Ocean Way Audio no longer owns nor operates the multiple recording studio facilities formerly called Ocean Way Recording. However, the story of those studios and the history-making music that was created there deserves much more than a footnote in a book somewhere. This site documents the complete story behind Ocean Way Recording, and how the studios led to the success of today’s Ocean Way Audio.
The Ocean Way Recording Story
The Garage Days
In 1974, Allen Sides began building custom loudspeakers and leased a garage in Santa Monica as a hi-fi demo room. This garage was within steps of the Pacific Ocean and was situated on a street appropriately named Ocean Way. Since he knew exactly what kinds of sounds were most impressive on his speakers, Allen did limited live to two-track recordings as demo material. Subsequently, he sold numerous speaker systems to musicians and others within the industry thanks to those killer demo tapes.
During these speaker demos, many people became more interested in the recordings than the speakers and before long, those clients were asking Allen to make their recordings sound like his demo tapes. So in order to service those clients, Ocean Way Recording Studios was born. But in order to be a proper studio, Allen needed a recording console. And this is the point in time that the legend of Ocean Way truly begins – how Allen ended up purchasing Western Recorders’ original tube console and came face to face with Bill Putnam.
Putnam was a true renaissance man in the world of sound and music. His combined skills as a record producer, engineer, inventor, writer, singer, technician, studio owner and businessman are almost unparalleled to this day.
A pioneer in recording studio acoustics, he was involved in the early development of stereophonic recording and is acknowledged to be the first person to use artificial reverberation for commercial recordings. He developed the first multi-band equalizers, and with his companies Universal Audio and UREI, was responsible for the development of classic equipment like the 1176LN, LA-2A, and UREI¬Æ Time Align monitors.
By the mid 50’s, Putnam owned and operated the largest independent recording facility in the country, Universal Recording in Chicago. But with a large chunk of his business moving west, clients urged him to open a Los Angeles facility. Finally, in 1957, Bill moved to 6050 Sunset Blvd in Hollywood and started constructing brand new studios for his newly named company, United Recording Corp.
United quickly grew to to three studios, a mixdown room, three mastering rooms and a small manufacturing plant for the equipment business.
In the early 60s Western Recorders, one block away at 6000 Sunset, was acquired and renamed United Western. The studios were jumping 24 hours a day, hosting superstars like Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Ray Charles.
So how was it that the worlds of Allen Sides and Bill Putnam come together at this key moment? Allen explains, “At the time I needed a console, I heard that Bill Putnam’s manufacturing plant was running short on production space and that UREI’s manager Ray Combs needed to clear some space, much of it occupied by all the old equipment from United Western Studios. I knew Bill was out of town so I went to the studio and said to Ray “How about I give you 6,000 bucks for all this junk including a trailer in the back with the old Studio 1 console in it. “He said, “I’ll take it – get this stuff out of here.”
“Obviously, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure and in this case, I was able to acquire some old Fairchild limiters, UA tube limiters, Macintosh tube amps, and enough equipment to completely fill my garage studio. It was a most handsome treasure and it was this deal that really put me in business.”
“However, there was a slight problem. I didn’t actually have the 6 grand, so I wrote a check, picked up the stuff, and within six hours had sold enough of the gear to cover my check. When Putnam returned and found that his manager had been snookered into selling all this equipment for $6,000, he said he wanted to meet this guy. I got a call from Ray that Bill was upset because Ray had sold the stuff so cheap, especially considering that Bill had a buyer for just the Studio 1 console for more than I paid for everything.”
An interesting sidelight is that Allen had a summer job as a runner at Western Recorders in 1969 but never actually met Bill. Needless to say, when Allen went in to meet Bill, he had no idea what to expect.
And as Allen explains, even in his wildest dreams, there was no way to ever anticipate what would take place. “When I walked into Bill’s office, he gave me a long, stern look. That look eventually turned into a smile and he proceeded to offer me the exclusive rights to sell all surplus equipment for all his enterprises. Bill and I just clicked immediately and we became very good friends and business partners in the following years. Bill and I started buying out bankrupt and closed down studios throughout the country, including CBS and Wally Heider Studios in San Francisco, and RCA studios in Hollywood. Imagine being able to pick your pianos from 25 Steinways, your EMT’s from 50 plates, and your tube mics from literally hundreds. It was an astonishing opportunity and I was a lucky dog to be at the right place at the right time.”
By 1976, things were going great at the Ocean Way garage, with sessions working around the clock. Unfortunately, trying to keep a low profile while running a full scale commercial studio in a quiet residential neighborhood proved to be much more tricky.
When the artists would leave at two or three in the morning, they sometimes were a little on the loud side. Not long after that, Allen’s lease was canceled and he was given two months to get out. Although he had many months of bookings scheduled, Allen had nowhere to go.
