Greg Curtis

1) GREG, YOU ARE THE FOUNDER AND OWNER OF ONE OF THE BUSIEST SCORING STAGES (THE BRIDGE) IN LOS ANGELES. IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT MAKES YOUR FACILITY SO ATTRACTIVE TO COMPOSERS AND PRODUCERS?

Thanks, Adonis Aletras! So happy and honored to be part of this series.  We found success by creating our own market. There simply isn’t any studio like The Bridge Recording. We defy tradition! Scoring Stage 2.0.The Bridge was built, from a clean sheet of paper, specifically to record music for picture. For me that entailed:

• Acoustics suited for cinematic composition, as defined by the historic large stages in Hollywood. This is an acoustic signature that is lacking in any other similar-sized space in Los Angeles.-A massive, comfortable control room. Really big and comfortable, with a real cinematic surround array and a great, historic Neve scoring console. This control room is similar to a very accurate dubbing theater, so you’re already hearing the final mix while tracking.

• A crew that is second to none. We know scoring. It’s what we do. No other room this size has a crew that “gets it” like ours. Sessions are set up and ready to go hours before downbeat. We know every second counts. We respect our client’s time. Vicki Giordano, Milton, and Andy Zisakis, are a hardened crew that know this stage intimately, and they’ve been here since the beginning. Milton, our recordist, even helped install and commission the console.-It’s a great studio. 120 microphones that are perfect for scoring. Massive cue distribution network that is bulletproof. Source Connect. Tons of Starbirds and gobos, chairs and stands. CAT6 network distribution throughout. Overbuilt tech distribution. We can handle 5 Pro Tools rigs at once. And this was a very hands-on build, with every detail worked out. I’m a total geek when it comes to this stuff. We are overbuilt.-The studio is private. We serve only one client at a time. So, our clients enjoy complete anonymity and control of access to their sessions. (This has become increasingly important.) And, all of our equipment is yours to use, all the time. Furthermore, we are like a family here. We care. This is our craft. Our clients trust us with their art, and we treat it like the rare and precious and wonderful burden that it is. We care.
2) YOU COME FROM A MUSIC BACKGROUND AS YOU HAVE A MASTERS DEGREE IN TRUMPET PERFORMANCE. HOW DID YOUR CAREER SHIFT COME ABOUT?

That came about pretty rapidly by simply answering a call, and stepping out on that precarious, scary limb. A friend of a friend needed something recorded, and happily I was there, in a position to say, “yes, I can.” It was a session that involved recording a group of Cambodian musicians in the basement of USC. We started out trying to record cues to click, but it quickly became apparent that there was a massive language barrier. The composer was brilliant, and basically started emoting physically through gestures, vocalizing, and dancing around what they should play! It was an incredible experience. I had the opportunity to geek out and use what I’d learned up to that point (I had been mixing live music since 1990, recently gotten an engineering certificate from UCLA, and been recording since high school), and I had a couple of new mics that I was eager to try. We were not restrained by expectations, and we were all under immense time, communications, and budget pressure. And, there weren’t any reference recordings of that type of material to ruin my perception of what it “should” sound like. Plus, I had no reputation to ruin! So I had nothing to lose. I’ll never forget that first session.

We all had a great time, it sounded perfect, and the next thing you know I’m working pretty steadily on films and shorts, eclipsing my playing career. This all sort of culminated in a short musical called, “Zombie Prom,” starring RuPaul. That had hundreds and hundreds of audio tracks, derived from literally dozens of separate sessions (everywhere from Capitol Studio A to my basement). Spending weeks alone, editing that insane beast on a tiny ProTools LE rig, after months of recording it, really brought me to a place where I knew I’d found a new career path.

Musician background: I got my undergrad in music performance, trumpet, from the University of Wisconsin. By the time I left Wisconsin I was 2nd chair trumpet in 3 orchestras, and the Green Bay Opera, subbing with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, an active member of many chamber groups, pop bands, and latin bands. (Looking back, I must have been completely insane). My Masters in Music performance, trumpet (with a secondary in musicology) is from the University of North Texas, in the year 2000, after 2 very short years. I came out here with my wife, Emily (who co-owns the studio) to start a career as a musician. I knew absolutely NO ONE. Poking around the internet, I found a random, substitute gig in an Altadena rehearsal big band. That short rehearsal, 16 years ago, has led to a universe of great friends and colleagues today.

 

3) THE PROLIFERATION OF RECORDING IN EUROPE OR EVEN IN NASHVILLE HAS HAD A NEGATIVE EFFECT ON LOCAL SCORING. WHAT COULD POTENTIALLY BRING MORE RECORDING TO LOS ANGELES?

