Recording studios are as diverse as guitars: time-worn and classic, glossy and state-of-the-art, opulent and exotic, or uniform and utilitarian. The kind of guitar that's going to bring the best music out of you is a personal choice; one guitarist's Lucille may just be another guitarist's dust collector. To be sure, the assemblage of body, bridge, strings, neck, fret board, nut, and tuning pegs are capable of anything from a first-timer's rendition of "Smoke on the Water" to freakin' Hendrix, man.
Just like choosing a guitar, features, cost, size, acoustics, location, ease of use, aesthetics, and build quality all go in to selecting a studio that's right for the project. Yes, we usually review gear. But why not review an assemblage of gear designed to bring out the music in you?
Odds On Records and Studios is a fullservice, three-studio music recording facility located 15 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip and airport in Henderson, NV — essentially a Vegas suburb. Dismissing the game-of-chance risk that is the music business, three partners leveraged their success in the gaming industry to create a world-class recording studio and indie record label. As such, a flower grows in the desert.
Three incrementally larger rooms — featuring Solid State Logic Matrix, 9000K, and Duality consoles, respectively — accommodate many workflows within one 7,000-square-foot studio complex. Billed as a demo/overdub room, the Matrix/Pro Tools-based Studio C has a generously sized booth, a pile of SSL X-Logic outboard gear, a great summing mixer, and controlled acoustics that put it many notches above the bedroom studios its target audience might otherwise be working in. The 9K-equipped Studio B is billed as the mix room and will appeal to pro mixers familiar with that console and large-format analog console mixing. Its adjoining, acoustically "tight" 20 x 15-foot booth makes B a legitimate tracking/overdubbing space as well. Studio A is the studio's flagship space with a 96- channel Duality, a huge 30 x 31-foot control room with nearly ideal sight lines to four isolated spaces, including a 26 x 40-foot live room. A Studer A827 2-inch analog 24-track is available in addition to the standard 80 I/O Pro Tools HD systems. All rooms are connected by tie lines.
Distinctive custom wood and metal create a clean, contemporary look within a color palette of deep wood hues, silver, grey, purple, and burgundy throughout the studios.
I studied the studio's gear on the Odds On website in order to generate my input list in advance of my session, and I was blown away by the number of vintage tube mics in the collection — 30 classics, including four I'd never experienced. Marquee amp flavors such as API, Millennia, GML, Avalon, Demeter, and Drawmer serve as alternatives to the Duality's excellent mic pres. Matching Ocean Way Monitoring Systems(main speakers) anchor studios A and B. A Fairchild 670 compressor floats between rooms.
Highlights in the instruments and amplifiers department include a Yamaha C-7 Concert Special, a Hammond and Leslie, a Yamaha Oak Custom drum kit, and guitar amps by Ampeg, Boogie, Marshall, Vox, and Fender.
In Use: Studio A
When Odds On design and operations consultant and interim manager Bobby Ferrari (last name changed in a rebellious teenage moment) offered me two days in the studio to put it through its paces, I contacted my old producer/drummer friend Joey Finger (given name) to put together a cool tracking session. For two-and-a-half days, Odds On Studio A was our playground for recording Nashville-style, triple-threat singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Scotty Alexander, a human and musician I was about to quickly become a big fan of.
Gear and Instruments
Odds On has enough vintage tube mics that I could have put one on every instrument in my 32-input, 4-piece tracking and overdubbing session. Starting with drums, I tried U47s and 48s on toms, an AKG C60 on snare, and C12s overhead. Although the toms sounded great with the tube mics, a more standard approach with beyerdynamic mics, recommended by chief engineer Sean O'Dwyer, proved a bettermatch for Scotty Alexander's pop country, modern pickin'-and-grinnin' music. For the snare, I added an SM57 and changed the tube mic to one that would handle more gain. Coles 4038s played the part of "ugly energy" mics near the kit and straight-up U87s gave me an even view of the room from their highflown position near the corners opposite the drums. I used GML mic pres and API 550A EQs on the overheads,a rare, sweepable API 554 EQ and Urei 1176 on one of the Coles, API 560s on kick and snare.
I was pleasantly surprised at my first exposure to the Duality preamps. With SSL's VHD (Variable Harmonic Drive) engaged, harmonic drive increases as gain increases. The blend of harmonics is determined by the VHD knob, allowing variability between second and third. I loved the clean punch that the VHD preamps gave the toms with harmonic control set 60 percent toward second harmonics for girth and sustain. In this case, the Millennia HV3 was perfecton snare, and though super-clear, the kick sound I got was not quite thick enough on the more rockin' tunes, like the SSL or some Neve preamps might have been. (I believe Odds On has since acquired some Neve preamps, not yet installed for our session.) All in all, the drum sound I hear on the rough mix of our basic tracks is very clear, punchy, direct, and phase-coherent — a very "expensive" drum sound that you can't easily get at home or in lesser studios. I attribute this to the drums, the drummer, the room, the mics, the preamps, and the accuracy of the control room monitors.
