From Sonic Marvel
to Sourdough Legend…
by Harvey Kubernik | January 17, 2022
Randall Michael Tobin (Randy) is the founder of Theta Sound Studio and Theta Media Group in Burbank, California, which opened its doors to the musical community in the Los Angeles area in 1977. Cyndie Tobin serves as V.P. Operations. The multi-faceted facility provides services in every aspect of recording, production and web-driven endeavors.
Tobin and Theta Sound have been host to hundreds of clients over the last 45 years: Issac Hayes, Amanda McBroom, Mel Carter, Ray Manzarek (co-founder of the Doors), actor Val Kilmer, jazz artist/activist Buddy Collette, singer/songwriters Burton Cummings, David Pomeranz, Harriet Shock, Ray Evans, Art Podell, and television producer, writer and musician Tracy Newman.
The legendary UCLA basketball coach John R. Wooden, and Bill Walton, both inductees in The Basketball Hall of Fame have recorded on the premises, as have animation and special effects legends, Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston.
Additional clients who have employed this landmark room are David Campbell, actor/director Edward James Olmos, actor/director/film producer Chris M. Allport and actress/singer/songwriter Zooey Deschanel.
Over the decades I’ve utilized Theta Sound on many occasions for music and spoken word/book on tape endeavors. After 40 years of working in the friendly, creative environs of this well-respected studio, I thought it was appropriate to interview owner Randy Tobin and discuss his career, ongoing sonic visions and his tasty new business.
During August 2021, Tobin and his wife Cyndie launched Random Acts of Breadness, an artisan sourdough micro-bakery and “legendary bread gift” service in Burbank, California. Visit breadness.com
“I’ve spent most of my life mastering the tools of several creative disciplines. The path I’ve taken has led me to where we are today: recording, producing, creating websites and content that attract who you want to attract; that solve the problems people need solved; that communicate what you need to communicate to others; and that hopefully, through your success, make this a better world for us all.”—Randall Michael Tobin
Q: Let’s talk about your regional musical history and being born and raised in Southern California. AM radio had a big impact on you that informed your musical journey. You went to elementary school with composer Danny Elfman of Oingo Boingo.
A: I was born at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in east Hollywood. It was a Jewish hospital and my siblings and cousins were also born there. I lived in the Burbank foothills until mid 1st grade at Jefferson Elementary. Then we moved to Baldwin Hills. I went to Hillcrest Elementary for the rest of 1st grade, then Baldwin Hills Elementary for 2nd through 6th grades. That’s where I hooked up with a core group of friends which included Danny Elfman. Danny and a guy named Bill O’Rullian used to draw Big Daddy Roth kinda characters; I picked up some drawing skills from them. By the 6th grade, I ended up creating the school newsletter banner which was prominently featured at the 50th/51st Baldwin Hills Elementary School Reunion in 2017. Over 80 people attended the events that weekend, including Danny.
While attending Baldwin Hills Elementary there were three significant events that changed our lives: November 1963 – Kennedy assassination; December 1963 – Baldwin Hills Reservoir Flood; and February 1964 – The Beatles debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. Most of us who lived in the lowlands of Baldwin Hills had these three highly-emotional events in common.
I didn’t like school much. The only thing I could relate to was music. We had an occasional music class in a different bungalow with Mrs. Visscher. She was a good teacher and I learned the basics of music theory in that class. I was in the elementary school band as a percussionist playing the chimes (tubular bells) with a rawhide mallet. I also remember hearing the AM radio playing Top 40 songs in the crafts room during summer vacation at BHE. What was great about radio back then is the hits were quite varied: On the same station you could hear Mel Carter “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me”; The Seekers “I’ll Never Find Another You”; Ramsey Lewis Trio “The In-Crowd”; Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs “Wooly Bully”; The Supremes “Stop In the Name of Love”; Herman’s Hermits “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”; The Beatles “Help!”; The Righteous Brothers “Unchained Melody”; I mean, that’s just a fraction of the hits from that year. Check out https://www.musicoutfitters.com/topsongs/1965.htm and tell me that wasn’t the best year for music EVER! I remember being emotionally affected by Mel Carter’s song and a couple of others.