Ocean Way Moves to Hollywood
As fate would have it though, a lease was just about to expire for Bill Putnam’s Studio B in the United building. When Sides approached his friend about leasing the studio , Bill offered him a “sweetheart deal” on the space. Allen quickly redesigned and rebuilt the Studio B control room, and moved all his equipment in. Studio B was an astounding acoustic space and Allen was thrilled to get his hands on it. Bill felt that of all the rooms he had designed and built, this was his favorite and he was very pleased that his prot√©g√© would carry on the tradition.
Early sessions ranged from Neil Diamond, Chick Corea, Bette Midler, and all the way to Frank Zappa. It was also during this time Allen began buying close to a thousand tube microphones from overseas. The European studios and broadcasters were dumping loads of “antiquated” tube mics for brand new phantom-powered transistor mics. He carefully went through every mic, picking the absolutely best of the best and selling off the rest. This is how, along with the mics from the previous studio buyouts, Ocean Way amassed one of the largest collection of tube mics in the world.
In 1982, The United Western Studios were still functioning, but because of health problems Bill had not been active in the operation for a few years. It was at this time that Bill also leased Studio A to Allen. Allen made a few changes and Studio A immediately became one of the most popular rooms in town again. One of the first projects was Lionel Ritchie’s “Can’t Slow Down,” which sold 25 million records.
A couple of years later, Allen finally talked Bill into selling him the United building at 6050 Sunset. It was a little difficult, because Frank Sinatra was part owner and Bill had to get Frank to agree to sell it.
Several years after that Bill Putnam sold his primary Companies and the new owners agreed to sell Allen the Western Building at 6000 Sunset and all the equipment it contained.
Allen remembers walking down the halls of United Western studios for the first time – when he was 16 years old and it was the hottest studio in the country. “I certainly never dreamed at that time that I would eventually own the place!”
Record One Joins Ocean Way
In 1988, Allen was beginning to run out of space and luckily was able to purchase Record One Recording, which had been immensely successful with records like Toto’s “Rosanna,” Kim Carnes’ “Betty Davis Eyes,” and Linda Ronstadt’s “Heart Like A Wheel,” Sides moved in quickly, re-did the monitor systems to be more compatible with Ocean Way, and opened for business with two studios that contained very nice custom API consoles. Early projects included classic recordings by Don Henley and Bonnie Raitt.
Soon after that, Allen constructed the largest (112 input’s with GML automation) totally discrete Neve console in the world for Quincy Jones’s “Back on the Block”,
Ocean Way now had seven rooms operating in LA plus their rental division “Classic Equipment Rentals” and “Ocean Way To Go,” which specializes in setting up complete studios in houses anywhere a client may choose. Grammy winning producers like T-Bone Burnette , Don Was, Dr. Dre, Jack Joseph Puig and Rob Cavallo become regulars.
Ocean Way Nashville
In the early ’90s, Allen wanted to expand into Nashville. Along with partner Gary Belz, he found a 1850s Greystone church and refectory building on a large lot. It was owned at that time by an odd evangelist named Tony Alamo, who was in jail for tax evasion and a number of other questionable activities.
It offered a remarkable opportunity for Allen, as he was able to design all three control rooms from scratch. In the past, he had generally been constrained to modify and reconstruct existing control rooms with space limitations that made it difficult to get everything he wanted acoustically.
Outdoing even his Record One console, Ocean Way Nashville opened in 1996 complete with gigantic, 146 input discrete Neve console!
The Western Wing Is Sold
In early 2000, Allen sold the Western building and those studios have been operated by others for a number of years.
And since he rarely had a chance to work in Nashville because of his busy Los Angeles schedule, Allen ultimately partnered with Belmont University’s Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business. The University not only continues to operate Ocean Way Nashville as a world class commercial facility, but also utilizes the studios as state of the art class rooms.
Eventually, Allen’s interest was fully focused on the design and manufacturing of his highly-acclaimed monitoring systems that’s he’d custom-created for all of the Ocean Way Recording facilities. In the early 2000s, he divested from all of the studios and his focus ever since has been on the respected line of products from Ocean Way Audio.
At one point, Ocean Way Recording had highly-respected facilities in four different locations: Ocean Way Hollywood, Record One in Sherman Oaks, Ocean Way Nashville, and Ocean Way St. Barths.
Ocean Way Hollywood Studio B: An Opportunity
This Room was originally designed by Bill Putnam as part of his United/Western Studios.
When Allen was looking to move his studios to Hollywood from a garage in Santa Monica his good friend Bill Putnam had a great opportunity.
Bill loved what Allen had created in a three-car garage, and was confident Allen would take Studio B in Hollywood to the next level. Bill had come down to Allen’s garage studio and thought the recordings Allen had made there were phenomenal. He also said that Allen’s monitors were the best he had ever heard.
Studio B had previously been leased out to a post production company called TVR Recorders, but that lease was ending, so Bill worked a deal for Allen to take over the back half of the United building (6050 Sunset) which included Studio B as well as two mastering rooms and a mix room.
