Los Angeles-based Mad Muse Studios is expanding the idea of what a recording studio can offer to artists in this new era of music making. The team, comprised of Matt Salazar, Lucas Flood, and Zulma Tercero, run a tight ship at their state-of-the-art, open-plan studio offering traditional studio services like recording, mixing and mastering, along with video production and video live-streaming, for the complete artist package. Mad Muse also collaborates with a popular artist discovery and showcase platform called Writer’s Block Songwriters, which connects the singer/songwriter community to the larger industry.

As part of our 30th Anniversary celebrations, we sat down with Matt to talk about the goal for Mad Muse Studios, how Vintage King has been a part of their journey over the years, and what he thinks a studio can do to adapt to the ever-changing music business.

Take us back to when you were setting up Mad Muse. What was your goal for the studio?

The big goal was to have one large creative space that's not separated by any sort of walls like in a traditional studio with a separate control room and a live room. Those traditional spaces were amazing and they really suited the production of that time, but now, most new artists are really not used to working in a traditional studio environment; they're more used to working at home with their friends or co-writing songs with different people in their home studios. 

While in the studio with young artists, I noticed that they were a little nervous–almost everyone was a little antsy, kind of like when you go into the doctor's office and you're like, “What's going to happen?” [Laughs] Specifically, I noticed that vocalists really wanted to be in the control room–they didn't want to have that separation, they wanted a more communal way of making records. So I thought, ‘What if I took a really big space that was like one really, really big bedroom that, acoustically, could have different areas–the live room still sounded like a live room, and the control room was still really controlled and had great acoustics?’ There's a lot of planning involved in that. There are books upon books about traditional studio design that have proven information to build a traditional studio, but because we wanted something unique, a big open space, that's way outside the norm, so one of the big things was planning.

We did have space on our side–a 5000-square-foot building–so as long as we could build with distance and acoustics in mind, it would all work out; you still have bleed, but it's not really an issue for us. 

One of the things that I've really enjoyed is working with wireless in-ear systems while we're tracking. Let's say we're miking an acoustic guitar–instead of guessing, you listen to the feed and maneuver the mic accordingly. Things get done so quickly because you have the energy there–everyone's in the room, tones are shaped really fast, and we're able to get some great sounds without guessing what the translation of mic placement will be.

Can you tell us about some of the most memorable artists you've worked with over the years?

In my younger years, it was pretty awesome to work with large orchestras and things like that, but lately, we've been doing a cover song series where the studio brings in artists like Vintage Trouble and Them Evils. Or we bring people together, who've never performed with each other before, like Rudy Sarzo (who was in the original iteration of Ozzy Osborne) with Kevin Martin (vocalist of Candlebox)–we get to take all these people, put them in a room together and think about a cool song to cover. It feels like those early days and everything feels new again! As you get older, at least for me, there's a template that starts to set in and this allows me to get away from that and experiment with things.

This started over COVID when no one was touring and it became a lot of fun because we were taking young guys, pairing them with guys who've had 30-year careers, and covering some great songs. The song is already there, you don't have to focus on that part of it–you can really just focus on great performances and sounds, which is where Vintage King comes in.

How did you first become aware of Vintage King and what was your first experience working with us?

I started trading vintage equipment in my teenage years and it wasn't like it is now; I remember buying a Neumann U67 and Neve 2254s off eBay. Sometimes stuff was broken and you couldn’t fix it! Around the late '90s and early 2000s, someone connected me with Mike Nehra. We hit it off and he helped me outfit some of my early studios.

He helped facilitate things in different types of ways: for example, if we were looking for something very specific, like a pair of Pultecs or an AKG C24 or something like that, he’d facilitate that, and he also helped figure out the best way to get something done. 

I think Vintage King were the only people we worked with for many years because they were the only ones that offered that level of service–it was very hands-on, there was a lot of communication, and whatever it took, Mike would get it done. I can't think of the last time I spoke with Mike, because I'm sure he's growing the company, but our studio manager Zulma has built relationships with other people at VK over the years.

What are some of your favorite pieces of gear that you have purchased from Vintage King? 

Definitely our AKG C24–it's one of those microphones that will probably stay with the studio forever. I think it was on our wish list and it was impossible to find–Mike knew what we were looking for and when something would pop up he'd let us know about it. Sometimes we had something that we were willing to let go of and he’d say, “Hey, somebody over here is looking for that.” There was a community around Vintage King in the early days and Mike would facilitate things. So I’d say the C24 is something that has definitely stuck around forever and is very memorable.

How has Vintage King helped you with gear selection, purchasing, and servicing in the past?

When you're a commercial facility, sometimes you need a piece of gear right now. We once needed a 2 or 3-channel 500 Series rack that I think BAE makes. We had all these large API frames, we needed something smaller, and we needed it immediately but we couldn’t find it–Zulma, our studio manager, was looking to order it and we’d been told that they were backed up for a month or whatever. Normally, that would be fine, but we really needed to have it quickly–it's a small piece of equipment that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but Vintage King was able to get it for us in two days and we got it in time for the session.

So that’s easy with Vintage King–it might be something really big (like if you're looking for an AKG C24) or it might be something small, where it's just utilitarian (like a 3-space 500 Series rack), but if you need it, in a commercial environment, you need it. It could be that a client made a request for it, or for whatever reason we've deemed it necessary–when you're working in a commercial atmosphere, Vintage King can be really helpful.

What sets Vintage King apart from other pro audio gear companies?

