Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Take a Virtual Tour of Michael Jackson's Old Stomping Ground, Westlake Recording Studio in Hollywood.

Morinen, one of Michael's fans and a member of  shared his experience of  visiting Westlake Studios where Michael recorded Off The Wall, Thriller and the BAD Album.  Westlake Recording Studios in Hollywood offered a three hour tour to Michael Jackson Fans  on June 21 - 29.  If they ever do it again, I hope you can attend. This is one experience MJ  fans don't want to miss. I want to thank Morinen for sharing his experience and the great pictures.  So much  MJ History is contained inside Westlake.  I hope you Enjoy  your virtual tour with Morinen. ~ Qbee

I know that many people won't be able to experience this, so I wrote down this story hoping to share a part of what I felt there with all of you. But if you have a chance to go next year or whenever they continue the tour, go. You won't regret it. ~ Morinen

I ended up going Westlake Recording Studios . It was worth every cent.

This year, on the 3rd anniversary of Michael's passing, Westlake recording studios opened their doors to the public and fans for the very first time. The 3-hour tour that included viewing of the two studio buildings in LA cost $99, and at first I felt a bit cautious about the whole setting. But in the end, I decided, it was worth the spend. For a long time I was curious to peek into those seemingly unremarkable buildings - because that was the place where history had been written. At Westlake Michael recorded his three most iconic albums: Off the Wall, Thriller и Bad. Thus, on June 26 at 7:30 am, somewhere between a motel and the airport I found myself on the back parking lot of Westlake Studio D on Santa Monica blvd.

The back lot of the studio looks nothing but ordinary, but the moment I saw it, I vividly pictured Michael clumsily parking here in his car.

At first, with the $99 price tag for the tour, I expected I might be the only one attending. However, a minivan was already waiting in the parking lot, and it turned out to be nearly packed. With the complete group of 13 or 14 people, it took off towards the first historical building of the Westlake Studios on Beverly boulevard. The group that gathered in the van consisted mostly of middle-aged fans some of whom followed Michael since the early days of the Jackson 5 career. Some people remembered seeing Ed Sullivan show on TV, others - going to Triumph and Victory shows. One lady claimed that she had attended concerts from every MJ tour in North America.

The tour was guided by two guys: Roy, a Westlake Studio employee, and Cory, a fellow fan. Cory was a fan of Michael since childhood, a collector and an activist: he contributed to "For The Record" book by Halsted and Cadman, and was one of the admins of The Michael Jackson Archives facebook page. He seemed a very lively and enthusiastic guy - asking each of us where we had seen Michael, which records where our favorite, etc. During the trip we all discussed books, youtube videos, and other MJ stuff. Everyone kept saying how amazing Michael was and how his every song and performance were timeless. It was awesome.

Finally arriving at Westlake Studio A on Beverly boulevard, a plain white-and-brown single-floor building. This is the very studio where Michael Jackson recorded the two albums that changed American music: Off the Wall and Thriller. To look at it, you'd never say.

At the entrance the Westlake staff greets us warmly and promises unforgettable experience. Videotaping is not allows inside, however we are encouraged to take photos. Unfortunately, it is pretty dark in the studio (baring one's soul to music is an intimate process), so many of my photos came out blurry. But I managed to capture the most important things.

In the foyer, near the door there is a display of platinum records, some of which are Michael's.

Beyond that - from the front door and throughout the whole studio - the walls are covered in his memory. His photos, his drawings, his handwritten lyrics. Everywhere you look, you see Michael Michael Michael... I'm forgetting now where exactly each of these pictures belongs (the halls there are narrow and it's hard to capture a broad view), so I'll just post everything from the walls that came out in decent quality, to give you the feeling.

"The Wall" composition is a gift from Quincy Jones.

Michael's drawings made in the studio (these are replicas):

In the main hall we were shown a short video about Michael's work with Quincy. All in all, nothing new there.
The studio interior is stylish and cozy:

Entering the control room. This is the room where the musical director and engineers do recording and mixing of tracks.

