When one thinks of downtown Santa Barbara a few things come to mind. Tourism, great bars and restaurants, shopping. Everyone knows what State Street has to offer. But they might not realize, right around the corner, a musician might be recording the next big hit.
Hidden in the middle of downtown, tucked down an alley around the corner from Forever 21 at 924 Chapala St., is Hidden City Studios, a professional recording and rehearsal space owned by 29-year-old Elliott Lanam.
Hidden City has two cozy studios with all of the top-of-the-line equipment you could dream of. The main studio features a drum booth, all kinds of microphones, preamps, a grand piano, various other instruments, and more. The smaller “Studio Brooklynn” is a stripped-down room used for productions that call for a more modern sound.
Mr. Lanam has been a musician since he was 8, and has worked as an audio engineer since he was 23. He founded Hidden City studios five years ago, continuing a successful career that includes a 2015 Grammy nomination for his work on Katy Perry’s album “Prism.” He has worked with household names like David Crosby and Depeche Mode, and even local favorites like Rebelution.
If Mr. Lanam has one obvious trait, it’s that he’s hard working. Currently, he’s in the studio about 12 hours a day, seven days a week. He works with two or three artists a day, in addition to working on his own music. The only reason he doesn’t work more is because his ears get tired, he told the News-Press.
Mr. Lanam came to Santa Barbara for school, and started working at recording studios as a freshman. Before creating Hidden City, Mr. Lanam worked at Sound Design and Playback Studios. There he learned the tricks of the trade and developed a love for mixing classic equipment with modern recording techniques.
Eventually he came to the end of the professional road at Playback, largely thanks to Katy Perry returning to record another record. The fact that she had worked there before was a big part of why he chose to work there, said Mr. Lanam.
“To have that on my resume, it’s really something that legitimizes you as a producer and engineer and people really trust the fact that you’re working with big names. I think that was a turning point,” said Mr. Lanam.
So, on a whim, Mr. Lanam set out on his own. He quickly found a space downtown and, with some money saved up from bartending on the side, he bought it.
“It was booked non-stop from that day on,” he said.
Mr. Lanam had a distinct vision in mind when he acquired equipment for Hidden City. While quality remains a top priority, he wanted to create a sound for himself.
“I knew that I loved classic rock and old school oldies growing up, but I also loved modern production, so I knew that if I could take that sort of early influence and blend it with where technology is going, that would actually in itself create a really interesting sound,” said Mr. Lanam.
Other studios may go for the highest quality, latest equipment available, but Mr. Lanam believes Hidden City stands out from other studios and engineers with its hybrid of vintage meets modern sound.
He has found Hidden City’s sound, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t always totally in line with what the artist wants.
“It’s totally case by case,” he said.
One band might want a really old school sound, while another might want to make a ultra-clean modern pop hit. Whatever they want, Mr. Lanam will deliver, giving artists a variety of options for how they want their tracks to sound.
“At the end of the day it’s their record. They’re the one’s listening to it over and over and over again, so I want to give them something they’ll be happy with. They get the final say,” said Mr. Lanam.
He produces any genre, from jazz trios to heavy rock and singer-songwriters to hip-hop.
“They’re going to have completely vibes, but the thing that ties them all together is that they’re all really clean. Everything has its right place. I will not let something go through my sifter without being clean. Every piece has to fall into place. It all needs to make sense.”
Although he has worked with professionals around the world, Mr. Lanam makes sure to keep the business affordable for all levels of musicians. Hidden City has cornered the market in Santa Barbara by offering professional level production at a fraction of the cost, making it accessible to beginners and stars alike, Mr. Lanam saud.
“It’s just like a no-brainer. All signs point to me.”
For now, Mr. Lanam continues to remain busy, and hopes to expand the studio space after he releases his own singer-songwriter album that is in the works.
For more information, rates, and contact information, visit www.hiddencitystudios.com.