A film composer who’s scored 60-plus movies to date, Woodshed Recording owner Richard Gibbs most visibly began his professional musical career as a session player and the keyboardist for Oingo Boingo. “I left the band in 1984, before Danny [Elfman] did,” recalls Gibbs. “I got married, our son was born and I didn’t want to tour anymore. Financially, it wasn’t a tough decision to make. As a performing musician, you can only make money while you’re playing. When you’re a composer/producer, there’s ‘mailbox money.’”
Knowing this, Gibbs eventually built Woodshed Recording, sitting on an ocean point in Malibu, featuring an open control/performance space with modular walls and flexible acoustic properties. “All the gear moves,” says Gibbs. “Everything is on wheels, and the walls come out, so the room can be reconfigured based on what you’re doing. It’s one studio—but that one studio has about 12 configurations that are radically different.”
Local studio builder Jack Vieira of Pirate Acoustics, architect Akai Yang and local builder Kevin Beck collaborated with Gibbs on his vision. Interestingly, Yang and Gibbs took on the brunt of the design work, utilizing Vieira as a consultant. “Jack never drew blueprints, but on a yellow pad of paper, he would show us how to de-couple the walls or run the cable.”
Most importantly, insists Gibbs, is Woodshed’s inspirational aesthetic, bolstered by a dozen ocean view French doors and windows that create a sense of openness to nature, escaping the isolated vibe that many “closed in” studios inflict upon clients. “I’ve always been inspired by architecture,” offers Gibbs. “I look at a building and hear music.”
Many others share Gibbs’ affinity for studios that place inspiring architectural properties first, as the allure of Woodshed has already made the likes of Barbra Streisand and Coldplay’s Chris Martin regular customers, finding the studio their most comfortable digs while in the Los Angeles area. The openness created by Woodshed’s architectural design, says Gibbs, translates to increased creative openness, relaxation and comfort of clients.
Ironically, Gibbs really wasn’t originally seeking clients for Woodshed. “I built it for me,” he recalls. “Because I was designing it just for my usage, I tried things that I hadn’t seen in any recording studio. For example, the completely liquid wall arrangement, and the way that you can change the way a studio operates in an hour, was different; I’d never been in a studio like that. There’s that, and I live by the ocean. I want to see the ocean. It just seemed silly to do what the acousticians wanted. So I did what I wanted, which was an acoustician’s nightmare. But it turned out that what I wanted was also what so many artists want—a place of inspiration. Every studio I’ve been in, I’m lucky if that [quality] even comes in as a third perk. For me, the primary thing was that the vibe was right. I want to be inspired by architecture.”
“And what blows me away is how blown away artists are when they come here,” Gibbs continues. “Chris Martin comes in and says, ‘This is it. This is where I want to work all the time.’ Barbra responds to the feel of the room in a similar way. Engineers walk in and have to wrap their heads around it for a minute. They aren’t used to having a room where the floor is basically moving underneath their feet.”
Gear-wise, Woodshed’s most recent purchase was a Solid State Logic Matrix 2 console. “Before it, [the mixer] was the weak link,” offers Gibbs. “As everything moves around, it wouldn’t make sense to have a big old analog console. We used a Control| 24 for a while, but just for the faders. We looked at other control surfaces—new and supported Avid controllers, the Slate Raven—and if it were just for me, I would’ve given the Slate a shot. But renting out the studio all the time, I didn’t want the learning curve. The beauty of the Matrix is it’s as if it was custom-made for this studio: it’s small, light, quite mobile and it allowed me to get rid of other summing and I/O devices. Right away, it sounded better. And guys like Rik Simpson (Coldplay’s long-running engineer) come in and are immediately comfortable with it.”
In auditioning studio monitors for Woodshed, Gibbs brought in models from Augspurger, ATC, PMC, Barefoot and Guzauski-Swist—all of which he praises for their remarkable qualities—and ultimately chose Augspurger Duo 8 MiniMain monitors with subwoofers amongst a large crowd of “shootout” listeners.
“Damned if Augspurger didn’t blow everything else out of the water,” insists Gibbs, “and this is turning into an endorsement speech, and I don’t mean it to be. But it was all set up professionally and level matched. I was listening critically, concentrating on the technical elements yet every time I switched over to the Augspurgers, it was the same [reaction] every time: ‘God, I haven’t heard this song in so long.’ I just started listening to the music. And the other 20-30 people in the room were saying the same thing. The only people that didn’t pick them as their favorites said something like, ‘They sound too good,’ so they couldn’t trust them. But I’ve learned that they translate beautifully. Anyway, after the shootout, Coldplay…ended up contacting Augspurger, flew the guys to London and had them set up a set in their studio. These are the kinds of experiences we continue to have here at the studio.”