The Life and Times of Portland Recording Studios

The control room of SW Portland’s Northwestern Incorporated, Motion Pictures and Recording, where the Kingsmen’s legendary “Louie Louie” was recorded: Photo courtesy of the Robert M. Lindahl familyPortland is changing. Blink once and your favorite local haunt closes its windows. Twice, and there’s a new luxury skyscraper around the corner. It’s obvious when all this new development forces a long-running venue to close its doors, but what about the less visible places where the music is recorded?

so long city was longtime local musician Pat Kearns’ Portland farewell. As the frontman of Blue Skies For Black Hearts and owner of the now closed PermaPress Recording, he left town last year due to the construction of a six-story apartment building adjacent to his studio. It was simply untenable to record with heavy equipment operating nearby.

“Running a recording studio is impossible while they’re working,” Kearns wrote in an email to fans in March 2017. “I can’t survive the one to two years it will take them to complete the project .”

As Kearns landed in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree, Portland native Rob Stroup, another stalwart of the scene, saw costs rise – including property taxes and utilities that made it difficult to charge affordably of his services – and also moved to drier climes, leaving behind his 8 Ball Studio for Truth or Consequences, NM (Look for the desert destination Cosmic Turtle Sound Studios in the near future!) Yet many studio bosses are trying to hold on in the middle of the changing city.

It’s no surprise that the construction of the SE Division had an impact on Larry Crane’s legendary Jackpot! Recording studio, including reducing parking, increasing vehicular traffic and, most importantly, creating “excessive ground noise and vibration that nearly stalled work,” Crane said. There was no prior notification from the city or developers “about when or what would happen directly in front of our business,” and increased density could lead to more noise complaints, Crane notes.

Hallowed Halls owner Greg Allen: photo by Jason QuigleyHallowed Halls owner Greg Allen: photo by Jason QuigleyDespite the changing nature of Portland, one thing remains true: it’s still a very musical city. And that music, at some point, has to be recorded.

When it comes to recording studios, Portland has an embarrassment of riches, many of which are within reach (and budget) of even the most modest independent artists. Some spaces, like Jackpot! and Flora Recording & Playback, consistently attract national talent, while others like The Hallowed Halls or The Map Room cater primarily to regional artists. Others, like The Rye Room, have carved out a niche for themselves producing specialist content – ​​in this case, high-definition videos of live performances paired with studio-quality sound.

To say the least, we have options! An informal survey yields over 75 studios in the metro area, and you can bet that for every one of those commercially advertised spaces, there are plenty of other low-budget, basement studios flying under the radar.

Explore the economics of running a studio in a changing city while reading about notable spaces, producers and engineers that span all genres of the local scene in our recording issue.Explore the economics of running a studio in a changing city while reading about notable spaces, producers and engineers that span all genres of the local scene in our recording issue.Recent advances in recording technology have made it more viable than ever to achieve a decent sounding recording on a laptop at home, and it’s not uncommon for bands to record their first releases themselves. But there are limits to the DIY approach, and artists are likely to get better-sounding results faster by recording in a suitable studio where they have access to a well-tuned room, better isolation, accurate playback, and a higher caliber of microphones, preamps, EQs, compressors and effects processors.

Most importantly, commercial studios provide access to skilled sound engineers and producers who can apply a multitude of recording techniques, such as microphone selection and placement, to shape the sound, contribute to the creative process, solve problems and ultimately help artists realize their vision. . An experienced engineer can make a great record with low-budget equipment. Conversely, an inexperienced recorder can cause even the most expensive microphones to sound poor if they don’t know exactly where to point them.

Keeping a studio afloat is no mean feat, as overhead tends to be high and most are only booked a month or two in advance. Others, despite their success, have fallen prey to Portland’s changing landscape. Producer Jeff Bond has had to move several times in recent years due to changing leases and unsustainable rents. Similarly, Sean Flora’s successful Rock n Roll BnB on Sauvie Island had to close when the property was sold. Some producers, like Bond, John Askew and David Streit, choose to track their clients’ records to an established commercial studio, then take them home to their smaller production studios for mixing.