From left: Craig Mattox (keyboards), Scotty Alexander (the "artist", guitar, fiddle, vocals), Joey Finger (producer, drums, vocals), Alex Oana (author, engineer), Bob Ferrari (design and operations consultant and interim manager), Sean O'Dwyer (chief engineer), Rob Kirkpatrick (Odds On Records). The kit we tracked was the studio's brand new Oak Custom, acquired at Guitar Center days before our arrival. Joey is one of those drummers who produces amazing tone because of the way he strikes the skins, and, of course, because of his feel and time. The drums were thick, tight, clear, and controlled and spoke evenly into the room. With appropriate drum-head selection, the kit will serve the studio well on a wide variety of rock, pop, country, and more.
Scotty Alexander said his acoustic guitar never sounded better than when in front of a pair of Telefunken 221 small-diaphragm tube mics. There was no meaningful bleed in these wide-open mics from the drums raging just 20 feet on the other side of sliding, double- glass doors. For Scotty's Brent Masonesque guitar pyrotechnics (and I don't use that comparison lightly), I put up my own favorite beyer M160 next to an SM57 on his amp cabinet, blew them up through the big blue Tube-Tech mic pre (again suggested by Sean) and tightened them with vintage LA2A and 1176, respectively.
While auditioning mics for Scotty's violin, the miked tone of his speaking voice sounded so unbelievably rich, silky, and naturally compressed through the U47 that I requested we stop our other overdubs to make time for vocals. For Scotty's virtuosic fiddle playing, Joey determined the C12 best captured the wood and realness of Scotty's grandfather's violin.
For many clients, access to premier, foundational instruments might steer them to one studio over another; here, Odds On wins. On Leslie cabinet, SSL's VHD worked again with little known yet stunning Neumann UM57s on top and a locally made Bock 195 FET on the bottom. The studio's Hammond has a fantastic tone, and its motors and hum were quiet enough to not be a problem in the track, though the speed switch was finicky. I close-miked Odds On's gorgeous-sounding Yamaha C7 with some of my favorite tube mics — Neumann M269s over the hammers via Millennia preamps and a pair of Schoeps CMC5Us outside the lid. Under the sensitive fingers of Nashville keyboardist Craig Mattox, the piano added much width and depth to the tracks, but I wished I had access to a clean stereo Millennia or Manley EQ, just to take a little out around 400 Hz and lift the top end.
For snare, piano, some guitars, and violin, I enjoyed the sound of a TC Electronic System 6000 reverb, one of the smoothest ever created. Plug-ins weep at the sound of the System 6000.
Mohawk-coiffed Cirque du Soleil bassist Derek Jones was recorded solely through a custom DI/preamp, reportedly built by a tech somewhere back East. Last but not least, a Mytek Private-Q system provided complaint-free monitoring for each musician.
I was really excited to hear the 6-foot-tall Ocean Way Monitoring System's main speakers (which had even impressed me on noisy NAMM and AES convention floors). I found them to be a great combination of fatigue-free accuracy and fun — more so than any large main I've used. They remained accurate and pleasing from quietengineer volume to post-take, band-listening volume. Honest and controlled reproduction of low end information, without the slightest bit of misleading boom, can make the difference between pro and semi-pro mixes. Allen Sides, the speakers' creator, consulted on the basstrapping specifications for Odds On Studio A control room. Between the big guys, the familiar Genelec 1031s and Yamaha NS10s, this well-tuned room translated audio very accurately to the outside world.
For tracking, I used the Duality as if it were an inline analog console — faders controlling analog volume and Pro Tools faders all at unity. We had originally planned day two of our session to be a mixing day, either in the 9K room or in the Duality room, but tracking was going so well that we decided to take advantage of all the great recording gear and wonderful spaces while we had them.
As I cranked out a few rough mixes at the end of the last night I was reminded why consoles are still popular, still sell, still book rooms, and still matter. It was a slight pain to reset my faders as we switched from song to song, but I'm sure I could have alleviated that by just taking a snapshot and having an assistant do quick recalls. Lastly, the patchbay is placed aesthetically well, but was a pain in the neckfor even the shortest of us to work with, which happens a lot in a live tracking session.
Ferrari hired talented studio designer Carl Yanchar (of Yanchar Design & Consulting Group) to deliver the look and sound he wanted and collaborated with one of the co-owners on some of the interior design details. While the studio architecture will look familiar enough, the finishes from the lobby of the record label, to the lounges, to the studios themselves are crisp, open, and modern feeling. The studio is so beautiful, clean, and blemish-free, even dumb rockers and rude rappers will be careful not to ding up the doorframes as they load in their amps and bling road cases, respectively. Most of the studio pictures in this review were taken with my $200 camera: Like a cute girl, the studio just looks good naturally.