Q: Here you are in West Los Angeles in the late fifties and sixties. I suspect the Beatles blew your mind, but were you attracted to the Beach Boys and west coast music owing to the radio and early concerts you might have attended.
A: Interestingly, I wasn’t as much into the Beatles as I was into Motown. I was in the 5th grade at BHE when the Beatles hit so they didn’t knock me out then. But I really dug Motown, R&B and the great songs of the day. Again, look at that Top 100 list and see all those varied influences. Over the years, as my music skills were expanding, I got into the Beatles and realized their awesomeness. Same with the Beach Boys. Just to show you how eclectic my tastes were, when I went to Audubon Jr. High, I remember one of my favorite songs was Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. And I was also into Paul Mauriat’s “Love Is Blue” and Herb Alpert’s “This Guy’s in Love with You.” I was in Orchestra at Audubon (Danny was in Drama class) and we put on big-time Broadway shows that sold out to the public. The orchestra soundtrack was even recorded onto tape and albums were pressed! I was a percussionist (tympani, xylophone, marimba, orchestral bells, etc.) and performed in Bye Bye Birdie and Flower Drum Song. I wasn’t much of a music reader, but I’ve always had a great ear; if I could hear a song or part, I could figure it out. I even learned to play “MacArthur Park” and “Classical Gas” on the piano!
Q: You founded Theta Sound in 1977. It started in the Los Feliz area.
A: Actually, Theta Sound Studio started in Downey! I happened to be working for an electronic parts distributor based in West LA and they had a presence on the lot at Rockwell in Downey, home of the Space Shuttle development program. We supplied parts for the R&D of the shuttle. I used that gig to learn about the parts biz and that came in handy when the time came for me to order connecters, plugs, jacks, switches and cable for creating a patch bay and wiring up my studio. I lived in a BIG apartment complex in Downey and Theta Sound was in my living room!
After the parts gig ended amicably, I got a job with TFA (Tom Fields Associates) Electrosound, a British light and sound company located just south of the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. I (and Theta Sound) moved to an apartment on Lexington Avenue, near Ametron Electronics. TFA Electrosound later moved to NoHo and changed their name to Electrosound, then Electrotec. I learned a lot about live sound while working there a year and a half. Electrosound provided sound and/or lights for Ted Nugent, Rod Stewart, Earth Wind & Fire, Journey, Blondie, Cheap Trick, The Cars and the California World Music Festival in 1979. Although I worked support for some of these shows, even being flown to Detroit, Oakland and Lodi to do so, Electrotec sent me to JBL in Reseda to learn speaker reconing. I reconed a ton of speakers and compression drivers that were blown by loud acts like Ted Nugent.
I remember the song that got to me the most during that time was Dire Straits “Sultans of Swing.” Wow.
While working at Electrotec, I moved to a 2-story Craftsman rental in Los Feliz. It had a living room so large, that I divided it in half with sound barriers to make the studio part and used the dining room as a control room. I further divided that space to make a drum booth. Then I put a double-wall glass partition up separating the two rooms, with through-wall mic and line feeds. We were there for 8 years, until the Whittier earthquake. During that time, I joined Cheeks, a new wave band fronted by Wally August, formerly of The Roto Rooter Goodtime Christmas Band (a contemporary of The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, Rick Elfman’s group, of which Danny was a part). I played bass and sang backup in Cheeks and we cut our first single at Theta Sound, “Cheap Connection.” It was pressed on pink vinyl.
Cheeks morphed into August and we cut our eponymous debut album at Theta, releasing it on our own record label, AvaStar Recordings, on vinyl and cassette in the mid 80s. CDs were just around the corner.
Q: You were/are a musician. Why even start a recording studio?
A: I actually started my first personal project studio while in the US Air Force 1971-1975 as a Ground Radio Communications technician. I started accumulating stereo equipment, musical instruments and an amp, and I would practice in the barracks with headphones.
