Category Archives: Recording

Unpretty in Pink: Recording “Pink Houses”

Keeping this blog up-to-date has my attention these days. I don’t expect to blog daily, and maybe not even weekly, but a random-regular basis may work. I intend to keep these “halls” reasonably active with studio stories and tidbits about historic facilities and other random items. So while I go about gathering new material for this endeavor (which could take some time, thanks to the day job), I’ll continue to fill it with snippets from my books and whatever else pops into my head on a random-regular basis.

With that in mind, here is an excerpt from Born in a Small Town: The John Mellencamp Story about recording the song “Pink Houses,” a song that I used to hear at least 10 times a day in 1984, and that I hear now when I’m shopping at Trader Joe’s. The shack referred to in the excerpt is an unfinished house in Indiana owned by one of John’s relatives. Producer/engineer Don Gehman worked out of Miami’s Criteria Recording at the time—hence the mobile equipment—and had recorded Mellencamp’s previous album, American Fool. Their credo for this album, Uh-Huh, was: Think fast. Make mistakes. Move on. Enjoy, Hj


The Shack, even with Criteria’s mobile equipment, still fell far from a professional studio, although recording in bedrooms, hallways and kitchens lent a certain rustic charm. “Since it was being taken apart after recording, there was no need to make it pretty, and it wasn’t,” recalls David Thoener, who engineered and mixed the album with Don Gehman. He was a 29-year-old New Yorker at the time, near the start of his career when he joined Gehman in Indiana. “The air conditioning ducts were hanging out of the ceilings, it was quite a site. But it had an amazing sound.”

“The control room was so small you literally couldn’t turn around,” adds Wanchic. “You had to just pick your spot and plant!” Between takes, the band hung out in the upstairs bedroom, converted to a makeshift lounge. “It was upstairs to hang; downstairs to work,” says Wanchic.

Another downside: the house sat on a pig farm, so the smell was “pretty unbelievable.” The back of the album has pictures of the band goofing off in the mud. The whole scene, from the muddy pigpens outside to the close quarters inside, lent itself well to John’s vision for his American Fool follow-up.

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In Honor of Brubeck: Early Recording Around the Bay

Thank you Dave Brubeck, for giving us seven decades of incredible music.

In this great man’s honor, I dug through my book, If These Halls Could Talk: A Historical Tour Through San Francisco Recording Studios, to see if I had any good Brubeck stories. I don’t have any at length, but I did find some info on one of his early record labels and its studio, Circle Records. I added the section on Sierra Sound Labs as a bonus. I remember researching for this chapter, thinking, if only I had more time and more pages, I could write at length about the music made here pre-1960s. If only If only… Happy reading. — Hj

Circle Records

Some sources question whether or not the small spot on Treat Street (an alley street in the Inner Mission district) could, as rudimentary as it was, even be called a studio. Right after World War II, Sol and Max Weiss started Circle Records as a pressing plant, issuing tiny titles mostly for the Chinese community. However, the Weiss brothers also owned a piece of the famous San Francisco jazz club Th e Blackhawk, and after recording a number of shows there, the pressing plant morphed into a small jazz label. Their first artist was an Oakland pianist named Dave Brubeck. When Brubeck’s recordings began to sell, they pursued their label ventures more aggressively, recording Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, and Cal Tjader, as well as Odetta, beat poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg, and comic Lenny Bruce.

“If they had facilities [on Treat Street] they weren’t very good,” recalls engineer George Horn. But engineer Jim Easton reportedly got his start in a studio at Circle Records and later went to work at Fantasy Records. A young John Fogerty worked in the stock room. A few years before Phil Edwards walked into Columbus Recorders for an engineering gig, he recorded at the Treat Street studio with his jazz band. “It had corrugated a tin roof that leaked and would leak into the piano when it rained,” he recalls. “Their entire record inventory was in this building, along with this sort-of studio. And Sol was this odd guy who explained that you couldn’t have too many mics in a room because it would suck all the audio out.”

