- by Christopher Buttner
A Unique Production/Performance Complex Blooms in a Wine Country Setting
In a pristine business park of well-kept warehouses and offices located in northwest Santa Rosa, in bucolic Sonoma County, CA, one immaculate structure stands out against the more conservative surrounding architecture of its wine distributor, microbrewery, electrical supply and motorcycle mechanic neighbors.
The building’s soaring stark gray walls and black one-way windows sharply contrast the pristinely manicured landscaping that’s currently blooming a wide range of brilliant colors as the welcome warmth of spring envelopes Northern California’s wine country. Additionally, the facade is emblazoned with equally colorful and dramatic red and yellow logos denoting “House of Rock” and “V2” — which immediately indicate this business is not like the others.
Guitarist Freddie Salem, former member of legendary southern rock group The Outlaws (“There Goes Another Love Song” and “Green Grass and High Tides”) stays busy enough recording and performing with any number of session gigs and bands. But when he’s not, the multi-tasking maestro is at the helm of House of Rock (HOR), Northern California’s newest, multi-purpose, full-service art and entertainment creation and exhibition facility, which he came onboard as a co-owner in 2014.
Aside from being an iconic musician, Salem has a lifetime of experience launching, opening, managing and consulting to countless restaurants, clubs and other entertainment and special event venues between the U.S. and London.
Hailing from Ohio, Salem’s father owned several “blue collar bars” throughout the Akron area, “I was born and raised in the nightclub business,” Salem states. And with an ingrained understanding of sound, lighting, staging, venue design and management, “it’s all second nature. Been there, done that, built it and then performed there myself,” quips the jovial, quick-witted rocker.
The House of Rock Genesis
HOR began in mid-2012 as a private rehearsal studio, owned and operated by the management of the hard rock band V2 (pronounced “V Squared”), fronted by virtuoso teen twin brothers, drummer and vocalist Vincenzo and guitarist and lead vocalist Vittorio Piazza.
Aside from being the home of V2, the five-year business plan was to evolve HOR as a rehearsal facility, sound stage and recording studio with a music school and education curriculum component.
Now, at the end of the strategic five-year business plan, HOR is capable of hosting 683 people standing (500 seated) and has officially launched as a sprawling 15,000 square foot, world-class JBL, Crown and Soundcraft-powered live performance venue with a 120+ instrument light show, five-camera live-switched video production and dual large-screen video playback support augmenting live shows.
The fully refined HOR features a spacious thrust stage with a mechanical drum riser and 20-foot runway jutting out into the showroom, black-leather lounge seating and chrome and glass café tables and chairs throughout, a mid-century retro-modern cafe, gift shop, finely appointed dressing rooms, full ADA compliance and respectful and well-trained security for every show. Flat screen monitors throughout the facility allow fans to view the live onstage performances from just about anywhere in the venue.
The Studio Side
The venue recently unveiled its Arthur Kelm-designed multi-track audio recording studio. Its centerpiece is a newly-installed Solid State Logic (SSL) 48-channel Duality console with Delta automation and dual Pro Tools HDX systems, with full integration throughout FOH and the facility.
This latest aspect of the business, named RSU Recording Studios and Filmworks, offers a full audio and video post production suite of services, including live and multi-track recording studio and post production services in music recording, engineering, mastering and in-house HD video recording/editing. Ron Nevison, one of the more recent high profile producers to make use of the studio, calls it “a truly outstanding, state-of-the-art recording studio.”
Combined with unparalleled attention-to-detail in show production and support, video and recording technologies, customer services, a seasoned staff of first-rate technical, creative and management pros, and palatial interior decorating featuring an infinite amount of one-of-a-kind rock memorabilia on every single wall, it is as if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Paisley Park had a love child, and HOR is the offspring.
Even long before the studio and post production aspect of the business was installed, when the city of Santa Rosa approved the venue for live concert use in August 2015, chairwoman Patti Cisco of the Santa Rosa Planning Commission said of HOR, “this is the kind of business that can put Santa Rosa on the map.”
Since Salem’s involvement, as the business took shape and RSU Recording Studios and Filmworks’ unveiling date loomed larger, he worked tirelessly to ensure there’d be no shortage of confirmed pre-bookings long before any “officially-open-for-business” ribbon cutting date was announced.
Enter The House of Rock
Outside of being the home for Vittorio and Vincenzo’s V2 rehearsal, recording, and special performances, HOR officially opened its doors to the public in June 2016, hosting a wide range of nationally known rock and jazz touring acts on its stage with the objective of soon adding country, reggae and other diverse acts to the live performance roster.
During this methodical nine-month “soft launch” refinement period, more than 20 national and regional bands have graced the HOR stage including Quiet Riot, Winger, Blue Öyster Cult, Lita Ford and Foghat, to name a few.
By the end of 2017, HOR expects to be hosting two to three weekly performances by touring headliners. The facility is also booked for fundraisers, corporate affairs and private events — as well as outside entertainment events booked and managed by other promoters. Salem happily reports, “Concerts and other special event bookings are scheduled months out.”
