John King is Baack! Chung King Studios Returns

August 12, 2012 by  

MIDTOWN, MANHATTAN: There is something afoot on West 37thStreet. Taking a stroll down this intensely bustling block, those in the know may see a sudden influx of familiar faces – a producer, an engineer, a platinum-selling artist – all caught in a tractor beam leading to the same address.

NYC wouldn’t be quite the same without it. (All photos: Janice Brown)

Follow one of these sonically-centered citizens into the elevator at 36 West 37th and ascend upward — when you step out, you should recognize this mecca. You’re in one of New York City’s most essential recording studios, with a classic 1970’s live room that’s been the birthplace of hundreds of huge hits over the years, if not thousands.

But what domain have you entered? It’s hard to know, because it’s had multiple owners, multiple name changes, and wars have been waged for the right to run it. It’s been called Skyline Studios…Alien Flyers…Chung King…Skyline Recording Studios…

Suddenly, a force you can feel enters the room. You are face-to-face with New York City’s most tenacious studio owner – a musical maven as every bit as committed as he is controversial. And then it hits you: Chung King Studios has returned.

A Room of His Own

The 6000 square feet and two studios of the third facility to bear the Chung King name may seem sizable to some. But for John King, the storied midtown space he now occupies is a perfectly cozy house of sound. Especially in comparison to the two-floor, 20,000 sq. ft. behemoth that he had managed at 170 Varick Street, starting in the mid-1990’s until a fast-furious flameout in January, 2010.

“The reason I came back is: I love studios, I love equipment, and I love my friends who I’m working with,” says King, speaking rapid-fire yet somehow more relaxed. “Towards the end of my run at 170 Varick, I had a $1.2 million nut that I had to cover, and I realized everything was changing: It required too many people, we had to take two inventories a day – there was too much required to keep everything going.

“So I had a lovely vacation. I had a lovely time. And then the call of the wild sounded – I had to come back. Only this time, I wanted something more manageable.”

John King has a renewed focus.

His chance came in April this year, just after Jonathan Mover, who had been owner/operator of Skyline Recording Studios for several years, vacated the space. For King, the opportunity to move in was irresistible: at one point in the 1990’s he had been a partner in the rooms, knew them very well, and held them in extremely high regard.

The respect comes with good reason. While being helmed by Paul Wickliffe, President and Chief Engineer of Skyline Studios from 1979-1994, the list of platinum-selling artists, producers, and engineers who frequented the facility mushroomed into an awesome A-list. A tiny sampling includes Babyface, David Bowie, James Brown, Mariah Carey, The Cult, Miles Davis, Duran Duran, Mick Jagger, Meatloaf, REM, Talking Heads, and Frank Zappa, along with Jellybean Benitez, Frank Filipetti, Scott Litt, Hugh Padgham, Phil Ramone, Nile Rodgers, Ron St. Germain, Don Was, and Hal Wilner. In later years, it continued to be a hotbed of rock and jazz recording. Get the point? Plenty of platinum has been produced here.

“The original designer of this room really knew how to build the perfect studio,” King says of Chung King’s 1500 sq. ft. centerpiece, which he has dubbed “The Empire Suite”. “After making my classic CK mods, it’s ideal in here, because of the diversity of reflections and absorptions that are happening. This live room is so versatile, and it’s wonderful if you know how to use it. We’ve got a custom Yamaha C7, and I’ve never heard a grand piano sound so fabulous as it does in here.”

Inside the Empire Suite’s spacious control room, King has installed the Musgrave-modified Neve VR72 that formerly occupied his famed Red Room on Varick. Augsperger mains, Pro Tools 10 HDX with all the new trimmings such as UAD and Softube plugins, a comprehensive collection of outboard gear, and a vast collection of classic tube mics from the past and present complement. A palette of available tape machines is also on hand, for those purists who crave the sound.

“That console has made more hits than any other board I’ve ever had,” says King of the Neve VR72. “And analog is still analog – steak is still steak. I was doing a mix with this board the other day and I kept pushing the faders up. The meters were pinned to the right, and I got a Pultec-like sparkle. I couldn’t overload the console! It sounds fabulous. That’s where a Neve is the bomb.

“And the Empire control room is just the most accurate room I’ve ever worked in: What you hear is the exact presentation of what the music sounds like.”

A live room that’s recorded too many hits to count.

One recent return customer to the room is GRAMMY-winning producer/mixer Patrick Dillett (David Byrne, Mary J. Blige, They Might Be Giants, Glen Hansard, Arto Lindsay). “I think it’s the biggest-sounding small room in the world,” Dillett says. “It’s a really nice, warm-sounding drum room, but also very good for vocals because it’s not overpowering. The ceilings are high, and the walls are treated with a nice-sounding cedar. So what you get is a reflective – but not overly-reflective – space.

“John King is a real studio guy,” Dillett adds. “He understands what makes the recording process enjoyable, and how to make sure that it stays enjoyable. I think he’ll be a good steward for what should be one of the better studios in NYC.”