My, how much we’ve learned. The Weiss brothers would later take over Koronet Records, the original home of Brubeck, rechristen their company Fantasy Records, and grow it into one of the most successful independent labels in the United States. And it all started by two visionary music lovers under a leaky tin roof.


Sierra Sound Labs

Robert DeSousa’s Sierra Sound Labs, located on the other side of the Bay Bridge in Berkeley, held sessions as early as 1955. These included regular visits from folklorist/producer Chris Strachwitz. Strachwitz founded Arhoolie Records and recorded albums for blues artists such as Tony De La Rosa, Sydney Maiden, Earl Hooker, Mississippi Fred McDowell, K.C. Douglas, and various projects for Prestige Records, among many others. East Bay “Record Man” Jim Moore, founder of Jasman Records, brought in Joan Adams (the singer that reportedly inspired him to start a label) and the Bay Area’s beloved blues queen, Sugar Pie DeSanto, in the early 1960s.

During this time, the East Bay flourished with a scene quite different than the city across the Bay. In Oakland, Berkeley, and other communities around the area, small labels churned out folk, blues, R&B, and gospel, a lot of them with their own small recording setups. Many who didn’t record in-house

came to Sierra Sound to record on their custom console and Scully tape machine. The studio’s solid reputation later attracted the likes of psychedelic rock pioneers Country Joe and the Fish, who recorded their Vanguard debut, Electric Music for the Mind and Body, at Sierra Sound in 1967. To his credit, Country Joe continued to record locally while his musical peers headed for better-equipped L.A. and New York facilities.

The late 1960s saw acts such as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Stonewall Jackson, Los Tigros del Norte, and a slew of Latin and other international acts at the studio. Jef Jaisun visited Sierra Sound Labs in 1969 to record “Friendly Neighborhood Narco Agent,” which became sort of a cult classic when Dr. Demento started playing it on his radio show years later. He chose Sierra Sound Labs mainly because Country Joe had recorded there. On his website, Jaisun says that he had a grand time that day recording the goofy song around the jackhammers outside drilling the new Grove Street (now Martin Luther King Jr. Way) BART line about a half a block away.

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Get Connected

A prelude to AES…

The first-ever Get Connected Summit (GCS) has been announced for October 2 – 3, 2008, at Pyramind Production and Training, 880 Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA.  The Get Connected Summit is an unprecedented industry development and networking event bringing together leaders and enthusiasts in the electronic music, media and technology industries to explore and showcase innovative talent, technology and social awareness across these increasingly converging sectors.

GCS takes place the same week as two other major music industry events; the San Francisco Lovefest and the Audio Engineering Society Expo.  While these events bring a broad spectrum of internationally recognized and award-winning names in music recording, production, and performance to San Francisco, GCS seeks to create an immersion experience which will connect attendees to a targeted group of electronic music, media and technology professionals through intimate panels, in-depth product demonstrations, artist performances and label showcases.

Attendees will participate in discussions and workshops covering a wide array of timely and current topics, including cutting edge production and performance technology, politics of entertainment, event production, digital distribution and marketing and the explosive Game Audio industry.

A sampling of the agenda thus far includes, the Inside Game Audio panel, scheduled to be moderated by Paul Lipson, President of The Game Audio Network Guild (G.A.N.G).  This panel will provide a stark look at game audio challenges, opportunities for composers and new music, and production management.  It will include director of audio for Sony Computer Entertainment America, Chuck Doud, and eight-time G.A.N.G award winner for Bioshock, Emily Ridgeway.

Other panels include, “Where is the future of DJ’ing going and can we keep up?”  What is a ‘controllerist’ and as music technology continues to evolve at light speeds, what will it mean to be a “DJ” in the next 10 years?  This unique panel will be moderated by Ean Golden, Remix Magazine’s Digital DJ columnist and editor.

