Pro Audio LA: How Custom Cables Led to Bigger Business

July 7, 2014 by  

When you see the large, open space of the workshop, the quaint coziness of the demo room and the impressive construct of the studio control and live room, it’s hard to imagine just two guys sitting in their apartments making cables to sell on Craigslist and eBay.

Yet, that’s exactly how Pro Audio LA began, only five years ago.

Now, it is quite literally a one-stop shop for anything audio related; from custom cabling, equipment sales, installation, and build outs to recording, mixing and mastering, with an impressive client list including Luca Pretolesi’s “A room” at the Wynn in Vegas, Vice.com in Venice CA, composer David Newman, Madder Music, The Madden Brothers (Joel and Benji), Apple, NBC, Sony, and Guitar Center.

Owners Dominic Shiner, Jason Hanan and Jared Stansill started small and expanded based on a combination of their own goals, and what clients wanted. With a passion for audio steeped in both creativity and technical prowess, meeting clients’ needs outside of custom cabling came rather naturally, often times beginning with a simple conversation about gear.

The control room at Pro Audio LA's studio.

Built from the ground up: The Neve 5088-centered control room at Pro Audio LA’s studio.

As Dominic puts it, when recounting the point in 2011 when Pro Audio LA officially began offering equipment sales, system design and studio consultation services, “We would offer insights on equipment to clients as we were sorting out their cabling/integration needs, and it really seemed to resonate with them. We realized that what was happening is that they would solicit this advice and go spend in some cases tens of thousands of dollars at another retailer just to have us integrate, install and support it. It just made sense to open up an authorized dealership for the equipment that we intimately know, use, support and recommend.”

This business framework, fashioned by three different but complementary owners, is what brought Pro Audio LA from soldering in the living room to a state-of-the-art facility.

In the Beginning…

Music had always been a part of Jason’s life and he soon found that his knack for constructing and designing audio setups was a sought-after talent.

“I quickly found out that the people I knew, the other creative music guys I had met here in LA…they were more interested in how I might help them integrate their project studios – much more interested than they were in my latest song or guitar riff!”

“So, I started helping people integrate their studios to maximize their own unique creative workflow, and well… the rest is history,” he says.

In that history, Jason and Jared met up because they were essentially doing the same thing: making cables. Jared had been laid off due to a sagging economy and came into making cables simply because he had the skills, connections and tools to do so. And, as Dominic puts it, custom cabling is largely recession-proof.

“In a down economy, people still needed cables, and that business kept growing exponentially.”

Soon after Jason and Jared got into this exponential business, Dominic became a piece of the puzzle. Having sold his interest in a 4,000 sq. foot recording facility in Cleveland, OH, he was looking for a new venture, something that would allow music and creativity to take a more central role.

Although it may not sound like making cables would correlate to making music, all three had their minds set on something more than just soldering.

Some of the PALA team at work in the workshop.

Some of the PALA team at work in the workshop.

“We had many interests in common,” Dominic says. “And Jason had just found a facility that he envisioned being our workshop along with a recording studio that we could all share.”

“We worked together towards our goal of having a cabling business that would support us and our audio recording passions and habits.”

Growing Into Goals

With this in mind, the business grew. The three owners all brought varied and important expertise to the table.

“If it’s related to a recording studio, we can facilitate it,” Dominic says. “I have a background in construction coupled with over 20 years experience as an audio engineer, which offers insight in to the often esoteric and sometimes counter-intuitive ways that construction relates to audio.”

“Jared went to the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Science, and has an uncanny ability to assess connectivity, and a background in post production integration. Jason went to school for audio engineering and has an MBA in Business.”

Take this and add to it a long list of industry contacts including personal connections with contractors, manufacturers and distributors, it doesn’t seem surprising that the business grew to include all areas of pro audio service.

It’s also not surprising that between three audio engineers, you’d eventually end up with a state-of-the-art studio somewhere in the mix.

The building came with a small studio already installed, which the three owners remodeled upon moving in. In fact, it serves as an example to potential and existing clients, not just of what Pro Audio LA can do, but of what you can do without spending countless sums of money.

“We modestly remodeled the control room, building out a secondary wall with a small air gap between the exterior walls,” Dominic says.

“We redid a bit of the electrical and installed some flooring. It’s always a work in progress but it’s a great example of how to take a space and make the most of it without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. We did most of the work ourselves.”

Now, it not only serves as an actual recording studio but also as a place for clients to meet and demo equipment in a real studio environment.

