Legendary Sunset Sound Recording Studio Fears Homeless Driving Off Business

Featured image credit: Sunset Sound

Sunset Sound may as well be hallowed ground in Hollywood. After all, it’s where Eddie Van Halen first laid down the brown sound in the opening riffs of “Runnin’ With the Devil” introducing legions of rockers to Pasadena’s best-kept secret. In Prince’s pre-Paisley Park days, he trusted Sunset Sound when recording the anthemic string section for “Purple Rain.” The carnivalesque bounce of The Beach Boys’ “Here Today”, the gospel majesty of The Rolling Stones’ “Tumbling Dice”, and the psych-rock apocalypse of The Doors’ Strange Days were all brought to life at Sunset Sound. Well, strange days have found us again. Because the legendary recording studio is claiming crippling hardship as a result of the rampant Los Angeles homeless issue.  

Sunset Sound: A Hollywood Fixture

Photo credit: Coolcaesar

Sunset Sound was already a hot spot when it opened its doors to Hollywood’s music industry in 1958. Originally an auto garage, it found new life with some encouragement from Walt Disney. His Director of Recording, Tutti Camarata, had the vision (and sound) to repurpose the garage into a state-of-the-art recording facility offering cutting-edge mixing and production services too. 

In the garage’s sloping floor, Camarata recognized a design for optimum recording capabilities. His ingenuity and insight took care of the rest. For the last 68 years, Sunset Sound has remained in the Camarata family, serving luminaries across the entertainment industry. But pedigree doesn’t appear to amount to much in the shadow of Hollywood’s looming challenges with a growing unhoused population. 

Hollywood’s Runaway Homeless Challenges

Paul Camarata, the president of Sunset Sound, as well as various representatives of the recording facility, have cited numerous encounters with a homeless encampment that has established itself at the building’s perimeter. And in recent weeks, the situation’s become so dire, that they fear it could leave Sunset Sound in the dark… permanently. 

A drive by Sunset Sound reveals the studio rising like a fortress surrounded by a sprawling tent city. But homeless encampments are a sadly common sight across the city. And even with notable efforts from Mayor Karen Bass’s administration, tangled jungles of bureaucratic tape restrict action. Sunset Sound is located in the city’s 13th council district, currently overseen by Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez. According to representatives of the studio, Soto-Martinez has been unresponsive to their plight.

But Hollywood harbors an unusually high concentration of the city’s unhoused citizens without adequate resources to accommodate them. The 13th district offers just 400 shelter beds compared to a population of over 3,000 homeless individuals who regularly rest their heads on the district’s streets. And with Covid-era eviction moratoriums finally expiring, this population is expected to dramatically rise before it declines.

Clashes with the Los Angeles Homeless Population

Recently, Sunset Sound has been the victim of a variety of crimes, and they’ve got more than a sneaking suspicion that the surrounding homeless encampment is to blame. In 2023, the studio was set on fire… twice. You can still see scorch marks on portions of the building’s façade. 

Photo credit: Russ Allison Loar

But around midnight on Sunday, February 11, a more brazen assailant broke into Sunset Sound. The perpetrator(s) stole a set of blank checks, forcing the studio to cancel their bank accounts as a preventative measure. 

It’s difficult to say with total certainty that members of the area’s homeless population are guilty of these crimes. But Sunset Sound’s staff claim that the fires and break-in are just part of the problems attributed to the unhoused camped around the building. 

Sunset Sound marketing producer Drew Dempsey attests to regularly finding used syringes littering the sidewalks directly outside the facility. If that weren’t enough, he mentions that the periphery sidewalk has virtually turned into an open-air bathroom. And now, according to Camarata, a high-profile incident with the homeless encampment is threatening to drive away Sunset Sound’s clients.

The Taylor Swift Incident

Photo credit: iHeartRadioCA

Speaking recently with ABC7, Camarata recounted a story in which pop star Taylor Swift had an unfortunate run-in with the area’s unhoused community while making a run to a nearby 7-Eleven. “She made the mistake of going out on the sidewalk and going to the 7-Eleven across the street, got accosted, came back to my tenant, and told him ‘I will never come back to Sunset Sound again’,” the studio’s president explained. 

Swift herself hasn’t publicly commented on the story. And it’s surreal to imagine the biggest pop star in America doing her own 7-Eleven snack run. However, many Angelenos can identify with the discomfort bordering on straight-up fear that comes with a late-night jaunt through Hollywood’s back streets. 

The Sun Sets On Sunset Sound

Is Sunset Sound truly in its twilight? Or will some constructive headway be made with the area’s homeless population? Is this all leading up to a massive Swifties street brawl at the Sunset Sound encampment? Unfortunately, this is one of those in-the-moment stories that leaves us with more questions than answers. In the great LA utopia, we’d like to think that homeless citizens will get the resources they need while this legendary recording studio returns to its glory days. But even Hollywood can’t guarantee a happy ending for everyone. 

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