Technical director Evan Alexander oversees all aspects of live production and performances and manages audio and lighting for all live shows.
Originally from upstate New York, Alexander was born into the business, coming from a family engrossed in music for over 50-years. His father was a guitar player who also sold tickets to the iconic Woodstock festival. His uncle played guitar in bands and had his own home recording studio long before such artistic extravagances were even commonplace.
Alexander, who refers to himself as a “self-taught hard worker who learned from top-notch professionals over decades,” got his start in technology by spending summers hanging around his uncle’s studio. His curious nature would prove to be advantageous to his career in later years.
In 2006, Alexander relocated to Sonoma County to work for soundco/integrator Sound Expressions (soundexpressions.com) on the recommendation of his uncle, who had strong customer relationship with the company through his recording studio. Alexander soon became an invaluable resource in systems integration, lighting design, FOH engineering and video production — “right down to nuts and bolts wiring,” he adds.
Sound Expressions was contracted in 2012 to begin the initial installation of equipment in what was to initially be V2’s rehearsal and showcase space with the long-term objective of building-out the facility as a full-blown concert venue for ticketed events.
Greg Adams, Sound Expressions’ founder and president was the main audio system design and specifying engineer, with Alexander managing the installation, having been with HOR from the ground level since day one. “I installed the majority of the systems with Greg Adams,” he states, “And I know every audio and video transmission wire, in every conduit, behind every wall, in here. Every metamorphosis this building has gone through, I have been involved on some level.”
The Audio System
The HOR structure is a warehouse of solid concrete construction, yet slightly lower-than-normal ceiling heights compared to comparable performance venues of similar size. To avoid impeding sightlines, and reduce the potential to activate the room with reverberation and slapback, the line array product selected for the job was JBL VerTec VT4886’s, five per side flown, powered by Crown I-T12000’s. One JBL SRX728 double-18 subwoofer per side, powered by a single Crown I-T9000, provides the low end. The house P.A. is operated by a 96-input Soundcraft Vi3000 digital console.
“I am confident Sound Expressions was responsible for the first JBL VerTec 4886 installations if not in the country, then in California, at the Spring Hills Community Church, also in Santa Rosa,” Alexander adds.
Citing positive results after installing the VerTec 4886’s in Spring Hills, “they proved to be the optimal line array for the very similar architectural conditions we were confronting in HOR. We needed a very directional pattern and controllable speaker, so we could direct the sound where we needed it to go. Aside from that, it’s a dynamic sound system that can efficiently handle any music we put through it. It has that crispness and punch for hard rock and metal, while live jazz is always the high-fidelity elegance you expect.”
Monitors consist of four JBL SRX712 12-inch two-way stage wedges and four JBL STX812 12-inch two-way stage monitors powered by eight Crown Xti amplifiers with presets for either eight biamped mixes or 16 full range mixes. Monitorworld is controlled by a Soundcraft Si Performer3 console, which also includes two Sennheiser IEM systems capable of four mono mixes or two stereo mixes.
Alexander states, “It’s a very robust, reliable, redundant and turnkey line array system. As JBL-Harman dealers with countless years of experience, Sound Expressions has come to rely on Harman products, because they simply work very well together. From the JBL speakers, to Crown amps, dbx processing, to the Soundcraft console, everything is a natural fit because they integrate so well.”
In addition, the FOH position is home to one of the two Pro Tools HDX systems (MADI HD via optical MADI 48K/24-bit, 64-track), with a second Pro Tools HDX system (Focusrite RedNet HD32R via Dante 48K/24-bit, 64-track) installed in the studio. Both systems are integrated into the studio suite’s SSL console for live recording from the stage. The SSL is also utilized for the final live broadcast mix on live Internet streaming performances.
In addition, HOR offers variety of microphones from AKG, Audix, DPA, Neumann, Peluso, Sennheiser, Shure, Telefunken and Royer, with AKG wireless systems for guitars and basses, and Crown CM311/Shure UHF-R wireless and AKG D5’s for vocals. HOR even maintains an inventory backline amps consisting of Marshall and Ampeg heads and cabinets, with nearby Backline Source Instrument Rentals (backlinesource.com) providing additional M.I. gear and instruments for any band doing “fly-in gig” performances.
Alexander eventually began transitioning away from his full-time position with Sound Expressions and was offered the HOR technical director position in November 2015.
Lights, Video, Action!
Having intimate knowledge of all aspects of the facility, except as a show lighting operator, Alexander began an accelerated process to learn HOR’s elaborate installed house lighting system consisting of a Jands Vista I3 Console running a mix of 13 Chauvet Legend 1200E Spot moving lights, Legend 230SR Beam moving lights, Legend 300E Spot moving light, 110 other lighting fixtures, integrated LED stage lighting, five foggers and hazers and a manually operated balcony followspot. The lighting system was designed and installed by Tom Durante from The Lux Productions in Sonoma, CA (thelux.com).