When I got to my first “day job” duty station, it was at Hamilton Air Force Base near Novato in Marin County, California. What a great place to be stationed! I got a motorcycle and went to San Francisco (“the city”) many times. Bought my Fender Rhodes Stage Piano from Don Wehr’s Music City and got my Sunn Bass Amp from Prune Music in Mill Valley. I also got a 1964 Fender Jazz bass from a pawn shop in San Diego. I still play that bass today! I found local musicians close to the base and we jammed for hours at their place. Some musical highlights of note: while at Hamilton, I went to Winterland and saw John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra with Captain Beefheart as the opening act. And I saw Billy Eckstine and Lena Horne at the Circle Star Theatre in San Carlos, as well as Carpenters, and George Carlin, also at the Circle Star.
My last duty station was Bitburg Air Base in Germany. I got really into the studio thing there; bought a TEAC A3340 4-track deck and set up a “real” studio in my barracks room. I had met Doug, a fellow airman from a neighboring base who moonlighted in an acoustic duo with an officer name Robison. They performed at Bitburg and I struck up a friendship with Doug, who was a fine guitarist, banjo player, harmonica player and singer. I joined their duo playing bass and backing vocals. Doug and I ended up writing, playing, singing and producing an album in my barracks studio.
The results were so awesome, members of the Air Force band I’d met during the annual talent show (of which I was in a 4-piece instrumental band that went all the way to the worldwide finals in the states) wanted to add drums and horns to the project. The arranger was a guy name Woody, who also played sax. I took my TEAC and a couple Dolby noise reduction units to the band’s air base rehearsal room and did a mobile for the drum and horn overdubs. This album would blow your mind, it was that good.
When Doug and I were done with the service, we reconnected in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, because Robison was still in the service and was now stationed at Eglin AFB. Doug and I set up a studio in our rented house and we were later joined by one of the former Air Force band guys, Ray Hitchell, who was (and still is) one heck of a keyboard player. (FYI, there have been a few military band members who went on to big things, like Dave Garibaldi of Tower of Power.)
While in Ft. Walton Beach, we had two bands: Sundown, a 4-piece version of Robison, Douglas and me plus a local, Harry, on drums, and Kitchen Sync: Doug, Ray, Harry and myself. Sundown was soft rock (Gordon Lightfoot, John Denver, Jim Croce, etc.) and Kitchen Sync was a jazz fusion band. We didn’t get too many gigs as a fusion band, but we sure had fun!
When the military unemployment checks ran out, I returned to So Cal, and got that parts gig in Downey. By that time, having a studio everywhere I’d lived for the past few years was just natural for me. This time, I had hundreds of hours of hands-on producing and engineering under my belt. And my writing, arranging and singing chops were also improving.
When I got back to LA in 1976, I sent out 25 résumés to recording studios. I only got one offer: to clean ashtrays and sweep the floors at that facility. I decided I would start my own studio and called it Theta Sound (theta is a Greek symbol that means life, spirit, etc. I liked the idea of being a creative spirit, so Theta was a good way to express that).
Q: Why did you venture into the world as studio owner? Was it by design? Has your musical background informed or helped clients the last 45 years? You aren’t into artist management or representation. You don’t have a music publishing division.
A: Being a musician with a good ear, engineering and producing was natural for me. In fact, I couldn’t see how an engineer could really help clients if he/she wasn’t a musician. Recording is a combination of art and craft. You need to be great at both to make records that have a chance to find their audience.
I’ve never been involved with a manager or artist’s rep that resulted in any benefit to the band I was in. Every success I’ve had has been from my own promotion and marketing.
Around the time I moved to the Los Feliz house, I signed up with ASCAP as a writer and as a publisher (Theta Sounds Music). I also joined the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS, now known as The Recording Academy who put on the Grammy Awards). I was able to attend a few of the early 80s Grammy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium, as well as the after parties held at nearby hotels. Even got to escort pre-telecast winners through the press area as a volunteer activity. That was when Sting opened the Grammys with “Russians” from his debut solo album. That was when the Grammys were all about the music. I remember passing Prince in the halls at one of the after parties. He hadn’t made it big yet, but would very soon!
Q: Do you work for or with the people in the studio? Talk about the balance of collaboration and delivering results everyone is happy with.
A: My role at Theta Sound is to provide whatever is needed to get the desired result. Every artist has some kind of vision. I get them to articulate that to me and then provide the art and craft necessary to make it happen. Early on I was working with clients who were quite certain of what they wanted and I could be the engineer, vocal producer and mixer. Later on, I was seeing more and more artists who needed my help as arranger, musician, co-writer and/or producer. I’ve co-written and written some of my best songs because I cared enough about the artist to help them showcase the artistry they didn’t realize they had. One of my songs won 1st Place in a national songwriting competition!
