Little Mountain Sound Studios
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Little Mountain Sound Studios is a music recording facility located in Vancouver, British Columbia. During the 70s, 80s and 90s, it was the most successful recording studio in Western Canada and was the home for many years to producers Bruce Fairbairn and Bob Rock. Little Mountain recorded albums by Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, AC/DC, Metallica, Bryan Adams, Mötley Crüe, David Lee Roth, Loverboy and the Cult among many others. In the mid 90s Little Mountain would become part of Vancouver Studios, the facility would eventually evolve into Greenhouse and would record albums by Nickelback, k.d. lang, Default and Queensryche.
Little Mountain Sound Studios was started in 1972 as a 50/50 partnership between Western Broadcasting (CKNW radio) and Griffiths, Gibson Productions (GGP). Geoff Turner, an unnamed partner with GGP, designed, built and managed the studio. Turner was a long-time audio engineer and studio designer from England by way of New York City. CKNW required large recording spaces to record radio jingles, sometimes with a full orchestra. Turner designed a facility with two large recording studios, and several small recording and production spaces.
In 1974, Turner left Little Mountain to found and operate Pinewood Studios, an audio post-production facility named after the famous English recording stages. It is said that his departure was due to a personality conflict between him and the partners of GGP. Turner went on to design and build several other music recording studios, including Crosstown Studios, Profile Studios, and London Bridge Studios.
After Turner's departure, Bob Brooks was hired to manage Little Mountain. Brooks was an independent producer working out of an office at CKWX after having left Homer Street Studios. In 1977, Western Broadcasting bought out GGP to become sole owner. In 1982, Western Broadcasting sold the studio to Bob Brooks. Brooks owned Little Mountain until the sale in 1992 to the Levens.
Bruce Fairbairn started recording at Little Mountain Sound Studios with Prism, a band in which he played trumpet. Bruce Fairbairn would go on to do the bulk of his work there as an independent producer. Bob Rock worked for Little Mountain and engineered for Bruce Fairbairn for several years before becoming a major music producer himself.
In addition to the high-profile music clients, Little Mountain did a significant amount of other audio recording. Through the 1970s and 1980s, the facility was an equal balance of music and audio post clients. Little Mountain was home to GGRP, a major Vancouver-based jingle house. The studio also did film work.
In 1985, Vancouver's then municipal transportation company, BC Transit, recorded the distinctive three-tone chime and original voice announcement system for the then-newly built advanced light rapid transit system, SkyTrain.
Brooks turned over the running of the studio to a manager in the late 1980s. The front lobby and Studio A were upgraded at the request of clients. The audio post companies left the facility during that period. The upgrade of Greenhouse Studios to an SSL console combined with poor management saw Bob Rock move to Greenhouse Studios for a year. Bob Brooks then replaced the old manager with Bruce Levens to manage Little Mountain.
The Levens would purchase Little Mountain; after managing for six months they continue to own the company to this day. The first day of management for the Levens saw the bailiff hauling out the leather couches, with a Jimmy Page guitar on board. Days later, SSL sent in their rep under the guise of doing console work; he tried unsuccessfully to remove the channel strips into his vehicle. The financial problems were ultimately resolved during the next couple of years.
The late 1980s and early 1990s were creative and sales high points for both Fairbairn and Bob Rock. In 1991, they were considered[by whom?] two of the five best music producers in the world. Bob Rock recorded the most successful albums of both Metallica (the Black Album) and Mötley Crüe (Dr. Feelgood) during this time. Fairbairn also recorded Aerosmith's top seller Get a Grip.
In 1993, the 20-year lease expired and the lease went into overhold. The landlord was looking to double the rent and Little Mountain chose not to renew the lease and moved out the equipment and extensive gold record collection. The facility remained empty for several years. Studio A was converted into rehearsal rooms called Vancouver Rockspace.
In 1995, The Factory Studios leased Studio B and C plus the Loading Bay. They hosted such artists as The Original Bad Company, Marilyn Manson, Rob Halford, Billy Talent, Ocean Machine, Devin Townsend, and the New Pornographers to list a few. In 2011, after 16 years the owner asked for an increase in the lease. Rather than pay the owner and also looking at the dwindling studio market in Vancouver, The Factory closed.
The Studio D and the upstairs office space are rented out as audio post-production space. GGRP would return the building. In early 2012, Garth Richardson began new production in the former Studio B space on a new debut album with Canadian hard rock band Sonic Outcast. The former Studio B and Studio C spaces are now operating under the name Fader Mountain Sound, an audio engineering and music production collective composed of The Farm Studios, Fader Master Sound Studios and FlyFantastic Productions.
