Los Angeles is peppered with discreet, world-class recording studios where all manner of aural magic is apt to take place right under the noses of clueless neighbors. Take Mark Schulman’s home away from home, an 800 sq. ft. garage-top loft tucked down a back alley somewhere in Venice Beach surrounded by nondescript apartment buildings and industrial yards. What began ten years ago as a humble storage space for Schulman’s piles of gear while he kept busy touring with the likes of Billy Idol, Stevie Nicks, Cher, and Velvet Revolver, has steadily morphed into a fully professional commercial studio known as West Triad.
“We ended up completely framing the entire room,” Schulman says proudly, “floating the walls, floating the floors, building other walls, building a control room, putting up a wall in the middle of the space, and we did it really inexpensively. We used bamboo, which is the cheapest wood to use, and some really good insulation.”
There are no parallel walls, and they double-pane glassed the control room with one pane slightly angled away from the other and enough dead space in between. “The skylights are triple-paned glass, though, so they’re not completely soundproof. And we’re in the path of the Santa Monica airport, so late afternoon [mimics airplane noise]. You know, man, when you’re recording frickin’ drums, you ain’t going to hear that. I mean, if you we’re recording a solo violinist in here, there would be issues.”
In case you’re wondering if 800 sq. ft. (600, really, with the vocal booth cutting out a chunk) is “big enough,” Schulman is quick with the insider tip. “I can control the size of the room based on a couple of things,” he explains. “One is how alive or dead the room is, and two, with compression and ‘tack and release,’ which is a little secret; if you compress the room at a slow release time, it makes the room sound really, really big. I would never want to record drums in a bigger room than this. This room, when it’s fully open, is almost uncontrollably big, and it’s a beautiful sound.”
For the last four years, Schulman has been sharing this space with a couple of fellow Berklee alumni, Julian Coryell and Erich Gobel, pooling recording gear, splitting studio time, even playing on each other’s projects. On the day of DRUM!’s visit, Coryell is busy mixing a Japanese rock opera that features Schulman’s drum tracks. That’s saying something, considering Coryell recorded everything else himself, including vocals, in Japanese, a language he learned for the express purpose of cutting this disc. (“He’s one of those guys you want to slap,” Schulman laughs. “He’s a genius.”)
With home recording rapidly becoming the new normal, Schulman has been quick to jump on board. “I realize the industry is changing,” he says. “I remember a couple of years ago at the NAMM show we were doing a signing at the Sabian booth and I was hanging with Dave Weckl. And Weckl had told me, he said, ‘Hey, man, I haven’t left my own studio for over a year! I haven’t even done any sessions outside.’ And I realized, Wow, you know, everybody’s doing this. At least most of who you would call the top session guys in Los Angeles, just about every single one of them has their own studio. And a studio can be just a garage or a bedroom or, you know? If you have a computer, you have some microphones, some microphone preamps, and some drums, and you know how to make your drums sound good, and you have a basic understanding of miking and signal path, and a little bit of an understanding about signal processing, you could record your drums and sound really good!”
These days, when he’s not touring with Pink, blowing minds on one of his exhaustive worldwide clinic tours, giving corporate motivational presentations (as a cancer survivor with unyielding positivity and stratospheric energy levels, Schulman is a natural at this), or tending to his new baby girl (the 40-something drummer is a beaming first-time dad), he can be found in the studio, dutifully mixing and recording for a variety of potential customers.
“I rarely even talk to people on the phone,” he admits. “Someone just sends me the mp3, I listen to it. I usually do two or three takes, and if I’m not sure how complex or how simple they want it, I’ll give them both options. And I may do one take very simple, very sparse. And another take a lot more embellishments, trickier fills. But I always think about the music — and you go with your instincts. The things we play or don’t play matter. You get that responsibility, because every single thing you play, you’re changing someone’s life. And I mean that literally. If I play this feel instead of that feel at that moment, it’s going to affect somebody even if it’s slightly, preconsciously, suddenly. It changes their perception. It’s that concept of the butterfly effect, you know? Any little thing will effect every thing for the rest of your life, or for the rest of the planet.”
Whoa. Talk about red-light fever!