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Inside the RIAA’s New D.C. Headquarters, Where Members of Congress Can Come to Play

"We have toured a few members [of Congress] around and some who have been here have said, 'Can I bring my guitar? Can I go to the recording studio?'"

The Recording Industry Association of America is opening the doors to its new D.C. headquarters — a majestic, modern, multi-use space for which the descriptor “office” doesn’t seem entirely adequate.

Home to a new state-of-the-art recording studio and a sizable performance venue, the headquarters – the vision of RIAA CEO Mitch Glazier and COO Michele Ballantyne – showcases the organization’s 70-year history and beckons enthusiasts from Capitol Hill and beyond to wander inside. Walking through the two-story space, located in the city’s East End neighborhood not far from the RIAA’s former digs, it’s hard not to be immersed in the power of music. And that’s exactly the point.

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“Music touches everyone, and this is a chance for us to show policymakers and key stakeholders a little more about what we do, what people at the record labels do and what goes into making music,” says Ballantyne, who hopes more lawmakers will head over from the staid halls of Congress. “And not just show them, let them feel it too. There’s a sense, a vibe you get when you step in here.”

The heartbeat of that vibe is the carefully curated selection of the organization’s trademark Gold and Platinum program plaques, which are accented by one-of-a-kind museum pieces and artwork. Design and décor elements, like light fixtures that imitate classic vinyl records and graffiti-inspired touches — including a mural that repeats the words “Music Is Life Is Music” painted on the cement lobby floor and a wall emblazoned with the parental advisory label the RIAA adopted in the ‘80s — amplify the ambiance. Visitors can even take a selfie in a designated area that situates them in the center of a mock RIAA plaque.

RIAA office
The Recording Industry Association of America’s new D.C. headquarters Courtesy of RIAA

Hitmakers beckon at every turn. There’s a framed homage to Prince that features an image of the artist that appears to have been created from shapes carved from his vinyl albums. Also on display is an RIAA logo mural composed entirely of lyrics and statements artists have made about achieving gold or platinum status. An oversized photo of Bob Marley — the same one that graced the conference room in the RIAA’s former HQ — welcomes visitors into a meeting space, while a massive image of Aretha Franklin covers an entire wall of the main conference room.

There’s also a wall dedicated to music’s female superstars, another that celebrates the RIAA’s growing Latin certification program and still another that houses embellished Diamond plaques for artists who’ve achieved the highest level of RIAA certification.

What are likely to be the biggest draws are both new to RIAA HQ: A fully equipped recording studio, designed by a tech expert from Interscope Records, and RIAA Live, a performance space complete with a stage, soundboard, pro lighting, flexible seating options and a kitchen/catering space. High-top tables overlook the area from the perimeter of the floor above to give it a club feel, while surrounding pieces of furniture were selected for their flexible functionality, like a credenza that can easily be flipped into a buffet or bar. There’s even a hidden stage entrance for artists who want to enter directly from the studio.

RIAA
A view from the floor of RIAA Live at RIAA’s D.C. headquarters. Cathy Applefeld Olson

While the RIAA’s own Capitol Hill Mixtape podcast is recorded in the studio, the hope is that it will become a destination for artists who are in town for a performance at one of D.C.’s many venues. It’s already generating some local buzz. “We have toured a few members [of Congress] around and some who have been here have said, ‘Can I bring my guitar? Can I go to the recording studio?’ It’s so cool, and it’s really lucky we have that to offer them,” Ballantyne says.

The stage, where the RIAA envisions hosting performances by visiting artists, happy hours and special events, is also open to the greater D.C. music community.

RIAA office
The Recording Industry Association of America’s new D.C. headquarters Courtesy of RIAA

“We are obviously going to have our events, we have podcasts and we want members to come in and talk to us. But it’s also this community music space where others are welcome,” says Rose Connelly, RIAA’s vp of creative and brand strategy, who played an integral role in designing the new headquarters. “Mitch is very much about the music community being all one team, and how do we make this space accessible to everyone and make it easy for folks to show up and perform or record.”

Ballantyne says an official opening is in the works for later in the summer, pending any pandemic-forced delays.

RIAA office
The Recording Industry Association of America’s new D.C. headquarters Courtesy of RIAA