Little Mountain relocated to Burnaby after closing in Vancouver at the end of 1993. For the next decade, Little Mountain was an equipment and services company to various producers, engineers, studios and bands. The Levens, who owned Little Mountain, would continue to provide sound recording services through Greenhouse Studios, their other music recording studios. Little Mountain relocated operations back to Vancouver in 2008.
- Aerosmith recorded their trilogy of comeback albums, Permanent Vacation, Pump and the monster seller Get a Grip with Bruce Fairbairn producing. Fairbairn was a key part of the resurgence of the legendary band.
- Bon Jovi recorded their three most commercially successful albums with Bruce Fairbairn and Bob Rock. Slippery When Wet, named for Vancouver's infamous strip clubs, New Jersey and Keep the Faith were done in Vancouver.
- Bryan Adams recorded parts of his worldwide breakthrough Reckless at Little Mountain.
- Mötley Crüe also recorded their biggest seller Dr. Feelgood with Bob Rock. Decade of Decadence was also recorded at Little Mountain.
- David Coverdale and Jimmy Page did the initial recording of their album at Little Mountain with Mike Fraser producing.
- Loverboy recorded much of their catalog at Little Mountain.
- The Cult recorded their multi-platinum seller Sonic Temple (1989).
- Olivia Newton-John recorded and remixed "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" in 1977, engineered by Armin Steiner.
- Van Halen recorded vocals for their 1995 album, Balance with Bruce Fairbairn producing.
- The British Columbia Rapid Transit Company (now part of Translink) recorded the chimes for the Skytrain system in 1984/85.
Other notable international clients include AC/DC, Kingdom Come, Whitesnake, Cher, Poison, Scorpions, David Lee Roth, Skid Row, Krokus, Dan Reed Network, David Bowie, Bay City Rollers, Bachman–Turner Overdrive, Little Caesar, Julio Iglesias, Jeff Healey, Warrant, Van Halen, Nazareth, Blue Murder, Electric Boys and Gorky Park.
Many Canadian artists also recorded highly successful albums including Sweeney Todd, Hometown Band, The Tragically Hip, Honeymoon Suite, Prism, Colin James and the Little Big Band, Payola$, The Cheer, The Grapes of Wrath, Images In Vogue, Quickflight, Chilliwack, Skinny Puppy, Kim Mitchell, Paul Janz, Valdy, Fosterchild and The Lowest of the Low.
Little Mountain Sound Studios was the home to some of the top audio people in the world. Many of the top audio people in Western Canada got their start and built their career at the studio.
Randy Staub started working as Bob Rock's engineer, while at A&M studios in Hollywood, and is now one of the top music mixers in the world. Roger Monk, Mike Fraser, Ron Obvious, Ken Lomas, Pat Glover, Laura Bacon, Mike Plotnikoff, Jeff Long and Brian Dobbs were all audio engineers.
The three studio operators each achieved significant success during their tenure. Little Mountain founder Geoff Turner was one of the fore fathers of the recording industry in Vancouver. He moved from Little Mountain to Pinewood Studios which he owned and operated with his wife Jean for many years.
Bob Brooks built upon the success of Geoff Turner. He took the music side of the business to the pinnacle of audio recording while at the helm. Bob Brooks would go on to own and operate music and post production facilities in Washington State.
Bruce and Roger Levens continued the tradition of excellence. The Levens also founded and operated Vancouver Studios and Greenhouse Studios. The three studios they owned have now recorded over 1,200 music projects of which more than 100 have received gold, platinum or diamond recognition around the world.
John Vrtacic was the technical director of Little Mountain for many years. John Vrtacic was a top audio technician and equipment designer and had been involved in the design and technical operation of many of the top music studios in Western Canada along with Metallica's home studio and Bob Rock's home studio. He was also an equipment designer.
Geoff Turner designed Studio A and B at Little Mountain. Studio A was designed to fit a 50 piece orchestra. Studio B would fit a 30 piece orchestra. The large recording rooms would prove a valuable tool in the recording of rock bands. The control rooms had raised floors to facilitate sight lines and cable runs.
Little Mountain would be a studio based on Neve consoles for the first decade. In 1988 Little Mountain would purchase the first Solid State Logic (SSL) console in Western Canada. The 4048 E series console was located in Studio A. In 1992 Studio B was also updated to the latest SSL, a 4056 G series console with LCRS film panning. Upon installation of the SSL consoles the Neve console in Studio B was converted in Preamp/EQ strips. The studio featured Studer A800 24 track tape machines.
Bob Brooks would hire John Vrtacic in the 1980s to maintain the equipment. John would remain the Technical Director of Little Mountain until the facility in Vancouver closed.
- "Podcast: the story of the SkyTrain chime". The Buzzer Blog (TransLink). 2008-12-01.