Located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Church Studio is a world-renowned recording studio. Originally constructed in 1915 as Grace Methodist Episcopal Church, Leon Russell purchased the church in 1972 and turned it into a recording studio and home office for Shelter Records. Many acts have recorded, collaborated with or visited The Church Studio, including Tom Petty, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Freddie King, Steve Ripley, Leon Russell, Willie Nelson, Kenny Loggins, Dr. John and Bob Seger, to name a few. The Church Studio not only operates as a recording and mixing studio but it is also an event center, audio engineering school and boutique museum for tourists to enjoy. In 2022, the studio opened to the public after a five-year, $10 million renovation.
Can you tell us how and why you started your business?
My two passions—historic preservation and music, especially music by Tulsa artists—collided at The Church Studio when I acquired it. As a native Tulsan, I admire the importance of protecting the integrity of the Church and early history, while celebrating the significance of Leon Russell’s impact on the building in the 1970’s. Creating a sustainable business model to support the operations of the building was critical. As a collector of Leon Russell memorability, it didn’t seem quite right to only operate as a music museum, but rather a space that is relevant to today’s artists. The best way to honor Leon Russell, JJ Cale and other “Tulsa Sound” legends is to keep making music.
What services do you provide within the film/music industry?
The Church Studio is a full-service recording studio. We are one of the larger studios in the country, and our tracking room can hold a small orchestra. Our collection of gear includes both analog and digital pieces, but the “star” of the show is our Neve 8068 console. Services include recording, mixing, producing and a directory of top session players. Furthermore, 20-foot ceilings with grids are set up for high-definition video capture and live streaming and make a perfect backdrop for video and photo productions. We have two bed and breakfast establishments that provide luxurious accommodations for clients who desire that option. These locations have also been used as film sets.
How has your company grown to meet the needs of Oklahoma’s film and/or music industries over the last 3-5 years?
We have been open for less than a year, but have grown each month as the demand for music production has increased. We are hosting clients from across the country that see Tulsa as an exceptional option and alternative to Nashville and other larger music markets. Our clients are A&R executives, individuals, record labels, producers, film companies, publishing companies and corporations.
What are the benefits of basing your company’s operations in Oklahoma?
Leveraging Oklahoma’s rich music history enhances our organization’s brand equity as we learn and gain inspiration from the trailblazers that inspired the famed “Tulsa Sound.” We are strategically located geographically for both west coast and east coast clients and are able to offer private butler, concierge, and other services on top of the music production. One of the major benefits of operating in Oklahoma is the huge database of high-caliber musicians that can do session work for any of our clients. Music industry professionals that work in our state are blown away by the musical talent options from instrumentalists to vocalists.
What would you consider your business’s greatest accomplishment to date?
The Church Studio is listed on the National Register of Historic Places; however, we are most proud of the quality and depth of our warm sound, including our professionally engineered acoustics and rare vintage gear collection, both of which are sought after by engineers and producers worldwide. Often, Grammy award-winning and legacy artists and engineers are comparing our sound to that of Abby Road and other extraordinary historic recording studios.
Are there any recent successes your company would like to highlight related to work within the Oklahoma film and music industries?
Our 14-minute documentary titled “Mural of Space and Time: A Leon Russell Documentary“ was inspired by the lyrics of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You.” It honors the work, life and legacy of the Master of Space and Time. The film was shown for the first time at the Sundance Film Festival at a satellite location in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2021. It was part of the local programming at the historic Circle Cinema.
This documentary follows the creative minds behind the conception of the Mural of Space and Time. Patrick (P.S.) Gordon, an internationally famous oil painter, is featured, as is Brian Lewis, an extraordinary North Carolina muralist who brought Pat’s paintings to life on a 190-foot cinder block wall across from The Church Studio. Teresa Knox, Executive Producer and passionate Leon Russell fan, talks about her inspiration for the art. This documentary can be seen on The Church Studio’s YouTube channel.
In April 2022, the Dropkick Murphy band recorded 22 songs and two music videos at The Church Studio in just 16 days. The American Celtic Punk band, based in Boston, recorded “This Machine Still Kills Fascists,” putting Woody Guthrie’s poetry to music—a gift from Nora Guthrie. Their marketing included mentions of The Church Studio experience and Tulsa in more than 40 publications, both nationally and internationally.
Kristin Chenoweth’s Broadway Boot Camp came to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, in July 2022, with Emmy Award-winning Director and Choreographer Kenny Ortega as Camp Director and performers Jordan Fisher and Kevin Chamberlain. More than 4,000 high school students from 26 states and three countries auditioned for 100 slots in one of KCBB’s two one-week intensive sessions. Ms. Chenoweth’s second group of 50 joined her at The Church Studio to provide background vocals as she recorded.
What are you working on now/next?
The Church Studio continues to increase its digital footprint and status as an entertainment network, while building a boutique record label around the brand.
What is your goal/vision for the future of your company?
Our goal is to be a Top Ten recording studio and landmark in America; admired for exceptional sound, extraordinary gear and magnificent customer service.
What advice do you have for others who are considering starting a film or music business in Oklahoma?
Working in Oklahoma means working with those that have an unparalleled work ethic and ability to collaborate and team with all stakeholders while exceeding expectations on friendliness, happiness and commitment to excellence. While you are conducting due diligence in Oklahoma prior to doing work in our state, please contact leaders in those industries that will elevate your project to get a feel for what it will be like collaborating, teaming and leveraging our state’s rich creative resources.
What opportunities do you believe await Oklahoma’s film/music industry in the future?
Due to the vast number of highly skilled musicians and songwriters in our state and our ability to record them, Oklahoma will be known as the go-to state above all other states. The future is very bright for our artists to work as session players, performers and to take film productions to the next level with original music from all musical genres. The best films and TV productions highlight emerging artists with double revenue opportunities for production companies. Oklahoma is and will continue to be known for being the “cool music” state that has a killer film/music infrastructure.
Each featured individual or business is given the provided questions to answer in their own voice. Other than formatting and grammar, the answers are personal to each featured voice, and are not provided by the Oklahoma Film + Music Office.