It houses a small frame, 16 channel Neve 5088 console, a Burl Mothership, Lynx Aurora and a long list of outboard gear that’s always growing, parallel to the growing business and network of Pro Audio LA. The studio also has an iso room and a medium-sized live room, including storage areas at the back that can act as amp locks.

Livin' the live room.

Livin’ the live room.

And to top it off, it also has its own kitchen and bathroom.

Since it’s opening, some impressive clients have already made this unique space their creative home, including Diplo, Kat Von D, Esther Dean, and Sia.

Of course, as per the original goals of the three owners, it’s open for their projects as well as employee projects.

This too, is something that Pro Audio LA prides itself on: its staff.

Company Snapshot

Many of the employees have considerable industry experience, working outside of the business as audio engineers.

Dominic made sure to include a staff picture, feeling that it was important to highlight the business as a whole, not just the inanimate gear and the three owners.

“All of our employees have a connection to the industry in some way. There are no ‘worker bees’ per se,” Dominic says.

“Everyone’s opinion is valued and everyone has their strengths. We are proud to have our team as we believe they are the best in the biz! Our work environment also encourages a lot of audio ‘shop talk’ that spurs creativity, often causing everyone to experiment in trying different techniques, equipment and sharing experiences.”

This familial and all-encompassing mentality overflows into Pro Audio’s approach to client interaction.

“We feel that our clients deserve a holistic approach when purchasing equipment rather than us just trying to push a box out the door for numbers sake,” Dominic says.

And most audio equipment purchases come bundled with custom cabling and connectivity consultation , not only a tip of the hat to the firm’s beginnings but a logistical plus for both client and company.

“Having to make sure we are building a proper cable to connect piece of equipment x to piece of equipment z often allows us to uncover things that someone may not have considered and gives us a chance to answer any esoteric integration questions.”

“We also focus on education and informed purchasing decisions. We invest in the equipment so that we can lend it to our clients allowing them to make a practical decision. Most companies try to offer this in the way of a return policy, hoping that folks will rarely return items. We encourage our clients to try before they buy at no cost or commitment. This really resonates with people.”

The crew accrued.

The crew accrued.

Jason agrees, adding that he really tries to go out of his way to understand the creative and technical objectives of each client, so as to help them build the perfect setup.

“It’s all about helping someone realize their creative vision,” he says. “We take the time to understand what they’re using, how they’re working, how they’d like to be working under ideal circumstances… we try to see the forest from the trees, if you will.

“We want to get people excited about the possibilities, about engineering, about recording techniques, about patch bays and signal flow. That enthusiasm can be contagious, and nothing makes us happier than having a customer who is just amped on their setup and having a blast making music.”

It seems that the enthusiasm has been contagious, as Pro Audio LA continues to grow.

And while Dominic told me that there aren’t any specific plans for the future, as a 5-year old company, they have a lot to look forward to, “constantly plotting and planning new things!”

– Eleanor Goldfield

Panorama view of the PALA workshop.

Panorama view of the PALA workshop.

Another angle on the control room, with it's small frame Neve 5088.

Another angle on the control room, with it’s small frame Neve 5088.

The rear view on the control room.

The rear view on the control room.

Revel in the rack.

Revel in the racks.

IMSTA FESTA LA Announced for 6/14 – Music Tech Show with Keynote by Harvey Mason Jr.

May 2, 2014 by  

One of SonicScoop’s favorite annual happenings, IMSTA FESTA, is returning to LA on June 14th.

SAE Institute is the site of this ongoing music technology show, which brings together top audio hardware/software companies under one roof for hands-on tips and tricks, panels, free gifts, and the chance to win great prizes.

Doors open at 11:00 AM. Soon after, FESTAvities will kick off with a keynote speech by six-time Grammy Award-winning American songwriter, record producer and movie producer Harvey Mason Jr. (Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson, Chris Brown).

IMSTA is the International Music Software Trade Association. Visit them online to see the full schedule of IMSTA FESTA LA.

Attendance is FREE, but you must register to attend: Visit here to get onboard.

The West Coast gets its IMSTA -- right on time.

The West Coast gets its IMSTA — right on time.

 

Invisible Cities: A Wireless Opera Comes To Union Station

November 6, 2013 by  

In the latest production of L.A.’s The Industry, the traditional stage is jettisoned in favor of a larger and less restrictive venue: Downtown L.A.‘s iconic Union Station. This past Saturday saw the world premiere of “Invisible Cities”, a new opera written by composer Chris Cerrone, inspired by Italo Colvino’s 1972 novel of the same name.

