Biz News
Right on track
Two San Francisco recording studios lay down the local sound.

By Phoebe Riot

DIGITAL MUSIC RECORDINGS may be cheaper, faster, and more efficient to make than analog ones, but when it comes to old-school sound quality, local recording studios know that analog wins. And in the Bay Area's close-knit music scene, John Vanderslice's Tiny Telephone (415-695-9288, www.tinytelephone.com) and Scott Solter's 15th Street Studio (415-487-0423, scott@boxharp.com) refuse to abandon the longtime quality standard of analog recording.

While other studios do both kinds of recording, analog usually takes a back seat. "Many recording studios say they offer analog recording, but if you go into their studios, the analog tools will be hidden in a corner gathering dust," Vanderslice says. "The amount of upkeep and tuning involved in this equipment is huge, and some studios just can't be bothered with it." Vanderslice and Solter are musicians first and engineers second, which is exemplified by their dedication to getting the right sound.

Promoted mainly by word of mouth, Tiny Telephone and 15th Street haven't needed to advertise to get the attention of the local music scene. And they're affordable – unlike the complex hidden costs charged by some studios, both have a rate of $350 a day, plus $200 to $250 for an engineer.

Though the studios are separate businesses, they're intrinsically linked. Solter, owner and founder of 15th Street, used to work at Tiny Telephone, and he still uses the equipment there for his final mixing process. Vanderslice recorded his latest album, Cellar Door, at 15th Street. And the two musicians recently toured together.

Local musical darlings Deerhoof, Erase Errata, and the now-defunct Beulah and national acts like Mates of State, Death Cab for Cutie, and Shellac are only a few of the bands who've turned to Vanderslice – who made a name for himself with his solo music – when they were ready to commit their music to tape. Opened in 1997 his recording studio is near Cesar Chavez Street tucked in a warehouse complex that's also home to Survival Research Laboratories. Despite Tiny Telephone's laid-back feel, the crew are meticulous about their work. The 1,700-square-foot space is packed with revamped vintage instruments, gear, and recording equipment. And Vanderslice surrounds himself with seasoned engineers, some of whom have up to 20 years of experience.

In 1999, Solter, a self-taught engineer and producer, built his own studio as a way to fulfill his curiosity about the process of putting together records. He started out doing free recordings for bands like the Court and Spark and built his business to be a hands-on, interactive studio dedicated to bringing out the unique creativity of the artist.

After being displaced from his original location during the dot-com bust, Solter relocated to his current spot, a former garage in the Mission District. Listening to his studio's clean, professional recordings, one would never guess they came from a 1,000-square-foot garage.

Solter has worked with bands such as Lazarus, Tarentel, and For Stars, and his preference is to collaborate with musicians who are innovative and willing to experiment with their sound. He fills the studio with tons of instruments, including 15 vintage keyboards and an array of percussion instruments from around the world, and thinks of them as tools to help bands move beyond their usual reliance on sampling. "When some bands enter the studio, they ask, 'What, are we recording a world beat album or something?' " Solter says. "But having all these instruments around keeps the creativity going. They pick them up, and it changes their thinking and listening patterns. It helps them evolve." He's also been known to make field trips with musicians, going out of his way to record instruments like church organs and experimenting with different sounds and environments. Few low-rent digital recording studios can deliver that level of service. The service and quality of the extra effort is apparent in the finished sound.

Tiny Telephone's seventh-anniversary party takes place Oct. 29-30, Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market, S.F. $10-$12 (both shows $18). Call for times. (415) 861-5016.