A Virtual Tour of the World’s Great Recording Studios

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With the news that Converse are opening a free recording studio in Brooklyn, we got to thinking about recording studios in general, and the place they might occupy in today’s world. Before the advent of consumer DAWs (digital audio workstations) like Logic and Cubase, and the emergence of hardware powerful enough to run this software on home computers, a recording studio was a necessity for musicians who wanted to be heard. Recording in the right place with the right producer was a huge coup, and the studios themselves thus took on a mythology of their own, becoming magical places where raw demos were turned into burnished musical gold. We also got to wondering about what’s become of such places in the 21st century. Happily, the magic of Google Street View makes it a cinch to find out — so join us on a virtual tour of 10 of our favorite recording studios, as they look today.

Electric Lady

52 W 8 St, New York, NY

We start with an easy one that’s pretty close to home. While it’s immortalized in the title of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, Electric Lady the studio actually arose out of the album, rather than the other way around. Indeed, it was the fact that recording Electric Ladyland at London’s Olympic Studios cost a small fortune that got Hendrix thinking about the idea of establishing his own studio in the first place. He eventually settled on the site of the recently closed rock club Generation, which he purchased in 1968. Fitting out the studio took two years, and famously, although he recorded there while construction was still underway, Hendrix only saw the finished product once, at the opening party in August 1970. He died three weeks later. Today Electric Lady is New York’s oldest major recording studio, although you’d totally miss it walking down W 8 St if you didn’t know it was there.

Sun Studios

706 Union Ave, Memphis, TN

No list of famous recording studios would be complete without Sun Studios, the self-proclaimed birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. The building that calls itself Sun Studios today is the original location, which originally closed in 1959 after the success of artists like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash necessitated the move to a larger space. The original Union Avenue location was reopened in 1987, and today, 61 years after it opened, Sun is still a working recording studio, as well as a whacking great tourist attraction for the state of Tennessee.

Hansa Studios

Köthener Straße 38, Berlin, Germany

This Kreuzberg studio is an integral part of Berlin music mythology — it was here that David Bowie recorded both Low and “Heroes”, where Iggy Pop recorded The Idiot and Lust for Life. In the 1980s, Hansa seemed to attract musicians of a gothic or otherwise dark-flavored bent — Siouxsie and the Banshees, Killing Joke, Depeche Mode, and Nick Cave all recorded here — while U2 set up camp here in late 1990 for a series of torturous sessions that eventually provided the basis of what would become Achtung Baby. The studio’s still very much an ongoing proposition in 2011 — among others, R.E.M. recorded their most recent album Collapse into Now here.

King Tubby’s studio

Dromilly Avenue, Kingston, Jamaica

Along with Lee Scratch Perry’s Black Ark studio on Cardiff Crescent — about a mile or so to the northwest — Osbourne “King Tubby” Ruddock’s studio was the epicenter of the explosion of creativity that drove Jamaica’s reggae scene in the 1970s. It was here that Ruddock basically invented both dub and the idea of remixing on his home-built recording console, taking master tapes provided to him by local musicians and reinventing them as dark, echo-laden soundscapes. The studio was located at Ruddock’s home on Dromilly Avenue, in the Kingston 11 region of Jamaica’s capital. Sadly, there’s no Google Street View in Kingston, but from what we understand, the house is still standing — and we did find some great photos of it here.

Pet Sounds Studio

1170 Elati Street, Denver, Colorado

You may have noticed that we’re pretty big Elephant 6 fans here at Flavorwire, and as such we’d feel a little soiled leaving the studio founded by Robert Schneider and Jim McIntyre off this list. Named after the Beach Boys’ classic album, Pet Sounds was by far the most short-lived studio on this list — it was founded in 1997 and closed in 1999 — but while it was open, it gave birth to a number of notable records, including Neutral Milk Hotel’s all-time classic In the Aeroplane Over The Sea. The days, it’s a condo development. So it goes.

Gold Star

6252 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA

Being as he’s a convicted murderer and raving lunatic, it’s easy these days to remember Phil Spector for just being, y’know, a convicted murderer and raving lunatic. But back before he lost the plot entirely, he was a hugely influential producer, and it was here that he invented the Wall of Sound, building layer upon layer of instrumentation to create a sound augmented by the natural reverb that the hard walls of Gold Star provided. Apart from Spector, a heap of other artists recorded here before the studio closed its doors in 1984, including Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and The Beach Boys. The building burned down not long after the studio closed, and these days, from what we can tell, it’s some sort of medical marijuana dispensary. Which, in its own way, seems perfectly appropriate.

Compass Point

Nassau, Bahamas

Founded by Island Records boss Chris Blackwell in 1977, Compass Point is generally identified with the sort of tropical sounds that befit its location in the Bahamas. The producers in residence throughout the studio’s halcyon days in the late 1970s and early 1980s were reggae studio wizards Sly & Robbie, and the house band — the Compass Point All-Stars — included luminaries like synth virtuoso Wally Badarou. But it wasn’t just artists like Grace Jones and the Tom Tom Club who decamped to Nassau to record — AC/DC’s Back in Black was recorded here, as was Iron Maiden’s Powerslave. The studio had something of a fallow period in the 1990s, but it’s still going strong today — unsurprising, as the location pretty much sells itself: “Rise in the morning for a swim in the warm tropical waters. Stroll or jog along a beautiful beach… Then make the short walk to one of the world’s most famous, spacious and well-equipped studios to begin your day’s work.” OK. If you insist.

[Image via .]

Fort Apache

1 Camp Street, Cambridge, MA

If you like your ’80s indie, you’ll have heard of Fort Apache. This New England institution hosted recording sessions by a roll call of alt-rock pioneers, including Pixies, Dinosaur Jr, Throwing Muses, Sebadoh, Yo La Tengo, Weezer, Belly, and various others. Radiohead also recorded Pablo Honey here. The studio was founded in 1986 — the initial venue was a Boston warehouse, although it soon moved to Cambridge, MA, and relocated again in 2002 to the town of Bellows Falls, VT. We’ve chosen the Cambridge location, as it’s where the bulk of the studio’s most iconic records were made — happily, the place is still operating under the name Camp St. Studios.

Hitsville USA

2648 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit, MI

This studio’s name wasn’t empty hubris — it was a bona fide hit factory during the 1960s, turning out song after song for the artists who just kept rolling off the Motown production line in the label’s glory days. When founder Berry Gordy moved Motown’s headquarters to Los Angeles in 1972, his sister Esther Gordy Edwards refused to leave Detroit, and remained behind to tend the label’s historic home. The building’s recording days ended soon after, but Edwards kept it in pristine condition, preserving Motown’s historical legacy in the process. These days, Hitsville USA functions as the Motown Historical Museum and has survived the company itself, which was sold to MCA in 1988.

Abbey Road

3 Abbey Road, St John’s Wood, London NW8, England

Steady on, Beatles fans. We weren’t going to forget this.