Here we are welcomed by friendly engineer Ben. He is going to show us how to work with a mixing desk.

The control room is a tiny room, and as you can see on the photo, its walls are not rectangular. All of this is for better acoustics. Sound speakers are attached to the walls along the room perimeter. You can even notice speakers on the ceiling - they were mounted there specifically for Quincy who liked to listen to the mix while settling back in a chair, facing up.

Across the engineer, behind the window, is the singer's vocal booth.

The acoustics in this room are truly nothing short of spectacular! The first thing they did when we entered the room was blasted "Thriller" full out. Because the room is so small and soundproof, you are feeling the music as if it's been playing inside of you. Right there, at that moment, I understood why Michael loved his music extremely loud and how a good mix could make him dance in the studio. Being not a very musical person, even I couldn't stand still there. For Michael who was dancing to sounds of a washing machine, this was the only natural and sincere way to respond to music that was genuinely good. I felt how he was hearing his own music. It has nothing to do with how it sounds in iPod headphones. When "Human Nature" started playing, I felt like I was being whisked to another universe.
And then Ben switched the track to "Black or White" a cappella, and I forgot to breathe.

You see, turns out they have some of Michael's songs in multitracks. A multitrack is a set of original vocal and instrumental parts that can be laid out on the mixing console and used to make a different mix. So Ben did this and wanted to show us how to mix a song by tuning out all parts except the lead vocals and then adding instruments one by one, adding rap and backgrounds. While he was doing this I was standing there gulping and whispering, "Leave the vocals... Oh my God... Leave the a cappella..." But it wasn't for me to decide. Instead Ben let all of us play with the console, turn handles and push buttons on it. It looks pretty scary, but you can master it easily - all you need to do is move those sliders in the bottom. They even have sticky notes with tips about which part each slider corresponds to.

This is what the multitrack of "Black or White" looks like:

I left this room in awe of these people who were laughing so causally while owing unthinkable treasures.

Then we went to the room with the vocal booth.
This chair, they say, has been standing here practically since the times of Michael's recordings. And they allow you to sit in it, take photos in front of the mike and even sing along to the music in real headphones. I don't usually take photos of myself, but even I did that, because how can you not?! He probably sang "She's Out of My Life" in this chair!

This is the very piano on which MJ and Paul McCartney played "The Girl Is Mine". At this point I was ready to go down on all fours and touch the floor these people walked on.

But hold on, there's more. See this shred of a carpet near the sofa? No, this is not someone's smart design idea, this is the real carpet that Michael and Quincy walked on when they worked on Thriller. The carpet got worn out, you know, and they decided to throw it away. But you can't just throw away a historic thing like this, can you? So they carefully cut a piece and kept it as an exhibit.

This was where I threw all manners to the wind and crawled down to feel the thing with my own hands.

Before leaving the studio A, at this poster Cory asks everyone from the group which one of Michael's albums we would take with us to a deserted island. He says, the most popular answer is Invincible. Perfect music for an island, isn't it?

Riding back to Studio D on Santa Monica. Passing the CBS building where Michael gave the interview to Diane Sawyer. Remember them walking out of the film stage and him lamenting about being so shy? It happened right here.

Briefly peeked into this industrial-looking back lot on one of the side streets. What for, you might ask? Apparently, here, under the "Free Delivery" banner is a great historic attraction related to MJ. Guess what it is!

This shady wall is the very wall from the Off The Wall album cover! The owner of the property happened to be not so sensitive to the culture and bluntly painted out the historic heritage with ugly grey.

Passing the original Motown building in Los Angeles. This was were The Jackson 5 recorded most of their songs. The building still belongs to Motown Records today, but artists don't work here anymore.

Across the street from the Motown building there is a park. Remember how Michael said he often used to look at kids playing in a park across the studio and wish he could join them when he had to work? This is the park he remembered.