I'd say it’s the relationships they have. There’s a depth of knowledge, and sometimes, maybe the salesperson might not know a specific thing, which is fine, but then they're going to talk to somebody else, and someone within the organization is going to connect the dots to get you what you need. It's not just about sales, it's about more than that. 

How has the industry changed since you first opened your doors and how has your studio adapted to those changes?

What used to set a studio apart was, firstly, the acoustic space–if you were working with a band or an orchestra, you needed a certain space that was properly designed. The second thing was the gear–typically the console, Neve, API, or SSL, depending on what room you're in. Today, everyone has their home studio space and there are so many clones of gear and things like that. The commercial studio really has to stand for something more than that–it can't just be, “Well, we've got some new preamps and some cool microphones and we've got a great espresso maker.” It has to be more than that.

I'm a gear nerd; I have been since I was a young guy, but that really only goes so far–people only care so much. It’s about integration, how the gear works with your business, and how to operate with speed–people don't have a million dollars to make a record anymore. I remember in my younger days when I was around 20 or 21 years old, managers would call me to develop bands to be signed and basically, every band ended up with deals. I remember there was a band complaining that they only got $250,000 for their first record and they were mad because their friend’s band got a million dollars. [Laughs] That would be monstrous now because labels are exploratory–they're going to give a bunch of artists twenty grand to do something, see what hits, and drop the rest. So you can't just say, “Oh, we're going to set up a studio with all this crazy gear and that's what's going to bring clientele in.” The studio really has to adapt to do other types of projects. 

What Mad Muse is today, is about finding a way where we can service younger artists along with the larger shoots–we'll do large film shoots that have much bigger budgets, and those really help keep the studio afloat so we can do all this other stuff like Writer's Block Songwriters and other cool things. There isn’t one piece to the business model–you're working with a lot of different types of people and you need to be tooled up to work with those people.

We had an SSL G+ console that Vintage King had facilitated, that we sold over COVID. We were doing standard studio projects but also shooting music videos, or working with brands like Spotify would come in and we’d do specialty shoots, and I couldn't just leave it set up for me to work on, I couldn’t monopolize it for myself anymore. [Laughs] It was such a great piece of equipment and when it was just for me, it was awesome but as a business model we had to adjust so that we could work with more types of people. Vintage King helped us not only with the SSL when that was the right thing for our business, but they also helped us with the transition–we had to change converters and all kinds of other things. Through those phases of our business, for whatever we needed, whether it was helping to negotiate on a large-format console or getting us the right converters, Vintage King helped us through those phases.

As a business, you have to be really nimble, you have to be able to move and adjust. Sometimes you want to try things, and see what happens if you start offering a certain type of service; sometimes you say, “We tested that, and it wasn't great, let's transition to this other thing.” As a commercial facility, we're always moving, because business is moving–we operate inside the rules of commerce, and again, Vintage King can help us do that.

You offer both audio and video services at Mad Muse–tell us a bit about that.

When we moved into the larger space, we were doing a little bit of video content at the time and we didn't necessarily even think that would be part of our business model–we weren't planning on it at all. However, people loved what we were doing and then some pretty major productions started to come in and utilize us and we just kept expanding–our studio manager Zulma is also a great video producer and she handles all the video work.

With those video projects, we’re dealing with a whole different level of budget; they're our bread and butter, and that really allows me personally to do what I like, which is working with young artists. I like hearing all the new music first; that's what has always excited me but again, that costs money and we kind of offset it with these other things. 

It’s been amazing to see how the visuals being merged with the audio performance can shape the whole experience–it gives you a new appreciation of how you can experience music. 

Looking back, what are you most proud of or excited about in terms of your studio's history?

I think I'm most proud of what we're doing now. We weren't sure, to be honest with you, if we were even going to survive through shutting down for COVID and we really had to come together and figure out how to make things work. 

I think about this all the time–in my younger years, I don't think I would have been able to do it; I wouldn't have had the people around me to keep the studio going. Unfortunately, I see a lot of facilities closing and as the industry changes, I'm proud of the fact that we're even here.

I wake up every day, just pumped to go to work, be in the space, and see what we're going to create. Sometimes we're mixing or doing traditional studio things, and sometimes we're all working together to make this one huge piece of art happen–the video department and the audio team. It’s really fast-paced, almost like a military exercise; we've gotten really good at it and it's fun because you're always on the edge of your seat and it's exciting.

I think it’s rare–we have a pretty major audio facility, probably one of the best studios in Los Angeles, and we also have really great video facilities and staff that are really high quality. I'm super pumped about it, we have a great business and it's continuing to grow and grow, thanks to God. 

What are your plans for the future of your studio?

Right now, as more clients book sessions that incorporate both audio and video, we're focused on expanding the video services we offer–Zulma just did a massive upgrade of cameras and lighting; we also upgraded the space to be more efficient for the video team. As I was explaining earlier how quickly I can work with the musicians in the space, the video department is adapting that philosophy as well. They’re wiring the rooms with video patchbays–like we have mic lines, they now have video lines, and things like that which allow them to work really fast and we're really pushing more into being an integrated facility, so that's great.

Writer's Block Songwriters is continuing to expand into more cities, so that's even more songs for us to film and mix–I think we're bringing over 40 live performances a month back to the studio for post-production.

That's really at the forefront of what we're doing, and then we're bringing together all these different musicians and we're producing more covers, which is, again, video content that will be coming out soon.

Want to learn more about Mad Muse Studios? Check out this interview about the studio's SSL G+ Series console!

Patrick CarpenterIf you’re interested in purchasing gear for your studio, contact a Vintage King Audio Consultant via email or by phone at 866.644.0160.