Allen moved his gear first into the mix room while he worked on redesigning the B control room to accommodate his very large monitor system, and acoustically treat the studio to make it a bit less live for what recordings at the time needed. He also added what was later nicknamed “the cone of silence” which was an octagonal shaped dampening dome that lowered from the ceiling to create an iso booth when gobos were placed around it when needed.
Allen was pretty thrilled to get this big live room (which originally could handle up to fifty musicians) with outstanding acoustics. It had always been Bill’s favorite of all the rooms he had designed. It is the room where Bill recorded “I Can’t Stop Loving You” with Ray Charles.
The first console Allen installed in B was one he had actually purchased from Bill. It was created by a guy named Dallas Jorden who had signed a contract to build three custom consoles for the United Western Studios. Dallas had built a smaller remote console that Bill owned and all his engineers loved the sound of so based on that they went ahead and commissioned Dallas to build his new consoles, the first of which had been installed in Western Studio One.
One of the unique attributes of this console was it had amps that slewed at 200 volts per microseconds, and had flat bandwidth to well over 100k. It also had a very clean signal path with only three amps in the line, including the passive EQ.
The new larger console sounded amazing, but unfortunately if you just looked at it wrong, it would go into severe oscillation. The installation was a disaster and there was simply no time to work out the bugs so it only lasted six weeks and Bill pulled it out and canceled his contract for the other two.
Allen saw great potential in this console if only he could figure how to make it not oscillate. It had probably the fastest electronics with widest bandwidth of any console ever installed in a studio, but these attributes made it hard to handle, sort of like a great race horse. But, if he could make it work perfectly, there were no limits! Allen made Bill a ridiculous offer, probably less than a quarter of what Bill had paid to build it, but Bill said, “It’s yours.” Allen put it in his garage studio and with the help of his chief technician at that time, Jay Kaufman, managed to get it working flawlessly. This effort took about six weeks.
The console became legendary. Chris Lord-Alge called it “The Baseball Bat” because of how ridiculously punchy the sound was, and George Massenburg called it the fastest console on Earth! There is virtually an endless list of major hit records recorded on this console, which included artists like Green Day, Radiohead, Beck, Linda Ronstadt, Michael Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Natalie Cole, and many more.
Allen also added 40 outboard channels of API 550-A EQ’s normaled to every input, which meant you had 30 frequencies across six bands if needed, which was unique. Because sessions kept getting bigger, he also added a modified API 1604 console as a sidecar, and installed GML automation on all 48 faders. There was also a 32-input monitor section in the Dal-con which could be used for more inputs with matching sends. This gave you a total of 64 potential inputs.
As time progressed, Allen took over Studio A, and then purchased the whole 6050 Sunset facility from Bill Putnam. Around that time, the post company TVR finally vacated the rest of the space they leased next to studio B. This allowed Allen to take what had been a motion picture dub stage parallel to studio B and put in a large window and sliding glass doors to make a huge additional iso booth plus one additional iso which had been the old control room for the Dub Stage.
The dimensions of studio B were 45′ by 32′ with 22-foot ceilings. The big iso was 50′ by 22′ with a 22-foot ceiling. This made Studio B simply an amazing space to record in. When we recorded Natalie Cole’s “Unforgettable” which won Grammys for “Album of the Year”, “Best Song of the Year” and “Best Engineered Pop Album of the Year”, there were 68 musicians of which the strings, woods, and French horns were in the big room, and the rhythm, percussion and brass were in the big iso. The upright bass was in one iso, and Natalie was in the other iso.
In another big session with Eric Clapton and Phil Collins, we put Eric with all his amps and guitars in the big iso, and Phil’s drums in the main studio. Green Day also made great use of all the iso’s on their American Idiot album which sold 20 million copies. Countless artists called Studio B their home!
As time rolled on and we kept needing bigger and bigger consoles, we finally decided to change out the Dal-Con Console with a much larger custom all-discreet, Class A Neve 8088 console with flying faders automation, but we kept the bank of forty API 550-A EQ’s and tied them into our Neve. At the same time, Allen redesigned and enlarged the Studio B control room.
When word got out that the console was being decommissioned, there were many eager buyers for our custom and highly-modified Dal-Con console, but we had already promised it to one of our best clients at the time: Nigel Godrich, who had done many Beck, Radiohead and Paul McCartney albums in B. That console now resides in Nigel’s private studio in London.
Ocean Way Hollywood Studio A
With the tremendous success of Studio B, Allen asked Bill Putnam if he would be willing to lease the rest of the 6050 building to him. Even though that meant that United/Western studios would only have the 6000 Sunset building, Bill agreed. Part of the reason that Bill agreed was he had an override clause on the gross income Allen made as part of the lease which had been very profitable. Bill knew if Studio A did as well as B it would be a great deal. Allen was creating enough income that paying that much rent wasn’t a problem. Of course Allen and Bill were extremely close friends and even business partners on other ventures. With the notoriety and success that Allen had attained with Studio B, Bill felt very comfortable that his legacy would continue!
