Artists in most of the world have been largely stuck at home for nearly a year now—and as a result, there’s been an explosion of new art and music. While these artists may be kickstarting a modern renaissance, of sorts, a huge debt is owed to the people behind the scenes who are help bring these artists’ visions to light—such as the engineers who safely run recording studios.
One of the most popular studios in the extended area is Room 9 Recording Studio in Redlands. Jerry Whiting is a master of making bands sound great on a budget and has produced local bands including Captain Ghost and Sleazy Cortez. (Full disclosure: I’ve recorded at Room 9, too.)
“We don’t let people bring extra people,” Whiting said when asked about pandemic precautions. “We’ve got sanitary wipes, and we’re wiping things down after every session. It’s kind of hard, though. I had a woman in yesterday, and she wanted to wear a mask all the time—but she had to sing, and you can’t really sing with a mask.
“When it first hit, I was already booked out two months—and very few people wanted to cancel their sessions, so we had to make the best of it.”
Whiting’s initial fears of the virus were minimized because of his other job: He works as a driver for P&R Paper.
“I had to work anyway, so I had been out in the middle of it,” Whiting said. “I was delivering to schools, restaurants and grocery stores.”
Room 9 is located inside Whiting’s home.
“I think you’ll always feel safer at home,” Whiting said. “Because I live here, I felt safer and more in control—as long as you just don’t let a billion people over. You get these people, and they want to bring their whole entourage.”
The pandemic wound up bringing Whiting even more business than before.
“We definitely got even more busy—especially with people who have their stimulus checks and are off work,” Whiting said. “People need that artistic outlet, so my second engineer and I got busier, and we got pushed pretty hard for a while. Anytime something like this happens, there’s going to be great art coming out of it.
“It does get overwhelming and always has; that’s just part of studio life. You want to say yes to every project, and you think you can manage it all, even though there are not enough hours in the day. You want to make every mix the best and want to give everything its proper attention, or even more, but it’s always a bit overwhelming. Every year, I say I’m going to slow down … but it’s a constant tug of war in my brain.”
Whiting is considered an essential worker because of his delivery-driver job, but he said he felt the work of providing an outlet for artists was even more essential.
“(Musicians) are stuck in their house. They’re frustrated from politics, or they’re getting bored,” Whiting said. “I just felt like we were doing something positive in a bad situation. It’s not a positive that we’re getting more workflow—but that we’re doing something positive for people. We’re taking the necessary precautions, and that’s about the best you can do, unless you just decide to shut down—but then people lose their outlet and their voice. I think people need that in a time like this.”
Sondy Studios is a newer facility—and it has already proven its worth. Brothers Jake and Luke Sonderman kickstarted their music- and video-production studio in the midst of the mess that was 2020, but still managed to turn out projects by Pescaterritory and Selexa, among others.
“We needed to get a lot of rules in place in order to run it safely,” Jake Sonderman said. “I do the most I can. Obviously, you have to come in person (to record) … but I’ve been trying to do mixing and stuff that I would rather do in person online. We also are limiting the amount of people who can come in.”
Sonderman isn’t only limiting guests; he’s also limiting the number of band members in the studio at one time.
“With stuff like guitars and singing, we try to split it the best we can—especially singing, because you obviously can’t sing with a mask on,” Sonderman said. “With drums, I really try my best to get a good live feel, especially for rock bands, so they do need to be in the same room—but I just spread them out. … A lot of the recording process can be done without everybody there. A lot of times, people want to be there, but we do have to make some sacrifices.”
Sonderman is a musician himself, and he understands why studio time is in such demand right now.
“You can’t play live, obviously,” Sonderman said. “Most of the people I’m working with are in a studio for the first or second time. There’s always an excitement around that first time that they hear their track played back to them. That would be there with or without the pandemic.”
While some studios are out to make a quick buck, Sonderman said he and his brother are looking for experience more than anything else.
“The truth is, I really love music, and I especially love working in the studio,” Sonderman said. “I love engineering and producing; I’m applying to college for that, and I plan to eventually become an engineering producer. … I’m really looking to build my résumé and help people out here. I’m looking to build other people’s material and give them something that can get them notoriety—and get them some listens.”
Melrose Music is one of the best-known studios in the desert; in addition to its Palm Springs space, it also has a location in Hollywood. Melrose’s David Williams has been involved with a number of projects, from locals like Empty Seat and Krystopher Do, to big names like Heart and Def Leppard.
“When the pandemic first started, I walked away from the (physical) studios and did everything from my home studio via Zoom,” Williams said. “I didn’t take person-to-person visits, especially for the first month or two. Then I started working toward meeting protocols. In my L.A. studio, I never come in contact with anyone. I’m inside the control room, and they’re on the other side of the studio. … It’s all separated by glass. In both studios, masks are required, as is social distancing. I have all the supplies for COVID cleaning: sanitizer for headphones, changing screens on microphones, and wiping down everything before people come in.”
Williams said he’s picked up new clients in both locations.
“I’ve never been this busy in the last 10 years,” Williams said. “I’ve been busier in a five-month span than in a five-year span. I’ve just been slammed with Zoom work. Palm Springs is a totally different scenario, as L.A. people are somewhat more cautious than in Palm Springs. I’m doing stuff for Netflix and Warner Bros. and whatnot, and a lot of the actors that would do voiceovers in L.A. didn’t want to go near (the studio in) L.A. I picked up a bunch of work from actors who were stuck in Palm Springs, and it really blew my business up.”
Williams prides himself on taking the pandemic seriously.
“I got a kidney transplant 25 years ago, so I’ve got a low immune system, which makes me totally concerned about it,” Williams said. “Unfortunately, my stepdaughter and her fiancé in L.A. just recently got it. It’s hitting home, and I know quite a few people who have gotten it. I’m super-cautious, more than ever.”
He said he’s not sure why desert musicians seem to be less concerned about the virus.
“There were definitely some who came into our studio who didn’t really think COVID was anything worse than the flu,” Williams said. “They’ll come up toward the studio door without a mask and will say, ‘Are you afraid or something?’ No, I’m not afraid; I’m just not stupid. … I thought I was the sheriff—I’d have to bust guys constantly because they just didn’t want to comply.”
While Williams said he appreciates being so busy, he’d rather not have all the business.
“I understand that people need the outlet, and I understand that a lot of people aren’t working, so they can really focus on their music,” Williams said. “People have had more time on their hands, so that’s why I’m busier. But I wish the pandemic had never come around. I don’t need a surge in my business because of a surge of a virus.”