The Art of Sound at Kulak's Woodshed

Brent Hahn runs sound at Kulak's Woodshed in L.A., "a Live Music Video Recording Venue that seats 49." He told us all about it...

How long have you been running sound? How did you get into it?

My background is in studio work. I started at National Recording in New York City in the late '70s. They did this amazing mix of movie music, advertising, records, pretty much everything. The only live sound I did at National was running FOH for Broadway show investor showcases for clients like Andrew Lloyd Webber, but that was pretty high-profile stuff. Other than that, no live sound before Kulak's.

How did you get hooked up with Kulak's Woodshed?

I had been the occasional performer or sideman at Kulak's over the years, never a crew volunteer. A large percentage of the gear there is on loan or donated, and the FOH console was in decline. Through a friend, I found a church that had mothballed a mint-condition 32-input Soundcraft Series Two. We pitched the Woodshed to the pastor, and before he could change his mind I drove the console directly to the Woodshed's back door. That's when I first met Paul Kulak. This was, maybe, 2017. 

Any particular highlights? Which bands have been the best to work with?

In the past year or so, too many great showcase artists to mention. But you want mentioning, so... the jazz singers Antonia Bennett and Kathleen Grace; Gonzalo Bergara Quintet (Gypsy swing from Argentina); Ras Mystah Fiyah (reggae from Colombia); and just recently, a folk/Americana artist named Andy Kahn. Great songs, wonderful singer, lovely person, I'd want him for a son-in-law. The raison-d'etre of this whole deal, though, is the Monday Open Mic. Not only do we see and hear people who, to an astonishing degree, already have the goods; we get to watch people "grow up," and turn themselves from someone with a little spark into a real-deal artist. It's amazing to see that happen. 

How would you describe the acoustics/layout at Kulak's?

The space is air-quotes "intimate." Two narrow, adjacent storefronts. It's a TV stage, really, and it looks (and sounds) on video quite a bit larger than it really is. Seating capacity is 49, including the queen-size bed.  The front row is only about three feet from the front edge of the "stage carpet," so the performers can engage with the whole audience to a degree that's pretty rare.

Backline is small guitar and bass amps, a lovely Premier drum kit, and a mint-condition Kawai FS7 Concert Grand piano. The usual mics and DI boxes. The FOH speakers and the stage monitors are flown, as is a monitor for the piano player. And there's a drum monitor. They all get independent mixes from the FOH console.

Acoustically, I'd call the Woodshed performance area "accidentally well-treated." Paul Kulak's whimsical decor, pretty much everywhere on the walls and ceiling, results in enough diffusion that no further treatment or trapping is necessary.

And yes, there's video. Eight HD cameras, with as many as four operators. Paul Kulak does the live video switching during shows, but each camera can also record locally on an SD card. Having that many cameras creates a number of challenges, but Paul pulls it off. And he's probably the one to talk to about it; with video, I'm kinda veering out of my lane.

What gear do you use?

The FOH desk is the aforementioned Soundcraft Series Two. Fully analogue, 32 inputs, 8 aux sends, 8 internal buses. Outboard, there's dbx compression on the lead vocal channels plus Lexicon reverb.  As the speakers and monitors are all passive, the amps driving them are Samson.

In this venue, however, there's a whole 'nother rig in the back for mixing the live-off-the-floor video and the livestream.  The mics and DIs on the floor go to a passive transformer-isolating splitter, and one side goes to the back room. There, they first hit the mic preamps of a British Aries 1970-something console -- secret sauce, for sure -- and then go to both a Yamaha MGP32X console and into Pro Tools via MOTU conversion. This console is analogue except for the two FX engines and the bus compressor, so there's per-channel EQ, which is essential when you're moving as fast as we sometimes need to. There are also outboard Yamaha and Alesis FX units. The monitors are powered JBL.

Visit kulakswoodshed.com for more info.