Allen found the perfect console for Studio A. It was a very Custom 44 input 33 monitor API that was installed in the big room at the old Record Plant studios on third street (which no longer exists). Chris Stone the owner of Record Plant decided to put in one of the first new Solid State Logic E Series consoles. This room had been very popular with the Stones and Rod Stewart and many other rock acts. Once again Allen saw a unique opportunity and bought it the next day. After Allen got it installed he found lots of ground loops and crosstalk and was honestly shocked that these issues had never been dealt with.
Allen and his then chief tech at the time Jay Kaufman completely rebuilt the console adding many new features. Allen installed his big monitors and did some acoustical treatments to the room before he opened the doors for business.
One of the first Clients was Kenny Loggins doing the score for “Caddy Shack” including “I’m All right”. Andy Johns had been one of Record Plant’s top clients. Andy said he absolutely hated the SSL that replaced the API and loved what he was getting in the Allen’s new Studio A. He also said that not only did the console sound even better than it did at Record Plant but the acoustics of the Bill Putnam designed studio were insanely good. The producer on this project was Bruce Botnik. Both Andy and Bruce had been great clients at Record Plant and basically became permanent residents at Ocean Way. Kenny Loggins came back to record many albums. Needless to say Chris Stone tried endlessly to get his clients.
There were many amazing clients but one of the most fun was Lionel Ritchie. Lionel came in to record his “Can’t Slow Down” record which sold forty million records. The first single on that Record was “All Night Long” which won a Grammy for best Song of the year and Album of the year. Lionel was a fixture at Ocean Way for years after that.
Allen and Lionel played ping pong virtually every day to the consternation of his producer Carmichael. His producer would say to Richie “we got an album to make could you please get your butt in here” and Richie would answer “just give me a minute, I got this”. Allen would later say that Richie probably spent a quarter of his album budget play ping pong with me!
David Foster was a regular client as well and Recorded Barbara Streisand’s “Back on Broadway “ album with the hit single “Somewhere”. Neal Diamond also loved Studio A and did several Albums and TV shows as did Burt Bacharach.
As time progressed like Studio B, sessions required bigger consoles because the amount of tracks people used was going up exponentially. We ended up selling the API to Neal Diamond for his private Studio. A good friend of Allen’s Phil Dudridge had come out with a new Focusrite Console based on Rupert Neve’s original Focuserite design but with many improvements. Allen ordered the second one to be made which had 64 mono inputs and eight stereo inputs, all with GML automation. After installing that console Allen and his new chief tech Bruce Marien made many dramatic sonic improvements to the signal path, equalizer and mic pre. What we ended up with sonically was very different than what we had received. The Focuserite in Studio A sounds simply amazing and is completely unique! All our clients loved this console.
Studio A is 48” deep 38” wide and 22” ceiling. The big iso is 17” wide 15” deep with 22” ceiling. The room could accommodate as many as 60 players.
6000 Sunset Studio 1
Studio 1 was the largest room in the Western Building at 6000 Sunset, capable of handling up to 70 musicians. Studio A in the United building and Studio 1 in the Western building was where all the Warner Brothers Sinatra records were recorded, including “New York New York”, “It Was a Very Good Year”, “The Summer Wind”, and “That’s Life”. As a sidebar, Allen had actually bought the custom UA tube console that most of those albums were recorded on from Bill Putnam, and installed it in his garage studio on Ocean Way street in Santa Monica in 1972.
When Allen took over, there was a Harrison console in 1. There was a 48-input Neve 8108 in studio 3, and Allen moved that console to Studio 1. Allen completely rebuilt the console, which included simplifying the signal path, installing faster amps, creating an entirely new monitor control section, eliminating the active patch bay, and installing GML automation. The control room had a lot of acoustical anomalies that had to be dealt with. Allen broke through the back wall to add four feet in depth to the control room, and built a low frequency absorption system. This made a huge difference in LF performance in the control room.
Allen installed the same Ocean Way Audio tri-amped monitor system as was used in the rest of his studios. He equipped the room with an exceptional list of great aux gear, comparable to studio 2, and of course added a pair of Ampex ATR-124 multitracks. The studio portion of studio 1 was phenomenal and needed nothing acoustically. Once again, Studio 1 became very popular, being used on albums from The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Diamond, Stevie Nicks, U2, Barbra Streisand, and Brian Setzer. The list of artists that used Studio 1 is virtually endless. Whitney Houston recorded “I Will Always Love You” in 1. As time progressed, however, Allen just needed a bigger console in 1, so he decided to move the huge Neve double 8078 console that he had built for Michael Jackson from his Record One Studio B and replace the 8108. He installed one of the first SSL J’s in Studio B for Michael and Bruce. Bruce and Michael had loved the sound of the old Neve but their mixes were just getting so complicated that they really needed total recall.