Q: I’ve witnessed independent label bands, singer/songwriters, actors, musicians and movie/television talent utilize Theta Sound.
A: Once Theta Sound moved to our present location in Burbank, things took off. I worked with Jim Latham, an up-and-coming composer, who then became the first engineer/producer other than me at Theta Sound. Jim also knew that when we didn’t have a fully booked room, it was time to get on the phone and promote! Jim also had music and writing chops so he could help clients like I could. Jim pulled in some Viacom composers and that led to having Dick Van Dyke and Rodney Dangerfield at Theta Sound Studio to record vocals for TV and movie projects.
Jim also recorded many episodes of Dragon Tales, an animated series that he was attached to as composer. You (Harvey Kubernik) brought in some amazing talent doing spoken word projects including John Wooden and Ray Manzarek. And I’ve worked with many name clients like Mel Carter, Harriet Schock, Isaac Hayes, Ray Harryhausen, Ken Ralston, Amanda McBroom, Placido Domingo, Zooey Deschanel, Alison Sudol, etc. But most of our clients are indie singer/songwriters, singers, composers and the like. And we’ve done a few dozen audiobooks as well.
Q: Can you discuss some technical aspects of the studio like equipment and console, monitors and microphones. You’ve got it all from vintage to modern. I dig your Yamaha piano.
A: As a studio owner, I’ve never had the finances to buy big name gear like SSL, Neve or API consoles, or killer monitors mounted in soffits in the walls. So I’ve chosen my gear wisely over the years. The centerpiece of Theta Sound is our Yamaha C5 Grand piano. I knew that a great piano and a good room would attract top-tier clients including opera, musical theatre, film composers, indie singer/songwriters, etc. Being a pianist myself, I love playing this instrument. I purchased it new and it has been lovingly maintained and tuned for over 35 years.
In the 80s when having a piano MIDIfied so that it acted as a controller for other keyboards to get that layered Rhodes/Acoustic piano sound, Jim Wilson installed the Forte MDI-mod system in our C5. The demand for the Forte was very high then; we managed to get our system installed between Kenny Rogers’ and Chick Corea’s studios!
As for microphones, I’ve also chosen wisely over the years. The AKG mics I bought in the 80s are still in use today here, but I’ve also added the Slate Virtual Mic system so I can dial up mic emulations I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. We recorded and edited on tape until the first decade of the new millennium.
Then I got the Alesis HD24XR hard disk recording system. This unit acted as not only as a recorder but also as a 24-channel A/D and D/A for our Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs). Plus, I’ve used it for mobile multitrack gigs, most recently to record a live concert for Harriet Schock’s upcoming documentary about her life.
Our console is actually two Ramsa (Panasonic Professional) WRT-820 boards linked together. It’s a versatile system and every point is connected to our extensive patch bay. The patch bay also gives instant access to all our outboard synth sound modules and outboard effects. Of course, we’ve also added in-the-box tools that allow us to work in that paradigm as well.
Our monitors are a late 70s pair of JBL 4301s, original Auratone cubes, and original Yamaha NS10s (in the studio main room). If mixes sound good on these, they translate well in the real world.
To dive deeper into the gear visit www.thetasound.com/gear
Q: I’ve always felt one of the advantages you had over many recording studios, as an independent facility, was your ability to diversify. Besides engineering for clients and producing, you have always offered a variety of services: graphic design, typesetting, video production, copywriting, computer consulting, seminar training and website design/development.
A: I’ve been fortunate to have the passion and the skills to take on new challenges. Once I dive in, I usually come up with the knowledge and ability to create the desired results. People have found out about that and ask me to help them with their situations, for which they are more than glad to pay me to do so.
I’ve also been an impresario for our TSS Live! house concert series held at Theta Sound from 2014 to 2019. And, most recently, I became an Artisan Baker/Chef.
All of these services came about because clients needed them and I had the skills and experience to take on any project. Each of these services ended up being a significant part of my one-stop-shop approach for clients. As a result, I’ve ended up recording, mixing, mastering, doing album design, website design, video production, hosting concerts, even creating and serving Plant Paradox-friendly dinners for concert guests!