Salem states, “No tour or production manager is going state, ‘Well, we need another 40 lights.’ Once we fire up this lighting system, they quickly realize we have all the lighting gear to execute a very impressive looking show. In fact, the lighting is over-ample for this stage.”
The Sound Expressions-installed video system, which augments the live performances, consists of three JVC Pro HD HM790CHU cameras — one wireless handheld for stage-edge close-ups and the other two positioned on tripods at the mix position and balcony. A Sony Pro BRC H900 PTZ camera is mounted at the lip of the stage runway, and a Vaddio HD 20 PTZ Robotic Camera is mounted above the drum set. Projection is via two Dukane 8952P 7K lumen LCD projectors onto the 78-by-139-inch Da-Lite Perm-Wall video screens.
Cameras and live content are managed by a Panasonic AW-HS50 video switcher with AJA Key Pro 1920 x 1080 HD digital recorders for all cameras, recording isolated camera feeds, as well as the switched live feed, to a Promise Pegasus2 R4 12TB unit. The system is driven by a Mac Pro 3.5 6-Core/256GB CPU running Final Cut Pro X, with Firewire 800 to Thunderbolt connectivity.
Two Apple iMacs are utilized for content, and an LG 27-inch 4K UHD monitor is utilized for live camera feed monitoring. Crew personnel communicate via Clear-Com HME DX210 headsets, and Bose Companion 5 speakers round out the FOH video gear list.
Video content can be live streamed to the Internet over HOR’s T1 line, as well as mixed and mastered in the facility, thereby providing the band with the option to produce a live video DVD production faster and cheaper by keeping the project, from start-to-finish, in house.
The beauty of the near-turnkey HOR venue is very little need come off the truck, short of drums, specific backline gear, keyboards, pedal boards and guitars — and possibly a laptop with band-specific content, which is usually backed up to a thumb drive.
“We have good track record at maintaining every aspect of production is as efficient and streamlined as possible,” Evan says. “We generally get stage plots ahead of time. I get the sound team in here the day before the show, we set up monitor mix locations, and get a general line-check through all the monitors, making sure they’re showing up in the band’s requested configurations. Day of show, we have the backline company show up about an hour before the band’s expected arrival, again, so we can pre-set based on their stage plot. If the band’s sound engineer has VI files, and most touring engineers do, console configuration of all their inputs and layouts is very fast.”
Continuing, Alexander points out, “Usually, when the band shows up, with minor tweaks, and modifying the placement of things, within an hour to an hour and a half, max — and depending upon on how motivated the band is to get working — we’re up and running and sound checking fairly quickly. We’ve created a facility where the band can, literally, just roll off the truck with their backline and plug and play.”
Good Start, Bright Future
Salem notes, “With the studio, everything is integrated down to the stage, so any band can come in here and record a live concert directly to Pro Tools HD at the board and/or through the SSL in the studio. Now that all systems are refined, we can do full-on, full-blown productions, from live to post-production to mixing and mastering, including a five-camera shoot, with clients ranging from dress and technical rehearsals, live shows, video productions, to special events. There are few facilities like HOR where everything can be accomplished under one roof with one team.”
Now that HOR is officially open for business, when Salem is asked what the future holds for HOR, he pauses, smiles, and says, “Everything.”
House of Rock
- Location: Santa Rosa, CA
- Capacity: 683 standing; 500 seated
- Mains: (10) JBL VerTec VT4886(5/side); Crown I-T12000 powering
- Subs: JBL SRX728 (one/side); Crown I-T9000 powering
- FOH Console: Soundcraft Vi3000, 96 inputs
- Recording: Pro Tools HDX — MADI HD via optical MADI, 64-tracks with Pro Tools 12
- Console: Soundcraft Si Performer3
- Stage Box: 32 × 16 Soundcraft mini; additional 64 x 32 Soundcraft stagebox under stage connected via Cat-5E/MADI.
- Amplifiers: (8) Crown Xti
- Stage Wedges: (4) JBL SRX712, (4) STX812
- IEM Hardware: Sennheiser
- Snake: 48 channels to FOH with iso split to recording studio
- Recording: Pro Tools HDX system — Focusrite RedNet HD32R via Dante; 64 tracks to Pro Tools 12
- Wireless: AKG, Shure
- Microphones: AKG, Audix, Crown, DPA, Neumann, Peluso, Royer, Sennheiser, Shure, Telefunken
- Direct Boxes: Radial, Countryman
- Console: SSL Duality, 48-channel with Delta automation
- Preamps: (4) API 3124+; (2) BAE 1028; (8) Millennia WV-3D; (32) Focusrite RedNet MP8R
- Outboard: (3) Focusrite RedNet 2; (2) TubeTech PE1C EQ’s; (2) Empirical Labs EL8 Distressors; Smart Research Stereo C2 Compressor; Kush Audio Clariphonic EQ
- Monitors: Custom ATC; PMC Two Two Five
- Cue System: Aviom D 800