TriBeCa, Manhattan: There are recording studio architects, there are recording studio owners – and ne’er the twain shall be one and the same.
Unless you’re talking about 333 Recording, which just launched in TriBeCa. The always fashionable NYC neighborhood, and the buzzing building at 333 Hudson Street, is now home to a sun-filled new facility founded – and designed – by Richard Alderson.
A prolific sonic architect, Alderson has long been a go-to resource for those in the know. With his gift for exceedingly attractive lines, smart ergonomics, and accurate listening environments, Alderson Acoustics has built up a portfolio that includes Sonic Union, super DJ Roger Sanchez, DJ Erick Morillo, BBDO New York & Atlanta, Integrated Studios, Ray Foote, Buzz, Big Foote Music, Hunter College, and many more.
With 333, Alderson has gone to the other side of the glass, becoming a studio owner again himself for the first time since the 1960s. But who can blame him? When the chance came for him and his partner, Kevan Griffin, to occupy a uniquely inspiring 10th floor space overlooking the Hudson River, this lifelong audio adventurer just couldn’t refuse.
All the Way In
In mid-2013, Alderson took over the space from its previous occupant, the elite producer/composer/arranger Rob Mounsey (Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Usher, Steely Dan, Madonna, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Aaron Neville, “Sex and the City”, Working Girl).] Alderson had originally designed this space for Mounsey and worked as engineer on many of the projects there.
With the 1000 square foot space, he saw he had a beautifully blank canvas to fulfill his personal vision of the ideal recording studio. Walk in the brushed-steel front door, and you’re instantly in the facility, a large and airy loft where performers, producers and engineers gel in an inviting studio-in-the-round.
“We don’t have a separate office are waiting area, so when you’re in the studio you’re in the studio,” explains Alderson. “I like recording surrounded by musicians, being in the room with them, listening to what they’re tracking. When everyone is listening to the same thing, I think that makes for a better rapport between engineers and musicians.
“As a result, it’s an extremely accessible, comfortable, affordable environment for major talents to do recording and overdubbing. And it’s the right time: many studios in Manhattan have closed down, or they’re dedicated to older types of concepts.”
Dedicated to Digital
By “older concepts,” Alderson refers to analog recording through a large format board –which will not be taking place at 333.
“We’re completely dedicated to digital audio recording,” he says. “There is no conventional console, and as such it’s completely built around people who use ProTools, Logic, or any of the many fine DAW and sequencer platforms in use.”
No question there is some analog gear central to 333’s operation. Alderson’s beautiful custom mastering-style central desk houses a who’s-who of mic-pres, including Millennia STT-1 channel strip, Millennia HV-37, Millennia 3-C stereo microphone preamp, and Millennia HV-3R 8-channel digital microphone preamp, Neve PurePath Channel Strip, Avalon 737 channel strip; eight channels of API mic pres, and five Lafont microphone preamps. A Millennia TCL compressor/limiter, plus 2-Lafont compressor/limiters are on hand as well.
And that’s it for the outboard – everything else for mixing is strictly in the box. All the better to focus on what’s being captured by the very extensive mic collection, which includes a buffet of prime models from Neumann, AKG, Coles, BBC ribbons, Sennheiser, Sony, DPA, Josephson and more.
The carefully constructed combination of speakers and amplifiers completes the engineering experience. An extremely large sweet spot – which includes the client couch several feet back from the mix position — is informed by a pair of A2 Masterlab 4 way active monitor speakers (A2 is Alderson’s proprietary speaker line), a pair of A2 51M speakers, and 4-12” A2M subs. Adam powered nearfields, as well as a pair of Yamaha NS-10s are also on hand. A battery of Bryston amps drives it all.
“It’s as accurate as humanly possible,” maintains Alderson. “But it’s also a lot of fun to listen in the room – it’s exciting. We have a lot of fun listening to classic material here.”
While producers and engineers soak in their side of the room, performers will have plenty to enjoy in the spacious (40’ x 16’) and open live area. The instruments on hand only add to the aura, including a 100-year old Steinway B piano housed there by Mounsey, and a custom Pro-piano Rhodes.
When isolation is needed, two ample booths – 9’ x 14’ and 8’ x 10’ – flank the control area to the right.
“Everything is designed to create a pleasant vibe and mood,” Alderson says. “When you come in the room, you should feel very relaxed and comfortable, and be able to function creatively. By making it as friendly, warm, and comfortable as possible, we can put the performer in a creative state that allows them to work on their actual musical art.
“Meanwhile, the engineering viewpoint is all about being very comfortable as well. You’re tracking and mixing in a well-designed, technically advanced, and acoustically excellent environment.”
Alderson and Griffin aren’t the only ones who see it that way. After launching in early January 2014, clients have already included GRAMMY and Tony winner Billy Porter recording vocals, Hammond B3 organ, and background singers on an upcoming Concord Records project, with Alderson engineering and Rob Mounsey producing; Lulu Gainsbourg recording vocals and piano, engineered by Jeremy Loucas; harmonica ace Gregoire Maret tracked with an all-star band, engineered by GRAMMY-winning engineer Alex Venguer; plus GRAMMY-winning artist Terri Lyne Carrington tracking rhythm section and horns, and Jeremy Loucas engineering. GRAMMY-winning Producer/engineer Mario J. McNulty spent 4 days working on various projects at the end of February. In early March Cyndi Lauper is overdubbing a duet with Billy Porter.
On the house side, no less than Todd Terry has recorded at 333, with Griffin engineering. On the advertising side, Tony winner Idina Menzel recorded vocals for a Disney Super Bowl commercial, again with the Alderson/Mounsey team. Idina’s full length version of “When You Wish Upon A Star”, also recorded at 333, will soon be available on iTunes.
Alderson is quite familiar with the pleasure and pain that accompanies being a New York City recording studio owner.
In the 1960s, he was a young facility proprietor in the West 60s, in partnership with the great Harry Belafonte. “At the other end of my career,” says Alderson, “when the opportunity was presented to me with this space, I jumped on it. I decided it was time to run a studio of my own again, and deal with the problems of being a studio owner.
“But because I was the client as well and the architect, I was allowed to be very indulgent with myself. I was allowed to make the room look and function exactly the way that I wanted to. I was allowed to do things my way, which was very liberating.”
It shows that allowing your career to converge and circle back can prove extremely satisfying. Rich Alderson’s new studio is a welcome addition to Manhattan recording – it weaves together technical mastery, advanced concepts, and inspiration into one very open space.
“Even though I was always designing, I’ve also kept on recording and producing,” says Alderson. “I was always watching for the right place and time to open another studio. Everything came together at 333.”
— David Weiss