With hands from bands, Las Vegas studio still stands


The shelves are heavy with Las Vegas music history, stocked with dozens of 2-inch tapes packed into binders whose spines attest to all the bands that have recorded here: Happy Campers, Slow to Surface, Home Cooking, A Pig Named Jodi, to name a few.

“Look at all the Hemlock tapes,” Mike “Lazer” Lavin says, pointing to a bottom shelf loaded with recordings from the long-running Henderson metallers.

Lavin is standing in a backroom of Digital Insight Recording Studios, a local music staple that almost ceased to be.

Upon opening more than two decades ago, Digital Insight was one of the first big-time studios in Las Vegas, a designation underscored by walls lined with framed platinum plaques from albums by Kanye West, Kenny Chesney and Barry Manilow that were recorded here.

“This place was a game- changer back in the ’90s. This was the spot,” says Lavin, who started here as an assistant and who now runs the place. “My first job here was pushing a talk-back button while they were recording ‘Crank Yankers.’ Jimmy Kimmel was here, David Alan Grier, all those guys. When they wanted a high-end studio, they went here. And then a couple of bigger (studios) opened, which was fine, but right about then the whole demographics of the music business changed.”

The shift that Lavin speaks of was seismic: a move to digital recording via programs such as Pro Tools, which made home recording or tracking in much smaller studios easier and hence threatened the existence of a place like Digital Insight.

But recently, Lavin oversaw a massive rewiring of the studio, which in addition to computer and software improvements done earlier, have helped keep this Las Vegas music touchstone viable.

Keeping the studio alive was a communal effort, with local musicians and producers such as Columbyne guitarist Jamie Jackson and Black Camaro frontman Brian Garth volunteering their time to help with the renovations.

“This place has done a lot for me,” Jackson says while seated on a couch in the control room of Digital Insight’s main studio. “We need to keep a place like this alive for local artists.”

“It was a grass-roots effort,” adds Tiger Stylz, an engineer/producer who has worked here for more than a dozen years and who helped paint and sand the refurbished studio late into the night. “We need this.”

Who knows what records will come from Digital Insight in the future — but at least now there’s a future to speak of.

“There will always be the cheaper studio, and there will always be the more expensive studio,” Lavin says. “But this is our studio.”

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow on Twitter @JasonBracelin.