Paul Kulak’s Woodshed keeps the indie music scene alive

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Paul Kulak likes to say that singer-songwriters are his only vice.

It is rather a devouring passion. In 1999 he established, and has since invested his life, Kulak’s Woodshed, a video recording studio and live performance space in North Hollywood. The Laurel Canyon Boulevard showcase has hosted thousands of artists, ranging from celebrities like Jackson Browne and Christopher Cross to teenage songwriters and people who have put off their musical aspirations until their kids are older.

“I had a crazy dream to open a little room for singer-songwriters where they could come in and feel at home, no matter what your talent level,” says Kulak, 62, at The Woodshed in the middle of mismatched used furniture. and wall album covers, posters, distressed toys, and other bric-a-brac that give the place a Salvation Army store look.

The appeal to anyone hoping to be heard in LA’s competitive and often exploitative music scene soon became apparent. Especially since Kulak provided everything – the staging of the shows, the recordings, the Woodshed’s pioneering live video webcasts – free of charge to the artists.

Until his money ran out.

“I paid for it myself for the first 10 years, and then we had to turn into some semblance of a real business,” Kulak says, still feeling uneasy about the necessary decision.

Some musicians have never forgiven him for this. Many others, however, found what they got for a $300-per-night rental was a bargain unmatched elsewhere in town: recordings of a live webcast, two-hour show made with a 24-hour console tracks and six HD cameras (including the remote-controlled Kulak “skateboard camera” mounted along the tracks on an upper wall), plus 100% of any ticket and merchandise sales they might generate in the listening room with 49 seats.

“We’re the only video/recording studio where you can recoup all of your rental costs and even make a profit,” Kulak notes.

Despite having 10,000 hours of archived shows, the Woodshed has rarely turned a profit. There were fundraising performances to literally keep the lights (and the sound system) on. Single for life, Kulak lives a spartan lifestyle; pet doves have been his main companions since the COVID pandemic shuttered the site 22 months ago.

Yet he’s still around, thanks to an SBA grant and a few Go Fund Me campaigns. Kulak has booked a handful of recording sessions since October, though Omicron’s surge postponed the first show with an audience in live, starring Severin Browne (Jackson’s brother) and James Lee Stanley, which was scheduled for January 7.

“People have been asking me in recent months, ‘You barely survived 20 years when you were open, and now that you’re closed you’re still surviving. How do you do that?’ Kulak notes. “You could say I have the toughest nails in town. Holding on to my life for 20 years kind of groomed me.

Of course, many musicians have spent time learning how to make their own recordings and webcasts, and Kulak wonders how many of them will still find what he has to offer relevant. Another question is will the warm community of local regulars and visitors from around the world regenerate under COVID protocols and concerns?

A self-proclaimed “socially autistic” loner who has struggled with chronic depression his entire life, Kulak somewhat dreads the prospect of interacting with performers and patrons again.

But as with any drug addict, there is no choice.

“I have nothing else to do,” Kulak said.

And if history is any indication, he will somehow manage to make it work.

“I think the most impressive thing is that someone like me, with all my flaws and blockages, would be able to not only create something that other people love, but also be able to miraculously make it work for 22 years” , said Kulak.

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