Allen had bought one Neve 8078 console from The Village (this was the “Fleetwood Mac console”), and he bought another 8078 from the Motown studios, and put them together as one console with 112 inputs and GML automation, which at the time was the largest discreet Neve Console in the world. He also modified the monitor section to have the same eight discreet sends that the input side had. When that console was finished, Rupert Neve came over to see the custom console and said it looked like it was built at the Neve factory. Prior to that, the largest 8078-style console were the three Air Monserrat consoles which had 52 inputs, but were unfortunately no longer discreet and just used all 5534 IC’s.
This room, although still operating as East West Studios, has been degraded significantly from what it was as Ocean Way, but the acoustics of the original studio portion are still great.
6000 Sunset Studio 2
Studio 2 in Bill Putnam’s 6000 Sunset building (the original Western Recorders) was the next room Allen completed and added to Ocean Way. Here’s a bit of the chronology that followed. At that point, Allen had already completely taken over and purchased Bill’s 6050 Sunset building (formerly United Recording).
United Western Studios was still operating in the 6000 Sunset building at that time, but were winding down. Allen first leased Studio 2 from Bill, and later when Bill sold UREI and the remaining studios to The Harmon Group, Allen bought all the gear from Harmon and assumed their lease. Several years later, Allen purchased the 6000 Sunset building from the owners. The 6000 Sunset building had Studio 1, 2, 3 and 7, and Allen designed and built a new studio for one of his best clients, REM’s producer Scott Litt.
So at that point, Ocean Way was operating eight studios as well as Ocean Way Mastering. Allen’s other companies, which included Ocean Way To Go, Classic Equipment Rentals, A/G digital (with partner George Massenburg), and Ocean Way Audio also operated out of the two Sunset buildings.
Allen had bought out RCA Studios in Hollywood about a month earlier, and a lot of the gear for the Western Building came from that purchase. Studio 2 had a Harrison console and UREI 813 monitors when Allen took control. Allen modified the acoustic treatments in the control room to complement the same Ocean Way Audio speakers that were in his 6050 Sunset building. He added an additional iso booth for the studio, but the acoustics of Bill Putnam’s studio 2, like all of Bill’s rooms, were superb and needed nothing.
Allen installed a very custom, completely class-A 8038 Neve console, which had originally been custom-built for RCA. This console had been 32 input with a separate 24-channel monitor console. Allen completely rebuilt the aux module section with ten discreet sends on every input, and added eight more inputs. He installed GML automation and set up the monitor section as additional inputs for a total of 64 inputs. Allen replaced all the analog 24-tracks that had been MCI’s with the same exceptional Ampex ATR-124 multitracks used in his other studios. There were two for every control room, with Lynx synchronizers. Allen added lots of aux gear, including Fairchild 670’s, Pultecs and Langs which were an important part of what people had come to expect in Ocean Way studios.
Allen also added hundreds of tube mics to the existing microphone inventory. It’s fair to say that Bill’s United Western Studios were superb acoustically, but were bare bones when it came to mics and esoteric outboard gear. Studio 2 became an immediate success. Producer Don Was, who was already a great client at Ocean Way, loved Studio 2, and did many albums in that room including Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time which was Album of the Year, as well as records with Bob Dylan and Garth Brooks. Producer Rick Rubin — also a great Ocean Way client — really enjoyed Studio 2, and did a lots of albums there including The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Tom Petty. Producer Rob Cavallo used all the rooms at our studios, but did both of Green Day’s first albums in 2. Highwayman with Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Chris Kristofferson, as well as Ry Cooder’s Little Village, were also done in 2.
6000 Sunset Studio 3
Studio 3 was a fairly famous room because it is where The Beach Boys, The Mamas & the Papas, Johnny Rivers, and The Fifth Dimension recorded their albums, as well as many other artists from the Sixties. Even though 3 was not a huge studio, the acoustics were phenomenal. You could record a whole band, even with a horn section, live with a few baffles and it just sounded great. Allen ended up installing a completely rebuilt Neve 8078 console with GML automation there, and installed his Ocean Way Audio three-way tri-amped monitors as well.
Allen duplicated the aux equipment configuration to match the other studios. The studio 3 control room was very small, so he knocked out the back wall and added several feet in depth as he’d done in Studio 1, and this greatly improved the bass performance. The whole monitoring environment in studios had changed over the years, and his new monitors went way lower and, if needed, way louder than anything from the Sixties, so isolation between studios became more of a problem.
His studio 7 and studio 3 control rooms were back to back, and LF leakage was becoming a problem, so he ripped out the back wall of control room 7 and put in a ten-foot high, one-foot thick solid concrete wall, and then sealed the wall back up. This solved the leakage problem… nothing 5000 pounds of concrete couldn’t fix. Studio 3 became just as popular as the big rooms in the building. Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello loved this room, and Brian Wilson continued to work in Studio 3 although later switched entirely to Ocean Way A and B.
