Philadelphia Recording Studio Tour- Do It Again!

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Music media went off to meet the wizards.

What were your favorite moments of the  Budweiser Made in Philadelphia festival? For me – cool stuff happening both on stage and off.

Most revelatory on the official show schedule were performances by Latin popster  Prince Royce (ready for a major crossover) and rockin’ bluesman Gary Clark, Jr. – a stylistic blend of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. Clark was treated to showcases on both Saturday and Sunday.. At the second,  he was  provoking Bruce-like crowd shoutouts  of “Gary, Gary, Gary.”

Lucky me also got to tag along on a pre-festival Philadelphia Studio Tour staged for visiting media (Vibe, Gawker, HipHopUpdate, etc.) by  folks at the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation.  In retrospect, I’m thinking, it’d be really cool to offer similar visits to non-alligned tourists (and interested locals), maybe  as part of a larger “Inside Philadelphia” cultural tour  package.

Led around by knowledgeable  radio personality Laiya St. Clair, we popped first into Milkboy Studio  on North 7th Street. Funky but chic, the multi-studio operation was built and until recently owned by producer/string arranger Larry Gold.  Now it’s steered by the same guys who run the Milkboy café/music clubs in center city and Ardmore. Got the walk around and insights from recording engineer and producer Montez Williams – who’s worked with the likes of Jill Scott, The Roots (who now have their own studio in the same building) and British import performer/songwriter Marsha Ambrosious – who also popped up later as a Philly Studio Tour surprise guest.   

Snaking through the building halls,  the tour group  also landed at a separate and spanking new recording studio called The Lab. Longtime Philadelphia International Records chief engineer  Craig White is  nurturing  this operation, nudged into the move by the unfortunate burn out of PIR’s  Broad street studio. Also adding insights at this stop  were  the likes of Carvin (Haggins)  and Ivan (Barias), local  songwriters-producers who’ve put their platinum touch on music by Will Smith, Musiq Soulchild, Justin Timberlake, Jaime Fox and a whole lot more.

The tour  then moved to the legendary Sigma Sound studios on 12th street,  where many a great Gamble-Huff and Thom Bell production was recorded “back in the day.”  Now owned by songwriter/producer Durell Bottoms with key help from Rockstar Entertainment’s Marc Byers, the Sigma setup  has been radically revamped and enlarged from the days when both home town heroes (Patti, Teddy) and visiting celebs like David Bowie and the Jacksons just had to record there.  Sigma's changed so much that former studio exec  Michael Tarsia, a tour guest, said he “hardly recognizes the place.”

 Special guests at this pit stop included songwriter/producer Vidal Davis (Michael Jackson, Usher, Chris Brown, Justin Timberlake), music managers Jerome Hipps and Mike McArthur,  up and coming rapper Young Savage (hitting the rhymes hard) and WRNB weekend show host and media strategist Dyana Williams.

Do it again, gang!