CLINTON HILL, BROOKLYN: If there’s one thing New York City needs more of, it’s gardens.
Just the word itself has a therapeutic effect, invoking a harmonious convergence of beauty and order. So it’s no wonder that stepping into the Clinton Hill studio that calls itself The Garden evokes a similar feeling.
A place where new sounds and creative relationships are actively nurtured, The Garden is more than just a facility – this is a collective that aspires to combine artists and music possibilities in an inspiring way. Founded by the highly experienced drummer/engineer/studio designer Drew Vogelman, its arrival represents an exciting new audio option for composers, mixers and producers in search of a different Brooklyn vibe.
Vogelman’s colorful career in the entertainment industry has included everything from drumming for comedian/intellectual-turned-Senator Al Franken and Matthew Sweet to designing audio & VFX post facilities such as JWTwo for J.Walter Thompson and K5 Productions for BBDO. He took a decade-plus break from studio proprietorship after owning Dessau Studios, a well-equipped audio outpost in the Financial District. But after he and his family occupied a Brooklyn brownstone, the opportunity to build out the 1,400 sq. ft. space, including the namesake outdoor garden, was too tantalizing to ignore.
The result is The Garden, where an SSL AWS 900 SE+ console and an extremely expansive selection of analog outboard meld seamlessly with digital tools and humans – the more of the latter, the better. “People are stimulated by other people,” Vogelman says. “When you get into a room with other people and you start bouncing ideas off of each other, or just intuitively/ instinctively reacting, that’s when the most interesting stuff happens.
“As people get to know this space, they always react positively to it,” he continues. “It’s really comfortable, really private, and there’s good equipment. I hope that, as people get to know that this is here, they’ll feel comfortable and know that the idea is one of collaboration – social and creative.”
True to form, word is starting to get around, and the group around the garden is growing larger. The varied clientele includes Producer/Engineers Ben Kane (D’Angelo), Tony Fennell (Ultravox, Edwin Starr), and Russell Elevado (Jay-Z, The Roots, Alicia Keys); and artists including jazz/hip hop drummer Chris Daddy Dave, Chicago neo-soul artist Wendell Ray, R&B singer/songwriter Emily King, Dutch R&B artist Alain Clark, and even sound artists Kristen Oppenheim (check out her piece in the current New Museum show “Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star”) and Bruce Pearson.
Deep Design and Inventory
Situated on one of those pastoral Brooklyn blocks, The Garden is on the bleeding edge between Clinton Hill and the Brooklyn Navy Yards, a stone’s throw from Pratt Institute. While engineers and producers definitely have personal spots nearby, Vogelman’s facility occupies a zone not yet saturated with commercial studios. With the artistic beehive nearby, The Garden’s location is a double bonus.
Upon arrival, those visiting The Garden instantly enter a calming but creative headspace. Pass by the small-but-mighty drum room on the left, and you’ll find yourself in The Garden’s extremely well-equipped control/mix room.
Designed with the help of Vogelman’s friend, the legendary Al Fierstein, the spacious suite is appointed with maple parquet floors below and a birch ceiling above. A marble and walnut fireplace adds to the ambience, as does the exposed brick rear wall, and the vintage armoire which holds The Garden’s sharp mic collection.
While engineers, producers and artists may feel the vibe, what they’ll see – and then hear – is the gear. Acquired over the course of his multiple decades in audio, Vogelman currently sports seven full racks of mic pres, dynamics, EQs, effects and converters ranging from classic to cutting-edge. Far too numerous to list, highlights include rack units and 500 modules from Neve, API, Shep, EMI, GML, Langevin, Theremonic Culture, Langevin, Helios, and Burl.
Across the room, the lucky Gardener tending to all this bounty pilots the aforementioned SSL AWS900E + v4 with AFADA automation. Pro Tools 10, Logic, & Ableton are on hand, and there’s plenty more in the box, with soft synths such as NI Komplete 7, Arturia Omnisphere and Trillian, and plugins including Sound Toys, the Waves Platinum bundle, Massey, Sonnox, Melodyne, Kontact 4/5. An unusually deep sound sample library is also available, collected over the years while working with producers like Fred Mahr, Mike Thorne, Alan Friedman, Dave Sardy and others – including the Mellotron from Sear Sound, various grand pianos, even drums thru the PA at CBGBs.
