The singles “Sports” and “Prom Queen” from local rock band Beach Bunny came out in 2018.
Suburban music lovers might be surprised to hear that the songs, which both boast more than 100 million plays on Spotify, were recorded at Mount Prospect’s Lubeck Studios — a growing music business in a spot with humble origins.
“The building was built by my dad in 1964. It was a car wash,” said Lubeck Studios CEO Scott Lubeck. “It was a car wash I worked in when I was 10.”
It remained a car wash until the early 1990s, when the building was reconfigured into the Rand Auto Mall, which sold vehicle parts, car audio equipment and even cellphones.
In 2015 Scott Lubeck decided to turn his father’s building into a recording studio. Not knowing where to start, Lubeck reached out to audio producer Ray Ortiz.
“Ray lived down the street from me,” Lubeck said. “He went to school with my son.”
Ortiz played in bands in high school and taught himself how to record. He attended the now-closed Madison Media Institute and worked as an intern at the Chicago Recording Company, near Navy Pier.
“Ray gave me a lot of insight on how to build it,” Lubeck said.
The two continued to correspond about the studio even as Ray Ortiz and his wife, Rachel, were living in China.
“We actually went to the site, taped it off, (and said), ‘Hey, here’s where the control room is going to be,'” Lubeck said. “I just kept building it and building it, and by the time I was done, Ray was back from China.
“The end product turned out pretty great. I couldn’t be happier with the sound we’re getting out of there.”
Lubeck Studios opened officially in 2016. While repurposing the building into a studio was a challenge on its own, Rachel Ortiz knew from experience that keeping it open would be even more difficult.
“My dad owned a recording studio growing up,” Rachel Ortiz said. “I’ve never known a life where a recording studio was not just available to me. When Ray first started talking about this, I was like, ‘Absolutely not. I’ve seen how this can go bad.'”
“Granted, I was 17 and dumb at the time,” she joked.
Still, Rachel Ortiz jumped in, handling the books and marketing.
Much of Lubeck Studio’s first few months of operation was spent reaching out to bands from across Chicago and the suburbs. Work was done at a highly reduced rate to build a portfolio, Lubeck said.
“If it wasn’t for the music coming out of Elgin, I don’t know if we would be where we are right now,” Ray Ortiz said. “A lot of our first couple of bands that came through were all from Elgin.”
Though it began with a focus on musicians, Lubeck Studio’s clientele steadily expanded to include podcasters, voice-over artists and even political ads.
“Even in COVID, when we thought we were going to hit a hard year … we still made more money than we did in 2019 in 2020,” Rachel Ortiz said. “A lot of the clients and the growth as well has all been word-of-mouth.”
Lubeck Studios attributes that word-of-mouth success to past clientele, Beach Bunny included. Beach Bunny, which made its debut appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” last year, features members from Elgin and Chicago.
“(Vocalist Lili Trifilio) already knows what the songs are going to be and what they’re going to sound like and what everyone needs to do,” Ray Ortiz said. “They kind of just produced themselves, and I’m taking a ‘picture’ of what’s happening.”
Drummer John Alvarado had worked with Ortiz before, as a member of Mt. Pocono during the recording of the band’s 2017 EP “You’re Saying It Wrong” at Lubeck.
“We really liked the idea of recording our first piece at Lubeck Studios with Ray, Rachel and Scott since it was semi-close to us, based out in Elgin at the time,” said Mt. Pocono bassist Brandon Garlick. “None of us had really any experience with checking out music studios before this so between our budget and what they were able to offer us it was a great opportunity for us to start our first recording process. All boils down to quality people with access to a unique space.”
“Tensions can run high when recording, but with Ray and his team we had a very relaxed and fun time while also putting in a lot of quality work,” Garlick said.
The band returned to Lubeck in 2018 to record the single “They Come at Night.”
“It all depends on what the artist needs,” Ray Ortiz said. “If they need someone to be experimental and push them in different directions, sure, absolutely. Or if they just need someone to get the best possible picture of what they’re doing, we can definitely do that too.”
On top of running the studio, Rachel Ortiz works a full-time job at a software company. Ray Ortiz works at NIU.
“I think right now we’re a year and a half away from making the move to (Ray) being part-time at NIU, so it’s kind of a transition period,” Rachel Ortiz said. “We can now see the point where Ray can be full time at the studio chasing this dream.”
Three other engineers work at the studio to help fill gaps within the week.
“Each year, even through the year of COVID, how many bookable hours we have billed for the year has continuously grown from year to year,” Rachel Ortiz said.
In March 2020 Lubeck Studios halted all recording and rehearsal services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the studio’s Facebook page.
One of the studio’s last major projects before the pandemic was the 2020 album “Zoo” by Chicago band The Weekend Run Club.
“(‘Zoo’) came out a month before COVID, so that was a pretty unfortunate fate that it fell into,” said Mitchell Jay, vocalist of The Weekend Run Club.
“It was nice because when you go into the studio, creating a shared language can be a huge barrier,” Jay said. “I think we were able to create that language and get on the same page in communicating what we want and (Ray) was very receptive to helping us get the sounds that we wanted.”
Recording sessions resumed in June 2020. Both studio staff and clients had to wear masks, and equipment was regularly sanitized, Lubeck said.
Chicago metal band The Oblivion Archetype recorded the 2020 single “A Slow Burn” at Lubeck Studios during the height of the pandemic.
“We had to wear masks in the studio, especially in the control room, but it was a great experience nonetheless,” said The Oblivion Archetype drummer James Doyle. “They were big on cleaning and sanitization between sessions.”
Though audio sessions rebounded during the pandemic, the studio’s rehearsal space suffered as live music stayed on ice.
“It was fairly new, but at the point that 2020 started when I was looking at our projections for what the year would look like, I was like, ‘Man, rehearsals are really going to take off this year,'” Rachel Ortiz said. “And then COVID hit, and we lost six months worth of rehearsal time that I’d been booking.”
Use of the rehearsal space bounced back later as the pandemic became less severe, with some clients taking advantage of it for performance videos and live streams.
“The next step we’re hoping to go with the studio is into that streaming world, but right now it’s a lot of obviously recording and rehearsals,” Rachel Ortiz said.
The studio has also hosted shows in the summertime, with the long driveway from the building’s car wash days providing ample space for live music.
“Our first show we ever did was a breast cancer benefit. We wanted to give back to the community,” Lubeck said. “We did not hold back anything. We had a full sound system, but it rained the entire weekend. Maybe three bands played.”
“We didn’t go into it with the mindset of, ‘We want to be a venue, we know exactly what we’re doing,'” Rachel Ortiz said. “It was more like, ‘Hey, we got pizza and beer, let’s see if people come and like it.’ A nice thing too is that we got a lot of bands to take a look at the studio.”
Past clients note that part of Lubeck Studios’ appeal is its friendly, family business atmosphere.
“We get that a lot from our clients,” Rachel Ortiz said. “Just saying it feels like they’re coming in and hanging out with family.”