Recording for picture is increasing around the globe, as more and more content is being created by more and more people in more and more places. Some of these new recordings involve orchestral style scoring sessions. And as that work increases, more and more people are creating local recording services to meet those needs. It’s really interesting to watch this happen in Eastern Europe, in areas new to capitalism and open markets. This is happening in Asia, as well. A new business model that I see more and more of is one combining contractor, orchestra, and recording services (including a studio or recording services in locations) into one business. There are several of these active now, including a few in the United States. But that particular model of “one stop shop” really only works for insulated groups and areas, where it is the initial entree into this field. That model could work incredibly well for a composer with the means to actually do it, however.
We are living in an internet world, so there are more recording avenues available remotely worldwide, and it’s now possible to price-shop these. This ultra-low cost outsourced recording has not affected this studio much. That is a market segment I cannot compete with, and my clients are not really interested in that kind of service, either.

So, to come back to the question: In an increasingly active industry, in an ever- widening worldwide market, how do we face this pressure, locally?

All of my clients want one thing: A high-quality recording, and a great experience creating it. A recording and process that satisfies their creativity and justifies their budget. That is what we do best in this town. Outside of the outstanding work done in London at EMI or AIR, I have yet to hear of a truly positive recording experience, like we get here, done elsewhere. So it is troubling when I see clients of ours going out of town to lesser places to record, diminishing their art, for external reasons.

I don’t hire composers, or musicians, or contractors, so I’m limited in what I can do, or even say, really. I’ve spent a few years in the trenches with good people, so I know what we are facing. All I have right now is just some advice based on my 35 years of musicianship and few years of Hollywood insight:

• One way to bring in new business is to embrace reality. Find a way to say “YES!” to all the work out there. A way that satisfies MOST people’s needs. -Be active. Do something. Nothing gets done without action. Talking about it does little.

• Fear-based action never brings positive results. Especially with art. Be loud, do positive work, do something different. Just do something! You’ll be surprised who stands up to work alongside you.

4) YOUR STUDIO IS THE HOME OF THE LONGEST STANDING ANIMATED SHOWS-THE SIMPSONS. DOES AN ACCOLADE LIKE THAT COME WITH A MOUNTAIN OF RESPONSIBILITY ON YOUR BEHALF?

Well, FOX’s Newman Stage is truly the home of The Simpsons. But we are happy to have them at The Bridge when they aren’t able to record there. We’ve done about 50 episodes so far, including episodes 500, 550, and just recently episode 600, which happened to line up with their awesome “Treehouse of Horror XXVI” this year! They were one of our first clients, and we are proud to keep them on, now on year number 7! The one thing about the whole Simpsons trip that makes me smile every time is hearing THAT SOUND. That sound that I first heard, 27 years ago, when I first started watching the show. Having that sound happen here, in this studio, and then be heard by millions of people very week is beyond my wildest dreams. Of course it is a HUGE responsibility. It’s the toughest show we do, by far. It’s only 35-40 players, but it’s a BIG 35-40 players! 2 gigantic synth rigs from the 1990s, our Steinway concert grand, drum set, 9 tympani, taiko drums, cases and cases of aux percussion, All of George Doering and Tim May’s guitars stacked in the halls, and their rigs on the stage, full brass and woodwinds, strings, and harp. (add singers and accordion and theremin, if you like!) They use well over 48 live inputs, live mixing to 5.1 stems, using the entire 96 channel console, streamers on the Auricle rig, Alf Clausen, his team, the incredible players, the 3 cartage companies wrestling for space… it’s like a family reunion every time! Our job is to allow it to happen. So far, so good!

5) WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A COMPOSER WHO IS ABOUT TO RECORD AN ORCHESTRA SESSION FOR THE FIRST TIME?

1. Let us help you! Please ask us anything. We’ve recorded thousands of sessions here, and we likely can really help you out! Your recordist or engineer is your best friend before and during (and after) the session!

2. Get your act together BEFORE the session. 99% of the work is done before the downbeat. After that, let it happen and guide it musically to where it needs to be. It should not be a mechanical process after the session begins.

3. Use your energy to guide the music during the session, not tackle details that were overlooked. Same thing as #1, I know. But we, as users of technology, tend to get caught in a trap of creating and making it work as we go. tweaking this and that as we work alone on our craft. With a group of musicians on the stage, and a crew in the booth, it’s time to let them do their job.

4. Use your team. One sure sign of a rough session ahead is lack of a team walking through the door. Doesn’t have to be a big team, but this is a team sport. Conductor, orchestrator, booth, engineer, contractor, copyists, assistants… All these people working FOR you can make a big difference, They can allow you to focus on the music and not be putting out fires.

5. The biggest downer for us is hearing, “Oh, by the way…” (insert something like: “I’ve added a harpsichord (80 piece choir, pump organ, Hammond B3, concert marimba, added 27 new cues, etc)” Not that it cant be done, but 5 minutes before downbeat is a little too late. Please let us know all that you can about the session beforehand, including any last-minute changes!

6. Ask questions and make observations as we go. Cant be stressed enough. We are invested in your project. Let us make it easier for you to create what you envisioned.

7. If you have a strong feeling about something, let us know. First time sessions usually adhere to a “tried and true” template, so that is what most studios will initially offer. But, if you an artistic vision that you’d like to see fulfilled, let us or them know. We love trying new ideas here.

Thanks for this opportunity. Hope to see you on a session some time!