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Mark Isham: Sound Investment Starts at Home

Composer takes DIY to another level with two-acre, multi-space facility

Eighteen years ago, film composer and jazz artist Mark Isham (“Crash,” “42”) was writing music in his Benedict Canyon garage. When he and his wife Donna went looking for property that would provide them with an upgrade in space, having room to construct a comfortable studio was also on the checklist.

They found the ideal location — a green, hilly two-acre parcel that already boasted a house, guest house and horse stables — in Hidden Hills in the western San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles. It was less expensive to build a new studio than convert the stables, Isham discovered. Wet Dog Studios, named for their late, beloved golden retriever, who loved to do laps in the pool, was finished and opened in 1997.

Comfort is a high priority, not only because Isham does all of his writing and some of his recording here, but also because directors and producers frequently visit to preview scores in progress. “Guys like Robert Redford like coming here,” says Isham, who has worked for Redford on four films, including “A River Runs Through It” and “Quiz Show.” “They’ll schedule it at the end of their day; they’ll come out and hang.”

Studio A, where Isham says he spends “80% of my time,” contains a multiscreen writing area with key board and a large mixing console with giant screen and 5.1 capability. Studio B, originally designed for small-group recording, serves as a secondary room for assistants and technical support. An isolation booth for vocal recordings and a business office are nearby.

Location: Hidden Hills, Calif.

Square footage: 1,900 square feet for Studios A and B, although the nearby house has its own screening room (which doubles as a mixing room with a portable Pro Tools rig).

Aesthetic: Rustic warmth with wood ceilings, floors and beams. Windows and porch offer pastoral views.

Equipment: Five computers, including two 8-core Mac Pros to run Logic Pro (composing software) and video with Pro Tools, patched into a Euphonix CS3000 console to demo cues for directors. The other three computers (a Mac Pro, Mac Mini and PC) run all the sample software.

Recorded scores: “The Cooler,” “Crash”

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