LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - What do Eminem, Drake, Enrique Iglesias, Ke$ha, Carrie Underwood and Mike Posner have in common? They and other artists in the upper reaches of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart are clients of one of Los Angeles’ best-kept secrets: Nightbird Recording Studios.
In today’s increasingly do-it-yourself world, commercial studio closings have become the norm thanks to the proliferation of inexpensive digital audio software programs like Pro Tools and GarageBand, which enable artists to churn out their own recordings. But not only is Nightbird Studios staying busy -- catering to a growing pop, country and R&B/hip-hop clientele -- but it’s in the midst of expanding its space in the parking garage beneath the lobby of one of the city’s more private, high-end hotels: the Sunset Marquis.
Despite digital audio software’s increasing advances, Nightbird founder/owner Jed Leiber says there’s still no replacement for the unparalleled sound quality one can achieve in an actual studio. “As far as I‘m concerned,” Leiber says, “there are only two schools: bad and good school. Yes, you can do everything at home. But you still need to get outside of there to maximize your creativity, to work with others. The quality is always better then. I am my father’s son in that regard.”
Dad in this instance is Jerry Leiber. Leiber Sr. and partner Mike Stoller comprise the legendary songwriting/production team behind such classic hits as “Hound Dog” and “Stand by Me.” A keyboardist/songwriter/producer in his own right, the younger Leiber has worked with such artists as Aretha Franklin, Jeff Beck and Hall & Oates’ John Oates.
In fact, it was a 1993 late-night jam session between Leiber and guitarist Beck in the latter’s Sunset Marquis suite that served as the catalyst for Nightbird. After the guests next door complained that they couldn’t sleep, hotel general manager Rod Gruendyke suggested the pair move their session to the underground garage next to the laundry room. Leiber recalls that the “great vibe” down there sparked the idea of building a full-fledged studio at the hotel. “I told Rod, ‘If you give me some parking spaces, we can make this a wonderful place.'”
Nightbird has since grown into two main suites, Studio A and B, plus an adjacent room, all designed by noted Hollywood Bowl acoustician George Augspurger. A $500,000 modernization in 2007 included the addition of mahogany wall coverings (“The most important thing is the sound of the room,” Leiber says) and a 120-inch projector screen.
The state-of-the art studios -- paired with the hotel’s reputation for privacy plus such amenities as 24-hour room service and massage/spa treatments -- has attracted such acts as Green Day, Lil Wayne, Usher, Trey Songz, Mary J. Blige, Madonna, Jamie Foxx and Heart (for a live podcast). Nightbird also has hosted such producers as Dr. Luke and No I.D. and actor Forest Whitaker, who recorded voice-overs for an IBM commercial.
Leiber declines to divulge studio rates, but he says potential clients can build their own budgets. “It used to be that studios had book rates,” he adds. “But with today’s economy and the state of the music industry, you need to be flexible.”
Despite those issues, Leiber is forging ahead with his expansion plans. He aims to add a video editing room, smaller production rooms and possibly separate lounges for artists who may not want to go upstairs to the hotel. Down the road, he’d love to add another amenity: broadcasting on a particular frequency so that an artist lying at the pool can listen to a mix and then relay his or her thoughts to the engineer.
Leiber says, “That would be the Hotel California, next chapter.”