Big Fish Studios offers bands top-end gear and the feel of a relaxed country retreat in Olivenhain.
Sure, you can self-record your album in your bedroom with a laptop, some software, and a few decent mics. Or, you could go the traditional route in a recording studio. But where to book your next project comes down to acoustics, gear, and vibe. As for budget, well, that’s what day jobs and Kickstarter’s for, right? Follows are a few of the hometown options and what sets them apart:
1401 Pioneer Way #8, El Cajon
When guitarist Scott Tournet from Grace Potter and the Nocturnals wanted to make a solo album, he picked Mike Kamoo’s Earthling Studios in El Cajon. The live garage-rock sound is Kamoo’s specialty. Earthling has one main room big enough such that bands can play together. The heart of Earthling is a 3M two-inch 16-track tape drive with Burl analog-to-digital converters. Parkway Plaza’s a short drive away, and virtually every kind of fast food is within walking distance. Owner: Mike Kamoo, 619-632-3081.
P.O. Box 230818, Encinitas
Big Fish in Olivenhain is like a country retreat, with full kitchen and lounge and an inviting outdoor patio and barbecue. But that’s not why Blink-182, Burt Bacharach, Finch, Sprung Monkey, Jimmy Eat World, Megadeth, or Charlie Musselwhite recorded here. The 30-by-35-feet main room is all about the drum sound. A vintage 1972 40-channel API console feeds into a two-inch 24-track tape drive, or Pro Tools, or both. Telefunken 251s, Neumann microphones, and more. The $400 for ten hours does not include an engineer. Owner: Paul Waroff, 858-756-2154.
5042 Ruffner Street, San Diego
Signature Sound mixed a couple of tracks for U2 once; since, they’ve recorded a vast range of artists, from Rob Halford to Peter Sprague. In the heart of Kearny Mesa, they represent your industry-standard facility with a huge live-sounding 30-by-24-by-14-foot main room in Studio A (and an API 1608 32-channel console with Neve preamps). Call for rates. Studio B (B for budget-priced) is a smaller band room: $375 gets you eight hours with an engineer. Pro Tools HP throughout. Manager: Luis Arteaga, 858-268-0134.
7640 University Avenue, La Mesa
The backstory on Stealth Recording is that guitarist Brett Ellis wanted fatter, harder blues-rock mojo for his band than he could get anywhere else, so he built his own studio. The big vinyl sound in this direct-to-digital studio, he says, comes in part from tube mics such as their Telefunken V-72s. The other component is Grammy-nominated engineer Steve “the Chef” Russell. Located in an unassuming retail complex, the main room is band-sized and comfortable. Call for rates. Manager/co-owners: Tiana and Rick Mozart, 619-277-8689.
11021 Via Frontera, San Diego
Over the years, Studio West has become the place to go to learn the recording trade. Studio A has an SSL 4064 E/G console and is large enough to hold a hundred-member choir. You can fit your standard rock band into Studio B, with its 32-fader Digidesign ICON D-Control console and analog preamps and outboard gear. Studio C is reserved for vocal sessions and commercial voiceovers. The shop runs on Pro Tools HD. Rates on request. Lil Wayne, Duran Duran, and Barenaked Ladies are just a few who have recorded or mixed there. Owner: Peter Dyson, 858-592-9497.
6320 Riverdale Road, San Diego
Phaser Control was designed with the sound of ’70s rock in mind. The interior of their one main room is a marvel of shiplap woodworking. Direct-to-digital Pro Tools, with eight channels of Neve preamps and eight channels of API preamps. The studio is tucked away in a Mission Gorge–area industrial park, but there is plenty of parking, and restaurants are within walking distance. Mariachi El Bronx, Silversun Pickups, and Peter Murphy enjoy the warm analog-ish Phaser Control sound. Rates on request. Timothy Joseph co-owner/manager, 760-846-2301.
If you’re just looking for rehearsal space, boom:
Phaser Control is inside the Studio 350 rehearsal-room complex. Band tenants get half off of the standard recording rate. Seventeen rooms range in size from 10-by-11 feet to 14-by-15 feet. The $420 to $625 per month includes free Wi-Fi, 24-hour secured access, live security cameras, parking, load-in, and stocked vending machines.
3360 Sports Arena Boulevard, suite A, San Diego
Rock and Roll San Diego (behind SOMA in the Sports Arena area) offers 26 rehearsal rooms from 10-by-14 feet all the way up to Hendrix Hall, an 1800-square-foot soundstage with pro backline. This is where Ace Frehley, Pierce the Veil, A Day to Remember, Dokken, Great White, and Michael Schenker come to get tour-ready. The loading dock will accommodate a semi, and there’s room for tour buses in the parking lot. Lounge, kitchen, Wi-Fi, and private entrance. Ten of RRSD’s smaller rehearsal rooms are equipped with P.A. and backline. Rates range from $15/hour up to $45/hour to lockout Hendrix Hall. Owner: Mark Langford, 619-255-9594.
8280 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard #112, San Diego
Adder Rehearsal Studios get high marks from hometown musicians for security, cleanliness, and individual air conditioning. Free Wi-Fi, vending machines, and 24-hour keypad access. Monthly lockout fees on individual spaces start at $450. Or, Room A is 20-by-19 feet, comes with backline, and rents for $22 per hour with a two-hour minimum. Room B measures 20-by-15 feet, also comes with backline, and rents for $20 per hour with a two-hour minimum. Manager: Nick Venti, 858-522-9505.