home with my family and three kids, ages 3, 5 and 7. That’s prime time for me. I want to give them as much time as I can while I can. That’s a luxury to have.

How did you make the transition from musician to engineer?
As a music major in college, I was a front-of-house mixer at clubs, bars and concert venues, and in high school I was building speakers and recording myself and got the bug recording the high school band in professional studios. So through college, I kept my fingers in engineering. I went to grad school in North Texas, playing horn. I came out here in 2000 and started playing horn professionally around town and started recording.

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Did you come out here for the music?
Yeah, as a trumpet player, to be the next Rick Baptist. He was one of the first guys I met, and Malcolm McNab, Gary Grant and those guys. They’re really cool, but they weren’t gonna give up their jobs for me [laughs]. So I started doing anything I could to keep money coming in. I’m a recording engineer, so I bought a couple mics and started doing that.

When did you decide to build this space?
I started doing too much at the house, and we had a kid on the way, and I said, ‘OK, it’s time to get out.’ I spent a year just looking for places, and this place came on the market as an empty warehouse. My designer Jay Kaufman knows Alan Sides, owner of Ocean Way — he ran Paramount Stage M and bought all the equipment from CBS Radford. So all this equipment came on the market and I had a direct line to it. We had the room now, so I decided to design a small scoring stage.  I made more phone calls, got more loans and bought a lot more equipment and made a big room to focus on scoring and music for media.

For being one of the relatively new guys in town you’ve got a great score sheet.
We had to. It’s a private business and there’s nothing underneath to support us. Our competitors are Capitol, EastWest or Ocean Way. But this is it, this is binary — it’s either on or it’s off.

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Andy Zisakis

So how did it happen, was it kind of an organic growth?
We’ve got a good team. I picked my guys from places I worked at as an engineer. Andy [Zisakis] and Milton [Gutierrez] were at Firehouse and the timing worked out perfectly to come out here. I got Vicki Giordano as manager, who’s got tons of experience and a long history of great studio management. She was at DMT Rentals who did scoring rentals, equipment for scoring companies like Sean Murphy, guys like that. So she had all those connections and needed somewhere to land, so that was a perfect opportunity. A lot of things just fell into place. It was organic. I didn’t sit down and say, ‘I will build a scoring stage in 2006,’ and know where I was gonna end up. I let the path guide me.

Tell me a little bit about the designing. Since it was just open space you really had free reign.
One of the first guys I brought into the empty building in 2007, John Kurlander, who’s a great engineer — he recorded the Beatles at Abbey Road — he looked around and had a lot of great ideas. Then I got a short list of designers, and Jay Kaufman ended up being my guy; he was just incredible. He had the same thoughts as John did and he and I sat down and flushed out a design for this place over several iterations. I spent a year at City Hall trying to pound it through.

View the room layout map

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What type of materials were selected and why?
It all started with the floor. Acoustically you know what’s going to happen, you know how the space is going to operate. But aesthetically you start with the floor. Acoustically everything’s hitting the walls, that’s why they are fabric. There’s lots of crazy stuff in there. There are diffusers, hard surfaces, soft surfaces, stuff that split. Sound hits that and it’s a rainbow of sound that bounces off.  Aesthetically we ended up with mahogany, and that doubled our budget right there. Our clientele appreciates that and I don’t know if we could have the same level of clientele that feels really comfortable here if we just had painted poplar.

You paid a lot of attention to detail with every aspect. The control room, too, is very comfortable and spacious.
On the top of the list was I wanted a big control room, and that was predicated by the console, which is giant. It’s built in and a theatrical mixture, not a single-point surround system, so it’s like a little theater in there. It’s a good dub/mixing room. I was here 16 hours a day. It took two years to build, 2008 we started and August 2010 we opened up. We did a bunch of test sessions, wringing out the bugs. We put three or four miles of cabling in here. The patch bay has 2,000 points and each one of those points is three little pins, so there was lots of work. It took many, many months of wiring and troubleshooting.

That must have been exciting, but also pretty scary at the same time.
It was daunting because I’d never done it before. I knew how to patch microphones and cables, but all this crazy stuff… You hire people who know what they’re doing, and put a lot of trust in them. We got a pretty great crew together. It’s a tree — you start off with a good solid base and it branches off from there.

Your main niche so far has been for TV. Would you say you have a specialty sound here?
Yeah. This room acoustically is like a small concert hall. There’s not a lot of bass trapping. It has to sound unique. And good. A lot of the older rooms absorb a lot more bass and they’re not as diffuse as this room. This room is really wide open; it sounds really big and full. So we get a lot of happy string players here. I’m a musician, so I wanted a place where you could really hear each other.

