Los Angeles, CA (September 30, 2020)—The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted businesses around the world, but it has also offered some new opportunities. For In Flight Music Group (IMFG) in downtown Los Angeles, the city’s lockdown order was a chance to rebrand and relaunch its recording studio and soundstage under a new name: Mad Muse Studios.
For a couple of years, clients have been confusing the company and its facility, originally named In Flight Music Studios, says Zulma Tercero, studio manager. “During COVID-19, we decided to take the time to separate the two entities.” With that in mind, IMFG is now comprised of three partners—Matt Salazar (CEO), Tercero (COO), and Lucas Flood (CMO)—and the company in turn owns the studio, making it only one of IMFG’s offerings.
Salazar and Tercero launched IMFG in 2011, initially as a music publishing and management resource for new artists. But Salazar, who had been collecting audio gear and recording bands since his teens, missed music production.
Truth be told, he’d been somewhat knocked back by the demise of an earlier venture, L.A. Sound Gallery, a studio he opened in 2008 with his brother Jason in the former Evergreen Studios facility in Burbank. “Me being a young man—I was 25—and not knowing what the hell I was doing, other than having grown up in the music business, I never thought I’d have another music studio again,” says Salazar.
But when Lucas Flood joined IMFG in a marketing role, organizing live showcases for up-and-coming songwriters under the Writer’s Block moniker, he bugged Salazar to get back behind a console. “Luke came along and said, ‘What the hell are you doing, not producing music anymore?’ I wasn’t really engaging with artists that much,” says Salazar.
Inspired by the news that Warner Bros., Spotify and others might be moving into the downtown area, the trio found a 1,000-square-foot space in which to build out a modest studio. Two years later, they had the lease yanked from under them and the tech companies had largely turned their sights on Hollywood.
They found a new location that offered four times the floor space near downtown Los Angeles’ Fashion District. Having visited The Church in London when it was an open-plan studio, Salazar had no intention of dividing the new space up. “I’d say 90 percent of the time when I’m working with an artist, they want to be with me in the control room,” he says, or else hidden away in an iso booth.
The idea of the traditional studio is changing, Salazar believes, so control room glass would have been an impediment. “Maybe it’s them getting used to the bedroom way of doing things. It’s the new comfortable, especially with younger artists.”
The large, open floor plan offers “a killer drum sound,” according to Flood, and has also proved attractive to film production companies and ad agencies as a soundstage. “Once we started to get film production companies in here for walk-throughs and, inevitably, sessions, the feedback was incredible and the business started to take a path of its own,” says Flood.
Tercero, formerly a makeup artist, looks after that side of the business. “I handle the film department. My guys do a really great job,” she says, noting the ample parking and crew facilities. Recent projects have included The Head and the Heart, recording for the Alzheimer’s Association, and a Wells Fargo commercial. “Recently, Vintage Trouble came in and we did a documentary,” she says.
Now as CMO, Flood has developed Writer’s Block to the point where it hosts regular songwriter and label showcases across the country. Presenting a minimum of 10 songwriters a night, Writer’s Block showcases 1,000 songwriters a year, connecting up-and-comers with Salazar and IFMG as labels, publishers and agencies send their new signings to showcase in front of receptive audiences that are fans of the Writer’s Block brand.
Salazar recalls that L.A. Sound Gallery had been working on a Michael Jackson album shortly before Jackson’s untimely death in 2009. Ocean Way Recording owner Allan Sides was helping Salazar build a second, smaller room for the singer, and they had talked about Dr. Dre moving out of Sides’ Record One facility at the end of his years-long lockout, taking the SSL 8000 G+ desk with him. That console is now at Mad Muse Studios.
“The console was in pieces in Eminem’s basement, we found out later,” says Salazar, who was alerted to the board by Vintage King’s Jeff Ehrenberg. “The tech drove it out here and we cut it down to 64 inputs. We took about a year to re-cap and re-chip it. We put an Atomic power supply on it, and we added the THD Tangerine [VCA automation Pro Tools interface]. It’s a beast. It sounds incredible.
Mad Muse has racks and racks of outboard gear and stacks of backline gear and drums. Salazar caught the collecting bug growing up in Fresno, CA, he says. “I started when eBay first started happening in the ’90s; it was the Wild West. I bought my first pair of Neve 2254s when I was 15. They were broken, so I took them to Dave Marquette [of Marquette Audio Labs] in Hayward.”
Salazar says, “It’s a hobby that bears fruit when you put up a drum and it sounds incredible and you know you got it to that point yourself, especially with the old stuff. But you need to understand it. I only know enough about electronics to get myself shocked! But I understand how the bias of a guitar amplifier will affect the tone and interact with the transformer. The artist doesn’t need to know that you know all that, but you can make the right choices as a producer. All they know is they plug in and it sounds phenomenal and we can get working.”
There’s plenty of new gear, too. “The CAPI Heider preamps are amazing. We don’t use Neves; we have 32 channels of those. I’ve always liked recording everything with the same preamp. I feel like it all comes together in a certain way,” says Salazar. “That was one thing that changed the way I record, but the sound of the facility did, too, because it’s part of everything we do.”
Mad Muse Studios • www.madmusestudios.com
IFMG • www.inflightmusicgroup.com