When Brian Witkin opened his Love Juice Labs last year, he scoffed at those who dismissed the discount recording facility as "McStudio." He maintained there were three other successful Love Juice Labs, all franchised by flagship Love Juice in Riverside.
Witkin felt it couldn't go wrong.
"We're really cheap," Witkin, 22, said. "It's what bands can afford.... Big recording studios are a dying breed. Other studios better watch out because we're gonna put them out of business. That's a fact."
After 13 months of operation, the Love Juice studio, operated out of a warehouse in Otay Mesa, went belly up last month.
The studio produced tracks for local bands Wasting June, Haustorium, and Livid. The Love Juice studio equipment is being liquidated by Stefan Georgi, 21, who was a major investor in the project and who has taken over the assets.
"I just consider it a bad investment and have moved on," says Georgi. "Brian's doing real estate now."
Witkin, who says he wants to go back to school, explains what went wrong.
"We paid [Love Juice] a franchise fee, and then we had to pay them to come down and build the studio. Then we had to buy all the equipment. They were supposed to help us promote the studio and manage the business. They never did anything they agreed to do."
Witkin and Georgi's agreement with Love Juice spelled out that all studio time was to be booked through the Love Juice home office in Riverside.
"We got a lot of complaints from bands," says Georgi. "They would call their number, and no one would answer."
The toll-free number listed on the Love Juice Labs website is disconnected. Love Juice Labs co-owner Dave Swanson responded via e-mail: "We're friends with the licensee's families. They are good kids. I think putting their money into real estate is a good thing, because a venture into the music business requires more time, effort, and patience than they have shown they can apply. The licensees are supposed to do their own promotions locally. Every Love Juice customer from San Diego County was referred to the San Diego location. A lot of North County bands didn't want to go to Otay Mesa to record due to the distance. The licensees failed to follow our policies, which specify no drugs or alcohol in the facility and that the facility is to be kept clean. The bands that know us are used to a clean, safe environment, and many of them refused to record in San Diego again."
When told of these allegations, Georgi responded, "[Co-partner and David's spouse] Donna [Swanson] told us she was getting written statements from the bands regarding drug and alcohol use. It never happened."
"They got 25 percent off the top of everything we made," Georgi says. "It was a crappy deal from the start."
Love Juice Labs was just part of Witkin and Georgi's mini music empire, which also included Pacific Records, a CD-pressing company, and a record store (also called Pacific Records). After three years of operation, the store, which was located within the Epicentre facility, was closed in June.
"The major reason we decided to scale back is that we overextended ourselves, and we didn't focus on one or two core things," says Georgi.
Georgi says he will now oversee Pacific Records and that it will remain an active entity. He said he will focus on developing the career of one of its artists, Get Back Loretta.