El Paso’s newest recording studio, Star City Studio Productions at 120 W. Castellano on the Westside, ranks as a Rolls Royce among recording and production venues in the state.
Following a year of intense planning and extensive renovations, Star City co-owners guitarist extraordinaire John “Buddy” Winston, and his wife, noted visual artist Pat Olchefski-Winston, are launching operations with grand opening celebrations that wrap up on Sunday, June 26.
Enter the front door at Star City, and you’ve stepped into a distinctive world, enhanced by the blending of art, music and technology.
A selection of paintings by Olchefski-Winston adorns the walls – textured abstracts on board and paper contrast a selection of whimsical cats and other animal figures, while a series of El Paso landmarks challenge the memory. Vibrantly colorful, the diversity of subject matter adds to the feeling of warmth and lively activity.
The OM Room, a large space to the left, provides Olchefski-Winston an alternate location for her artistic interests. It also serves as a showcase for Monk Drums, handmade drums produced in Chaparral, New Mexico.
Having studied the drums, the artist occasionally joins local musicians in jam sessions. She says events like drum circles and jam sessions may become regular happenings.
Buddy Winston is co-owner and CEO. “One of the motivations behind the Star City operation was to build community among the musicians and visual artists of the region, so our plan is to offer a wide range of services designed to meet the needs of novice musicians all the way to those of semi-pro and professionals,” he said.
Professional engineers and producers work as independent contractors at Star City, so clients can pick the ones best suited for their projects.
Winston, a medical physicist by training, is an accomplished guitarist who plays with the popular local group, “PT and the Cruisers.” In fact, it was the search to find a rehearsal space for the band that started the Star City ball rolling.
“Months into the search, a realtor friend, Matthew Koch, told us there was a vacant recording studio for sale only 10 minutes from our home,” Winston said.
The building had been the Scott Martin Recording Studio. Martin sold the business to a group from Mexico that later moved back across the border.
“So the building had been vacant for several years before we purchased it in December 2014,” Winston says.
Admitting they had little expertise in studio design, the Winstons sought out Martin, who now lives in Marble Falls, Texas. Excited about their plans, Martin, a pilot, jumped in his plane and flew out to El Paso. He brought a set of original plans created by Tom Hidley, an internationally known pioneer in studio architecture.
During the yearlong renovations, the couple began to recruit a core studio staff. Eric Boseman is the interim manager/producer, a highly sought after professional drummer who worked as a producer and sound engineer in Los Angeles for 15 years before coming to El Paso.
Producer Albert Braun worked with Beacon Hills Recording Studio, and recording/master engineer Rick Delellis came to El Paso after years in the Austin music scene with his Figment Studio and mastering operation.
Getting the studio ready for business took some work. “What is now our Studio A was designed and partially built by Tom Hidley and his organization back in 1984,” Winston explains.
“The next owners modified the initial design, making it necessary for us to completely redo the area.”
They hired Glenn Leffler, a Hydra Audio radio and recording engineer, guitarist and jack-of-all-trades, to bring the studio back to its original design. Leffler worked with Martin Studio in 1984, so Winston says he’s the only person in the area with the experience and knowledge to rebuild such a complex facility.
Leffler improved the original design by connecting all the recording spaces so they could be controlled from the main control room. He also upgraded the wiring for internet and video.
By using the studios separately or combining them as needed, Star City can offer services from rehearsal and studio time, to assisting less experienced musicians with arrangements, to putting it all together in a finished professional product.
“This option gives us the freedom to work with a musician that may only be interested in recording one song to groups who might want to do an entire album,” Winston says.
Star City can produce high-quality audio recordings, as well as YouTube videos used for promotion.
The heart of the recording operation is Studio A, where musicians are separated from recording engineers and producers by two slanted, sliding glass door walls. Boseman, an engineer, says having no perpendicular walls in the musician’s space means sound cannot bounce off the walls.
“Our mixing board, a SSL, solid state logics board, was designed in the UK,” he said. “The only one in the state of Texas, it’s a hybrid that combines analog and the latest digital technology.”
It can be used as analog alone, or in combination with digital, which produces the warmth of the analog sounds. “It is really the best of both worlds,” he said.
Studio B, the smallest space, was also renovated by Leffler using Hidley’s designs. “This space is perfect for small acts, beats-composition for hip hop artists, mixing and mastering, as well as commercial work and voice overs,” Winston says.
Studio C, a large open room, was designed as a live performance and recording space. It will be equipped with state of the art lighting and top of the line audio and video equipment.
Open a set of doors to the adjoining OM Room and the space is large enough to accommodate 100 people for concerts or live video and audio recording, as well as a space for parties or business meetings.
Olchefski-Winston says they plan to offer workshops on topics like licensing, publicity, financing and using social media.
“We have a world-class talent pool here in El Paso,” says interim manager Boseman, “but most have to go outside the area as they begin to become known and want more.” Star City is especially interested in working with artists from Juárez – talented groups whose music is already on the Latin Billboard and who have competed on “The Voice,” he said.
“Our hope is to be able to make it possible for local talent to stay in the area and grow from here.”
Olchefski-Winston thinks El Paso is also perfect for attracting clients from out of town.
“Some musicians may come in for a few days, while others might spend as long as six weeks working on a project,” she says, adding that the border’s low cost of rental housing makes it attractive, as well as its unique cultural experience.