During its 40 years of operation, Bay Area landmark Fantasy Studios has hosted bands such as Journey, seen here with studio director Jeffrey Wood (third from right).BERKELEY, CA—This year marked a major milestone for Fantasy Studios, which is celebrating 40 years of operation at the same location with a busy schedule of bookings and renovations. “The last four years we’ve been slammed,” reports studio director Jeffrey Wood, who is overseeing ongoing improvements at the multi-room facility, together with diversification of its services beyond the core music-recording business.
Originally, the in-house recording facility for the Fantasy Records label, perhaps best remembered as the home of Dave Brubeck and Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy Studios was established in Berkeley, CA in 1971. Part of the multi-story Zaentz Media Center, the studios have benefited from investment by the latest owner of the complex, which has helped the facility market its services to all forms of media production and post production.
But while Fantasy has been around for four decades, this is no time to rest on its laurels, according to Wood, a composer and former producer-in-residence who has maintained a studio on the third floor of the building since 1995. Saul Zaentz hired Wood four years ago, when the building ownership changed, to head Fantasy’s operations.
“I think part of the issue, when we decided to take over the ship and keep it sailing, was to not be steeped in the past,” reflects Wood. “Even though we’re celebrating 40 years, we also want people to know that we’re alive and vibrant.”
Wood’s first task was to reorganize how business was done at the studio, streamlining and modernizing invoicing, bookkeeping and how sessions were run. As for renovations, careful to retain the character of the venerable live space, Fantasy has updated its largest tracking space, Studio D, with brand-new cherry hardwood floors and additional glass isolation rooms.
With Studio C, beloved by film and TV post producers for its 12 Foley pits, currently undergoing renovation, the facility ensured continuity by building more. “We commissioned four portable pits to be built on the basis of the Studio C Foley pits, because everybody loves the sound so much,” explains Wood. “We can move them around to our different rooms.” Neighboring Berkeley Sound Artists and Sony Playstation completed Foley work for a new video game using the mobile pits.
Some of the artists who have passed through Fantasy this past year include Dave Matthews, Herbie Hancock, Lil Wayne, Joshua Bell, T Bone Burnett, Joanna Newsome, Bill Frisell (a longtime regular) and a number of others. In keeping with the industry-wide trend, there was no label involvement with any of them: “Everything was paid for by management,” reports Wood.
Fantasy has long been involved in film and TV post production (Zaentz is a producer whose films have won the Best Picture Oscar three times), and it continues to account for about 20 percent of business, according to Wood. Recent post projects (mainly voiceover and ADR) have included Happy Feet 2, Moneyball and Pixar’s upcoming John Carter. The available ISDN connections attract local A-list voice talent and also allow remote sessions with international actors. “We have a number of actors who will only work out of here regularly: Robin Williams, Danny Glover, Frances McDormand, when she’s on the West Coast, and a number of other people,” Wood shares.
The progressive studio stays abreast of future music trends and is constantly on the lookout for collaborations in new media, working with Salon.com, for example, and various other internet presences. In addition, the company has ventured into production, working with Wilco’s Nels Cline and other musicians on an HBO pilot, and with PBS on a series called, Sound Tracks.
Wood reveals that the studios are spacious enough to accommodate music video production and film and TV insert shoots, allowing diversification even beyond audio: “We shot an opera last year with 18-foot sets in one of our rooms.”
As he notes, “People have to diversify, because the era of the sixmonth recording project is over. We had Journey in for three-and-a-half months last year; that’s a rarity.” Fantasy fosters relationships with local and international producers who have their own studios in order to attract those portions of their sessions that can benefit from its services.
The studio has always been responsive to its clientele, Wood says, listening carefully to the comments of the many engineers and producers who have worked there over the years and responding accordingly. “The rooms have been tuned to the point where they just sound beautiful,” he comments, adding, “You can’t build rooms like this in your house.”
Anybody can buy gear and set it up in their home, he observes, but two other things differentiate Fantasy from the average project studio: “The staff and the knowledge base. People are getting to the point where they realize that learning a program isn’t all that recording is about; there’s a craft and an art to it.”