Recording Studio Sweet Spot: Four Foot Studios – Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Hidden amongst the residential blocks of Williamsburg is a distinctive studio. Part Millennium Falcon, part time warp, part laboratory, part art gallery, its Four Foot Studios.

The first thing that strikes you about Gabriel Galvin’s recording and mixing facility is, well, everything. He leads you through a labyrinth to get there, past an online radio studio, a private rooftop patio, to a space with old Brooklyn roots. When you enter the control room, you’re struck by the uncommon 36-channel Wheatstone tv1000 analog desk, and piece after piece of intriguing outboard that you keep on finding.

A Wheatstone analog broadcast board is at the hub of Four Foot Studios.

A Wheatstone analog broadcast board is at the hub of Four Foot Studios.

Enter the sufficiently-spaced live room, and there’s art nestled within the intriguing acoustic design – spectacular lamp sculpture hybrids by the artist Celino Dimitroff, who melds strange new meaning into found objects, transforming them into fascinating new forms.

But then hit the ‘60’s Sonor drum kit that’s set up, and WOW: a delicious ‘70’s sound reflects back to your ears. Dry in a classic way, but with its own character, it’s a much-needed retro room that’s ideal for throwback and contemporary styles alike. From Gabriel Galvin, here’s the rest of the down low on Four Foot.

Facility Name: Four Foot Studios

Website: http://www.fourfootstudios.com

Location: Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Neighborhood Advantages: It’s a great neighborhood with a beautiful community garden next door. There is a wonderful community of artists and studios and everybody plays nicely. There’s lots of great places to eat and a great balance of bars and venues without an overflow of party animals.

I would have to say that the best thing about our neighborhood is that the pizza place down the street has “Manhattan Special”. It’s nearly impossible to run a session without Manhattan Special (and 600 pots of coffee).

Date of Birth: Four Foot Studios has been around in name since around 2001, that’s what I used to call the 4×4 cinder block shed in my backyard where I played the drums and got bitten by spiders. I brought the name with me every time I moved. I have been in the current location since 2010. This time it’s more than four feet and no spiders.

Facility Focus: Our main focus is on tracking, mixing and production for sure, but I have been known to do some scoring and composition here and there, mainly with my songwriting partner/best friend Stirling Krusing.

Transport yourself to a delectable decade in the live room.

Transport yourself to a delectable decade in the live room.

Mission Statement: Our mission is to make the most honest, deliberate and expressive record possible for the artist, the listener and the world. Also, to do all we can to help artists get where they need to be, whether it’s with the recording, the rehearsal spaces we are building downstairs or playing their music or live performance on our radio program http://www.indiedarkroom.com.

Clients/Credits: I’m lucky to have worked with some very talented artists over the years. These are some of the artists that I felt a great connection working with this past year and that left a unique impression on me and my studio:

Ann Pragg — This is the solo project of Matt Radick (Holowpaw, Blood river, Cassette). He released a record, Bitter Fruit, on Wonderland Archives earlier this year. Most of the tracking was done at Boyd Shropshire’s house on an 8 track cassette multitrack, a Yamaha MT8X I think). Then it was brought here for a few overdubs and for mixing. It’s an amazing record and quite a fun experience giving an appropriately polished mix while still maintaining the intimate quality and tone of the cassette recorder. I listen to this record at least once a week. It’s like a soft melancholy feeling that you never want to let go of.

tiger dare – These guys came in to do some basic tracking and they ended up having me produce the record. We just went for it and had fun locking ourselves in the studio till 5 AM for days on end and just let sleep deprivation, coffee and creation take over the record. It’s called Wires Over, Wired In, and was recently mastered by Paul Gold at Salt Mastering and is out early 2014 on Wonderland Archives. A poppy dream-scape of wintery night time nostalgia.

Black River Quartet – This instrumental trio (led by guitar genius Aodhan O’Reilly) came in to record an EP, Hitman Blues, and I would have to say this was one of the easiest sessions I have ever run. They came in, set up, we got levels and then they just tracked the whole record live from beginning to end with maybe a couple takes. The whole session was over in a few hours and then we just spent one night mixing it. Those guys make it look easy.