This room under East West has changed a lot, and is really not comparable on any level to what it was under Ocean Way, but the studio portion is untouched and still great.
The original Record One had been built by the very successful producer/engineer Val Garay. Val had talked Mel Simon — developer of the famous “Mall Of America” and part-time movie producer — into fronting the money to build Record One. The studios were very successful for a number of years, but Mel made the decision to liquidate the studios. Allen ended up purchasing the studios and all the gear directly from Mel in 1986. There was a lot of intrigue into all aspects of this deal, but that’s another story.
Record One Studio A
Studio A had a nice size and quite good sounding tracking room, with one large iso and one modest size iso. The control room had been a slightly larger version of Dave Hassenger’s original Sound Factory studios, where Val had done many of his early hits. It was rather small in comparison to what control rooms would become.
The studio B control room was almost identical, but had a fairly large tracking room with high ceilings and twin iso’s that sounded very good after some acoustical improvements made by Allen.
One of the facility’s best attributes, apart from having great gear, was its incredible living room with fireplace, office suites, gourmet kitchen, and client lounges. It was a very designer-looking place, and Allen left all that intact. Both rooms had very custom original API consoles that Allen installed GML automation on. Allen had plans to make some major changes, but for the moment just wanted to make the existing control rooms sounded as good as possible to start producing revenue while he worked on future plans.
Record One had a great mic and aux gear collection, but as usual, Allen added even more. The original control room’s monitors were quad Altec 604-E’s with mastering lab. Allen changed the acoustics of the control rooms, but because of size limitations could not install his large Ocean Way Audio monitoring system in the existing space, so he created a custom system that would fit in the existing holes and cabs. He had a custom duplex speaker built utilizing the large TAD 4001 driver on the back that would fit in place of the 604’s, and then added a much improved sub bass system.
The end results were surprisingly good. Allen opened the studios and they were booked with Ocean Way clients as well as the original Record One’s original clients who appreciated the sonic improvements with all the original Record One amenities. One of the first clients was producer/songwriter Glen Ballard, who recorded the immensely successful first Wilson Phillips album in B.
After about a year of operation, Allen invited Quincy Jones and Bruce Swedien over to see Record One. They had been working on some of Michael Jackson’s Thriller in Ocean Way Studio A, and were looking for a new home base. They had been working at Westlake Studios prior to that, and fell in love with the Ocean Way monitors and having access to its extraordinary mic collection. They were also tired of Weslake’s small, acoustically-dead rooms. They absolutely loved Record One and were about to start Quincy Jones’ Back On The Block album.
Bruce was hoping for a larger control room to mix, but was perfectly willing to start the album in A, and was excited about the new control room and monitor system Allen was designing specifically for them in Studio B. The new control room was finished in plenty of time. Allen also conceived the idea of building the largest fully-discreet Neve console in the world for Bruce to not only to mix Quincy’s new album, but all the future Michael Jackson records.
Michael and Bruce would become some of our best clients, and this relationship would last for the next 15 years. Several years later, Bruce wanted an even bigger control room with an even larger console, so Allen set out to design a new control room that would have the largest monitor system ever installed in a studio. Allen also ordered a completely custom SSL 100 input 8000-G+ console with a full film monitor section. This, at the time, was the largest console SSL had built, and they made many audio improvements that were unique to this console.
Everyone loved the new room, and Bruce Swedien got three Grammys for “Best Engineered Album of the Year” on records he mixed at Record One. When SSL came out with the J console, Bruce and Allen decided to put one of those into studio B because the J had Total Recall, and Bruce could go back and forth between both studios and maintain automation in formation. Allen thought this was a great idea, because moving the big Neve to Ocean Way Studio 1 (which was a huge tracking and orchestra room) would be perfect. Rob Cavallo also very much liked Record One. Rob and Allen recorded The Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” there, which won a Grammy for “Song of the Year”. Rob and Allen also recorded and mixed Alanis Morissette’s “Uninvited”, which won an Academy Award for “Best Song”.
Shortly after that, Rob and Allen recorded “Blue Eyes Blue” with Eric Clapton. Eric really liked Record One, especially the big monitors, and this led to Eric coming back to record his Riding with the King album with BB King. Eric did many records after that, at both Record One and Ocean Way. Aerosmith, Shania Twain, Barry White and Mariah Carey all were regulars. When Micheal Jackson finally finished up at Record One, Dr. Dre moved in for several years, doing Eminem, 50 Cent, and his own records including The Chronic. When Dre finally finished up, Allen had just bought out all the Todd-AO scoring stage’s equipment and acquired one of the most unique SSL Film J consoles ever built, and decided to sell his SSL 8000 to Eminem and install the new J.