Additional confirmed panelists include Peter Wohleski (Beatport), Adam Rabinovitz (IODA), Tomas Palermo (URB/XLR8R), and Bill Mitsakos (Serato).  Pyramind’s state of the art studios will showcase studio tips and tricks presented by their team of producers.

Artists and producers alike will get immediate access to the ears and feedback of Dance and Electronic music industry veterans and their peers during the Test Press track review session, which results in an unrivaled opportunity to showcase their newest tracks and network with labels, press and distribution representatives.  Participants are encouraged to upload their tracks at to get the opportunity to have their music presented and considered for inclusion on the next Test Press compilation release.

Participating gear and software exhibitors, so far, include leading studio gear and software manufacturers M-Audio and IK Multimedia, music creation, production and performance software manufacturer Ableton, Digidesign, producer of the world’s leading recording software application ProTools, and leading DJ gear manufacturer Serato Audio Research.

In addition, the “Summit Pass” entitles GCS attendees to free admission at evening performances at over 20 of San Francisco’s premiere clubs, including: Vessel, Grey Area Beacon, Mighty, Paradise Lounge, Temple, Fluid, 1015, Icon, Revel Lounge, and 111 Minna.

Additional panelists, exhibitors, and workshops are being constantly updated at

The Get Connected Summit is produced in cooperation with partnering organizations and companies, The San Francisco Entertainment Commission, The San Francisco Lovefest, and Pyramind Production and Training, with the support of lead sponsors The Game Audio Network (G.A.N.G.), Dolby, and media sponsors REMIX and Electronic Musician Magazines.

For sponsor, exhibitor, and partnership opportunities, contact:

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John Cuniberti Opens Digital Therapy Lab

Engineer John Cuniberti, who has operated The Plant’s mastering facilities since 2000, has left the historic Sausalito, Calif., recording studio to open up his own mixing and mastering studio, Digital Therapy Lab, located in the hills above Oakland, Calif.

“During my stay at The Plant I had the privilege of working with some very talented artists over a huge range of musical styles,” says Cuniberti. “Although the mastering business was growing, The Plant Recording Studios were fighting to stay alive in a rapidly changing environment. With all the large studios I grew up in closing around me, I needed to become pro-active and find my own solutions.”

Exiting The Plant’s well-appointed mastering studio, which Cuniberti designed with Manny LaCarrubba, gives John the ability to offer comparable first-rate services at a lower cost and with faster turnaround time.

“I can do a better job in my own studio without all the distractions of a large studio complex,” says Cuniberti. “I don’t need an assistant, a maintenance engineer, or someone to answer the phone. It’s just me and the music and I love that.”

His efficient way of working benefits clients, as well. Artists can send files to Digital Therapy Labs via an Internet FTP for mastering. Once the client approves the reference, Cuniberti will then cut the master DDP and upload it to the pressing plant via the Internet.

Cuniberti, whose career spans three decades and includes engineering and co-producing Joe Satriani’s groundbreaking Surfing With the Alien, as well as recording and/or mastering albums for Dead Kennedys, Tracy Chapman, Thomas Dolby, and Sound Tribe Sector 9, has already mixed or mastered many projects from his own studio. Recent Digital Therapy Lab credits include Joe Satriani’s new album, Professor Satchafunkilus and the Musterion of Rock, The Neville Brothers’ Heart & Soul of New Orleans, and The Funky Meters’ Fiyo at the Fillmore Volume 2.

Digital Therapy Lab features a ProTools|HD3 workstation with Waves, API and SSL plug-ins plus Sonic Studio mastering software. Monitoring is provided by a pair of Meyer HD-1 studio monitors tuned by LaCarrubba. Other accoutrements include custom Neve buss summing, SSL analog buss compressors and Lavry digital converters. “Today, in my own studio, I can mix as good a sounding record as I ever did on a fifteen-foot console in a room full of gear.”