The Industry, a young and progressive opera company founded by director Yuval Sharon, has a mission to bring new relevancy to operatic presentations by using inspiration from contemporary experimental theater and performance art pieces. The Industry was founded three years ago, and this is only their second major production here in L.A. Partnered with L.A. Dance Project, founded by noted dancer Benjamin Millpied, “Invisible Cities” incorporates a well-rounded collection of disciplines, both traditional and technical, to fascinating effect.

Invisible Cities (during open dress rehearsal)

Invisible Cities (during open dress rehearsal)

Calvino’s novel imagines a meeting between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo during which the Khan asks Polo for descriptions of various cities in his empire. Polo’s lyrical and imaginative responses make up the context for the opera, providing composer Cerrone with ample opportunity for inspirational color and creative flight. The music itself was superb, blending elements of the traditional with thoroughly modern techniques incorporating found objects as instruments along with elements of playback; a contemporary yet accessible score, and at a length of 70 minutes, also perfect for the contemporary attention span.

To bring “Invisible Cities” fully into the present tense, wireless technology and an unusual venue were the key drivers. Downtown L.A.‘s Union Station, the largest rail terminal in the western U.S., provides the backdrop for “Invisible Cities”, and made no pretense of maintaining business as usual as performers wove their narrative through crowds of travelers waiting for trains or buses. The only thing that differentiates anyone who happens to be in the station from an audience member is a pair of wireless headphones. You see, “Invisible Cities” unique identifier is that it is the world’s first wireless opera, delivering all audio directly to each audience member through personal headphones. The performers are untethered from a traditional stage, and the audience is free to wander around and view any aspect of the performance they might find intriguing; creating a highly personalized experience for each audience member.

Wireless audience

Wireless audience

Thanks to partner Sennheiser, the technological aspect of the production was pulled off without a hitch when I attended a dress rehearsal in mid-October. While modern live performance and wireless tech are old bedfellows at this point, there is no question that the demands of this performance had some unique wrinkles. Specifically, given that each audience member requires a pair of headphones, a strong broadcast signal had to be maintained through a large part of Union Station to prevent any dropouts or weaknesses in the audio signal.

To accomplish this, Bexel, based in Burbank, CA, was brought on board to custom build a managed antenna system to supplement broadcast coverage for both the headphone system and the wireless microphones and in-ear monitors used by the performers. Coupled with Sennheiser’s new Digital 9000 wireless system, there was nary a flaw in sound quality.

While the performance takes place and actively moves around the venue, an 11-piece orchestra provided live accompaniment from another unused part of the station, 1,000 feet from the main performance areas.

Invisible Cities orchestra

Invisible Cities orchestra

The opera begins with the overture, which the audience is invited to watch the orchestra perform; and it’s unusual for sure to be standing in the same room, yet still listening through headphones. Given that the orchestra remains stationary for the duration of the opera, a traditional setup could be employed: A DigiCo D-Rack took all the microphone feeds over fiber, through the garage beneath the station, directly into the control room (in this case an old bagel shop) to be mixed along with all of the wireless signals through a DigiCo SD11 console.

Upon completion of the overture, the audience is invited to walk anywhere they like within the areas of the station where full broadcast signal is achieved. This encompassed quite a bit of real estate, and initially, the audience needed to do a little legwork to figure out where exactly key elements of the performance were actually taking place. This was definitely where the experience became individualized, between four major characters, four additional singers, and eight dancers, there was plenty of intrigue to be experienced; all of which could be heard clearly if not always seen.

Sennheiser wireless antenna array

Sennheiser Digital 9000 Wireless antenna array

One might be concerned that the technical aspects of “Invisible Cities” might detract from the ability to take it at face value. This was definitely not the case. Everything seemed to work flawlessly during my experience, and it was exciting to be able to choose exactly what I wanted to take in from the performance at any given moment. However, at times, this could make taking in the narrative thread a challenge.

There were moments when I found myself wondering if I had just missed something important or exciting. Left to their own devices, I wonder if it might have been easier for the audience to take in the performance had there been a slightly more formalized structure to the staging. Having limitless access to a myriad of stimuli at times seemed to create a lack of ability to focus on the real star of the show: the music.

All that said though, “Invisible Cities” was an unquestionably exciting and unique experience that I would highly recommend checking out.

