For 10 years, ninth-generation Santa Barbaran Cory Cordero-Rabe has nurtured his dream of opening a recording facility committed to helping area musicians succeed. He first honed his skills as an engineer, studying recording at City College and working at a small studio in Oakland, California. Last year, he started a music recording camp where local children could spend two-week-long summer sessions learning how to create, shape, and record songs. Finally, a trip to the historic Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee, provided the impetus for him to take the big step. After learning that Stax helped grow Memphis soul in the ’60s by providing free recording to the local community on the first Sunday of each month, Cordero-Rabe resolved to open his own studio and offer the same opportunity to the folks in his hometown.
Cordero-Rabe’s dreams were finally realized this February when he opened The Sound Lab, a recording studio and practice space dedicated to providing Santa Barbara musicians with an accessibly priced place to play their tunes and record their tracks. In keeping with the Stax tradition and his own commitment to giving back to his community, Cordero-Rabe now offers 20 minutes of free recording time to anyone and everyone, no strings attached, on the first Sunday of every month.
From the moment it opened, The Sound Lab became the communal space its owner had envisioned. Much of the equipment was donated or loaned, including an attention-grabbing original Hammond B-3 organ. A high school friend of Cordero-Rabe did the carpentry, and another the electric work. An old bandmate-turned-entertainment-lawyer provided legal guidance, and Cordero-Rabe’s brother Michael does the labor-intensive work of promoting the young space.
More than 30 people have already taken advantage of the free recording sessions, an offer that most find too good to be true. For these skeptics, Cordero-Rabe’s largesse comes as a refreshing source of inspiration. When a woman cried during her six-year-old daughter’s staggering recording of “My Heart Will Go On,” Cordero-Rabe was reminded of why he has devoted so much of his time and energy to doing this good work. He does, after all, keep a full-time day job.
“I want kids making better music than what’s out there right now,” he urged. “What’s out there right now is all about money. This place is all about the artistic aspect.”
The focus on the artists using the studio suggests that The Sound Lab’s owner really has thought of everything. Bands can play as loud as they want, 24 hours a day, for what local musicians say are the best prices in town. Rates for renting the soundproofed and acoustically treated studio include the use of equipment: drums, guitars, mikes, amps, and the organ-a genuine piece of rock history. The space even features a greenroom and viewing area, whose back wall bears a mural created by a collection of local artists.
“It’s as good a recording environment as I could afford,” the engineer explained. “We’re not trying to sell it as the greatest studio, but as the friendliest, most-fun-place-for-you-to-come-play studio.”
Perhaps most attractive is the owner’s disarming demeanor. Visibly at home in the studio, Cordero-Rabe exudes a calm and welcoming nature that belies the uncertainty and nervousness one would expect from the founder of a small business that has yet to turn a profit. In his nine years as an engineer, Cordero-Rabe has observed countless artists who frequently performed better in their garage on the night before recording than in the studio on their big day, when they’d be noticeably lacking their usual swagger and confidence. “People freeze up, and it ends up costing them money,” he explained sympathetically. “We want you to think about what you’re playing, not how much you’re paying.”
And the feedback thus far could hardly be more glowing. Santa Barbara bandleader Torbin Hadlock is just one musician who is enthusiastic about what The Sound Lab is doing for the local scene.
“The most important thing for a band is to have a place to play, and it’s hard to find an affordable one in this town that you can have total access to,” Hadlock said. “It’s incredible that Cory and Mike charge what they do, because they do a really good job.”
Several bands call The Sound Lab home, including a few managed by Cordero-Rabe that already have a healthy following. Merely a month after debuting at the Creekside Inn, Sound Lab bands As High As Kites, Wang Juice, Mendeleyev, and Carmelo had a show booked at SOhO that found them playing openers to Jason Campbell and The Drive and Hadlock’s band, The Augmentors. The Sound Lab has also been invited to host monthly gigs at Creekside based solely on the success of that first event.
Cordero-Rabe believes that Carmelo is proof that 10 years of imagining a socially minded music business is finally paying off. “We’re really trying to cultivate a Santa Barbara sound,” Cordero-Rabe said. “When I hear Carmelo play, I think, ‘This could only come from Santa Barbara.'”
Cordero-Rabe’s advice for people with a head for small business seems also to apply to the aspiring musicians he mentors: “You always have to be progressing. There really are no big breaks. Everything is a step. A ‘big break’ is really just the next step.”
The Sound Lab is located at 812 East Gutierrez Street, Suite A. Call 895-7732 or visit tsl805.com. The facility offers 20 minutes of free recording time on the first Sunday of every month, by appointment.