The masters department of the famous Capitol Studios in Hollywood has been closed, with several employees fired, Universal Music Group confirmed on Tuesday night after the announcement of the closure began circulating on social media.
The recording studios themselves, a tourist attraction and magnet for top recording artists since opening in 1956, remain open. But Capitol Studios’ master rooms, which were almost honored by engineers and producers, will not, as these rooms will be converted into sound studios – presumably much smaller than Studio A, where Frank Sinatra used to record with a complete orchestra.
A spokesman for Universal Music Group said: “At Capitol Studios, while the demand for recording studios is still high, there has been a general decline in requests for mastering services ̵
Also closing: Capitol Studios’ tape recovery department, where older footage from the UMG catalog was digitized. According to UMG, much, if not most, of this work had already been outsourced to Iron Mountain in Hollywood in the last many years.
UMG did not confirm the number of staff cut, but the mastering department had four employees. But a key employee affected by the changes that took place this week was not only connected to the mastering or band restoration departments, but Capitol Studios as a whole: Paula Salvatore, a vice president of the studio who recently celebrated her 30th birthday with the company, and was widely regarded as the face of the entire plant.
Salvatore will no longer continue in that role. Word had spread in the music scene on Monday and Tuesday that Salvatore had been fired with growing confusion over the potential departure of an institutional fixture that many considered Capitol Studios to be the face of. UMG sources say she will continue with the company in another role not yet defined. From the outside, it is unclear whether she will continue as an employee or be a consultant. Variety could not reach Salvatore for comment.
All recordings must be mastered for release, so it is not entirely intuitive why the demand for studio sessions would remain at a premium, but mastery work would have slowed down to the review that UMG’s statement suggests. It may be that further recording studies in such a famous place might steer more of a prize than mastering work that can outsource. UMG has external facilities it uses for mastering in Los Angeles, which are expected to take on work previously performed internally. The company projects no cuts to mastering facilities in the studios it owns in New York, Nashville, Canada and Mexico.
Top engineer Steve Hoffman, who oversees the popular Hoffman Forum bulletin boards, was one of those surprised by the closure of the mastering department. On his Facebook page, he expressed relief that the recording studios would reopen, contrary to the original rumors that they, too, may face permanent closure. “I hope it’s true,” he wrote, “but why guy and close mastering? Will they never release music? ”
Capitol Studios as a whole were shut down in the initial stages of the pandemic, then reopened under COVID protocols with a slowdown in activity as fewer people were allowed to be on site and extensive cleaning had to take place between sessions. The entire facility was temporarily shut down again recently as the county of Los Angeles introduced new restrictions on entertainment production due to a severe increase in COVID infections; there is hope that the study may be allowed to reopen if cases become slower at the end of January, though it looks less likely as the days go by and admissions increase.
Capitol Studios’ mastering department was especially known in recent years for its role in the vinyl revival, although CD mastering was also done there. The studio’s website, which has not been altered to reflect the department’s closure, still boasts: “Capitol Mastering boasts the vibrant legacy of lacquer mastering to vinyl with two legendary full-service Neumann lathes. We cut lacquer masts for all formats including 7 “, 10” and 12 “.”
Sources say that lathes and other vintage or analog equipment are stored on site and not sold even if it is moved out of the master room as they are converted into recording rooms.
The department’s longest-serving veteran, Ron McMaster, made headlines (including one Variety profile) when he retired in 2018 after 38 years in the Capitol Tower. He then said he withdrew because the influx of requests for vinyl masters was so intense – sometimes involved in cutting four varnishes a day – that he no longer had the energy to keep up the pace.
Rumors continue to circulate about the future of the Capitol Tower, which was sold in 2007 and then leased back to the Capitol label group. The building has the status of a landmark, and in any case, studio floors are believed to be safe from conversion to other uses. UMG has maintained that any rumor conversion to apartments remains off the table.
Salvatores’ time with the company had not recently gone unnoticed internally. In November, another tenant of the Capitol Tower, Capitol Records, posted a video to his Facebook page of Salvatore giving a tour of the famous basement studio with a caption noting that it was “in celebration of Paula Salvatores 30- year anniversary “(below).