Arriving at Westlake D. In this studio MJ and Q mainly worked on the Bad album. This building was constructed around that time, and it was designed with Michael and Quincy in mind. They were the main tenants of the studio, so the layout, the furnishing and the equipment where chosen to meet their needs. And with this, Westlake D set a sort of a standard in the industry. Once it had been build, other recording studios where modeled after it.

Michael's records with Q's autographs meet us right at the entrance.

Walls are covered in Michael's pictures again... Someone questioned skeptically when those photos appeared here, hinting that maybe it had been done just to please the fans and follow the trend of posthumous MJ love. "Oh, most of these pictures have been here for years..." replied Roy, remembering which of them were the earliest. "Of course they have. All these rooms exist because of Michael." Michael is the Deity of the place. The way people cherish his memory there... I can't even describe it.

Westlake D is a two-storey building. On the second floor there is a private lounge that used to be occupied by Michael. I remember the story of Russ Ragsdale, a recording engineer who worked with Michael during the Bad sessions: "At Westlake Michael had his own little private room upstairs with a window that looked out into the tracking room. If he needed to get away during times he really wasn't needed, he often went to this room, where he would trash it with pop corn all over the place, he was really quite messy, as he probably is used to having someone pick up after him, this was usually me !!!"

So, we saw that room.

Very modest, no luxury, no splendor.

The studio staff calls this room "Bubbles room" because when Michael was doing his vocals, they used to lock Bubbles in here and he was going wild. Maybe the popcorn was his doing

The window, indeed, looks over the recording room downstairs.
The stage in it was built specially for Michael, so that he could practice dancing in between sessions.

Coming downstairs, we see Quincy's lounge and a bathroom with a shower cabin. An absolutely necessary thing in the studio, as artists and producers are known to work overnights. Besides the shower cabin is useful for its great acoustics. Michael used its hollow sound to record percussive clapping parts for "Man In The Mirror" and other songs on Bad. It's amazing to see and touch, and you are allowed to go inside, step in it and take photos...

Westlake D's control room. It looks very similar, only a little larger.

This time Ben, who came here with us, decided to do the same multitracking trick with the "Bad" song. When he started the playback of an a cappella full force, I got tears in my eyes. It's simply fantastic - you can hear it all: Michael's finger snaps, his stomping, and even the feeble sound of music that the mike is catching off his headphones. And then you add instruments to it one by one: the guitars, the horns, the claps from that bathroom. There are so many little things in the song, that you suddenly begin to hear!

The tour ended in the large room with the stage and the film screen, on which we were invited to watch an arrangement of Michael's short films. By this time the emotions where barely contained.

Of course, the video ended with "You Are Not Alone." The screen was lifted... All of us where in tears.

They even had a box of Kleenex close at hand - this emotional manipulation was carefully orchestrated!

At the back of the stage, behind the curtain, there is a mirror, of course...

I asked Roy what's happening with the studios today and what their plans for the future are. He said that both buildings are working. The studios have state-of-the-art equipment, and the studio time is expensive. That's one of the reasons why the tour costs so much - they obviously cannot rent out the studio for the time of the tour. Westlake studios have seen many popular artists such as Rihanna, Ne-Yo and Justin Bieber. Roy says that when artists come here to work, the first thing they all ask is to see Michael's room. The thought that he worked on one of the greatest records of all time here inspires them a lot.

This is the first year when the studios opened doors for general public. Before they had only conducted a few private tours for fan-clubs. I can honestly say that the tour absolutely lived up to all the promises and expectations. For me, it was one of my top experiences of Michael The Artist. I don't know if they are be able to continue this initiative in future (I sincerely hope so), but I came out of there with a feeling, that, open to the public or not, the place will always remain a memorial to him.

I know that many people won't be able to experience this, so I wrote down this story hoping to share a part of what I felt there with all of you. But if you have a chance to go next year or whenever they continue the tour, go. You won't regret it.

Source: Morinen /MJJC

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