Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Industry Interview: Phil Jaurigui, Owner & Founder of Swing House Studios

Stage 1 rehearsal/showcase room at Swing House

Ask anyone who has attempted a full-time music career it's not always as glamorous as it would seem. There are incredible highs and unimaginable lows, nevertheless, no matter how long your journey may last one thing is undeniable - The Biz is damn exciting. For Phil Jaurigui, Owner & President of Swing House Rehearsal and Recording Inc., maintaining a successful studio space is no easy task, but for the last 15 years Phil has managed to maintain and make a name for himself via Swing House. We had a chance to catch up with Phil to reminisce about the former Cherokee Studios, wrap about the new Lofts @ Cherokee and also touch on the importance of updating your business model, again and again...

The Biz

I first started
Swing House 15 years ago after losing my job at Capital Records. Soon thereafter, I started working for a guy named Dean Chamberlain at Domion Sound on Lilian Way in Hollywood. It was at Domion I learned how to record and run a PA system. Following the Northridge earthquake Dean decided to break his lease, sell his equipment and go out of business. With two credit cards and no
business experience whatsoever, I bought Dean's gear, which included Neil Diamond's old PA system and Swing House Studios was born.

Ali, the Swing House Mascot mixing on the API console.

When I first conceived of the studio I was also in a band, and thought it would be a perfect way for us to record and rehearse for free while also making a little bit of money on the side by renting it out other musicians. Little did I know how much the business would take over my life; the studio was flourising much more than my band and I quickly realized that I was better off being behind the scenes, still making the music just in a different capacity as a full-time studio owner. I dropped the band to focus on the business and have been just as involved in the music ever since. I went from one-room rehearsal space with a recording studio in the loft to eventually expanding to 3 rehearsal rooms, and offering equipment rentals.

Then one day the Red Hot Chili Peppers came into our lives and proceeded to take over the main studio for a year. Now although this was a good problem to have, it left me having to turn away all the other clients which left me completely torn because we're talking about big name bands like Jane's Addiction, Weezer, Goo Goo Dolls, and Green Day who all wanted to rent this popular room that the Chili
Peppers were using. It was then in 2001 that we picked up our small little one room studio on Cahuenga Boulevard a “sketchy & scary place" at the time with drug addicts and homeless people running rampant - very different from the hip, cool street that it is now - and moved into what once was Tim Burton's movie studio, and our current location on Willoughby & Formosa.

Remembering Cherokee Studios

It was early in my career when I was introduced to Cherokee Studios. I had always heard rumors about Cherokee and the Robb Brothers, its classic studio vibe, and who used to record there. It seemed as though they saw every major band from the 1970s come through their doors, everyone from Linda Ronstadt, and Journey to The Eagles and The Beatles. A specific memory I had was from back in 1995 when I was asked to deliver some amps and other sound equipment over to Liz Phair who was recording there at the time. As a young studio owner, I was always really excited about meeting other studio owners and I had heard a lot of good things about the Robbs, so visiting this studio to see how they operated, check out how they did things was a cool opportunity for me. Cherokee was everything I imagined it would be. Dark wood paneling, oriental rugs in every room, incense burning and an undeniable rock-n-roll vibe.
I'm a huge advocate of preserving the integrity of landmarks, especially those that have made an impact on music, so I think its very cool how the Robbs have chosen to preserve Cherokee's legacy by partnering with a modern company like REthink and putting the space to re-use. I'd love to have an office at the new Lofts @ Cherokee Studios myself!

LA's Musical Spin Cycle

Back in the day we had iconic music venues like Scream at Park Plaza where bands like Jane's Addiction, Iggy Pop, Faster Pussycat, Guns n Roses and all the most popular bands from the early 90s were playing on a regular basis. Then there was The Coconut Teazer over on Sunset and Cresent Heights, a place I practically lived at for most of my early years in Los Angeles. Aside from the great live acts at CT's, what was equally memorable were the free beers and hot dogs they served. As a small business owner trying to stay afloat, you made sure to know where the free buffets and happy hours were in this city. As much as I miss places like the Starwood and Scream, I also know that everything runs in cycles, especially in the entertainment industry. Studio 54 was only in existence for a couple of years but that doesn't diminish its importance as a music landmark. Nowadays, I think venues like The Roxy, The Viper Room and The Echo are doing a great job of resurrecting the music scene and breathing new life into an industry that is rapidly shrinking. One of the best things about L.A. is that there will always be a place to be "discovered".

Swing House act, The Tender Box will be playing this weekend at the Sunset Strip Music Festival at the Key Club on Saturday, September 12 @ 2pm.

That'll Leave a Mark

Nowadays, my life as a studio owner consists of wearing several different hats, everything from producing music showcases, artist development, tour management, and of course, renting rehearsal space to some of the greatest bands (new and old) that have ever crept on the scene, like Secondhand Seranade, The Slits, Elbow, Mike Snow, Otep, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Maroon 5, Green Day, Mars Volta and She Wants Revenge. In addition to managing the day-to-day business of a rehearsal and recording studio, I manage two bands called Astra Heights and The Tender Box who's new EP came out earlier this Summer. We also do comprehensive outdoor event production for annual music festivals such as the Sunset Strip Music Festival happening this weekend on the World Famous, Sunset Strip. I recently co-produced a Love & Rockets tribute album called 'New Tales to Tell' that was released early this Summer featuring artists like Frank Black of the Pixies, Flaming Lips, and the Dandy Warhols.

I don't know if I will still be running a rehearsal space in another 15 years, so much like the Robbs, I intend on parlaying my business know-how and the Swing House name into a full-time career in artist management, and producing large scale event production in L.A. as well as on the road. There might not always be a need for a large rehearsal space, and Swing House "the building" might not always be here, but the legacy that we have created will carry on.

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