All the better to listen to via a selection of monitors that includes Barefoot Sound MM35’s, Genelec 1030A’s, Yamaha NS10M’s powered by B&K 442 200w per side twin mono-block with Dynaudio M9 sub woofer, and Avantone mix cubes. Lust for tape? Studer A80 MKII, Studer A810, Studer A807, and Revox PR99HS machines are all available.
Should inspiration be sought, the instrument list will get you started. Drew’s three personal Gretsch drum kits, including one from 1959, and 12 snares are there, as are guitars and basses from Martin Acoustics, Fender, Stratocaster, Telecaster, a Gibson Les Paul Gold Top and Les Paul custom, plus Fender Twin, Blues Jr, Bassman, Marshall amps, GK amps, and a Leslie cabinet.
Vintage keys include Arp Solina Strings, Wurlitzer, and Clavinet Duo, along with more synthetic goodies such as the Korg M-1, Korg MS2000, Korg Triton, Korg Wavestation, Yamaha Piano, Sherman Filterbank 2, Dave Smith Mopho & Tetra, and the Analogue Solutions’ Station X & Y.
Cultivating a Hybrid Approach
If you don’t know whether to start with The Garden’s plethora of real-world instruments and analog gear, or go for the comprehensive collection of soft synths and plugins first, don’t worry.
“It’s not about analog versus digital, it’s about analog with digital,” Vogelman says of his studio. “I think the two of them combined are more powerful than either of them apart. The SSL AWS 900 is the perfect template: They took the sound of an SSL analog console, and then put the power of digital into it. I see the studio as the same idea.
“What you can do with sound in a computer is phenomenal,” he adds. “Some music records beautifully strictly to digital, and how you can manipulate it is just amazing. Being a drummer, I think there’s nothing like playing real drums with good mics, good pres, and capturing to a DAW – I don’t miss the hiss, that’s for sure. But what’s the most fun for me is looking at how you take all that digital capability, integrate it with the old analog, and make it so they work seamlessly.”
While artists and audio pros of all stripes can find a use for The Garden, Vogelman sees composers and mixers especially benefitting from what the studio has to offer. “Most bands won’t have a budget to record and they end up recording some in a studio and a lot on their own,” he says.
“Bringing those tracks to a place like this to mix can have a huge impact on the finished record; you can really bring those tracks to life.”
As for composers, “From a compositional standpoint, it’s like a playground between the effects and the synthesizers,” he states. “We have a lot of modules that everyone loves to play with, whether it’s the Rodec Sherman Restyler, or the Korg M-1, and all the pedals that we have. You can play with sound in a way that’s fantastic.”
Mixers working in stereo or 5.1 Surround will definitely appreciate the acoustics a la Fierstein, which created a space that is flat across the frequency spectrum. From there, Vogelman’s insistence on a seamless workflow between his analog and digital gear lets a mixer take their session any place that they can imagine.
“You have a lot of mix options with your DAW session, regardless of how many tracks,” he explains. “What I find myself doing a lot now when mixing is looking at everything in stereo pairs. For example, you can take your drums as a whole stereo group or even stereo groups within the drums, group the guitars, the piano and keys, basically grouping all of the tracks in the DAW session- and bring it out onto the SSL- and then run them through our various hardware compressors, EQs, and tubes. As you’re doing this, you start removing the plug-ins and using the hardware across the groups and the whole song starts to come alive more dynamically. Some plugs stay, like de-essers and delays- or if a really particular sound was achieved- but the hardware compressors & EQs breathe air and dynamic excitement into the tracks.
“It becomes really interesting because you’re actually working in this way where you’re balancing things compositionally as you mix. And then you have the ability to automate both in the DAW and analog on the console- but both happen right in front of you on the AWS faders at the flick of a button, which is fantastic. It turns into a performance, which is really great. A lot of times I find myself standing up – bouncing or dancing – at the console.