(Invisible Cities was to be performed in a limited run through Friday, November 8, 2013. However, 5 more performances have been added due to high demand. For more information and tickets visit www.invisiblecitiesopera.com)

 

Invisible Cities - Info Booth. Photo by Dana Ross

Invisible Cities – Info Booth. Photo by Dana Ross

Director Yuval Sharon. Photo by Dana Ross.

Director Yuval Sharon. Photo by Dana Ross.

Walking through Union Station.

Walking through Union Station.

Composer Chris Cerrone taking a bow.

Composer Chris Cerrone taking a bow.

LA Event Choice: Pensado Vintage King Gear Expo 2013 – Sat. 7/20

July 15, 2013 by  

LA is going to get an earful this Saturday. The occasion is the Pensado Vintage Gear Expo 2013, taking place this Saturday, July 20, 2013, from 10am-4pm. The venue is Vintage King Los Angeles (VKLA), 1176 W. Sunset Blvd. in sunny Los Angeles CA, 90012.

A block party and then some for the audio set. (click to enlarge)

A block party and then some for the audio set. (click to enlarge)

Dave Pensado and Herb Trawick of Pensado’s Place will be joined by a who’s who of producers, mixers, engineers, composers and audio inventors will be on hand, along with a plethora of manufacturer’s reps. Attendees will be able to check out and demo gear, get gear-expo only deals, chow from food trucks, indulge in vintage vinyl, listen to live music, and more.

Attendance is free, but advance registration is required. Sign in here. Now check out all the details, from Vintage King here:

Pensado’s Place & Vintage King are teaming up to produce the hottest gear and music-making expo of the summer.  Patrons will be able to demo gear, talk directly w/ manufacturer reps, watch live interviews, mingle with the celebrity guests and meet Dave Pensado and Herb Trawick of Pensado’s Place.

SPECIAL GUEST APPEARANCES BY:
Dave Pensado & Herb Trawick – Pensado’s Place
Alex da Kid – Musician/Producer/Songwriter – Eminem, Imagine Dragons
François Tétaz – Film composer/Music producer – Gotye, Kimbra, Architecture in Helsinki
Manny Marroquin – Grammy winning mixing engineer – Rolling Stones, Alicia Keys, Kanye West
Printz Board – Musician/Producer/Songwriter – Black Eyed Peas
Robert Duncan -  Television and Film Composer -  Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Castle
Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins – Songwriter/Producer/Musician – Jennifer Lopez, Michael Jackson
Ryan Hewitt – Engineer/Mixer/Producer – The Avett Brothers, Red Hot Chili Peppers
Side Brain & Paul Dateh – Musicians/Composers
Steven Slate – Owner Steven Slate and Slate Digital

MANUFACTURER REPS ONSITE (confirmed):
A Designs Audio
Apogee Electronics
Auralex Acoustics
Blue Microphone
Chandler Limited
Eventide
Focal
Lynx Studio Technology
Maag Audio
Mojave Audio
SPL/Brauner
Overstayer
Phoenix Audio
Rascal Audio
Royer Labs
Standard Audio
Tree Audio
Wave Distribution

Record Plant Recording Studios Names Jason Carson as VP/GM

March 27, 2013 by  

Along with the arrival of spring, change is in the air in Los Angeles.

Jason Carson is moving up yet again at Record Plant.

Jason Carson is moving up yet again at Record Plant.

The latest development comes from The Record Plant Recording Studios, which announced that Jason Carson has been named to the post of Vice President/General Manager.

In making the announcement, the facility’s President, Rose Mann-Cherney noted that Carson will work closely with her and C.E.O. Rick Stevens as the team continues to implement their strategic business plan of growth and expansion. Carson will also continue to oversee all aspects of the Record Plant’s operations, engineering, staff and finance.

A graduate of Berklee College of Music where he earned a BA in Music Production and Engineering, Carson kicked off his audio career in classic fashion, starting at the Record Plant Recording Studios in 2001 as a “runner,” and then assistant engineer. He was named Chief Engineer there in 2005.

A cornerstone of West Coast recording since the 1960’s, Record Plant’s credits include Fleetwood Mac, Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, Black Sabbath, The Eagles, AC/DC, Michael Jackson, Nine Inch Nails, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Tom Waits, Stevie Wonder, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rolling Stones, Whitney Houston, Guns N’ Roses, Lil Wayne, Beyoncé, Maroon 5, will.i.am, Dr. Luke, Benny Blanco, and Swedish House Mafia, among many others.

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