And because of the demand for my sourdough breads, last August I opened Random Acts of Breadness, an artisan sourdough micro-bakery on Magnolia Blvd. in Burbank. Creating music and food… I’m having a blast!
Q: This is actually Theta Media Group. Please expand on this business you operate with your wife Cyndie.
A: When my diversified activities took on lives of their own, I realized the studio was a part of a greater whole. So I created Theta Media Group, Inc. as an umbrella over all of them.
Cyndie has always contributed to the administrative side of our businesses, but she is also the Amenities Queen, creating that personal touch for our clients and events.
Q: You were very early employing the internet and designing websites. What did you initially think about the internet as an aid to your studio and marketing endeavors?
A: I saw the potential right away. At that time (mid 90s), I was already running a computer user group focused on digital publishing tools on the PC platform. I became expert in Xerox Ventura Publisher and started teaching it as well as ancillary tools for illustration and photo design/editing, and then created a seminar series where I traveled across North America to 27 cities, teaching users these new tools and how to get the most out of them. There were four modules to these seminars; one of them was devoted to web design. Presently I am the webmaster for over 30 websites!
Q: You have had a variety of clients over the last half century. Is there a mindset or a philosophy you possess where you have to collaborate or wear a different hat for each and every individual in your function as studio owner, engineer, producer?
A: Absolutely! Running a studio requires wearing many hats besides engineer and producer. A lot of time has been spent marketing the studio to make us known to enough people so that word-of-mouth referral would kick in. My skills in typesetting, design, branding, copywriting, web development and social media, all helped us to establish our name in the community. When working with clients, each has had their own vision. My job has been to get them to articulate that vision so that I can wear whatever hats are necessary to achieve that vision. Sometimes it’s just engineering. Others, arrangement, playing, contracting other musicians and production are needed. And with some clients, I ended up co-writing with and/or writing songs for them. Some of my best and award-winning work has been because of these situations.
Q: Do you also think being a musician is an advantage working with recording artists?
A: Indeed. I don’t see how someone could engineer a music project without being a musician. And being a versatile arranger helps when producing vocals and backing tracks.
Q: I’d like to ask some technical questions about engineering and producing. I’ve used your room over 40 years. Any theories you like to employ when a band cuts live? Are you a big believer in isolation booths for vocals? Do you suggest headphones for vocalists? Do you have some revealing anecdotes about recording sessions? I know every session is different but you are at the epicenter of the action.
A: I like recording artists live if at all possible. There’s a connection when a singer/songwriter plays and sings live, compared to building tracks and doing all vocals as overdubs. Sure, that’s a recording technique, but a live recording has more mojo. I’ve been fortunate to work with many artists and bands who had the skills to do the live thing. One of my favorite sessions was for Mel Carter (the guy who had a major hit with “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” in the 60s). Mel still has the skills to knock it out of the park. I’ve engineered, mixed and mastered three new albums for him since we started working together. I remember one of the first sessions. Mel was recording with a big band (14 pieces including Mel) and I had him on our vocal booth. We also have a drum booth. Everyone else was in the main room except for the acoustic bass player who was in the control room. Once I got all the tracks sound-checked, we rolled the first take. It really smoked! At the end, I asked Mel a question via the talkback and didn’t get an answer. I tried again and still no answer. Turns out, Mel’s headphone feed wasn’t on and he only heard the band leakage in the booth, but still he sang a killer vocal, totally in tune! That’s a true professional!
Q: You also offer live recording and video services. Talk to me about some of your clients and projects in this arena.
A: I take pride in the fact that I can record multi-camera video and multitrack audio for live concerts. I can also do the live house mix for these shows. Being able to do this allows me to edit/mix the audio in post and edit the video with the mixed audio for broadcast quality. I’ve recorded audio/video shows for Art Podell, Harriet Schock and Just 4 Kicks at the Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena. I’ve also recorded several shows at the Gardenia Cabaret Club, some of which ended up becoming live album releases, the most recent being MaryJo Mundy’s tribute to Laura Nyro.