Shortly after that, Record One A became a hot destination for film mixing. One of the first movies to mix there was Avatar, which became the most profitable film in history. About a year later, Dr. Dre came back and locked out both studios indefinitely. Allen finally sold Record One to Dre not long after Dre made the Beats headphone deal and became a billionaire.
Ocean Way Nashville
The story of how Ocean Way Nashville began started with a plan to create a World Studio Group facility based on Ocean Way LA. Noted producer/engineer Glyn Johns, who was a longterm client at Ocean Way, wanted Allen to build studios in Nashville, New York, and London. Glyn had secured tentative financing and support, and they were moving forward with Nashville as the first to be built.
Noted engineer/producers Bill Schnee and George Massenburg, also close friends of Allen and Glyn’s, were also involved as partners in the initial concept. Phil Ramone was also a big proponent of the New York studios to be built, and had promised complete support. As things often happen in these sort of ventures, the financing part of this project seemed to fade away, so Allen and Bill continued moving forward on their own with the Nashville studios.
Bill and Allen took several trips to look for the ideal location. They found an amazing building in the center of Music Row that was an abandoned church and refractory building, but it is was tied up in court with a crooked evangelist, with no end in sight. Allen and Bill had snuck in the church though a window, and thought it was simply an amazing acoustical space with unlimited potential. Bill and Allen looked at a number of other buildings but never quite found the perfect spot. Allen kept an eye on that church just in case something changed.
Allen finally got a call from one of the attorneys involved, saying that he had gained the ability to sell the property, but warned there were a number of creditors that could gum up the works if it didn’t happen quickly. Allen checked with Bill, but he was on to other things, so Allen called another good friend of his, Gary Belz, who had started House of Blues with Isaac Tigrit, and who had studios in Memphis although he lived in LA. Gary was totally up to join Allen in the construction of the new studio. Gary and Allen closed on the church the following week, and began drawing plans to tie the church and refractory buildings together through glass corridors, and create three studios with three comfortable client lounges, and a full kitchen with a private chef on call as well as a large rooftop terrace. Noted Nashville producer Tony Brown, who would become one of Allen’s very best clients, said not only were the studio acoustics the best in Nashville, but so was the food. Shortly after opening, Allen invited his good client and friend Lionel Ritchie to a sit-down dinner at the studio, and Ritchie was equally impressed.
Studio A was located in the original church, and was capable of holding up to 70 musicians. The studio was 72 feet long by 42 feet wide, with 30-foot ceilings. Allen added two large iso’s with skylights to the front of the church, and created two very large iso’s with 20-foot ceilings on either side of the control room. Allen designed a very large control room and installed a three-channel Ocean Way Audio HR1 monitor system, similar to what he had built at Record One for Bruce Swedien and Michael Jackson.
Allen decided to build yet another massive custom, all-discreet Neve 8078 console, but with even more inputs than the one that was installed in his Studio One in Hollywood. The OWRN Neve was 17 feet long and had 144 inputs. Allen added GML automation that included two automated echo sends and inserts as well. In the quest to equip OWR Nashville at the level of Allen’s other studios, Gary and Allen bought out several studios including a scoring stage in Japan and Bobby Brown’s studios in Atlanta, as well as a large studio rental company in LA to acquire all the gear needed. Allen also provided additional tube mics from his extensive personal collection.
The opening of Ocean Way Nashville was an unparalleled success, and Studio A become the go-to tracking and string room for a host of top Nashville artists and producers. Studio A also became the destination full orchestra scores for not only movies but scores for most of the major video games. Although most of the major country acts used the studios at various times, rock artists like Mark Knopfler said without question that Studio A was the best rock drum room he had ever heard.
Allen would travel to Nashville once a month, but would sometimes engineer longer projects. One of Allen’s favorite projects was a Christmas album with Faith Hill that encompassed a full orchestra, a large choir, a big band, and a full country rhythm section with Faith singing live. That album was produced by two of Nashville’s most prolific producers, Dan Huff and Byron Gallimore, both of whom were longterm clients of Ocean Way Nashville.
Studio B’s tracking room was 32 deep by 24 wide, with a pair of large iso’s. Allen installed the same HR1 monitor system as studio A and designed, although not quite as big as A, a very large control room. Allen supplied all the rooms with the same extensive collection of esoteric outboard gear including Fairchilds, Pultecs, and Langs that all his studios were known for.
Allen and Gary had a long relationship with Sony, having bought many of their 48-track digital machines over the years, and Sony had just come out with the Sony Oxford digital console designed by the Oxford group. Digital was fast becoming the dominant medium, and this console had the best A-D’s and D-A’s Allen had ever heard, so that’s what they installed in B. Allen did a live-to-two track recording session with Larry Carlton (who Allen had designed a studio for in LA) as a sort of demo of what the room could do and sound like for invited guests.