Each room within Studio A sounded balanced, felt open, and easily connected physically and electronically to the whole. The live room gave us plenty of room to stretch out without tripping over each other. Custom convex aluminum waveguides hanging on the live room ceiling seemed to be as effective at dispersing sound as they are cool to look at. The main live room has a very neutral, natural sound with around a half-second of reverb time without using compression. The room made the drum close mics sound very isolated — any bleed was smooth with no hint of ugly reflections.
Of the two booths adjacent to the live room, one is soft and dry, the other marble and live. The walls are not sheets of flat marble, rather half-inch cubed marble cross sections, mounted unpolished edge-out at varying depths. For our live tracking session, the piano mics enjoyed near total sonic isolation behind massive, smooth sliding, double-layer, three-section glass doors. Scotty cut guitars in the soft booth. While overdubbing Scotty's electric guitar, I opened the soft booth and recorded ambient mics 20 feet away in the live room. The third isolation space, where I stuck Craig on the Hammond, is a large 20 x 12-foot booth adjacent to the control room.
The control room is visually connected to that iso booth and the live room via massive floor to ceiling glass walls. Even the thickness of the glass was intentionally varied from 1 inch to 1 3/4 inches to avoid like resonances. The large-scale basket-weave pattern of stain on the wood floors flows without visual interruption — 100 feet from the far end of one iso booth through the control room, across the live room and into the far booths. It's a stunning effect to stand next to that glass and feel like you're in the room with those on the other side: total isolation without feeling isolated. On all that glass I noticed not one fingerprint or speck of dust. Of course, the fact each room floats on its own foundation contributes to the near-zero sound transmission into the control room. And the isolation doors are so heavy we could have used more interns just to open them for us. The mic locker was not terribly conveniently located down the hall, yet I'm not sure how they'd get it into the main room. Perhaps a smaller subset of mics could be located in A's live room.
None of us set foot in the funky modern Studio Alounge, opting for the more laid-back kitchen lounge with the Guns 'N Roses and Bullwinkle pinball machines, windows and a much needed door to the outside, however Vegas-hot.
I'm one of those engineer/producers who really appreciates service in any level of recording facility. The less I have to think about scheduling and ordering food, patching, and cleaning up, the better. The Odds On staff was incredibly friendly, positive, and eager to please. All hands were on deck for our session which was flattering, but at one point it seemed like too many cooks were slowing down my many microphone and patch change requests as I put the gear through its paces. I chalk this slight overzealousness up to eagerness to please the guy from the magazine.
I was actually quite impressed with the ability of Nick Estrada, the unpaid intern, to keep it all sorted, and chief engineer Sean O'Dwyer'sseemingly unlimited knowledge of all-thingsstudio coupled with his willingness to suggest options, a welcome quality for my creative process. Sean soaked up the L.A. studio scene during its heyday of the '90s. To speak vintage tube mic is to speak a language bordering on extinction; it was fun to dust it off during trips to the mic locker with Sean.
Odds On owners hired Ferrari to oversee the design and construction of the studio and to establish its day-to-day management. With roots in the '80s Hollywood music scene and a blingy, faux-sounding name, Ferrari turned out to not be quite what I expected. Ultimately, the striking achievement that is Odds On Records and Studios is a reflection of Bob Ferrari's vision, knowledge, class, and generosity.
Ever since a gambling-addicted, smoke-puffing, prematurely aged poker player lunged to cover my lens as he barked his warning that my naïve, shutterbug self should, "Never take pictures of a live game!" I've been a bit Vegas-averse. Thanks to Odds On and some incredibly talented musicians, I see Las Vegas as a diverse American community and a place to create great music. I love the sound of the tracks we recorded, and I'm confident I'd quickly and easily learn the studio, making it my own.
According to Ferrari, the studio should attract touring acts, artists in residence on the Strip, local indie bands, and artists anywhere who want to get away from their local distractions to bunker down in a great studio in the desert. Visiting artists can rely on numerous hotels and restaurants, several grocery stores and even a Target within a mile of the studio. The Strip can be a distraction if you want it to be. The huge Studio A control room is large enough to fit a pop star, her posse, and the reality TV crew without even coming close to bumping the knobs on the Tube- Tech CL1B. And the live room could hold competitive double-dutch and shuffleboard matches simultaneously with no leakage.
Producer Joey Finger summed it up well when he said, "Odds On is a place where everyone seems to develop a personal desire to elevate their ability to match their surroundings. It's both relaxing and inspiring and it helps pull great performances out of everyone involved in the session. That coupled with their list of mics, pres, and back line makes you feel fully prepared for anything."
Take a listen to this Facility Review's tracking rough mixes here.
Alex Oana is a producer/engineer/mixer living in Los Angeles.www.alexoana.com