Q: From your perch, do you have any theories why people NEED to make music? Or what makes them want to record an audio document? Is it a mission or calling? You have been in the position to record children, voice actors, demos, nascent singer/songwriters, film/TV soundtracks, and artists whose work will now become part of movies.
A: For some, it’s the beginning of an aspiring career. For others, it’s a demo reel of their voice, vocal or acting work. For most of our clients, it’s making music because that’s their mission in life. I’ve helped many composers produce music for TV and films; indie artists produce their first (and subsequent) releases; agencies produce sound design soundtracks for visual media; spoken word projects (many produced by you), etc. The slogan on my studio business card is: “Because the world needs your music…” That’s what music is for and that’s what I feel artists should realize about the music they create. How it uplifts and inspires others.
Q: Can you reflect on the eighties, nineties and current century. Is the song the key? Is there a common thread about most of the people who book your room?
A: In the 80s, the trend was going from organic, linear and analog, to MIDI, digital and techno. Things got artificial, industrial and robotic. It was cool at first, but it took the humanity out of the communication. It also resulted in songs that did not communicate the way songs of earlier decades did. And listeners couldn’t understand the songs well enough to sing them to themselves. The songs of the 60s and early 70s were duplicatable; you could sing them and remember all the words!
The 80s also produced Punk and New Wave bands—all this in the aftermath of the disco era. The 90s and on saw a continuation of techno turned dance turned EDM along with Rap, Hip Hop and myriad genres of dance music. Production got more slick and it was more about making sounds that were unusual rather than telling a good story. Of course, a few artists rose above the trends and became dynasties, but most of the charts were filled with stuff I don’t even remember.
Along with this is the Grammy Awards show. I’ve been a member of the recording Academy since 1981. I used to attend the Grammys and after-parties. But as the years went by, the admission prices got super expensive and the shows themselves were less about the music and more about the spectacle. What irked me the most was when there was all the “Me Too” sexual abuse going on and the Grammy show made a point of focusing on that, while at the same time, various Hip Hop acts had scantily-clad women shaking booty on the stage while the rapper was holding his groin. I wrote a long letter to then Academy president Neil Portnow, but never got a reply.
As for a common thread? Our clients appreciate working with someone who understands their vision and can help them realize it. Some of our clients have been working at Theta Sound for over 30 years!
Q: You were very early in the internet world. Did you always have the ability to diversify knowing there had to be more than doing sessions? You have added graphic design, copy writing, computer consulting to your services. This is one of the unique aspects about your studio and the various testimonials from clients underscore this.
A: I learned many skills in junior high that have served me well so far. That gave me to ability to observe and learn about just about anything that was required for me to help my clients achieve their vision. I’ve learned so much over the years, and continue to learn. As Joni Mitchell famously sang in her homage to Woodstock, “…life is for learning.”
Q: What are your observations about music/recordings being streamed? And what do you think is the future of streaming?
A: This is an area that changed music forever, not in a good way. I remember when buying a single or an album was a special event. You got to call your friends and have them come over to listen, hold the cover, check out the photos, read the liner notes. Your friends might also have records you didn’t have so they would bring them over, too. New music was a memorable experience. When MP3 appeared and people took advantage of it to share music without paying for it, the value of music went down the tubes. It became a commodity rather than art. Without paying for physical music product, or not paying enough for digital products, everyone on the creative side loses. The result is this generation feels all music should be free. You can actually find most of the music created in the past 100 years on YouTube and play it for free! Who needs other streaming services?
Q: This might not be a fair question to ask but can you comment or reflect on some of the sessions that were really rewarding to you. Moments that impacted your recording process for the future and were life lessons?
A: I’ve done thousands of sessions since officially opening in 1977. Of all those sessions, there are a selection that I felt privileged to be a part of, where the artist, the project, and the music were inspiring, awesome, relevant. I got to be a creative part of those sessions and I can remember most of them. A few that come to mind include: live to 2-track jazz sessions with Yve Evans and company; Art Podell and the Laurel Canyon sessions; Dean Fransen’s Port of Call jazz fusion sessions; Bark, The Musical; TSS Live! our studio house concert series with several dozen artists performing their hearts out in an intimate setting (I recorded them all on HD video and multitrack audio; you can watch one selection from each concert here). Also, check out the Mel Carter/Lenny Welch video, “The Legends of Rock and Roll” here, recorded live in-studio at Theta Sound (be sure not to miss the end credits…)!
