25th Street Recording, Baby! - OZY | A Modern Media Company

25th Street Recording, Baby!

25th Street Recording, Baby!

By Eugene S. Robinson


Because music made in places other than a laptop sounds symphonic by comparison.

By Eugene S. Robinson

If you blinked, you might just have missed it.

Traversing the space across an empty Oakland, California parking lot, just down from a Gold’s Gym copycat named God’s Gym, sits what appears to be an automotive shop. The sign even says something about specializing in British automobiles. But the number matches the one scribbled on the piece of paper we have, and so after a tentative ring of doorbell, we’re buzzed into 25th Street Recording.

High ceilings, exposed brick … a studio that looks like Battlestar Galactica.

And then there’s that Snoopy’s Dog House moment where it’s revealed that what’s inside is not at all what you expected based on the outside, since inside is nothing short of fantabulous. Not just because it’s a studio in the age of ProTools laptop setups and people recording overdubs in their apartments, but because it’d be nice even if it was just an auto shop.

High ceilings, exposed brick, soft skylight filtered light and finally … a studio that looks like Battlestar Galactica.

If you’re just a casual music listener and never give it much thought beyond the Play and Pause buttons, let us spell it out for you: Big studios are a dying breed. Even labels can’t float big budgets, people can record really cheaply and almost everything can be fixed post-production with apps. And yet 25th Street Recording exists.

”Our decision to do this was a lot deeper than any business decision or competitive analysis,” says studio manager John Schimpf. ”From kids at some of the local inner-city schools with lots of talent and nowhere to go, to the rich tradition of local music that we have here, we needed a resource that let wonderful artists be able to do what they do.”

People need music, they needed a place like this to make music in and to build a scene to make art.

Which is how the studio got started. It was birthed by Dave Lichtenstein, son of pop-art pioneer Roy and a quiet giant in his own right, from drumming for John Cale to getting a degree in electrical engineering and delving deep into software development. 25th Street Recording was under construction in 2010 when Lichtenstein ran into multi-Grammy-Award-winning producer Joe Chiccarelli at San Francisco’s AES show. “Dave was a big fan of Joe’s work, and having input from a great producer helped quite a bit,” Schimpf says. 

Especially if by “quite a bit” you mean a “whole hell of a lot.” The studio has great classic gear, Richard Serra originals hanging on the walls — “He was a family friend, and Dave fixed his computer once, and he paid him with a painting,” laughs Schimpf — and a steady stream of musical artists, both famous and not so much, from Sheila E to local folk heroes The Lady Crooners and whoever else the star producer clientele brings in.

“It’s really central to our vision here,” Schimpf says. “People need music, they needed a place like this to make music in and to build a scene to make art, one of the richest resources in the world. So we’re glad to be able to give it.”

Or to put a finer point on it, as Ruminator Audio chief and audio engineer Monte Vallier said while sitting in on a session, ”Studios are better places to make music than your apartment because it’s purpose-built for this. So that leaves ‘vibe,’ and the vibe here is really comfortable. And there are more professionals here to help than you’ll ever have at home. Unless you live in a great place like this.”

Which we’re seriously considering.

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