When Greg Curtis founded The Bridge Recording in Glendale, California, he knew from the get-go that he wanted a facility designed specifically as a large soundstage for recording and mixing film soundtrack music, and for other post-production work for the film and TV industries. He opened The Bridge Recording in 2009, and its reputation and close proximity to both Disney and DreamWorks-owned premises soon made it a favorite studio for many films and TV shows, including Marvel’s The Avengers, Mad Men, Star Trek: Discovery, X-Men: First Class, Arrow, The Handmaid’s Tale, Empire, Gotham, and many others.
While still a student at USC, producer, musician, engineer and filmmaker Holden Woodward was among the film soundtrack scoring clients who became smitten with The Bridge’s sound, equipment, space, and legacy. When Curtis finally decided to sell The Bridge Recording in 2019, Woodward arranged to purchase it, with the original intent to keep it as a private facility for his own work. After opening it to USC friends, he decided to expand it into a commercial studio, renaming it Silent Zoo Studios (its live tracking room is shown in the header image above), and went about refurbishing and modernizing the space and gear in order to appeal to a clientele beyond the film and television soundtrack arena.
The story of the historic United Recording Studios was covered in-depth in Copper Issue 133. Sadly, United announced earlier this year that they were calling it quits after 65 years of iconic records and countless tales of legendary musicians and artists, from Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and Duke Ellington to The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lizzo, Green Day, Radiohead and numerous others.
In what could only be described as serendipitous timing, Silent Zoo’s upgrades were near completion right when Victor Janacua, United’s booking manager and a veteran of Record One and Ocean Way Recording (along with assistant engineer stints with Bill Bottrell and Scott Litt), became available and was contacted by Woodward to become Silent Zoo’s new manager. Victor’s long experience and relationships with record labels and artists made him the perfect point man to spearhead the Silent Zoo initiative of bringing former United and other clients to Silent Zoo for their future projects.
Victor and I discussed his years (with plenty of war stories) at United and his new position at Silent Zoo, along with what was in store for the near future there.
Victor Janacua. Courtesy of David Goggin.
John Seetoo: The closing of United Recording Studios is reminiscent of when RCA Studios was closed down in New York City some time ago. There was apparently little regard for the history created in the facility, for the value of the acoustic design of the rooms, the equipment, or for the expertise of the people who had been doing the meticulous work to maintain the quality of the recorded output. The new owners just looked at it as insufficiently profitable from an accounting perspective, so scrapping it all for real estate value was the default solution. Was United’s fate similarly decided, and what was it like for you?
Victor Janacua: Yes, absolutely. This is what happens when a real estate company owns a studio. They value square footage more than the content of historical significance. Bill Putnam opened the studio in 1958. You could feel all the albums recorded there when you walked in. All the way till the very last, clients they were still making their own history.
I started my career there in 1989 when I was 21. Practically grew up there. It was a very sad loss for me and the studio community.
In the very beginning when they bought it from Allen Sides, [the real estate investment company] really championed the legacy of the studio, but (then) slowly, they started to push us away. There was even talk about moving the entire building into the Sunset Gower [Studios] lot. It actually was in the works, but as new studio heads would come in, we knew they were out to get rid of United and build new buildings in place of it to increase its property value.
We just did not expect it to be so abrupt and cold. Even after we had made monumental earnings in those last months. We made $150K in four days in January from the Super Bowl commercials we shot,
On March 6th, they called the whole staff in for a mandatory meeting, and we thought we were about to do some kind of new training, as we often did. One by one, we were called into a low-level manager’s office and we were handed our papers. I was the last one and they handed me a thick-coated excuse with severance but we all knew the truth. It was the end.
JS: Having previously worked at Ocean Way and also being an engineer yourself, what are some of the unique and, in your opinion, irreplaceable and non-reproducible aspects of United Recording that will be lost to posterity when the building gets torn down?
VJ: Let’s remember: this is the house that Bill Putnam built, starting with those legendary rooms. Studio A had the 72-input Focusrite console. Amazing room where [everyone from] Frank Sinatra recorded “Strangers in the Night,” to Kendrick Lamar’s last album. (we have) Studio B’s 56 input Neve 8068 console. The infamous drum room with the very great “Drumbrella” that came down from the ceiling. [Producer] Rob Cavallo told me that Studio B is the Green Day sound. The new Paramore record was done there.
Of course, let's not forget the million-dollar mic locker and the spectacular Putnam-era echo chambers.
JS: What are some special moments and stories that you can share from your time at United?
VJ: I guess meeting my musical heroes and then some. Everybody from Miles Davis to David Bowie to Michael Jackson to Dr. Dre. So many memories. So many great people and adventures. Hard to put 34 years of history into a simple sentence. Also, as you know, when you work so hard on a record [and] then the world gets to hear it. Then later, you hear [it over] the loudspeakers [at CVS]. There is some satisfaction in that.
JS: How familiar were you with The Bridge Recording during the Greg Curtis era, and did you ever view it as a potential rival in appealing to your United clients?
VJ: Yes, very familiar of course. The Bridge always had an incredible reputation as a great scoring room. It was good to know that there were rooms like that, besides the gigantic scoring stages.
Not really a rival. There was enough work going around for all the studios.
JS: Did you know or know of Holden Woodward before he reached out to you about Silent Zoo? What was his reputation in the L.A. pro audio and music circles at the time, since he apparently didn’t come up the ranks in the traditional fashion?
VJ: The first time I heard of Silent Zoo was actually a few weeks before the closure of United. We were both being considered for film location [recording] for a commercial and Silent Zoo got the shoot.
When the scout told me who they chose, I was like, “I’ve got to check them out.” They were not on my radar.
