At the Pico Boulevard recording studio Threshold Sound + Vision, ZZ Top is the talk of the day. A Neve 8078 consul that, since 1974, has traveled through recording studios between California and New York is cued for Director of Engineering Peter Barker to capture the perfect mix. Upstairs, Marc Schrobilgen, Director of Video Operations, is ready to edit the accompanying visuals. And when those basics are done, the studio team will master the footage to include 5.1 surround sound for the famed Texas band.
Recording studios might dot street corners across Southern California, but Threshold exists in rare form as a facility that can handle everything from basic recording to mastering to video editing to vinyl cutting. This sort of versatility has helped the studio survive in a music industry whose game plan seems to change on an almost daily basis.
“We’ve become more efficient,” says Schrobilgen. “So, we’ve been able to facilitate [industry] needs and their budgets because we can handle everything under one roof.”
Threshold was founded by Barker and Schrobilgen after the demise of Sony’s Santa Monica recording facility, where both were employed, in 2001. The two purchased the Neve 8078 (“the pinnacle of analog recording consuls,” says Barker) and some other equipment from the studio and opened up shop. In late 2006, they moved from their Centinela Avenue digs to the Pico headquarters, previously home to Scotti Brothers Records. Their first session in the renovated space was a collaboration between Grammy winner Herbie Hancock and Marcus Miller. Since then, the studio has helped create projects for Black Sabbath, R.E.M., Massive Attack, and many others.
With the increased accessibility of home recording equipment, one might think that the proper recording studio is becoming obsolete. That, however, has not been the case for Threshold.
“It just kind of changed the work flow,” says Barker of the glut of semi-affordable digital recording equipment on the market. “The advantage is that there is more music being made and a lot more music creators. It’s much more democratic.”
He adds, “The smart music maker is utilizing a studio like ours for a key part of the process.” He cites local rock artist Tim Fagan as an example. “He used our studio for what we’re good for, and he used his home studio for what was good there and came back and mixed.”
Because Threshold also has video editing capabilities and a second studio geared towards video and television post-production sound, the company can, and often does, go far beyond album-making tasks. Threshold helped put together VH1’s Decades Rock Live series and just finished sound for Oxygen’s popular reality show The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency. In addition, the studio has become in demand for the increasingly popular 5.1 surround sound live album and DVD releases.
“We do a lot of live stuff and a lot of concerts, and that stuff is huge right now,” says Schrobilgen. “It’s becoming more popular than some of the recorded albums because people want to see the visuals, they want to get more bang for their buck. Record labels are now including more visual elements, which helps us. It keeps us even busier because we have to facilitate the live aspect of it as well.”
Threshold Sound + Vision also functions as a small record label, having recently issued Amy Kuney’s self-titled EP and currently preparing for the singer-songwriter’s debut full-length album. But Threshold’s ambitions don’t completely revolve around music. The studio is currently making a conscious effort to become an environmentally sound business with strong ties to the local community.
Threshold has been working with Sustainable Works to become a certified green business. Michael Perricone, Director of Audio Post, explains how much of the modern technology employed in the studio has helped to conserve energy.
“Anytime you’re working in an environment with all this new technology gear, the electrical footprint is like an eighth of what it was in the old days,” he says. “Back in the day, I would have to figure out a $500, sometimes $1,000, electric bill a month. With the new gear, it’s more efficient.”
The company is also relying on environmentally friendly paper products for promotional material, as well as for Amy Kuney’s forthcoming release.
Additionally, Schrobilgen sits on the board of the Pico Improvement Organization and is looking to further involve Threshold in the community. Currently, the studio works with Virginia Avenue Park, which has its own small studio, to provide internships. The company is also hoping to develop a program in connection with Santa Monica College. So far, the young, aspiring producers and engineers have appreciated this opportunity.
“People get excited about the analog stuff,” says Schrobilgen, “because in this generation, the digital generation, they’ve grown up with computers, so when they take a step back, it’s cool to see how the process starts.”