Cuniberti offers recording, mixing, and mastering services, as well as record production and project studio design and consulting. For more information on Cuniberti and Digital Therapy Lab, visit

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Hyde Street Studios Update

Sad news:

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Coast Recorders V1

My poor neglected blog. I’m so sorry for leaving you alone for so long, but I promise to pay more attention from now on.

Like most cities, the San Francisco studio landscape continues to expand and contract in all sorts of mysterious ways. Fantasy Studios (see previous post), has found a way to carry on. Different Fur, a popular recording site since the 1970s, is up for sale. Historic Coast Recorders remains intact, albeit under new owners and the name Broken Radio. Coast is one of the oldest and most traveled studios in the Bay Area, having had successful runs at locations on Folsom Street, Harrison Street, and Mission Street, the location now known as Broken Radio. But before all of that, Coast operated for a brief time at 960 Bush Street in Nob Hill. For those interested in Coast’s early days, I’ve provided an excerpt from my book, If These Halls Could Talk: A Historical Tour Through San Francisco Recording Studios. Enjoy, — Hj

Sound Recorders, one of the earliest known commercial studios in San Francisco, opened in 1946. Jingles for radio, mostly, poured out of this second-floor space at the corner of Post and Powell Streets, while the United Airlines ticket office booked flights downstairs and trolleys outside carried businessmen and shoppers through bustling Union Square. Toward the end of the 1950s, advertisers could finally purchase 30- or 60-second spots rather than sponsor an entire radio program, so naturally, the city’s top ad agencies needed a place to produce these bright, brief bursts of words and music. The demand for these short spots increased as Top 40 AM radio began to dominate in the early 1960s.

Sensing a prime business opportunity in the Bay Area’s commercial industry, audio legend Bill Putnam purchased Sound Recorders in 1962. Putnam had founded Universal Recording Corporation, a successful recording studio and audio equipment manufacturing business (the precursor to Universal Audio) in the Chicago area in 1947, and United Recording Corporation in Hollywood in 1957.

Rooms stamped with the Putnam name were considered prime acoustic real estate, and some of his recording techniques—he is acknowledged to be the first to use artificial reverberation for commercial recordings, developed the first multi-band equalizers, and was one of the first to record in stereo, among other achievements—advanced the field in innumerable ways. When Putnam picked up Sound Recorders, the expanding United umbrella already included both United and Western Studios in Los Angeles, Universal Audio (manufacturers of prized UREI compressors and amplifiers), and the URCON studio in Las Vegas.

Putnam promptly christened his new purchase Coast Recorders and moved the operation and its clientele to 960 Bush Street, a large building in the tony Nob Hill area, not far from the activity of Union Square. The building wasn’t ideal for recording, which is probably one reason why Putnam almost immediately began looking for another space, but he inherited a veritable landmark with a fascinating musical history.

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“If These Halls” Got Nominated for ARSC Award


I guess you’d file this under the “shameless self-promotion” category, but I’m excited and feel like spreading the word!

If These Halls Could Talk: A Historical Tour Through San Francisco Recording Studios, by yours truly, was selected as a finalist for the 2007 Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research. The winners will be announced on May 5, 2007 during the ARSC’s annual conference in Milwaukee, Wisc.

This is the first time anything I’ve written has been recognized with an award, and this one is pretty darn cool. I’m in the company of some pretty well-known journalists, and the judges are music historians from Eastman School of Music and the like. Plus, one of the main reasons I wanted to write a book like this was to help preserve a legacy of sorts. Very little of the recording studio history is documented; the wonderful stories about how great music got made get passed on by word-of-mouth, but then often fade away as people move on, pass on, or the studio itself shuts down…which, sadly, is happening much too often. It’s like preserving an endangered species!

<>If you’re interested in reading the full press release, click below. Otherwise, stay tuned for more tidbits on Bay Area recording. My next entry, whenever it comes, will likely target Wally Heider Recording, now Hyde Street Studios…another historic place that stands a chance of extinction in favor of too-expensive condos. Continue reading

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