John Storyk Describes How Designing Electric Lady Studios For Jimi Hendrix Led To 3500 More Studios

There are not many folks who have built over 3500 recording studios around the globe. This is the story of John Storyk, the guy who did so after a fortuitous encounter with Jimi Hendrix.

I had a fascinating conversation with Storyk recently.

John Storyk by Tom Lemke

Storyk studied architecture at Princeton and had always wanted to do so from the age of 12. When he was 14 he had a summer job at a local architectural firm, and he did so again in high school. Storyk entered Princeton to be an architect, “but music was passion #2. I had studied piano and listened to opera as a young kid. I played reeds, I was in the marching band at Princeton and in a bar band. The latter was fun and a great way to make money and pay expenses.”

When Storyk graduated from Princeton in 1968, he was in a blues band and had an architecture job lined up. “I was making more money and having more fun as a musician, I saw architecture as a day job.” It was in that state of flux that Storyk had the serendipity of a commission to design a small club in New York City.

It was an avant garde club that lasted nine months. The club had very hip attendees, including Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix bought the club, and he wanted me to design it. The club idea was scrapped, but the offer evolved into a studio design commission.”

Storyk admitted that despite his work as a musician, he had never been in a studio. But he studied all he could for a month and a year later Electric Lady Studios opened. “Here is a career tip – make your first project a success,” Storyk advised. Electric Lady Studios remains one of the five most famous recording studios in the world.

Storyk had three studio commissions before Electric Lady Studios opened.

Over the ensuing 49 years Storyk’s work exploded into 3500 studios.

His company WSDG has been hired by an astounding array of clients: from Jay-Z, Bruce Springsteen and Alicia Keys, to NYC’s Jazz At Lincoln Center, to broadcast facilities for The Food Network, CBS and WNET. In the education market, WSDG has designed facilities for The University of Michigan, Concordia College, Berklee College of Music, RPI, NYU, University of Colorado, Drexel and myriad others globally.

Storyk described how thirty years ago things changed when he met Beth Walters. His now wife joined forces with him in every respect. “Interior design and finances are her forte. Our interns now are partners, collectively owning half of the company. We have offices worldwide, and 70 employees.”

Back in the day, studios did not have to be architecturally interesting, record companies owned the studios. Indeed, pictures of The Beatles recording in Abbey Road make it look like a gymnasium. “The technology never had to exceed the delivery system, which was mono. And the equipment was expensive, most everything was custom made. Now you can order what you need online,” explained Storyk.

Whereas when Storyk started there was no knowledge base, “Now we are in the golden age of studios, because of a convergence of forces. Digital made equipment cheaper by one or two decimal points. The mythology of a recording studio disappeared, more equipment is now in reach of more people.”

Storyk studied history deeply, which explains not only his interest in architecture but his lack of fear about technology. “When recording equipment became a commodity, the key differentiators for building a studio were personality, esthetics and acoustics…which are the three things that most interest me and the company. Very few people have done more than 3000 studios. It might be a single digit number of people.”

My work combines the two things I love. At 72 years old, I am in exactly the spot I belong.”

As we wound up our enlightening chat, I asked Storyk about what he sees on the horizon, besides the opening of another beloved baseball season.

“In the next five years there will be continuing democratizing of studios. Technology will drive things smaller, better and cheaper. I see no reason for that trend to change. It is fun to watch. The most fun for us relates to acoustic products and computer prediction. The most exciting is the ability to test, which takes the voodoo out of the process. For $30 on my phone I can get the acoustic testing I need. As people get smarter, information is shared. It scares some people, those who shroud the magic. We have thousands of drawings on our site. I am not bothered when I sees people copying our designs, I consider it flattery. I am amused when my mistakes are copied.”

Judging by the growing number of studios on which Storyk has placed his fingerprints, those mistakes seem small in number indeed.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.