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Because you are a musician and engineer, you’ve been on both sides of it, which gives you a unique perspective.
I played with the Milwaukee Civic Symphony, Kenosha Symphony Orchestra and Racine Symphony Orchestra, so I know what being on a concert hall stage feels like, and what being in a bad place feels like, and how a good place can make you feel. I’ve played with the Glenn Miller Orchestra too, so I know what musicians want. When we built this place, every few weeks, even when it was bare walls and plastered, we’d retune it just to make sure it was coming together correctly. We had a lot of test sessions with musical groups, including myself. We had a polka band play in here, brass quintets, ancient music instruments, stuff like that. We kept refining, it had to sound good, not just scientifically, but organically — Does it feel good to play in here? Yeah? Or, why not?

I’ve heard from a lot of musicians that this is a very comfortable place to be.
And that’s very gratifying to hear. That’s good confirmation, because when you’ve got guys like Bruce Dukov saying, ‘Hey, we like playing here,’ it’s like alright! We’ve achieved something. You feel really good about it.

What are some of the most interesting projects these walls have seen?
Kenny G this summer was cool, a bossa nova album with orchestra. We did Adele’s Christmas record here… Idina Menzel, who did the “Frozen” record, we did five or six tracks from her Christmas album… We had a satanic choir, that was fun. That was a union gig, that was cool. It was an Icelandic death metal band. We should have kept that sheet music. One for the books! Some film shoots too — the N.W.A. story, “Straight Outta Compton.” We played their 1990s studio and Suge Knight is beaten up by Eazy-E — or is that the other way around? — in the control room. They had fake blood all over my equipment [laughs]. Yeah, so look for that.

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We will look for that!
Stuff like that is a lot of fun. And we do personal stuff. I’m involved with a tech startup that’s trying to integrate video with music that’s more educational right now, but they’re trying to broaden their approach through apps on iPhones or handheld devices. It’s future-proofing the studio. Because, where do we go from here? How are people going to enjoy music? How do we make sense in 10 years from now? So we’re trying to think ahead.

That’s true. A lot of people don’t even want to admit that there’s a climate change in this industry.
I’ve got everything riding on this place, so there’s an obligation for everyone to stay open and alive and keep this place functioning. What’s the future gonna hold? Where are we headed?

Do you still want to perform as a musician?
As things progress and my kids get older, there are a lot of things I want to do. That’ll happen. That will happen. One thing is we’re so busy and there’s no time! We get one day maybe open a week. We have three open days this month. So that’s bueno. That’s awesome. It’s unpredictable. The schedule is always mutating. So I can’t just say, ‘This day will be my personal project.’

It must be fun to have so many things going on.
Yeah, it’ music, you know? Music is such an interesting field. There are so many interesting people and the way people experience it is so different. It’s interpretive.

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What’s the largest orchestra this room has ever seen?
Sixty-five piece, but it wasn’t a recording orchestra, it was a rehearsal. I was playing trumpet, actually. The biggest orchestra we’ve recorded for film was about 56. The regular “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” session is about 48 players, we see that about every week. The biggest group was a 70-piece choir on risers.

For the gearheads, tell me what else is cool about the control room.
Acoustically it’s a 5.1 mix room so it is an integrated, diffuse array of surround speakers like you’d see in a movie theater. Left, center, right, the center the channel is down, those are part of the integrated speaker system, a big double sub-woofer, so you could sit in here and get the theatrical kind of sound, which is kind of rare in a control room this size.

Tell me about some of the equipment.
The console is from Paramount Pictures Stage M.

That’s a piece of history.
Yeah. The list of movies is incredible, and all the TV shows. There are a lot of great sounds that have gone through that console. The cool thing is when the engineers come in and say, ‘Ahh, the old Neve from Stage M….’ Some guys want to hug it! Some of the microphones are from Stage M and CBS Radford. I’ve got four RCA 10001s, which they only made two runs of 300 for the sound stages, and those are just incredible cool mics that really no one else in the world has because they were made here, for stages in Los Angeles. Very few left after 60 years. The Decca Tree is another one, that’s custom made by Tom Steele, and those are really rare. That was at CBS Radford, Todd-AO. That’s heard a lot of great music, vibrating on those pieces of metal up there. The podium’s from Todd-AO.

Having all these historic pieces of equipment, I imagine must impart a very special meaning in the music recorded here.
You feel an obligation to keep up with it, to justify it. A lot of great people have conducted from that podium. We found a lot of weird stuff in the drawers that were just full of pens and paper, baseball hats, and Post-it notes that said, “Oh god, just please let this score end!” I keep all that stuff. You can’t throw that away!

View the full equipment list

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I must say — it just looks cool in here.
Yeah, it’s cool. Bigger is better, lots of knobs; there’s about 10,000 buttons and knobs.

