Photos from Washington’s Music Recording Space – Billboard
Nestled in a forest just outside of Seattle stands a cathedral-shaped barn with huge windows that allow sunlight to permeate the structure’s interior. But Bear Creek Studio sets itself apart from traditional, more stuffy recording spaces in another key aspect: its atypical commercial structure.
“Because it was my family’s home, there’s a real family vibe to it,” says Ryan Hadlock, whose parents Joe and Manny Hadlock built the studio in 1977. “It’s a home studio that has been built the right way.”
After buying the “dilapidated” 10-acre former dairy farm in Woodinville, Washington, Joe and Manny, both producers, “built a house here and they would drive downtown to rent studios and work” on commercials and soundtracks for short films, says Ryan, who followed his parents into the world of music production and now owns Bear Creek.
“At the time, there were only two or three real studios in the North West, and they were very expensive,” he says. “So my parents got together with a group of their hippie friends and built the studio in about six months.” Initially, Bear Creek was not considered a residential studio, but rather a space where touring musicians could record day-long sessions. “It has grown steadily ever since, from its original setup of just a console and tape recorder,” says Hadlock.
Today Bear Creek is staffed by engineers and producers and has become a go-to recording location for artists such as Foo Fighters, The Lumineers and Brandi Carlile, who loved Bear Creek so much she named the album which she recorded there in 2012. . But it became a residential studio in the late 80s, just as Seattle’s grunge movement was exploding.
“We hadn’t had a residential project until then, so that’s when groups started coming here,” Hadlock says. “Soundgarden were really the first band to stay here for about six weeks when they recorded badmotorfinger [in 1991]. Once people realized you could book it for months, things changed for us. It was basically word of mouth, so the growth was organic.
Despite its quaint, rustic aesthetic, Bear Creek is a very modern check-in facility. His loft studio is outfitted with preamps, digital recording gear, vintage microphones and instruments ranging from a 1970s Camco drum kit to a 1968 Gibson SG guitar. “One of the benefits is that we We’ve been around since the ’70s, so we’ve been collecting instruments ever since,” Hadlock says.
The piece de resistance of the property: a tree house behind the barn that stands 18 feet above the ground. The two-level, cabin-like cottage (with two twin beds) is another fully functional studio where artists can record vocals or guitars. The Hadlocks added the treehouse in 2013 — “The only thing on the property that was professionally built,” Hadlock says — because “we wanted to keep growing and the guests kept coming.” (There is also a producer cabin and a farmhouse for lodging on the land.)
“In addition to being a beautiful space in a leafy location with great equipment, Bear Creek holds a special place in my heart,” says Robin Pecknold, frontman of indie folk band Fleet Foxes, “because my father, a musician and luthier, played bass on the first album recorded there in the 70s, Linda Waterfall’s banana land. I believe he even helped transport the recording console into the [studio] space.” Fleet Foxes recorded their second EP, Sun Giant, at Bear Creek. “To be able to follow in his footsteps and record some of the early Fleet Foxes songs there myself was a pleasure. My dream now is to produce his first solo album and record it in Bear Creek to come full circle.
With nearly 30 artists recording at Bear Creek each year, Hadlock (whose parents are still involved as consultants and producers) hopes that when people walk into his family’s studio, “they feel at home and easy. I hope they will feel like it’s a different and unique place that was truly built for them. Lots of attention has been paid to creating amazing world class facilities, but without necessarily feeling like work, as you are removed from the city and urban environment. It can be quite inspiring.
This story originally appeared in the October 8, 2022 issue of Billboard.