Mike Caren, creative officer for Warner Music Group and CEO of his own music hub — Artist Partners and Artist Publishing Group — has spent nearly a decade looking for the perfect Los Angeles space in which to build his A Studio complex. After several years on Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood, where, he says, “crazy homeless people and violence” were a nearly nightly occurrence, the 39-year-old music veteran happened upon a space in the Fairfax district that fit the bill and bought it.
“Studios are theoretically bad investments in that they’re very specific,” says the industry veteran, whose credits include Ed Sheeran, David Guetta, Charlie Puth and Flo Rida. “For me, I wanted to work in music for 25 more years, and I’m always going to need a place to make music. It wasn’t really about the investment aspect of it, it’s about the use.”
And the 6,000-square foot space will get plenty of it. With four recording studios, multiple writing and editing rooms and offices to house Caren’s staff, it also serves creative and A&R needs across WMG, including labels Atlantic, Warner Bros. and their subsidiaries. Its other purpose, Caren proudly notes, will be to provide an atmosphere of talent incubation, be it for aspiring songwriters, engineers and producers and artists. “It’s a neutral environment that invites collaboration,” he says. Among the artists to have worked at A Studio since it unofficially opened in late Spring: Jess Glynne, Guetta, PartyNextDoor, Flo Rida, Jason Derulo, Trey Songz, Kevin Gates, Kehlani, Fleur East, Sean Paul, Backstreet Boys and Ciara.
Caren achieves a sense of community with a combination of open spaces, natural light and lounges not confined to a single studio. “In our last studio space, we didn’t have the luxury of individual lounges and we saw magic happening in the common spaces,” he explains. “We saw writers and artists get to know each other. We saw sessions and relationships birthed out of being forced into sharing public space. The results were so powerful.”
Another important feature for today’s music-making process: all of the rooms “are completely convertible.” Says Caren: “They have connections to the vocal booths in all four corners of the room. None of the furniture is fixed. The acoustics are designed where you can reposition the engineer. The future will use the rooms differently than we’re using them now.”
It’s an important distinction for a newly designed music space in L.A., the U.S. city with the largest concentration of recording studios, most of which were designed in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. “Rock bands tracking songs is how people created music then,” says Caren. “I relished the opportunity to build a space for how people use studios now, and one that could be modified based on how music will be made in the future.”
That means not a single console will be found on the grounds, unless it’s being used as a decorative piece. Where nods to the past will be seen (and heard) are among the classic pianos (one per room and each from a different decade), vintage synthesizers and microphones.
“Whenever an artist asks, instead of renting a microphone, we buy it and they can keep using it,” says Caren. “David Guetta wanted a certain set of speakers, we bought those instead of renting them. It saves them tons of money off their budget and it saves us. It’s a win-win.”
Atlantic Records Chairman & CEO Craig Kallman, who was instrumental in helping the complex come to life, agrees. “It’s always been our mission to provide the most complete and supportive environment for our artists in every aspect of their careers,” he says. “In the great tradition of the legendary Atlantic Studios … we are able to offer [a] relaxed, inspiring state-of-the-art space to make amazing music — where it all starts.”
Indeed, visitors are reminded of the indelible mark that Atlantic has made on music history via black-and-white photographs of such legends as Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler adorning the walls. Theirs was a collaboration of label head and producer — both record men — not unlike Caren’s mash-up of a position. “If this isn’t a commitment, then I don’t know what is,” he says. “I invite every label, every partner to come visit, to [work here and] use any of the ideas that they like. Give writers and artists more creative time. It’s just good for the industry.”
See exclusive photos inside A Studio here.