Why Home-Based Recording Studios Are Becoming an L.A. Cottage Industry

With equipment and budgets shrinking, studios like Ricky Reed’s in Elysian Park are booming

From the outside, the Elysian Park recording studio looks like any other house high above Echo Park: a flat mid-century box with a roll-up garage door and a wood gate leading to a property that sprawls downhill. But had you walked through the door at any point over the past two-and-a-half years, you might have found major pop stars like Kesha, Jason Derulo, or Halsey inside, working on music with the homeowner, songwriter-producer Ricky Reed.

He’s built himself a cozy Top 40 factory. Rare amps, guitars, and pedals nestle among thick wildly patterned rugs outside a control room that’s lined with reclaimed wood and vintage synthesizers. When John Legend came by for a recent session, he played on a Steinway grand piano next to a window overlooking fruit trees and cacti.

“We’re so lucky to live in California,” says Reed. “Why would you put yourself in a big, dark, sad studio room that cost you ten times as much when you can be in a beautiful naturally lit house?”

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The concept isn’t new—will.i.am even recorded Michael Jackson in his lavish Los Feliz home studio, which he calls “my private sanctuary creative space”—but it’s starting to look like the norm. Rocker Ryan Adams runs his Pax-Am Studio out of a converted Hollywood house that’s hosted Fall Out Boy and Liz Phair. Amir Esmailian, one of the guys who manages The Weeknd, records rap VIPs like Travi$ Scott and French Montana in the pool house of his Encino mansion. In Woodland Hills the Doghouse caters to old-timers, including Slash and Brian Setzer.

As record producers and engineers move away from leasing pricey commercial spaces and take artists with them, Reed’s piano becomes something of a metaphor: The last time it was in use was at Sound City, the decades-old professional studio whose closure inspired the 2013 documentary by Dave Grohl. Of the 133 L.A.-area listings on the website Studiotime, which founder Mike Williams calls “Airbnb for music studios,” 45 are residential, starting from $25 an hour. He guesses hundreds more across the city would pass muster for his service. Some may seem bare-bones, but as Reed notes, “increasingly the big pop songs are made on laptops or small systems. My studio is way more elaborate than what others do.”

“Record label budgets keep shrinking, and you can’t just sit around in a $1,000-a- day studio, order Thai food, and wait for inspiration to strike,” says Chris Taylor. When his band, Grizzly Bear, went on hiatus in 2014, he packed up his gear in New York and came west. “I wanted to pursue being a producer in L.A. This is a whole new landscape, a new way to work,” he says, referring to the manager-arranged cowriting sessions (sometimes likened to speed dating) that pop and even indie acts use these days to ferret out hits. Taylor rented an Echo Park Craftsman and built a studio in the two-car garage. He’s since recorded an album by buzzing singer Loren Kramer (due out on Apple Music this fall) and much of Grizzly Bear’s new RCA-released LP, Painted Ruins.

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But there’s one problem. “It is OK to have a recording studio in a residence as long as it is not being used as a commercial business,” says L.A.’s chief building inspector, Je Napier. Ellis Sorkin has run Calabasas’s Studio Referral Service since the ’80s. He’s seen classic studios shutter in in- verse proportion to the rise of the home variety, but he also had to shutter his own operation this year—a live-work residence in Burbank—after hosting rowdy tenants. No- body thinks the city’s out looking for boot- leg setups to bust, and Taylor counts on the squishiness of terms like “commercial” and “private use,” but a single noise complaint could close him down.

That’s why moss covers the walls at Reed’s Elysian Park studio—it’s one of several design flourishes that double as sound dampeners. He also goes elsewhere to record drums for his clients and makes sure to invite all of the neighbors to his annual Grammys party. For him the risk is worth it.

“When you work in the music industry and you’re part of a global conversation, you can feel so small and out of control over what’s trending,” he says. “There’s a great feeling that comes with being a local business in a small community. You’re just folks in the same neighborhood.”

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