When Tucker Bodine first opened Playback Recording Studio back in 2009, he had his fair share of naysayers.
At the time, home-recording software like Pro Tools and GarageBand was fast on the rise. All of a sudden, the term “DIY” wasn’t a stigma so much as a simple — and user-friendly — means to an end. Then there was the competition, namely, Dom Camardella’s long-established Haley Street haunt, Santa Barbara Sound Design (otherwise known as Depeche Mode’s recording studio of choice). Add in an economic crisis and Santa Barbara’s astronomically high commercial rental rates and, well, things didn’t look so great.
But, then again, Bodine makes for one hell of an underdog.
Ask Bodine how he landed in Santa Barbara, and he’ll tell you a tale not that different from yours or mine. An East Coast native that wears his New York pride on his sleeve, Bodine headed west at the age of 30 after his mom and brother made the leap. “I always wanted to get to the beach,” Bodine recalled when we met up inside Playback’s headquarters earlier this year. “I thought I’d end up in North Carolina or something, but when I came out to California it was like, ‘Yes, this is it.’”
After cutting his teeth in N.Y.C. as both an assistant engineer at Sony and a freelance recording and mixing engineer, Bodine, like many, started to feel the weight of a lifetime of inner-city living. “Most of the people I knew went to L.A. and Nashville. That was where the creative scene was,” he said. “It was sort of an exodus from New York; a lot of people dipped [out] after 9/11.”
Drawn to Santa Barbara’s laid-back lifestyle, as well as its proximity to the hustle and bustle of L.A., Bodine started scoping real estate and quickly realized that S.B. might be the ideal place to build his dream studio. “I wanted to build a vibey boutique spot. That was my goal,” he said.
“It’s the perfect satellite for Los Angeles,” adds Playback’s operations manager, Ryan Wolfe. “A lot of artists, that’s all they do is L.A., so to come up here and get away and get a hotel and record for three or four days — the productivity and the creativity that comes from it is much different. It’s very accessible, but it’s a getaway. And it doesn’t have that paparazzi culture. People can walk right in or out of this place, and there isn’t someone camped out. Part of the success is keeping it off the radar.”
Apparently Bodine’s vision wasn’t too far from the truth. Just three months after opening Playback’s doors, he snagged his first real high-profile client. Her name was Katy Perry, a former Santa Barbara girl and soon-to-be international superstar. The year was 2009, and Perry was working on the followup to One of the Boys, which featured her first hit single, “I Kissed a Girl.”
“When they first came in, she was having a lot of fun,” Bodine recalled of his initial Perry interactions. “She was teamed up with Dr. Luke and Max Martin. They’d already had one huge hit. That whole session was really about keeping the energy rolling.”
Holed up in Playback’s space, Perry and her team recorded “Teenage Dream” and the Santa Barbara-spot-dropping “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.).” And when it came time to cut album number three, back to Santa Barbara she came.
“They came back and wrote ‘Roar’ here,” Bodine said. “She was in full breakup mode, which I think is one of the raddest ways to write. Songs were coming out right and left.”
While Perry may be Playback’s highest profile fan, she’s certainly not the only big name to come knocking on Bodine’s door. Currently, the studio’s schedule is split “about 50-50” between recording musical artists and handling voiceover work, bringing everyone from Jeff Bridges to John Corbett to Natalie Imbruglia into the lair.
Bodine attributes Playback’s comfortable but secluded vibe to the space’s celebrity success. Unlike larger studio spaces, he says, “It’s a one-room facility. It’s yours. With the move to the home studio, there’s this desire to have a place you can call your own, where you can get comfortable and not worry about any other conflicts.”
START A SCENE
But Bodine will be the first to tell you that Santa Barbarans are who keep Playback running. Survey the majority of music makers in the greater Santa Barbara area, and they’ll tell you they not only know of Playback but also know Bodine personally. On top of that, many of them have spent time inside his studio space.
“My original vision was to make sure I could cater to anyone at any price point,” Bodine says, laughing, “any price point within reason.”
Still, it’s not just affordability that keeps young musicians streaming through Playback’s doors — it’s an attention to detail and career-rearing mentality that Bodine and his staff have honed over the past five years. Aside from tailoring recording packages and studio time to artists’ specific budget and needs, Bodine sees his role as somewhat of an investor in his young client’s careers.
“I ask everyone that comes in here, ‘What are you going to do with this product I hand you? It’s going to be high quality, radio ready. What’s your next plan? Do you know people? It’s really about having a road map,” he explains. “I think that can overwhelm people, but I really do want to know what the end result is. A lot of studios don’t ask that at all, and to me that is as important as coming in here and paying money and recording your songs.”
To his credit, Bodine has left his fingerprint on a number of Santa Barbara’s strongest musical exports over the last five years, including chameleon-like solo artist Bira, punk act Versus the World, rockabilly staples The Mutineers, Indy Battle of the Bands winners The Reignsmen, and Isla Vista funk act The Olés. “The Olés are a great example of a band doing it right,” says Wolfe. “They just produced a record with a Grammy-nominated writer, and it was because they did their work. Their music is great, but they realized they needed a product that represented it. They spent the time practicing and preparing, and they came in here and put down the perfected stuff.”
“I would never turn anyone down,” adds Bodine, “but I definitely encourage people to be prepared for what they’re going into before they shell out money to come in here.”
It’s an extraordinary sentiment coming from a side of the music world rarely interested in much more than the bottom line. And it’s just one of the reasons, Bodine believes, that Playback and Santa Barbara get along so well. “There’s a rad music scene here,” he beams. “It’s a hub. And I couldn’t be more proud that I get to call this place home.”
Playback Recording Studio is located at 400 East Gutierrez Street. Call (805) 730-7529 or visit playbackrecording.com.