From Bruno Mars to Kings of Leon: Where the Music Biz Works (and Plays) in L.A.
It's fitting that the Los Angeles offices of music companies would precisely articulate the character of the labels and publishers that call them home. After all, those firms are in the business of selling art -- or, at the very least, self-expression. In fact, cool digs might be seen as part of the formula.
"I think the important thing is to reflect taste," says Annie Clark, who performs as St. Vincent and is signed to 4AD, part of the Beggars Group record company. "Record labels are, in effect, cultural curators, so the office space ought to be a logical extension of their overall aesthetic."
A cross section of firms with L.A. offices shows how disparate those aesthetics can be. The three featured here are the 1938 house used by Beggars, the high-rise offices inhabited by publishing company Bug Music and Dangerbird Records' Sunset Boulevard commercial building.
2035 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake
Some might look at this one-bedroom residence and see, well, a house. But from the get-go, Miwa Okumura, Beggars Group's senior vp West Coast operations and licensing, saw the future L.A. offices of the British company that includes labels 4AD, Matador, Rough Trade and XL, which signed Adele. "We wanted it to be someplace where people feel inspired," says Okumura, who began her search in 2009 and settled on the Streamline Moderne residence in early 2011. "We can have this be a destination spot for artists." Indeed, musicians in the stable, including Stephen Malkmus and Ted Leo, have stayed at the property while in town for promotional events or performances. The 1,800-square-foot house, which has been featured in Metropolitan Home, was remodeled by a previous owner, interior designer Thomas Michna, who sold it in 2004. After Beggars purchased the property in February 2011 for $1.01 million, Okumura commissioned a few improvements: A patio was built where Beggars has since conducted a board meeting, and an interior wall was removed to create a more open floor plan. Okumura also outfitted the house with furniture from Design Within Reach and photography by her husband, Reuben Cox, but kept details such as a Philippine mahogany ceiling. Wesley Eisold of Matador group Cold Cave says the space reflects "the music that comes from it. It's modern and elegant but not confined or uncomfortable." Okumura says a recording studio soon will be built in the garage, which now holds a cache of CDs and LPs and a foosball table.
[Above: L.A.-based musician Ariel Pink, who is signed to Beggars' 4AD label, lounges in the bedroom, which features prints from photographer Cox.]
3801 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake
Dangerbird co-founder Jeff Castelaz always had his sights set on Silver Lake as the place to headquarter his indie label and management firm (founded in 2004). "I was deeply conscious of the fact that I wanted to contribute to the fabric of this neighborhood," says Castelaz, who got his start managing bands and lives less than a mile from his company's offices. Dangerbird, which has a roster of artists that includes Silversun Pickups and Fitz and The Tantrums, purchased the two-building property near Sunset Junction in December 2007 for an undisclosed sum, hired interior designer and architect Barbara Bestor to transform it and, in January 2009, moved in. One office features wallpaper with a patterned Dangerbird graphic; the company's Shepard Fairey-designed logo is stenciled on the floor of the basement; and the same logo is imagined as a large wooden sculpture by cabinetmaker Monte Ross that is suspended over a group desk where most of the company's 10 employees work. It's an aesthetic that appeals to Fitz and The Tantrums frontman Michael Fitzpatrick. "The coolness of the office is a reflection of the label's personality," he says. The property, which includes a studio used by artists such as The Tantrums and nonlabel bands like Neon Trees, is perhaps best known for the colorful murals displayed on the Sunset-fronting building's exterior. Castelaz commissions new pieces regularly; the space currently displays work by artist Rory Wilson, including a piece for the Pablove Foundation, the pediatric cancer research nonprofit founded by Castelaz and wife Jo Ann Thrailkill in honor of their son Pablo, who lost his battle with cancer in 2009 at the age of 6. The nonprofit also is based at the property. "It means a lot to me to be about something more than just trying to have a huge profit -- you know, buy low, sell high," says Castelaz. "We really enjoy being a part of this community."
[Below: Castelaz bicycles past a wall with the message "Music saved my life," which he spraypainted on a whim. Also pictured: Dangerbird president Piero Giramonti (against wall); Zach Weinberg (center), and Greg Sieme (right), director of new media.]
6100 Wilshire Blvd., Miracle Mile
Even before independent publishing company Bug Music was acquired by industry powerhouse BMG Chrysalis on Oct. 5 for about $300 million, the company was on its way to a sleeker, buttoned-down and, yes, corporate existence. In June, it moved into a 16th- and 17th-floor penthouse space on Wilshire near Fairfax Avenue at the edge of the Miracle Mile district. Bug, which has a stable of artists that includes Kings of Leon and Bruno Mars, signed a six-year, $3.6 million lease for the 21,000-square-foot space. Bug left behind a homey office at 7750 W. Sunset Blvd. that featured a sculpture of the company's bug logo on the building's facade. The logo didn't make the transition, but that doesn't mean the company's character hasn't seeped into the new place, which houses about 70 employees and offers sweeping views of the hills and city lights. Bug's irreverence is most visible on the two-story office's walls, which are covered with snippets of lyrics from Bug artists' compositions -- each displayed in an oversized, whimsical design. They are from an eclectic group, ranging from Johnny Cash to Mars. Bug CEO David Hirshland says it was important to retain some of the character of the company's former home: "That was key -- we had to give it some personality." Employees chose the lyrics, and such classic songs as "What a Wonderful World" made the cut. Van Dyke Parks, whose catalog is administered by Bug, appreciates the design. "The irregularity of it all suggests a branding that's still maverick and outside the box," he says. "This is what a songwriter needs to encourage real creativity." The offices also hold an expansive performance space -- replete with a 20-foot ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows -- that Hirshland plans to use for artist showcases. And Parks, for one, hopes to do some songwriting there soon.
[Below: Bug Music administers the Cash catalog, and a lyric from his iconic "I Walk the Line" graces a wall in the Bug office.]