Studio Profile: Windmark Recording

Now situated in sunny Santa Monica and run by former studio boss Michael Marquart’s daughter Samantha, Windmark Recording has experienced nothing but success since moving West. Adam Savage went on the case to find the reasons why. 

It cannot be easy to establish a high-end recording facility in a place like Los Angeles County these days. In an area already scattered with big-name spaces, most new studio owners can expect a tough challenge right from the off, but there were no concerns that Santa Monica-based Windmark Recording would struggle to get off the ground when it opened its doors in 2012.

Initially set up in Virginia almost 30 years ago by Michael Marquart, a successful producer, songwriter and former drummer for ’80s new wave outfit A Flock of Seagulls, Windmark is now making a name for itself in California under the leadership of Marquart’s daughter, Samantha, with Michael’s son Mikey also responsible for the upkeep of the facility and its equipment.

Following the sale of the original studio 10 years back, Michael Marquart had been looking for somewhere to build his own private space further West, but Samantha had a better idea.

“My Dad was thinking of building a small studio at his house in Malibu so he had a place to work when he was in town, and I suggested he build something in Santa Monica so my brother and I could use it as well,” she recalls. “In my effort to try to convince my Dad to agree, I thought it would give a little bit more incentive if I threw in the idea of renting it out every now and again when he wasn’t in town. That’s when it hit me – why in the world wouldn’t we just open up a studio out here?”

The decision was made to acquire a sizeable space formerly occupied by Grammy award-winning songwriting and production duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, designed with high-quality wiring and a focus on eye-catching aesthetics.

And although they went with the old name to carry on Windmark’s legacy, the Marquarts felt that a fresh start was for the best.

“When we decided to open on the West Coast with me as the manager, we approached it like a new studio entirely,” Samantha says. “What worked for my Dad on the East Coast wouldn’t necessarily work out here in terms of studio operation, so we needed to start from scratch. However, my father set a standard of excellence when he first opened Windmark, and that remains unchanged.”

A Rare Treat

What also remains unchanged are some of the six-studio complex’s most prized possessions when it comes to gear, including one of only four ultra-rare vintage Neve A4310 consoles ever built and a 1967 Ampex 16-track two-inch tape machine once owned by Les Paul – both of which can be found in the newly designed Studio F.

This particular Neve, which features 24 busses and 32 monitor channels, is equipped with 40 31105 mic pre/EQ modules, Neve 2254 and Shep S2151 compressors, and is quite a beauty.

Other highlights include a neat set of soffit-mounted Augspurger monitors and a raft of outboard gear from the likes of Focusrite, Urei, API and SSL.

Designed by renowned Swiss-born architect Peter Grueneisen, Studio F also ticks all the boxes for Windmark assistant engineer Tristan Bott, who didn’t have long to get used to the setup once it was complete.

“The day after it was finished we had a session in there, so I had a pretty short turnaround to learn the room and the board [the A4310],” Bott recalls. “The guys that put the room together did a great job and made it easy for any recording scenario.”

“Our Neve is fitted with a Sony turntable. So whenever there’s that rare chance nowadays that someone brings vinyl, they can cut it right into Pro Tools from the board.”

The equipment offering is a huge attraction, then, but Samantha Marquart believes the homely feel of Studio F and the professionalism of her team is just as important.

“It has such a comfortable atmosphere. Our lounges feel like living rooms, but more than that, it’s the people we have working here. Our ‘family business’ attitude is really carried throughout all of our staff and our operations run very smoothly because of it.”

And from a technical viewpoint, even clients with the most complicated of requirements will likely find the solution they need at Windmark, as Bott explains: “Any one of our control rooms, vocal booths, or live rooms can be connected together via patchbays and Ethernet, allowing endless possibilities of utilising a room’s equipment and combining recording spaces together for complex sessions,” notes the engineer. “You could have someone singing in a booth across the building and a full drum kit playing in a live room on the other side while listening to a cue mix in our kitchen. Anything is possible.

“Our client services are top as well. Signature lemonade, fruit plates and cookies; I mean, what more could you ask for? We take pride in accommodating our clients and giving them the best studio experience.”

She Means Business

Despite having an experienced studio owner father to learn from and a strong musical background herself – Samantha is also an accomplished singer – Marquart sees her business acumen as one of her main assets.

“It’s always important to have a good business sense. To ensure a company’s survival you have to constantly be evolving and adapting, especially with a recording studio – a section of the music industry where you wouldn’t think there is much room for innovation,” she explains.

“That is where I think I have a little bit of an edge. I didn’t plan on being a studio manager. I went to Pepperdine [University, Malibu] and graduated with a degree in Integrated Marketing Communication, and aside from what I learned from my Dad, I knew nothing about running a recording studio. So naturally I am going to have a different perspective than someone else who has been working in studios their whole life.”

As for what her main plans are for the future of the facility, Marquart offers a refreshing outlook.

“The music business is always changing; that’s what is so great about it. People are consistently trying to think of a new way to release music or promote their album. The recording side has remained unchanged for a while. That, to me, is exciting; there are endless possibilities,” she notes.

“Innovation is king, and that has to be at the forefront of your mind when you are running a business. As a recording studio, we are a breeding ground for creativity. There is no reason why that shouldn’t carry over into the way we do business as well.

“I plan to consistently grow and adapt Windmark over time, but it’s hard to say where we will end up. As long as we maintain our standard of excellence and loyalty to our clients, I don’t think we will have any problem retaining a strong position in the business.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering how she can count acts such as Coldplay and J. Cole among her previous clients, Marquart sees the social side as the main perk her job offers.

“The best part has been meeting all of the amazing people,” she says. “As you can imagine we get an array of people in here on a daily basis – people from all walks of life, every one with a different story and a different worldview.”