Candace Stewart, studio manager over at East West and longtime friend, actually put him and I in touch. Holden is anything but traditional. He is an extremely motivated and ambitious guy that has his hands in many different ventures. He works very hard and loves the nit and grit of the studio as much as he does the engineering and creative side. Once I saw him engineering and assisting on a few sessions, as well as everything he does behind the scenes, his level of commitment and determination became clear to me. He’s a multi-instrumentalist, talented producer/writer, and all-around great guy, and I am excited to work with him to make Silent Zoo Studios a household name in the music industry.
Victor Janacua and Holden Woodward. Courtesy of David Goggin.
JS: As you and Silent Zoo plan to give former United clients a new studio home for their future music projects, did you have any advice or tips for Holden as to the remodeling and/or redesign he was enacting at Silent Zoo to enhance that objective?
VJ: Some things I noticed immediately as assets for Silent Zoo were its extensive backline [of amplifiers], broad spectrum of preamps [for different sonic] colors, and their incredible custom proprietary pedal walls, which are some things I have never seen before in my 34-year career. As the new studio manager, I am eager to showcase these unique aspects of the space and promote the individual qualities that Silent Zoo Studios brings to our clients and sessions.
The incredible wall of effects pedals at Silent Zoo. Courtesy of Holden Woodward.
Another subject I have discussed with Holden is vintage gear. While Silent Zoo already has an incredible selection of mics, outboard [gear], and instruments, both new and vintage, I know from my years in the recording industry what pieces of vintage gear are most attractive to top-notch engineers and producers. Holden has already started seeking out and purchasing some serious additions to Silent Zoo’s ever-expanding collection of vintage equipment.
JS: Silent Zoo presumably inherited a lot of great vintage microphones and analog gear in addition to the Neve console from The Bridge Recording. How much, if any, new analog equipment had to be acquired to round out the anticipated demands of your United clients and to complement the digital upgrades instituted by Holden? Please cite some examples.
VJ: Over the past few years, Holden has upgraded and added many new components to the studio. He upgraded the entire computing system for the studio with Apple’s latest tech, including multiple 16-core, 96 GB RAM Mac Pros. The 96-channel Neve VSP [console] has undergone an extensive overhaul, which includes a full re-capping of the modules, motherboards, plasma meters, and center section. Starting out with about 95 percent of the Bridge Recording’s mic locker, Holden has added new microphones from AEA, Neumann, Telefunken, AKG, Schoeps, and more. In the control room, new additions include outboard gear from AMS Neve, Rupert Neve, Manley, Universal Audio, API, Tube-Tech, and more. The studio is also now equipped with a backline of 4K cameras, lighting, streaming equipment, and video editing software.
JS: Do you plan to do any engineering yourself at Silent Zoo, and if so, what kind of projects?
VJ: I am considering bringing in some bands, but only as a producer.
JS: Are there any particular features or qualities of Silent Zoo that you think will make certain United clients immediate converts, and if so, what do you think those qualities are?
VJ: The live room is amazing! It, along with the entire studio, is extremely dynamic. You can easily arrange it to have drums, amps, piano, synths/keys, vocals, and more, patched in all at once for the ultimate production workflow. You can strike it and transform it into a full-fledged film shoot, as we have done recently for a few Nationwide commercials. Or you could shrink the room and make it feel very intimate. Drums sound absolutely huge in the room, or nice and tight in one of our large isolation booths. Like at United, Silent Zoo has a beautiful all-original 9-foot Steinway Concert D piano.
The control room is one of the largest I’ve ever been in. At about 900 square feet, a large team can comfortably spread out and listen back to the session through our ATC SCM mains [monitoring loudspeakers in custom cabinets], and in 7.1 surround sound. The lobby is spacious and features an extensive record collection, espresso machine, snacks and beverages, unique art, and more. Another quality of Silent Zoo that differs from United is the location. Our street and area are much less busy than Hollywood, making the entrance very private and unassuming. Just a stone’s throw from the studio are numerous great restaurants, bars, and coffee spots.
JS: If you were to name three reference recordings to highlight the sterling qualities of Silent Zoo’s control room for mixing, which would they be and why?
VJ: Here are three:
- Coming soon is a truly once in a lifetime recording featuring iconic drummer/percussionists Jim Keltner (John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr) and Abe Laboriel Jr. (Paul McCartney), with Bill Malina (Van Halen, Lady Gaga, Lizzo) engineering. With three very different kits set up in the live room, the two of them played off of each other and what transpired is nothing short of magic.
- We recently had Iron and Wine in to track strings for their upcoming album. The session consisted of 30 players and beautiful arrangements by Paul Cartwright. No matter the size of the ensemble, strings always sound balanced, powerful, and moving.
- For the 2023 Super Bowl pregame show, we recorded a 20-piece children’s choir rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Ragged Old Flag” arranged by Ben Bram and Scott Hoying, and engineered by Holden. This project went on to win an Emmy for musical direction!
Any solo piano recording just shines through our speakers and into the control room. Oleg Schramm, who was our main piano tech at United and is Steinway-certified, has expressed to me that our Steinway Concert D is one of the best he has ever played, and the best in L.A. in his opinion.
JS: As a large segment of Copper readers are audiophiles who enjoy comparing their equipment favorites with those in the pro audio community, what does Victor Janacua have for his personal hi-fi listening pleasure, what are your preferred formats?
VJ: I was a vinyl DJ for over 30 years in Hollywood. Retired now. However, I still do sets in my house. I love the analog sound. I have a set up at home in my studio. Two Technics SL-1200 turntables, a Numark M6 Black mixer, and Genelec speakers.
Yes, I still buy vinyl.
Header image: the live tracking room at Silent Zoo Studios. Courtesy of Andrew Buckley.