Secret Hill Studios Closes Its Doors as Engineer Readies for L.A. Move

When Brian Frederick opens an industrial door outside a large warehouse, a grey staircase reveals itself, leading to a labyrinth of white-walled hallways.

The maze, dotted with dilapidated pieces of wood and sheet metal, continues to a basement where Frederick hosts and records local Long Beach bands at what he calls Secret Hill Studios.

“I hate this building,” Frederick, the engineer for Secret Hill Studios, says. “To me, this room is Sound City. It shouldn’t sound good, but it does. And I don’t want to leave it, because I feel insanely creative here. I’ve written a lot of great music here, I’ve produced a lot of great records with a lot of great bands. It has a great rich history.”

Frederick announced in March that he is leaving the studio, which is located in a residential area of Signal Hill, and will make the move to Los Angeles on May 1 where he will work at Serenity West Studios—a $3 million facility that hosts acts like Adele, DJ Quick, Snoop Dogg (aka Snoop Lion), Regina Spector and Wiz Khalifa.

His decision to leave, Frederick explained, comes out of financial need and limited studio time in Secret Hill.

Brian Frederick Portrait

Brian Frederick inside Secret Hill Studios. Photos by Angela Ratzlaff.  

“There’s no bitterness over the move, but I was kicked out of [Secret Hill],” he says. “I advertise this as a commercial spot, and my buddy uses it as his own personal recording studio. I’m basically like politely getting the boot. I’m the only one here where this is my living.”

Frederick started making music back in 2001 when he was a teenager. His first experience as an engineer took place in his neighbor’s garage while making a recording of his band to submit for the campus talent show.

“I had to figure out how to set up the mics and how to record everything, and my neighbor, who taught me how to play drums, was at the same time trying to figure out how to record the ideas for his band,” he says.

After finding a passion from the need of making the recording, Frederick said his drive to grow his skill sets as an engineer grew. It wasn’t until after leaving the Army in 2005, however, that he decided to make music as his initial source of income.

He first started a space in Whittier called Full Flux Studios, where he recorded Long Beach artists. Because all of his clients were located in Long Beach, Frederick decided to make the move to Secret Hill, working out of the basement on the weekends.

Some of the first artists recorded at the studio included harp songstress Joy Shannon, folk singer/songwriter Alyssandra Nighswonger and now split-up group The Clouds, who later formed other bands like the orchestral rock group, Panther Heart.

“As soon as there’s a computer and somebody pushes a red button, you feel constrained and you feel stuffy,” former member of The Clouds and current guitarist for Panther Heart, Jose Serna, sayds. “Brian does a good job of making people feel really relaxed. It feels like I’m recording at home.”

Frederick offers the band water and beer as he sets up the mics for his last session, which happens to be with Panther Heart, in Secret Hill. The tapestry on the walls as well as the lighting from lamps and Chinese lanterns create a warm burgundy hue that allows artists to channel their creativity.

Brian Frederick 4

“It was pretty much being used as storage for everybody,” Frederick says. “I pretty much came in here and pushed everything around, cleaned everything. I brought a vibe to it.”

While working out of the studio, Frederick has recorded everything from folk music, with artists like Nighswonger, to gangster hip hop and acid rock ‘n’ roll. Working with a spectrum of genres, Frederick says, allows him to take on challenges and make every sound feel right for the music the artist is trying to achieve.

“The day I get bored doing this is the day I’m going to quit. Because, why bother, because it’s not fun,” he says.

Even though Frederick’s new home is more of a drive from Long Beach, he still hopes to continue working with bands from Long Beach out of Serenity West and visit his hometown as much as possible.

For Frederick, the move to Los Angeles is bittersweet.

“It’s kind of a bummer that I’m having to move to L.A. and work at that studio and missing out on watching and helping so many artists grow down here,” Frederick says, “but at the end of the day, if I can make a living up there and support myself and bring bands up there when they are ready, it’s cool.”

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