The mastering department at the famed Capitol Studios in Hollywood has been shut down, with several employees laid off, Universal Music Group confirmed Tuesday night after word of the closure began to circulate on social media.
The recording studios themselves, a tourist site as well as magnet for top recording artists since it opened in 1956, will remain open. But Capitol Studios’ mastering rooms, which were nearly as venerated by engineers and producers, will not, as those rooms will be converted into recording spaces.
Said a UMG spokesperson: “At Capitol Studios, while demand for recording studios remains high, there has been an overall decline in requests for mastering services — to the point where we have decided to close Capitol’s mastering facility and focus on other areas of the recording process that are in higher demand by artists, including using the space to build additional recording suites.”
Also being closed: the tape restoration department, where older recordings from the Universal Music Group catalog were digitized. According to UMG, much of not most of that work had already been outsourced to Iron Mountain in Hollywood for year.
UMG did not confirm the number of employees cut, but the mastering department had four employees. One key employee affected in the changes taking place this week was not connected solely to the mastering or tape restoration departments, but Capitol Studios at large. Paula Salvatore, a vice president at the studio who recently celebrated her 30th anniversary with the company, will no longer continue in that role.
Word spread in the music community Monday and Tuesday that Salvatore had been laid off, with growing consternation over the potential departure of an institutional fixture that many considered the very face of Capitol Studios. UMG sources say that she will continue with the company in a different role, yet to be defined; it remains unclear, on the outside, whether she will continue as a staffer or be a consultant. Variety was unable to reach Salvatore for comment.
All recordings have to be mastered for release, so it’s not entirely intuitive why the demand for studio sessions would continue to be at a premium but mastering work would have slowed to a crawl. But some suggest additional recording studios at such a famous location may command more of a premium than mastering work. UMG does have outside facilities it uses for mastering in Los Angeles, and project no cuts at its mastering facilities in other parts of North America.
Top engineer Steve Hoffman, who oversees the popular Hoffman Forums message boards, was one of those taken aback by the shuttering of the mastering department. On his Facebook page, he expressed relief that the recording studios would reopen, contrary to initial rumors that they, too, might face permanent closure. “I hope it is true,” he wrote, “but why fire and close mastering? Aren’t they going to ever release music?”
Capitol Studios as a whole was closed in the initial stages of the pandemic, then reopened under COVID protocols that caused a slowdown in activity, with fewer people allowed on site and extensive cleaning between sessions. The entire facility was temporarily shuttered again recently when the county of Los Angeles imposed new restrictions due to a severe spike in COVID infections, but there are hopes of being allowed to reopen later in January.
Capitol Studios’ mastering department was particularly renowned in recent years for its part in the vinyl revival, although CD mastering was also done there. The studio’s website, which has not been changed to reflect the department’s closure, still boasts: “Capitol Mastering proudly boasts the living legacy of lacquer mastering for vinyl with two legendary Neumann lathes in full-time service. We cut lacquer masters for all formats including 7”, 10” and 12”.”
Sources say the lathes and other vintage or analog equipment will be kept on site and not sold off, although it will be moved out of the mastering rooms as they are converted into studios.
The longest-serving veteran of the department, Ron McMaster, made headlines (including a Variety profile) when he retired in 2018 after 38 years in the Capitol Tower. He said then that he was retiring because the influx of requests for vinyl masters was so intense — sometimes involving cutting four lacquers a day — that he no longer had the energy to keep up that 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. UMG has insisted any conversion to condos is not on the table. The building has landmark status and the studio floors, at least, are believed to be safe from conversion to other uses.