The first thing you see when you enter the lobby of Warner Music Group’s dazzling, 240,000 square foot, five-story new building in downtown Los Angeles is a hanging neon-lit spiral light sculpture that incorporates all the labels and companies that have made the space their new home. Rhino, WEA and ADA occupy the first floor, Warner Bros. Records the second, Atlantic Records the third and Warner/Chappell Music Publishing the fourth and fifth. The roof offers spectacular 360-degree views of downtown L.A. clear to the ocean, and looks like an ideal party space.
After just a few days inside their new headquarters — which was originally built in 1912 as a Fort Model T showroom and factory, then was later occupied by a toy manufacturer and American Apparel — company employees are walking with an extra bounce in their step.
“The uplift in mood, morale, culture and social has been amazing,” enthuses Warner Bros. Records’ recently appointed Co-Chairman/COO Tom Corson, a Seattle native who moved back to the west coast a year ago to put his mark on this new era in the fabled label’s history. “It’s created a next-level mood of excitement for everybody.”
Designed by the architecture firm Rockwell Group (with the renovation spearheaded by Rockefeller Kempel Architects), the historic building opens up on its ground floor into a fully usable performance space – a one-stop shop for artists and writers that will eventually include 14-18 recording studios, sound stages, green screens, rehearsal spaces and, according to WBR Co-Chairman/CEO Aaron Bay-Schuck, “all the tools for our artists and for our executives to get close to those artists. We’ll be offering services no other company can.”
The Warner Bros. Records floor – designed by Norman Wonderly, the label’s EVP Creative – offers a mix of vintage, black-lit images of iconic WB artists such as Madonna, the Ramones and Fleetwood Mac, along with newer signings like 2019 Best New Artist Grammy winner Dua Lipa. Wonderly commissioned giant retro-style murals from Shepherd Fairey, Tristan Eaton and KMNDZ (Johnny Rodriguez), with one striking image of a collection of vinyl albums released by the label with spines showing the titles. A photo of the now-shuttered Burbank offices now graces the glass door entrance to the label’s new space.
Upon arrival, all employees were gifted with headphones and a Bluetooth speaker shaped like a Marshall Amp.
“As Lenny Waronker put it as we left the old Burbank ‘ski lodge’” — the company’s former office of some 44 years — “as great and iconic as that building was, it’s the people inside who make the difference,” says Bay-Schuck. “Warner Bros. was once the preeminent L.A. destination for music, and with this new space, we hope to regain that competitive edge.”
In a time when everybody is accessible via e-mail and computer, Corson insists, “This is a relationship business, an emotional business, and this goes right down to the core or value within our company. The openness, the high ceilings, the glass walls, the artwork: How can you not feel inspired by being in this space and want to share that energy with your co-workers?”
While many staffers were concerned about adjusting their formerly Burbank-focused commutes to Downtown — it could take 1-2 hours to get from the old office to the new, depending on traffic — both Corson and Bay-Schuck insist their commutes, from West Hollywood and the Hollywood Hills, respectively, take 30-40 minutes tops. And Warner is likely to have even more music-industry neighbors, as the downtown area is quickly becoming a magnet, with both Spotify and Soho House planning to join Warner Music Group in the neighborhood, along with a combination boutique hotel, restaurant, bar and event space being built across the street in a renovated fire station, dubbed Firehouse.
“They just asked us to put together a Warner Bros. playlist for them,” says Bay-Schuck, indicating most of the businesses in the area have welcomed them with open arms.
For both Corson and Bay-Schuck, moving into the new building — a process that took years — represents a chance for a blank slate, an opportunity to add their own chapter to the storied label’s incredible history.
“There’s an expression I’m fond of,” says Corson. “’What got us here won’t get us there.’ For any successful company, you have to re-inspire, re-imagine and sometimes simply start over. We have a lot of work to do, but I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen. If we can bottle that energy to fuel our team and our artists, that would be inspiring.”
“This is an opportunity to press re-set, to break some rules and reinvent what a record company should be in 2019 and beyond,” adds Bay-Schuck, praising the vision of owner Len Blavatnik, CEO Stephen Cooper and Recorded Music head Max Lousada. “That’s why Tom and I came here in the first place.”