Right now I’m producing an EP for Joseph Sant (of Backlights) and I don’t want it to end. We are just finishing up right now so I don’t know when it will be released, I bet if I could just work with Joe forever I would be a pretty happy guy. His songs are absolutely beautiful and he is a real treat to work with. He comes in with rough demos of just acoustic guitar and vocals and then he’s like, “Let’s see what it pulls out of us,” and magic happens. I have never worked with an artist that puts that amount of trust in me as a producer. It’s been refreshing and rewarding.

Guitars are well represented.

Guitars are well represented.

Key Personnel:

Gabriel Galvin – engineer/owner
Stirling Krusing – assistant engineer
Baldwin – the studio bunny

System Highlights: Our main tracking and mixing desk is a vintage 36-channel Wheatstone tv1000 analog desk. The Wheatstone desk is a very clean and precise analog desk with an extremely
musical and articulate EQ section — it started its life as a broadcast desk designed to feed multiple independent mixes to four different studios simultaneously. This routing flexibility was my original attraction to the board and opens a world of possibility when mixing. The 20 super clean preamps, the flexible EQ and the 16 stereo/mid-side channels just sweeten the deal.

I have Pro Tools for clients that specifically ask for it, but I prefer to use Cubase 7 (I have been using Cubase since 1998).

I have a 16-track tape machine that doesn’t seem to get much use lately and lots of vintage and modern outboard gear. Way too much to list, but most of it is listed on the website.

Some of my favorite things that I have in here and end up using on 90% of my mixes would be the ADR ex-press limiter, Moog 10 band graphic equalizer, Eventide H3000, TK Audio BC1m2, my four Chandler Tube Drivers — they each sound distinctively different. And my tape delays, I can’t live without my tape delays: Roland RE-201, Echoplex ep-3, Dynachord, Univox ec-80a.

I’m building a reverb chamber downstairs, so that’s going to be fun and I have a gigantic Echo-plate plate reverb on its way. I’m really excited to hook that thing up.

We have lots of instruments and eclectic noise makers also. Lots of little things like melodicas, bass harmonicas, accordions, theremins, and whatever interesting little doohickeys I can find.

My 1967 Sonor drum kit records so beautifully and there are plenty of snare drums to choose from, including a Sonor designer series (my favorite), a 1959 Gretsch progressive jazz model, a 1965 solid shell Slingerland and a few more.

Lately I have been having a lot of fun recording this early 1900’s snare with calf skin heads and gut snare wires. I am obsessed with the tonal character and versatility of the Roland Bolt 60 guitar amp so I have three of those here and also a Bolt 100, a Fender Bassman, a Marshall JTM60, a 1950s Teisco 2×12, a Vox pathfinder 10, an Ampeg B-100r, a GK mb150 and a few more amps.

We have some nice keys also including a Hamond model A, a vintage Roland Juno 6, a Nord stage and a few more interesting odds and ends.

I have a nice collection of guitars and basses also for artists to use. Some of my favorites in the collection are the 1950s Danelectro, the Gretsch 6121 & a Seagull S6 cedar acoustic. Everyone always falls in love with these guitars.

Although we have a few of the pieces of gear you would expect from any studio, I get the most use from and have the most fun with the unique, eclectic and weird stuff. I have a bunch of interesting stomp boxes, a few Shure level-locs, a couple Fostex mn-50s (I love these things) and all kinds of little doodads meant for guitar or something that just do exciting things on everything but guitar. With my background in engineering I enjoy building, modding and repairing a lot of my own little “noise toys” too.

Distinguishing Characteristics: This is an interesting question because there are a number of things that make Four Foot Studios unique. For starters, the tracking room (about 15×20 feet) while big enough for a large band to set up and track live, has a very unique sound that’s kind live and dry at the same time. I know that sounds kind of like a contradiction but it’s both true and deliberate. I spent a few years tweaking it by ear to arrive at what I find to be my ideal drum sound for tracking. Kind of a focused ‘70’s sound with a subtle, smooth liveliness.

There is an iso booth in the live room that was originally intended for vocals, but over the years I have slowly tailored the acoustics for recording guitar cabs. Nobody really wants to be cooped up in little iso booth while singing, and by now I know my room well enough that I know where the big vocal sweet spots are.

