Midtown in Motion: Terminus Recording Studios Arrives Atop 723 7th Avenue
October 14, 2012 by David Weiss
If there’s one address that’s been the essence of New York studio competition and renewal, it’s 723 7th Avenue. For the last several years, this Times Square tower has been the battleground for a shapeshifting combination of facilities; as of late, three equally committed, but very different, tracking/mixing studios have occupied it in the form of Premier, Quad Studios, and Tainted Blue.
But October 2012 brings a new name to the penthouse floor: Terminus, which officially takes the place of Tainted Blue this month. And with the fresh designation comes another choice for audio clients in search of world-class studio options – yes, the already dense world of commercially available NYC facilities has just grown a little more intense.
At the center of the action is Terminus studio manager Christian Rutledge, who established himself as one of the city’s top facility administrators after running Philip Glass’ Looking Glass Studios for six years. For Rutledge, the irresistible challenge from Terminus’ owner Andrew Koss – who originally founded the studio as Tainted Blue in 2006 as a mostly private-use facility – was to make one of NYC’s classic spaces fully accessible to the public again.
“This is an exciting space,” Rutledge confirms. “The fact that it’s the Penthouse here at 723 7th Avenue, with so much history, was extremely compelling to me. When Andrew approached me about it, I saw a private studio with an exclusive feel, beautiful, and well-taken care of. I thought that with some technical upgrades in terms of equipment, and the proper business approach, that this could be a really successful commercial studio.”
Analog for the Digital
As Rutledge, Koss and Terminus’ Managing Director Michael Freeman – a GRAMMY-winning producer/engineer — dug in, their balancing act was identifying which parts of the studio to keep, and which aspects to improve on. On the one hand, the futuristic ergonomics and expansive layout of the Larry Swist-designed control room, along with the famed 450 sq. ft. live room, which has hosted countless platinum artists over the decades since its inception, provided a solid foundation to build on.
On the other hand, they saw myriad opportunities to elevate the offerings of Terminus – which takes its name from a planet in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series — starting with the gear selection. While they were more than happy to retain the main room’s AVID System 5 console – which features 128 inputs directly from Pro Tools, 324 channels 24 aux busses, 48 group busses, 48 mix busses, Avid PatchNet recall of outboard routing, and full Pro Tools HDX integration with Eucon – they surrounded it with a multitude of new outboard gear.
“The AVID System 5 has incredible routing, which is why it’s thought of primarily as a broadcast and film console,” he says. “I looked at the room and thought it was obviously a music-based studio, and that it could use some readily identifiable color on the front end. So Andrew, Michael, and I made a wish list of anything an engineer would identify as high quality gear that they’d want to work with, for tracking and also for mixing. We want to encourage people to use the System 5 not just as a control surface, but as the great console that it can be.”
Consulting with Shane Koss of Alto Music NYC, the Terminus wish list was granted via an impressive analog array which accommodates the tastes of a wide range of artists, producers and engineers. New additions to the Terminus control room include an 8-channel Neve/BAE rack with summing, two BAE 1024’s (whose EQs include sweepable highs going to 24 kHz), four Neve 1073s, and two Neve 1084s. On the API front, Terminus offers two each of API 512 pres, API mono compressors, and 550a/550b/560 500-series modules. Still more sonic newcomers include two VOG EQs, a GML 8200 stereo EQ, a Dramastic Audio Obsidian compressor, and a second LA-2A.
“By combining the Avid System 5 with these beautiful pieces of outboard gear, we’ve created a facility that offers our clients a tremendously wide choice of colors and a powerful console that gives them unprecedented creative control of those colors,” Koss explains. “Engineers and artists can explore sonic options that were never presented before, while at the same time stream-lining their workflow.”
Adding to the gear list is what’s now available in the mic locker. Two Coles 4038 ribbon mics, two Beyer 160s, and two Beyer M 260 ribbon mics have joined the stereo pair offerings. Meanwhile, a Wunder CM7 Fet, a “much-needed” Shure SM7, and an Electro-Voice RE20 have also joined the team.