And people actually know how to use them all? That just blows my mind.
About 9,600 are repeated. It’s an analog console so it takes a lot of care and upkeep to keep it happy, and I’m proud to say it’s in really good shape. Every channel works really well, we keep on top of it. It was built for them by me. It was installed in ’92, and was a 72 channel and was expanded to 96 channels in 1996 for their needs. The neat thing is it has a cue mixer at the end, which is great for scoring.

Is it all original?
We’ve added some things, the way the track counter that goes into the hundredths… we’ve got actual time clocks running everywhere that are synced within the millisecond, because you have to know exactly when the session’s ending. I’ve seen the contractor and conductor go, ‘We have a six-second cue, we have 12 seconds: Go!’ Because they can’t go a second over. That puts the onus on us to make sure everything works. We have two giant ProTools rigs we record to, one that can do picture and one that can just record, to make it redundant so there’s a fail-safe atmosphere here. It’s rigorous for us, recording like this, especially with larger groups, because it’s hundreds of dollars potentially…

The pressure’s on.
You can’t have a breakdown. So we don’t. That’s why a good crew is essential. These guys are hot rods, they’re great. It’s thanks to them.

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It sounds like very much a team effort.
Yeah, and I just kinda knew how things worked from just doing it. Just knowing what the lay of the land is, and the comfort factor of this whole console is great. Listening to clients, what kind of gear they want… I’ve bought extra pieces as time goes on to fill their needs. Let our clients guide us, let the industry guide us.

You want them coming back.
That’s the idea. It’s gratifying that they do.

What’s your favorite part of the process? Is it the end result or an earlier piece?
I like going through it. Usually the end result is… it’s not unsatisfying, but in the moment is always the best place to be. As a musician that’s where I grew up, so being in the moment, where everyone’s on the same page, the music is really great, usually in the middle of the second hour there’s a nice peak. That’s the best time and being here is a great spot to be. The best would be out there playing with them, but this is great too. This is cool, and you’re definitely part of the creative process. You set the thing up and enable the musicians and the composer to sound their best and fill their needs.

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Who are some of your regular clients?
Ramin Djwadi was just here, Mark Isham is in twice a week now with two TV series, Blake Neely is in now, and Bear McCreary is probably our number one composer-client, he has so many shows I can’t even list them all. iZLER’s another one that just came back from ‘Revenge,’ with ‘Empire.’ Bear’s in with ‘Constantine,’ ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’, ‘Walking Dead’ and ‘Black Sails.’ And ‘DaVinci’s Demons,’ that one’s cool, he pulls out all the stops; he uses crazy old instruments, hurdy gurdys and zithers and out-of-tune stuff…

View the full client list

What do you hope the legacy of The Bridge will be?
All these great shows, all these great movies, keeping it going in L.A. and having a place for people to show up and make great recordings, easily. One of the great things is the USC classes that we’ve done since the beginning. It’s really gratifying to see the young composers like Jeremy Tisser come here, hardly knowing anything…

I was actually at his first session here.
I remember he was just a nervous guy in school, and now he’s doing a feature. And seeing Bear McCreary come out of the woodwork… all these guys get their taste here and see what it’s all about. And seeing them rise up on their own merits, that’s really cool.

You are now part of the rich history and legacy of L.A. recording.
That’s mind-blowing to me because this is a place where people make recordings, and it’s so great to have these big names come in here, to sit down and feel comfortable here. That’s really cool.

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It’s great to have a beautiful space here to keep it alive.

It’s fun when people come in for the first time and they go to the big room and they say ‘woahhhh,’ it’s kinda neat. I hope it’s able to keep on keepin’ on. We’re trying to be involved in this musical community, that’s another aspect of it. Staying relevant to musicians, composers, producers and new stuff, being available. Being supportive when we need to, relaxing and letting the client come in and do their thing, we like to do that as well. But helping people start out is cool. We’re all human beings, we’re all trying to do what we can. Working in the arts, being part of that is really a great pleasure. And being able to support yourself with this crew in this community is wonderful. John Daversa was our first client, even before we opened, he’s at University of Miami now, head of the department, and he still comes back and has classes and does projects here. We’re all moving upstream here, trying to create our own legacy here. That’s what it should be about.

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During our visit, the studio was buzzing with a “Person of Interest” scoring session, which ended with an enthusiastic thumbs-up from orchestrator Stephen Coleman to the musicians and conductor Brandon Campbell.

Thank you so much for taking time to show us around and get an insider look. Too cool!
That’s what we do here, we have fun and we make music happen.

The Bridge Recording
736 Salem St.
Glendale CA 91203

thebridgerecording.com

Crew: Milton Gutierrez, Cody Laughner, Andy Zisakis

For booking and rates contact Studio Manager Vicki Giordano: 818.396.4474

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