New Golden Gate Studio Rivals Big Guys
September 13, 2003

The dotcom revolution of the 1990s dealt a heavy blow to many Bay Area audio professionals and musicians. Soaring real-estate costs forced several recording and rehearsal facilities to close and encouraged an exodus of bands, individual artists and audio pros to more affordable cities.

Three years after the dotcom boom crested, however, there are signs of new life. San Francisco Soundworks, located in the city's downtown area, is a new facility designed to accommodate both big- and small-budget, major-label and indie projects.

San Francisco Soundworks features three Pro Tools HD-equipped studios catering to demo production and writing as well as tracking, overdubs and mixing, according to founder Tony Espinoza.

While such an array is typical of modern studios—both commercial and personal—San Francisco Soundworks' primary space is a more traditional, full-blown studio featuring a Solid State Logic (SSL) 9072 J Series console and a full complement of vintage outboard equipment and microphones.

Securing larger-budget projects while participating in artist development through a fledgling production company will keep the facility humming in the midst of a prolonged music industry contraction, Espinoza says.

"There's been a continual drain of facilities and talent from the Bay Area for a long time," he says. "I'm trying to provide a place where people can build their careers around a facility that's going to have everything to compete with the studios in L.A.

"Trying to cross-pollinate the major-label guys who can afford to work in the SSL room with some of the up-and-coming folks who are designing beats and doing more creative songwriting in the smaller rooms is part of the magic we're trying to draw upon that you really can't get unless you have a studio as a center of a community," Espinoza adds. "A bunch of disparate Pro Tools home studios doesn't accomplish that."

A recent project illustrates the allure Espinoza believes his facility has for artists, producers and engineers: John Cale tracked and mixed in the SSL studio with engineer/producer Mikael "Count" Eldridge (see story, page 43). Espinoza feels an SSL J Series console on the West Coast that is not in Los Angeles is a valuable asset.

"John Cale came here instead of going to L.A., where he could have gone to a million of these things. Partly, he came here because there was a talented guy he wanted to help produce this record. There are guys like Count who have to travel to do their work, but they're residents here. Their inspiration and whole life is centered in San Francisco. The investment in the console in a room like this creates that center for them to do real work here and bring projects to the city."

With an SSL J Series, three Pro Tools HD-based production studios and loft-style residences for clients, Espinoza is confident in the facility's future. "There has been an interesting switch," he observes. "There was this initial wave of people really falling in love with home studios, building really fancy Pro Tools rooms in their houses, and now things have evolved enough that people know what the limitations of a system like that are. So they know what key things they have to go into a studio to do."