Q: In addition to your life as a studio owner, in the last few years an organic, magical, and wonderful world opened up to you and Cyndie as owners of a micro-bakery, Random Acts of Breadness, where artisan sourdough bread you first created in your home kitchen now has expanded into a shop in the Burbank, California, Magnolia Park district.
A: Random Acts of Breadness was never intended to be a business. That was the furthest thing from my mind when I thought to myself in late November 2016: “I wonder if I could make sourdough bread?” “If it turns out alright, I could give it to family and friends for the holidays.”
What made this highly unusual is that although I enjoyed cooking, I had never made bread before! But by mid December, I had found the right combination of ingredients, the right process, and had the right tools to begin this unpredictable journey.
The result was pretty darn good, but the reactions from those on the receiving end of these “random acts of breadness” were off the charts! One-for-one each gift recipient stated, “This is the best bread I’ve ever had!” So I kept making, baking and giving this bread away—holidays or special occasions not required!
My wife, Cyndie, created unique presentation designs with various tea towels, ribbons and ornaments. She also bought the first organic bamboo cutting boards to form the foundation of the gifts. And one never knew when I was going to show up randomly with a “random act of breadness” in hand, ringing their doorbell!
This activity had been going on for a few years when people started demanding to buy the bread! They didn’t want to wait for a random act of breadness. They wanted bread NOW! I had to politely decline their requests as I didn’t have a permit to make and sell bread, and obtaining a Cottage Industry Permit would have limited my ability to make and sell other food items I was developing.
So I came up with a solution: continue to give breadness, and let the recipient know that they could leave a tip if they so desired (there was no law against that!). The tips were commensurate with what the bread would have sold for, but by no means covered the actual cost of making the bread, which takes three days and a lot of labor (and love) to make. Still, the tips helped with ingredient costs and the requests for breadness kept coming.
During this time, I came up with the idea of branding this activity as Random Acts of Breadness and proceeded to search for domain names. The first name I searched for was Breadness.com and, as if angels were guiding this journey, it was available! I registered that name, along with .net and .org variations, and also registered the full-name versions (randomactsofbreadness.com, etc.).
Once the domain names were in place, I created the website (breadness.com) and continued to create the concept and the brand.
I took the California Food Manager Certification course in 2019 so I could legally run any restaurant in California. This opened the door for what eventually became our micro-bakery.
In February 2021, I got a call from a friend who was the insurance agent for the owner of an ice cream and pie shop on Magnolia Blvd. in Burbank. She was closing down and was looking for someone to take over the lease. I checked it out and saw that Breadness could be created in that space, so I decided to go for it. Since our Grand opening in August 2021, we’ve done great business, made hundreds of friends, and sell out on a regular basis. The Breadness buzz is spreading…
Q: Please explain to me the relationship between music and bread and it seems both feed each other. Developing sounds is akin to developing bread.
A: Interestingly enough, I found a stark contrast between music and Breadness. With music, one spends a good deal of their life getting good enough to create a record. When the record is done, one spends a lot of time and effort trying to promote their record. One needs to get a listener to hear the artist’s record enough to make a decision to purchase it. With Breadness, people take one bite and immediately ask, “Where can I buy this?”
Additionally, I’ve found that Breadness opens doors way better than sending a promo package! When the dust settles a bit, I’m going to do a podcast entitled, “Breaking Bread” where I have guest artists taking about their music and food. We’ll start by breaking bread and enjoying that, talking about it, then we’ll feature the artist playing a song, discussing that and having more Breadness. Should be a blast!
Q: I know before August 2021, you would have some loaves available to nibble for patrons and customers at your recording sessions, but take me through the journey and growth of this venture that truly has arrived. Was it some sort of mission or destiny that you and Cyndie felt and knew could attract not only foot traffic but a buzz that now has veered into shipping and out of state customers.
A: I was making bread every week in my kitchen so when studio clients were here, I’d bring bread into the control room; something you could only get at Theta Sound!