“This is a great tracking space,” says Rutledge. “It’s not the biggest room in the world, but it sounds terrific. It’s got lots of wood, and it’s livelier than anyone would expect in a room of this size. We added some Taytrix gobos to tame the ambience in the room. The mic locker was already respectable, but I really like what we’ve brought into it. The Wunder CM7 Fet is amazing: It’s so close to the U 47 Fet it’s uncanny – that mic is great for vocals and the ‘70’s kick drum thing.”
Meanwhile, back in the control room, Rutledge and Koss agreed on some additional acoustic refinements. New treatments were added for the room’s front, which sharpened the sonics by reducing reflections as well as providing more tightly-controlled mids and highs.
On the monitoring front, Henry Heine of Bag End traveled from Chicago to shoot the room, locating nodes that would bring out the best in Terminus’ Dynaudio M4 mains. Also on hand for critical listening are ProAc s100’s, Focal Solo 6 BE’s with a Sub 6, and the always-handy Yamaha NS10′s.
According to Rutledge, the changes in the main control room and live space reflect the consistent expectations of today’s selective clientele. “They want a great-sounding product when they’re done, a great work environment, and a strong capable staff,” he notes. “We’re striving for excellent customer service, to deliver the best sonic quality that we can, and insure everyone has a good time while they’re doing it. At the same time, we’re making that as smooth and transparent to the artist as we can.”
A Room for Writing
There’s another reason to think of Terminus as a new studio: It’s got a new studio. What was once a large-windowed office has been put to much more noble use as a dedicated writing room.
Producers, mixers, and especially songwriters can easily get creative in the 130 sq. ft. space, which is equipped with an Avid Artist Control surface running Pro Tools 10, and an armload of soft synths and virtual instruments. A Motif ES8 provides a wealth of additional sounds, in addition to its controller duties.
The outboard side starts with API, Avalon, and True Systems mic pres. API EQ, Empirical Labs Distressors, Apogee conversion, and Dynaudio AIR monitors are a part of the picture as well. The experience expands even more for users of the writing room, who have tie line access to the main room’s iso booth for recording a vocalist, amping or reamping guitars, and more.
“It’s a great listening environment,” Rutledge says. “The room sounds tight, and it’s very comfortable. The idea was to keep it clean and open, and provide a few options, so people don’t feel like they’re locked in a writing room and have to do everything in the box.”
Fresh Studio Perspectives
At 723 7th Avenue, it’s safe to say that Andrew Koss and the rest of the Terminus team are amped about this latest phase of their facility’s life cycle. “In Asimov’s books,” explains Rutledge, “Terminus is the planet where all the galaxy’s knowledge was said to be stored and protected. The name also brings to mind a terminal, the kind of place where people gather, then set off on their own voyages. We liked the idea that this is a place where artists can do the same thing. It also just sounds cool.”
And with the realities of the NYC studio business magnified in a Times Square location, the decision to transition from a semi-private facility to a commercially active one is an understandable move. “Any business in NYC — but recording studios especially – have overhead issues,” states Rutledge. “Real estate is a constant consideration in our overhead, while the price of production is consistently going down. We’re looking at different ways to keep pricing competitive, keep the rooms humming, and pay the bills, which is what I think everyone is doing.
“We’re also keeping on eye out to discover what are the other areas of recording and the arts that can use the services we can provide – one that will be valuable to the community, and feed into our business as a recording studio.”
Artists that have already come through include Beth Orton, Michael Feinstein and Andre Previn, David Fink, and Philip Glass collaborators Kurt Munkacsi and Derek Lee. And as word gets out about restored access to this storied place, Christian Rutledge expects interested parties will gravitate to the updated space.
“New studios offer a new perspective,” he observes. “Engineers and producers move through different spots, which feel right for different projects. In this great NYC scene there’s a lot of competition, but it’s friendly, and as one studio opens, the rest of the community checks themselves. Developments like this are good for the clients, because they get new choices. And it’s good for the studios — it keeps us all sharp and pushing the envelope.”
– David Weiss
Terminus will be holding an open house on October 24th, from 4:30-8:30 PM: terminusnyc.com.