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30 Years / 30 Studios is a new blog series highlighting some of the studios Vintage King has helped during our three decades in pro audio. We'll talk with studio owners, engineers, and producers about how they got their start, where they are heading, and all the gear they've picked up along the way.
Learn more about Vintage King's 30th anniversary here.
In my nearly decade-long tenure at Vintage King, I've never met a pair like Zach Fisher and Jack Ruley. These best friends are more like brothers or an old married couple who can joke with the best of them. Thing is, they are so quick to let you in on the dynamic that you immediately feel like you are a part of "their thing."
You see, Zach originally built Big Bad Sound in his Silver Lake home, and when tracking bands like Rancid became too cramped in such a small space, he called on Jack to help him. Jack quit his job and the boys set up shop in an old movie prop house. The ensuing build-out would result in a beautiful two-room recording studio that would land Zach work with Weezer, Local Natives, and Ricky Montgomery.
Enough of our version of the studio's story, let's talk to Zach.
Talk about the journey from working out of your house to the building you are in now. How hard was it to make the move and not lose out on important time working on records?
Working out of the house was a lot of fun for a long time. We were so young and just starting out, so it was easy to have bands and friends crash for a week and record all night. 16-hour days in the studio are a dream when you are 23. We would host parties, shows, and jam sessions with friends and clients to celebrate the end of a big session or the release of a record we made.
The space stayed manageable for a handful of years, but as we grew and our clientele grew with us, it became more and more difficult to achieve the level of professionalism we wanted out of the house studio. The demands of our artists grew, and we found ourselves using the bedrooms as iso booths and the living room as a lounge. The kitchen became stocked with the band’s foods, and there was not enough room for a studio and a living environment.
As the studio became more successful, we invested in better equipment and started to appeal to outside engineers. It became especially difficult when a band would rent out the studio and bring their production team in. The whole house would get taken over, and we would have nowhere to stay during the session. The cramped space in combination with the growing demand made the decision to expand a foregone conclusion.
The transition was not as difficult as we had anticipated. The increased financial responsibility of the new location, build costs, and equipment definitely added new levels of stress compared to the house, but our real concern was whether or not people would like the new facility. We had built our reputation as the cool and affordable studio in a house in Silver Lake. We had an atmosphere and vibe that was relaxed and DIY but with really nice equipment and a great-sounding room. It was like being at your friend’s house, except you would leave with a professional-level recording.
The new place was a few steps up. It was more professional and commercial, and to some, more intimidating. But luckily it was received really well. A lot of our old clientele from the house studio still use us today, but we have also been able to grow and accommodate much larger and more demanding projects that require a more traditional studio environment.
How did you first become aware of Vintage King? What was it like working with the company as Big Bad Sound grew?
I first became aware of Vintage King when I was just getting started. I knew I wanted to build a studio one day, but at the time it was just a pipe dream. I would look up equipment my school had, and kept landing on Vintage King’s website. Then I would go down the rabbit hole of building dream studio gear lists. Around the time I was starting to put together version one of the home studio, Vintage King Los Angeles opened its first location down the street, and that became the go-to place for everything I needed.
I remember when we first started, we bought a Toft ATB console and a few select pieces of gear like mics, 500 Series units, stands, and other little things. VK was super helpful at putting together all the cabling and patch bay requirements for the console, and helping us get all the “not so sexy” things a studio needs like adapters, specialty cables, and DI boxes.
It’s also been nice to be able to demo and shoot out different microphones or preamps in person. That's how we were able to make confident choices in building our mic locker. And when we’ve run into odd issues in the studio with either electrical hum or other anomalies, we could just call up Vintage King up and they would have a solution that we could pick up that day.
What are some gear favorites you've gotten from us over the years?
Some of my favorite pieces I’ve gotten from Vintage King would have to be the FLEA Microphones 12s. They mostly live on drum overheads and piano, but sound great on guitars and the right vocalist as well. The FLEAs get daily use at the studio. The Pultec EQP-1S3 is also a favorite. I use them on the mix buss, piano, vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, it's honestly hard to find something the Pultecs don’t work on.
The Apogee Symphony MkII also was a huge step up in conversion sound quality for us. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the sound of converters for a long time, but then we did a session where the engineer specifically requested the Apogees. I was blown away at the difference. Vintage King let us borrow the converters for the session, but they sounded so good that I couldn’t give them back, so I bought them. That was extremely rad of yall.
How has the industry changed since you opened your doors and how has your studio adapted to those changes?
We started the studio in 2013, and have seen so many changes in both the recording industry and music industry as a whole. I honestly think it was more difficult in the earlier years. I know streaming doesn't offer the same profits as record sales, but over the past few years, we have had multiple clients blow up from a combination of streaming and social media. It’s really inspiring to see how successful you can be as an independent artist these days.
That being said, not all genres of music require giant rooms, multiple isolation booths, and big consoles anymore. That’s why we built our Studio Two to accommodate more modern styles of music production. It has a much larger control room with plenty of space for producer stations, keyboard stations, and artist comfort accommodations. The live room is still plenty big enough to accommodate a drumkit, and the vocal booth allows for isolation when necessary. But the room as a whole goes back to our house studio roots. It's cozy and sounds good. It’s loaded with some of the best equipment on the market like an SSL AWS 900 console, 1073 preamps, Distressors, and Neumann mics, but feels intimate and comfortable as if you were at a friend’s house.
What sets Big Bad Sound apart from other recording spaces?
Being in Los Angeles, we are up against some of the nicest studios in the world, many of which have a 50+ year recording history that we can’t compete with. We try and stand out by offering a level of hospitality and service that sets us apart from the rest. We are young and hungry and understand that the studio experience is much more than just the recording process. When an artist or engineer comes to work with us, we want them to feel like rock stars. We are also constantly servicing and maintaining our equipment so that it is functioning in tip-top shape for all of our sessions.
What sets Vintage King apart from other pro audio gear companies?
For us, the thing that sets Vintage King apart from other companies is their willingness to accommodate our needs because they understand that nothing should get in the way of the recording session. There have been multiple occasions where we needed something mid-session and Vintage King was able to pull through quickly and keep the tape rolling (quite literally.) That service and the ability to demo and test gear in person have kept us loyal customers for over 10 years.
Looking back on the history of Big Bad Sound, what are some of your proudest moments?
It’s pretty wild to look back on what the studio looked like in its first iteration. I remember at one time I couldn’t afford to build acoustic treatment, so we just nailed pink batting insulation to the wall and told people not to touch it. Seeing its evolution through the house studio and now into our commercial facility makes me really proud of what we have been able to accomplish over the last 10 years.
I started as a musician and know how special it is to make a record, and I feel very honored that so many people have trusted us with their art. Last year was a big year for us because we were involved with our first GRAMMY-nominated project. We recorded all the basic tracks for Weezer’s song “All My Favorite Songs." We spent a couple of weeks with those dudes recording to 2” tape! The first of what I’m sure will be many nominations to come.
What's in store for Big Bad Sound in 2023 and beyond?
We always want to be able to provide an affordable and high-quality creative environment for artists to make music. As we continue to grow and as the industry changes, we will continue to create new spaces to accommodate the demand, whether it be building smaller studio spaces or more rooms similar to our current set-ups. But I’ve always been interested in the idea of retreat locations. Somewhere in the woods or the desert that allows for lodging and a space to escape the distractions of the city and modern living.
Want more Big Bad Sound? Watch our Inside Look below:
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