Everything sounded amazing. The Oxford’s ergonomics and plug ins were spectacular, but unfortunately as time went on the Oxford’s processing delay issues turned out to be a insurmountable problem. The early Pro Tools systems had similar problems, but they had gotten past that by then. Sony eventually fixed all those issues, but Allen and Gary couldn’t wait and decided to install a John Musgrave radically modified 96-input Neve VRP Legend console. They installed a huge selection of classic Neve and original API mic pre’s and EQ’s to augment the VRP console. The room became very popular quickly, and was a nice addition to A.
Studio C was the third studio to be completed, and although it had a nice sized recording room with a huge stone fireplace, it was primarily used for overdubs and occasional mixing. The console Allen installed in C was very unique. Allen had been on staff and was sound consultant for the Twentieth Century Fox Studios Scoring stage in LA in his early career. During that time, he had co-designed with Frank Damideo a one-of-a-kind custom scoring console using mostly original API EQ’s and pre’s. There was a point when Fox decided to replace that console, which was only 32 inputs, with a much larger console, and that gave Allen and Gary the opportunity to purchase it and install it in C. The combination worked well, and Allen used smaller Ocean Way portable monitors in C.
A unique opportunity arose to sell Ocean Way Nashville to Belmont University, and it was one of those deals that was hard to turn down. It was also a time when Allen, although still in the studio regularly, was really concentrating full-time on manufacturing Ocean Way Audio products. Allen and Gary were very proud of what they created, and this was also a way for Ocean Way Nashville to continue with their original staff in place. It was also the first time a major university had affiliated itself with a very notable and successful commercial studio. Allen is still involved with Ocean Way Nashville, and has a long term licensing agreement with Belmont.
Last note: Allen did end up pulling out the custom API console in studio C and selling it to his good client Dave Grohl for his second studio at home in LA.
Ocean Way St. Barths
Allen Sides and his wife Anne had been going to St. Barths as a getaway for over twenty five years. St. Barths was unique in the Caribbean in that it had became one of the top showbiz destinations in the world. Fifty insanely great restaurants on one beautiful island, with no crime and stunningly beautiful small hotels and clubs. No fast food, no high rises, and no large cruise ships. The port of St Barths looked more like Ville France than what you might expect on a Caribbean island.
At one point, one of the original resorts named Eden Rock became available, and Allen and Anne were seriously considering buying it as their St. Barths residence. It only had 12 accommodations, but sat out on a rocky point between two pristine white sand beaches. In the end, they decided for the amount of time they could spend in St Barths, it didn’t really make sense.
The next year when they returned, it had sold to a charming English couple who had also bought the hotel next door, and they were going to completely redo everything into a very chic resort. David, the husband, had been a successful industrialist in England, but just got tired of that and sold most everything and moved to St Barths. He retained other various business interests around the world, but Eden Rock became his main thrust. David and his wife Jane were big music lovers, and soon became close friends of Allen and Anne’s.
David was considering building the largest beach front villa on the island, and calling it Villa Rock Star. The name came about because everything related to Eden Rock had a “rock” in the name. David asked Allen if he would consider building an Ocean Way Studio in the 18,000 square foot villa. The business model here was fairly simple. A musical artist could stay at the Villa, do some vocal overdubs, and write the whole stay off as a business expense at one of the hottest resorts in the world. This is not to say the studio didn’t actually do tracking for full albums, but it sure helped keep the studios busy.
David and Allen became partners in the studio, and it opened the following year. Artist including Kenny Chesney, Jimmy Buffet, Johnny Holiday, Steve Martin, and Usher were just a small sampling of the many artists that worked there.
It didn’t take long for Eden Rock to become the premier place to be in St. Barths and the studio became an important part of that scene. The Studio was located under Villa Rock Star. You went downstairs to a glass-enclosed reception room full of classic pictures and platinum records from Ocean Way Hollywood, and then into a beautiful large home theatre with a full stage In the back. Allen fully equipped the stage with a wide range of great classic musical instruments, fully miked up and ready to go. Allen also designed a large, very comfortable control room next to the theater with an iso booth in between. There was full video between the studio and the control room. He put in a 40-input, totally discreet Neve 8068/8088, which was the actual console John Lennon had recorded “Imagine” on. Allen had completely rebuilt the console and added flying faders automation. He installed Ocean Way Audio HR-2 large monitors and Pro2a small monitors.
Often guests from the Villa would just come down and listen to music in the studio. The other important clients at the studio were just very wealthy folks who booked the Villa and maybe had a song they wanted to record or just wanted to make their own record. Allen would provide the technical expertise and whatever production, musicians or engineering that would be required to complete their vision. He worked discreetly with some very interesting people.
The studios stayed busy until Hurricane Irma. A twenty-foot wave came in and destroyed everything. The studio was completely submerged in salt water for close to a month. Nothing survived. Luckily they had great French insurance! There are, however, plans in the works to rebuild on higher ground.
Thousand of albums have been recorded at Ocean Way Recording, including some of the most iconic and best-selling albums in history. Over one billion album units have sold that were recorded at an Ocean Way Recording facility.