“Not to repeat myself, but it’s all about, ‘How do you take the digital and analog side, and make it limitless in how you can find the sound that you’re trying to achieve?’ Maybe it’s overdriving the heck out of some preamp to get distortion, or slamming it to one of the tape machines. I feel like the equipment, the technology, and even the space all speak to you in a way that says, ‘What do you want to do? How are you going to make this special? Anybody can make a record – but how are we going to make a GREAT record!’”
[Be sure to check out the Wendell Ray track “Penny for Your Thoughts” directly following the article to hear a mix executed at The Garden, along with in-depth commentary from Drew Vogelman.]
Drew Do Drums
For a relatively small studio, The Garden has a sizable specialty in its ability to record drums extremely well. Vogelman’s decades of experience as a drummer and studio designer especially come into play in the compact but comfortable drum room, which yields surprisingly spacious and full-frequency results on playback.
“Drums are really dynamic,” states Vogelman. “How do you capture the sound of the drums in a way that conveys the energy of the instrument? So I chose to build it strictly out of wood first off, and then I crafted the walls to a density that would absorb some of the impact of the lower midrange.
“What I wanted to do was basically take a small room, and turn it into a high-energy sound-box, almost like the way the body of a guitar amplifies or resonates the sound,” he adds. “I spent many hours playing around with different microphone setups, diffusion and absorption. There’s a lot of tube and ribbon microphones here and I tend to track everything through transformers. Otherwise it feels a little too edgy and bright.”
Sewing Sonic Seeds
Drew Vogelman can geek out on equipment all day with the best of them – a mindset he consciously avoids getting locked into when it comes to The Garden. Instead, he wants to make it crystal clear that if what you just read appeals to you on any level, then getting in touch and paying a visit is strongly encouraged. It’s not all about selling studio time, either – it’s about growing something new from NYC’s fertile soil, tilling it together.
“The studio is not about gear,” he stresses of his blooming collective. “The studio is about putting creative tools in the hands of creative people. I really hope that when people call here, they realize that we’re here to help. If you need time & creative tools, if you’re looking for a place where you can make something interesting & original; or you want to try and push the boundaries of what you’re doing — then you should reach out.
“I’ve made a lot of records from both sides of the glass; most I’ve never listened to again. I don’t just want an artist to make a record- everyone can make a record these days. I want them to make a compelling record that you want to listen to over and over; I want them to make the next great record. That’s what this place is here for.”
– David Weiss
Sound Cloud track: ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’
Track by: Chicago neo-soul artist Wendell Ray; produced by Tony Fennell; Mixed at The Garden by Drew Vogelman.
Drew Vogelman explains the mix techniques: “We just finished mixing this on Tuesday and it’s a great example of what The Garden is ideal for. They tracked the band live to Pro Tools last month at a private studio in Chicago with Tony producing. When he showed up at The Garden, he had this killer old-school urban soul track. We focused on keeping the band sounding authentic but also creating a modern edge to it.
“I wanted Wendell’s voice to be forward but smooth so after trying different compressors, we settled on a vintage blue stripe 1176 into an LA3A with a Pultec. The old blue stripes have a grittiness that when solo’d sounds biting, but in the track lifts the voice in a natural sounding way. Then I did the same thing I spoke of, running a lot of stereo groups out through the SSL and into the analog compressors and EQs we have, peeling back the plugs as we went. The track really came alive and opened up dynamically- then we added the modern digital touches like the Virus and stabs that only digital brings- and overdubbed the harp solo in two takes with Wendell. The 2-mix went thru the Fairchild with a touch of GML EQ – and the producer ended up liking the sound of tape – in this case, the Studer A807 at 30ips.
“Most mixers would agree that by the time you’re usually finished mixing a song, you almost never want to hear it again – but this track just keeps on giving between the subtleties of the playing & the overall sound of the mix.”
The Garden is on SonicSearch.
Special thanks to Eyal Marcovici for helping to make this article possible!