Additional to the story previous, I never imagined giving Breadness would change my life, but it did. The reactions I got from those I gave the bread to were far better than the pleasure I’d received enjoying the bread myself. That’s why I kept on giving it. It felt so right to do this, it was like angels were guiding me on this journey. Beside our local customers, I got requests from people out of state to ship the bread. It took a few months to figure out the logistics for shipping our 3-loaf Breadness Box overnight and 2-Day Air, but once I did, we started filling those orders. We also have DoorDash as a partner for local deliveries.
Q: You are the artisan baker and chef while still very active as a studio owner. I remember you initially had your sourdough, which is organic gluten-neutral and lectin-free as gifts and for friends. What happened to trigger or move this taste bud passion to an actual business?
A: It was the demand from the same people I had gifted Breadness to. They insisted on paying for my bread. (No one ever demanded to buy my records…) So I kept my options open for a brick and mortar bakery/café while I was doing occasional popups as research & development. When covid happened, one of my prospective popup locations disappeared, but I kept moving forward. Then I got the call…
Q: You’ve also now added Organic Pastures Raw Farm butter to your menu. Was that a logical step? And your website also endorses or acknowledges Dr. Steven Gundry and his book. Was the book or data from it an influence on your bakery?
A: I’ve been a longtime fan of Organic Pastures raw butters (they make two kinds: Cultured Unsalted, and Lightly Salted) and I definitely wanted to feature their butters in our bakery. Raw, grass-fed butter is superior to pasteurized butter, plus it tastes better.
Dr. Gundry’s The Plant Paradox book was recommended to me by one of my Breadness gift recipients who discovered the book after suffering a heart attack! I found the book to be fascinating and simple, and was elated to find on pages 50-51 that artisan sourdough bread, the way I make it, had Dr. Gundry’s blessings (most grains and beans are on Dr. G’s “No List”). I’ve been a Plant Paradox-friendly baker and chef ever since! Most of the products we sell in the bakery are on Dr. G’s “Yes List.”
Q: What does 2022 look like in terms of expanding this endeavor?
A: 2022 is going to be exciting for us. In the last couple months I’ve collected artisan, organic olive oils and balsamic vinegars from around the world and plan to have tastings with Breadness called “Shots & Sourdough.”
It will be our “Healthy Hour” rather than Happy Hour and should be a lot of fun. Since we don’t have room in the bakery for this, we’ll have to make it happen on the sidewalk in front of our store. But that’s going to usher in a new era of gourmet offerings from Random Acts of Breadness! Valentine’s Day is coming up and we have some pretty amazing Breadness Gifts to choose from. And at some point we’ll investigate getting our kosher certification for Breadness.
I consider this bakery the pilot for our first store. Once we have things all figured out, I’m looking forward to opening our next store, possibly in the Tampa/Clearwater Florida area. There’s no reason why Breadness can’t have a presence wherever people are looking for a superior bread experience!
Ultimately, the success of Random Acts of Breadness will enable me to spend more time at Theta Sound, getting “back to the garden” where it all began…
Harvey Kubernik is the author of 20 books, including Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows published in 2014 and Neil Young Heart of Gold during 2015.
Kubernik also authored 2009’s Canyon Of Dreams: The Magic And The Music Of Laurel Canyon and 2014’s Turn Up The Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll In Los Angeles 1956-1972.
Sterling/Barnes and Noble in 2018 published Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik’s The Story Of The Band: From Big Pink To The Last Waltz. For November 2021 the duo wrote Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child for Sterling/Barnes and Noble.
Otherworld Cottage Industries in 2020 published Harvey’s book, Docs That Rock, Music That Matters, featuring interviews with D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, Albert Maysles, Murray Lerner, Morgan Neville, Dr. James Cushing, Curtis Hanson, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Andrew Loog Oldham, Dick Clark, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Robby Krieger, Travis Pike, Allan Arkush, and David Leaf, among others.
Kubernik’s writings are in several book anthologies, including The Rolling Stone Book Of The Beats and Drinking With Bukowski.
Harvey wrote the liner note booklets to the CD re-releases of Carole King’s Tapestry, Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, Elvis Presley The ’68 Comeback Special and The Ramones’ End of the Century.
During 2020 Harvey Kubernik served as a Consultant on the 2-part documentary Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time directed by Alison Ellwood.