Track Recorders, the Silver Spring studio that has been an important part of the Washington music scene for more than a decade, may have rolled its last tapes.
"We're 16, just had our debutante birthday," says Mark Greenhouse, who bought the studio in 1983 after more than a decade of involvement with it as musician, engineer and producer. He has stopped taking any new business, saying, "It's up for sale as an operating business." Greenhouse says he would like nothing more than to see Track continue under new ownership, but if that fails he's planning on selling off the equipment.
Citing physical and mental health considerations, Greenhouse says, "I need some time off. The studio has been intense for 10 years. I'm exhausted and unable to see my way clearly to continue to invent ways of promoting and protecting Track, which has always been a marginally successful business."
Part of the problem may be that Track hasn't stayed totally in step with rapidly expanding studio technology. When the studio opened in 1970, its 16-track recording equipment was the state of the art. In fact, two of the most respected producers in the business, George Massenberg, now in Los Angeles, and Tony Bongiovi, at the Power Station in New York, got their start at Track. When the studio made its major expansion in 1974, it was Massenberg who helped pick out new equipment. But now 16-track is at the bottom end of the professional spectrum.
"In 1974, Dolby A was very esoteric," says Greenhouse. "The gear was brand-new and cutting-edge. Twelve years later, technology has moved along at an irreversible pace and people are not going back to 16 tracks; they want more and are inventing equipment that needs even more."
And, he notes, Track was unable to expand and keep up with the other top-line studios here, Bias in Springfield and Omega in Wheaton.
Among the big names using Track over the years: Jimi Hendrix, Linda Ronstadt, Marvin Gaye, Little Feat, Gloria Gaynor, the Rev. James Cleveland, Peaches and Herb, Kiss and the Allman Brothers (an unreleased 15/8 tempo instrumental jam called "Chet's Tune").
The list of local bands who used the studio at one time or another over 16 years would include almost all of them. But in the last five years in particular, much of the local business that was at the heart of Track's success has gone to Bias and Omega, studios that are not only better equipped but, Greenhouse concedes, perhaps a bit more professional.
"Track has good equipment that's well maintained, and everyone that works there loves what they do," he says. "All of us -- myself, Jim Krenca, Bill McCullough -- are players as well, and we're different than run-of-the-mill engineers. So the work had a certain spirit and attitude, reflecting a more intense personal relationship between technicians and musicians. That contributed to the confidence that bands had putting songs out on the market. For some reason, jingle clients a cornerstone for any commercial studio never called. It was the bands that called."
It helped, too, that Track's rates were always reasonable, but in the last five years, everyone's money -- and opportunities -- tightened up. Although there are sporadic expansions like the Complex and the East Side, fewer and fewer local clubs these days have live music, much less live original music.
"Hence there's no motivation for bands to form, go out, get popular, need a demo, need a record," Greenhouse says.
One reason there are few new clubs, he notes, is that it's now so hard to get or maintain liquor licenses. Ten years ago, there were dozens of clubs catering to and promoting a local scene.
"It was a good scene -- there was support and excitement and everybody knew everybody. When clubs like Desperados, the Cellar Door, Babe's and Columbia Station go, that's really important."
Still, says Greenhouse, "I don't think it's that we've fallen so much from popularity and we're closing from failure as it is that circumstances are forcing Track to close. I'm just not wealthy enough to maintain it." Now he's "cleaning, polishing and pulling information together to give a portfolio to prospective buyers," he says.
(Another key studio, downtown's Startec, learned recently that its building will be demolished and it has 90 days to relocate; its future also is clouded.)
Track's Alumni Move On
Of Track's main people, McCullough has left the audio field and Krenca is working for his father's security equipment business ("they build secure rooms for people overseas"). But Krenca is also the chief engineer for what amounts to a new studio: Pro Audio's "Big Mo," the 24-track remote truck owned by the American Guitar Center in Wheaton. "They built their own console," Greenhouse says, "which is an unbelievable undertaking -- to design, fabricate and pay for one-of-a-kind parts, hardware, frame. But it's done and it's a unique facility that's pretty well equipped for a remote truck."
Greenhouse says he's going to explore some career options, doing free-lance projects "until I discover what particular skill I wish to pursue. But I plan to not work for a while."
However, the energies and ideals nurtured over the last decade will resurface in the fall in Vanity, a new record label Greenhouse has started to promote original musicians and bands. You can get out of the business, it seems, but you can't get the business out of you.