Invention is about 40 feet wide and very, very deep at 777 Wave St., where a stolid and respectable little 1919-vintage granny cottage sits primly on the slope overlooking Cannery Row. It sits atop three stories of high-tech, high-design recording studio/performance space/record label/gallery/tea room/event venue and recording school, engineered cleverly into the hillside below it.
Owner Rhett Allen Smith designed and built the complex. “It’s the culmination of 15 years of preparation and planning,” Smith says. He bought the 650-square-foot historic house four years ago, perhaps the only prospective buyer who could see much future in the address with strings attached – including the requirement that the cottage had to be the prominent structure on Wave Street, and that any other building on the property must fit the flavor of Cannery Row. Out of these limitations came the naturalistically-industrial complex engineered below the cottage, whose bricked driveway ends in a concrete staircase that climbs down to another century.
“One-hundred-fifty trucks of dirt were excavated from this 50-by-85-foot lot,” Smith says. “The building is now 4,200 square feet of poured-in-place concrete with steel reinforcement and all mechanical equipment buried outside. It’s designed for a very complicated function.”
The staircase descending from Wave Street becomes a two-story wall that erupts in a waterfall, surrounded by comfy, polished radiant-heated concrete benches around the brick courtyard. Massive multipaned French doors lead on one side into the Quok Mui Tearoom and Boutique. On the third side, a wall of doors leads into the studio that is the heart of the matter.
The sprung hardwood floors – heated from below – extend about 40 feet to a mirrored wall. Along one side, another 14-foot wall – this of rounded rocks – is lit to create an elegant backdrop for the grand piano gleaming in the foreground. The wall also creates a sound diffuser for the studio’s primary function, which is evidenced in the polished concrete and wood wall opposite, from which two stories of audio and video control booths overlook the space where artists from around the world are expected to record while audiences from Monterey County come to listen.
“We want to record the artist taking the audience with them on a musical journey,” Smith says. “When people are focused on you, with an audience right there, artists really have to be on their game.” Depending on the type of musician and recording, Smith plans to have audiences of about 75 people for every artist. “We’re a recording studio first, not a performance venue.
“We’re working not only with unsigned artists, but with well-known musicians too. This is a gorgeous resort area right between San Francisco and Los Angeles. There’s no limit to individuals and record companies and distributors who want to come here for our special style of recording. It’s a new approach. Highly produced recordings are now a bedroom art; the equipment costs nothing. We’ve built what you can’t have at home, a state-of-the art studio with an audience as one of the instruments – a very important one.”
Smith is taking his studio to the forefront of an industry that’s changing, with musicians self-publishing to sites like CDbaby.com where “it doesn’t matter whether you’re good or not. But now the consumer is in a pickle,” Smith says. “Go to sites like CDbaby looking for some music you just heard by an artist you don’t know very well – there are 950 of them listed under the As.”
Wave Street Studios aims to be courted by Yahoo and Google: “We’ll make a better recording than when an artist is completely in control,” Smith says, “and all the recordings we do will be streamed in real time to a worldwide audience over the Internet. From a marketing perspective this will be the key to our success. We’ll bring some excitement to the Internet.”
Rhett is a Carmel native and an entrepreneur since age 19. “I decided to have the job I really want; how do you get a job like that? You make it,” he says.
Previously he created an audio and video production company in Pacific Grove called the Media Room, from which he produced a popular music show for local television with artists performing to a small audience, including artists who had “just played for 5,000 people in Austin, or were on their way to perform at the Kennedy Center.”
Smith is working with the Monterey County Office of Education and Monterey Peninsula College to develop an accredited media arts program to produce television and audio by the students and use the graduates to help produce many hours of programming. “We’re planning a weekly jazz program filmed in front of a live studio audience, streamed in real time.”
Wave Street Studios purchased the seminal jazz label, Black Hawk Records, from KRML about two years ago, with 120,000 albums in its collection. Among these was one of Billie Holiday live at the very first Monterey Jazz Festival, her last live recording. Wave Street’s Black Hawk Records has just released this as a CD in time for the jazz festival’s 50th anniversary.
“I believe I’ve been training for this my whole life,” says Smith, who, like his building, seems purpose-built for a very complex job.