For a city richer in homegrown music than, arguably, any other city in America, New Orleans has been slow to build the kind of industry “infrastructure” characterizing major recording hubs.
Big-name record labels – most notably Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group – that have long been at home in, say, Nashville, have never set up shop in the birthplace of jazz.

New Orleans did develop a core of independent recording studios catering largely to locals and sometimes drawing big-name national artists. But last year that studio core seemed to suffer a blow when the well-respected Piety Street Recording went dark.

Producer Mark Bingham had a 12-year run with the Bywater studio, which worked with artists including Green Day, Tom Waits and the Dave Matthews Band. Bingham had partnered in the studio with artist Shawn Hall and well-known engineer John Fishbach.

Bingham said his reasons for shuttering the studio were not financial but creative. Running a large studio required too much time he could instead devote to small projects that would support musicians who are just starting their careers, he told a reporter.

Many local artists no doubt miss Piety Street Recording, but its closure could spark business expansions at some other well-regarded studios. In fact, in an era when big-name recording studios are losing some ground nationally to independent producers and labels, local studios with an entrepreneurial bent may stand to profit.

New Orleans today offers what some describe as one of the most vibrant live-music environments in the world – this during a time when the money in the music industry appears to be shifting from record labels toward touring and other live performances.

The city’s performance scene continues not only to help nurture local musical talent but also draw musicians from far and wide who hope to build careers by recording an inexpensive CD and using it to launch a live tour. With so many artists anxious to tap into the city’s live-music momentum, local recording studios could be positioned to prosper.

The studios listed here are among the best-known local recording establishments and could lead the way in an era increasingly focused on independently recorded music.

Music Shed Studios. (929 Euterpe St., 412-9995, Billing itself as a “music incubator,” this production, recording and rehearsal studio is known as one of the most competitive recording sites in the region. It has gained a wide following among local and national artists since its founding in 2006.    

The studio’s client list runs the gamut from Dr. John, Kermit Ruffins and Harry Connick Jr. to Janelle Monae, Trombone Shorty and Chris Thomas King. Co-owned by Chris Bailey and Betsy Alquist, the studio is where Rebirth Brass Band recorded its Grammy-winning album “Rebirth of New Orleans” in 2011.

In a nod to the rapidly expanding film and television production work available in New Orleans, the Music Shed has announced plans to open post-production suites and a mixing theater stage to better serve film and video clients.

Esplanade Studios. (2540 Esplanade Ave., 655-0423, The grand interior of this extensively renovated century-old church reflects the post-Hurricane Katrina vision of studio owner and lead engineer Misha Kachkachishvili, who brought the storm-devastated Third Presbyterian Church back to life as Esplanade Studios.

What Kachkachishvili had in mind was not merely an architecturally fabulous setting for recording music, but a studio uniquely equipped to accommodate the production of fully orchestrated musical scores for major feature films. The 14,000-square-foot building houses three studios, including space that can accommodate a 70-piece orchestra and private concerts.

The acoustically and technically advanced studio also includes a guest room for artist residence, and a large collection of vintage and modern microphones and instruments. Its most striking feature is a 100-year-old pipe organ that was a gift from industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

Word of Mouth Recording Studio. (400 Belleville St., Algiers, 494-0691) Engineer Tim Stambaugh is the creative force behind this West Bank establishment specializing in local jazz, R&B, funk, Latin, gospel and brass band recording. The studio has a loyal musician following thanks to the engineering prowess of Stambaugh, who has managed recordings for dozens of musicians including Ellis Marsalis, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Treme Brass Band, Shamarr Allen, Sasha Masakowski, Johnny Vidacovich and Charmaine Neville.

The Living Room Studio. (1728 Hermosa St., 236-2772, Chris George and Daniel Majorie began working together in 1997, when they recorded a local band using a four-track cassette recorder. The collaboration eventually led to George opening The Living Room, which in fact was the living room of his two-bedroom house. In 2003 the engineer pair relocated to the larger space of a former church, and retaining the name, opened the new Living Room Studio. Since then they have built a client list populated by dozens of musicians, including Glen David Andrews, Jo-el Sonnier, John Boutté and Jamil Sherif, to name a few.

Inner Recess Recording Studio. (1068 Magazine St., 298-8863, Aaron Thornton, a transplant from Brooklyn, N.Y., founded Inner Recess in 2007 to ply his skills and a music business degree from New York University. Thornton, who worked for various record labels before launching on his own independent studio path, teamed up with producer, musician and longtime friend Prospek to develop Inner Recess into a multi-media firm offering recording, mixing and production services, video production and rehearsal space.

Industry at a Turning Point?
The global recorded music industry, which has suffered from declining revenues during the past decade, finally showed a little growth in 2012, thanks to strong expansion of digital music sales.

In its latest Digital Music Report, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry said that global recorded music revenues rose 0.3 percent in 2012. It was the first year of industry growth since 1999, and the boost came from a 9 percent jump in digital music sales.

Total global recorded music revenue hit $16.5 billion in 2012, still far below the $27.8 billion total of 1999.
Some highlights from the report:

  •  Download sales grew 12 percent to 4.3 billion units globally (combining digital singles and albums).
  • Digital album sales rose 17 percent, with 207 million albums sold.
  •  Subscription services saw a 44 percent rise in fee-paying customers, to 20 million paying subscribers.
  • Download stores, such as iTunes and services from Google, Amazon and Microsoft, represent about 70 percent of global digital revenue.
  • Digital music consumption has become mainstream, with a survey showing 62 percent of Internet users aged 16-64 had engaged in a legitimate licensed service in a six-month period.