NightBird Flies Underground At Sunset Marquis

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA—“To be honest, I never planned on being in the studio business,” says Jed Leiber, composer, producer, arranger, songwriter and owner of NightBird Recording Studios, which is located at the Sunset Marquis Hotel in West Hollywood, CA.
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Jed Leiber in NightBird Studio B, a favorite of vocalists like Mary J. Blige, Cee Lo, Katy Perry and Christina Aguilera. WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA—“To be honest, I never planned on being in the studio business,” says Jed Leiber, composer, producer, arranger, songwriter and owner of NightBird Recording Studios, which is located at the Sunset Marquis Hotel in West Hollywood, CA.

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“I built this room to do my own work in,” he says of Studio A, which opened in the early Nineties. Originally occupying a small space next to the laundry room in the hotel’s basement parking garage, NightBird has since grown into a complex of rooms. The most recent expansion, Studios C and D, was constructed to accommodate American Idol.

Leiber went underground 20 years ago after a hotel guest complained about the noise coming from the room next door, where Leiber was working with guitarist Jeff Beck, with whom he has collaborated for many, many years. The hotel’s general manager, Rod Gruendyke, showed Leiber a basement room, originally designed by renowned acoustician George Augspurger for New England Digital’s Synclavier demos, where he could make as much noise as he liked. Realizing he had found a base for his burgeoning songwriting, film and television scoring career, Leiber came to an arrangement with the hotel’s owners and called in Augspurger and studio designer John Edwards to build NightBird’s first room.

“I wanted to create something special for myself and other artists, as well as a valuable amenity for the hotel,” he explains. “I really wanted it to be symbiotic and mutually beneficial.” For example, “People can call upstairs and get room service. For somebody who needs it, we’ll rent a villa.”

Studio B was added in 2003. “I wanted something warm and cozy, so it’s all mahogany. This is a favorite room for many top vocalists like Mary J. Blige, Cee Lo, Katy Perry and Christina Aguilera,” reports Leiber, adding that it’s also “a killer writing room.” The control room and tracking space are functionally swappable.

“The real catalyst for building the second studio was that one night we had to jam all of Aerosmith into Studio A—drums, amps, guitars, everything,” adds Michael Olson who began with NightBird in 2000, and spent 11 years at The Los Angeles Recording School, where he was associate director of education.

The latest expansion was driven by XIX Entertainment, the production company behind American Idol, whose offices are nearby. “We did a deal where they put the top 13 contestants up at the hotel,” explains Olson. “They also needed to be able to do 15, 20 tracks in a weekend for iTunes, so they needed four studios simultaneously. We rushed to finish these rooms, but we got the job done.”

The new construction went down to the wire, apparently. “I was wiping the floors with a mop an hour before they walked in,” laughs Leiber.

Unlike Studio A, which houses an Avid Icon D-Control, and Studio B, which features a smaller D-Command ES, Studio C is console-less. A production room and adjoining large vocal iso room intended primarily for vocal sessions and writing, the studio is outfitted with a Pro Tools|HD Native Thunderbolt system and a selection of outboard gear, including various 500 Series microphone preamps, a Universal Audio LA-2A, Empirical Labs Distressor EL8 and a Line 6 Pod XT Pro, in an Argosy console. Nearfield monitoring is via a JBL LSR28P 2.1 system with a Furman cue system handling foldback between rooms.

Jed Leiber built NightBird room-by-room at the Sunset Marquis Hotel in West Hollywood, CA; the first facility was Studio A in the basement. Studio D was built as a pre-production and writing room. “I wanted to make NightBird affordable,” says Leiber. “Many people want to work here, but it can be expensive.”

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Owning a studio can be a daunting endeavor. NightBird could have paid for itself after two films, he says, but Leiber decided to take a break and get back to his songwriting. Now, with the easy availability of inexpensive, high-quality audio gear, “there has become less and less of a reason to pay the expense of a worldclass recording studio. Fortunately we still get the ‘cover girls,’ because they know the difference,” he says, referring to NightBird’s web site, where the enviably extensive client list includes numerous artists who have graced the covers of Rolling Stone and Billboard.

Making the most of his connections with some of those artists, Leiber has launched a video talk show, appropriately titled NightBird Underground. “I have a personal relationship with many of these artists that is completely different from your typical interview talk shows which often exploit the artists for sensational impact. With someone I am comfortable with, I can also just walk into the room and play with them. I did one show with Julian Lennon, and was flattered when he posted on his website that it was one of his favorite interviews.”

“My ultimate goal is to build up a large enough social media platform so that artists don’t have to sell a million records to support themselves doing what they love. If they could sell 10,000 and make enough to continue writing and playing music, that’s my kind of business model.”

Happily for NightBird’s business model, there is no shortage of bookings. “What’s nice is that we still get the A-list clients—Lil Wayne, Miley Cyrus, Aerosmith, Carrie Underwood and countless others; artists from every genre of music where people are still selling a lot of records, or making a lot of money from their live performances,” he says. “Records have become somewhat of a loss leader, but an important one. To stay current, you still have to make a record.”
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