Another distinguishing characteristic would be our private rooftop patio that’s right outside the studio door. It’s a huge beautiful outdoor space with BBQ grills, a hammock, a picnic table and lots of plants that my girlfriend lovingly planted. Artists can take a break out there, have a beer, smoke their cigarettes and grill some food. We also have little studio parties out there sometimes.

I feel that the studio’s atmosphere should be overwhelmingly inspiring. An artist should be able to walk in and say, “Wow, art is created here and I can create art here.” So in our lighting and decor I decided to kind of let the live room be a gallery for the art of Celino Dimitroff. Celino makes amazing lamps from found objects, and they are creatures with a life of their own. Almost all the ambient lighting in the live room is from the five Celino lamps/sculptures I have on display and I hope to have twice as many in here soon.

The found art lamp/statues of Celino Dimitroff are on call for inspiration.

The found art lamp/statues of Celino Dimitroff are on call for inspiration.

Another unique thing we are doing would be our radio program. Four Foot Studios serves as the broadcast studio for the Indie Darkroom. It is a website for artists to make profiles, upload and sell their music and have their music played on our program. We used to be on 87.7 FM for years but then we switched to an online format. We broadcast 24/7 and have multiple programs throughout the week hosted by some very cool DJs.

Some of the programs include the very popular “Dreamwave” hosted by Steven Newcastle, “Under the Moon” hosted by Chase King and “Darkroom Live” hosted by me and Stirling Krusing. Darkroom Live has a focus on live in studio performances that we broadcast right from the studio here and a lot of times when an artist comes to record here we invite them back for a darkroom live session. The indie darkroom is just one more way for us to help independent artists gain exposure.

Lastly, we are in the process of building hourly rehearsal spaces in the commercial space below us, so bands can have a nice, clean, great sounding and affordable rehearsal space, regardless of whether or not they are recording at Four Foot Studios.

It’s a pretty unique place and there is much more to it, I would welcome anybody to stop by and it check out.

The building is on fire, you only have time to grab ONE thing to save, what is it? I would have to grab our bunny “Baldwin” for obvious reasons. But let’s assume he hopped out on his own. Then I would have to grab my Blonder Tongue Audio Baton just because that’s such an absurd thing to say.

Rave Reviews: Everybody who comes here comments on the warm vibe and comfy creative atmosphere. Not a single person has left this studio without telling me what a special place I have. This room means the world to me and people can tell. You see the love I put in to this place and the love that comes out of this place as soon as you walk through the door.

Most Memorable Session Ever: That’s a tough one. Every session has had a lasting impression on me and are some of my happiest moments. Two sessions really stand out I suppose.

1. On April 13th & 14th I locked myself in the studio with Stirling Krusing (Slow Country, Chase King, Flaming Fire) and Patrick Hambrecht (Flaming Fire, LYDSOD) and we had a few drinks and recorded 63 songs in two days for a project that we call “Our Elders”. This was the most fun I have had playing music and recording in a long time. We set up 24 mics in the live room, I spent the day before the session getting them all in phase and we just played music for two days straight and recorded it. A few months later through voting and a process of elimination we narrowed the 63 songs down to 10 for a record. Now I just need to mix it.

2. On December 1st, 2011 an artist from Brussels named Lyenn came in to record a live performance for us to play on our radio show. He brought with him Shazad Ismaily. That guy is an amazing musician. Watching him float around from drums, to bass, to Moog and back again with such musical elegance, nuance and confidence was awe-inspiring. He set the bar really high for anybody who has come through here after him. And the duo? They ended up sounding just as huge as the record.

Session You’d Like to Forget: I sat here for about 15 minutes trying to think of a session I would like to forget and I can’t think of one. No matter what else is happening in my life or in the outside world, when I’m in the studio, I’m home.

Dream Session: Duh… The Beatles of course. But I’ll settle for the artist that shows up on time, prepared with good music, an open mind and a willingness to let go and allow the song to steer the ship.

Gabriel Galvin — engineer/owner, Four Foot Studios

Another perspective on the control room.

Another perspective on the control room.

Far more than four foot of outboard is on hand.

Far more than four foot of outboard is on hand.

Things sound sweet from the drummer's perspective.

Things sound sweet from the drummer’s perspective.

Everything is...

Everything is…

...illuminated.

…illuminated.