Trademark Design

Meanwhile, Chung King’s “B” room is The Genius Suite, a 120 square-foot production suite optimized for writing and mixing. Here, a Digidesign C24 control surface connects with Pro Tools 10 HDX and a Shadow Hills Equinox, a crafty two-rackspace unit which features two GAMA mic preamps, 30 channels of analog summing, and a mastering-grade monitor controller.

“I love a room this size – I like to be in a place like this, shut the door, and just work,” says King, who was instrumental in shaping the sounds of rap and hip hop royalty including Run DMC, LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, and many more. “I especially love the Shadow Hills Equinox passive mixer that we have in here. It’s really cool – you have two mic pres with different ‘metal’ you can run them through, either your classic Neve, and then your API. And then you have your pads, your phantom power: It’s a classic console in a box with a great monitor section. For the personal studio, that’s generally all you need.”

In both the Empire and Genius Suite, as well in the hallways, the distinctive look and feel that defined Chung King’s Varick Street complex is revealing itself in the new space. Whether its the wood wings surrounding a control surface, the angles of a producer’s desk, or the hues of a wall or hallway, all you see directly reflects King’s trademark visual aesthetic.

“Appearance should never overtake your focus on the music – you should be able to lighten up and darken down your room if you want,” he notes. “But I’m a fabric freak. I have connections with very fine fabric wholesalers, and I like to pick fabrics that go together. Color has feeling, which is why in the Varick location we had the Green  Room, the Red Room, and the Blue Room. And the Gold Room was very popular…because it was GOLD.”

Diversified Times

Free of entangling partnerships and hostile landlords, John King has entered a rather simplified space. For the moment, maintaining and refining great spaces to make great music is Job One, as he tends to details on the Empire and Genius Suites and surrounding common areas. He’s also looking ahead to the remaining raw spaces that he hasn’t played with yet.

John King and all things CK have more to say.

And from the looks of things, he’ll need to move quickly. Tracking and mixing clients eager to revisit the legendary live room are emerging, as word of the resurrected Chung King spreads. It’s a buzz of activity that already has King and his chief engineer Ron Allaire, along with engineer Jamie Zabrek, on the move.

But King is also going steadily forward with his long-gestating plans to establish a multimedia production company, Chung King Live. King had begun to build that venture in a large ex-warehouse in Jersey City, but soon grew frustrated trying to do business in the state where he lives. “It’s a police state,” King opines of New Jersey. “It took me forever to get building permits. Finally I just put the NJ location on hold, although I still have the property.”

While he may have less space to work with in Manhattan, King has big plans for Chung King Live. A multifaceted entity, it will allow him to produce original video content, as well as provide artists with a cost-effective path to create their own videos. Simultaneously, he promises that the upcoming Chung King Records will be anything but your typical record company.

According to King, it’s time for him to go back to his first love of writing songs. “I’ll be producing and touching up unfinished songs for clarity in an ever-increasing sea of medium,” he says frankly. “Producers of the original variety are sorely lacking in the music chain.

“Chung King Records will be a simple, very common-sense path to finding music that you like,” continues King. “I want to distill it so that the artists that are really good and inspiring are all in one place. And let’s worry about one song at a time, like George Martin did with the Beatles. Instead of making a whole album full of crap, can we get a little flavor back?”

Rounding out the updated business model is an audio education program, whereby Chung King is already hosting small groups of advanced students. “I get the kids who know what they’re doing,” King says. “I take them back to songs like ‘Play That Funky Music White Boy’, where we were just using simple stuff.”

A Sonic Rennaisance

Both the studio at 36 West 37th Street and its newest owner have histories as chaotic as they are beautifully musical. Kindred souls are reconnecting. That could prove to be a very positive development.

“I want to take advantage of every square inch of this space,” John King says. “The expectations are high, but I’m going to work with the well-funded, and the beggars and borrowers, at the same time. I’m not particular about that. The ones who notice that the rooms sound good will come here.

“I jump out of bed every day now. Things are just getting bigger and better. Do I worry? Of course! But it’s like they say, ‘Do you want to worry or work?’ I may as well work.”

– David Weiss

The halls are starting to show the history.

The Neve VR72 from downtown’s Red Room is at home in the Empire Suite.

Tape remains irreplaceable.

Another view of the studio’s famed live room.

A most royal panel.

Fresh air, with engineer Jamie Zabrek.

Skyline Recording Studios Closes; Chung King Reopening in Former Skyline Space

April 18, 2012 by  

Skyline Recording Studios, the world-class NYC facility that operated for many years at 36 West 37th Street, has closed.

Skyline Recording Studios, an NYC recording landmark, has closed. The space will be the new home of Chung King Studios.

The studio, which was owned and operated by drummer Jonathan Mover, was renowned for its spacious live room, Musgrave-modified Neve VR60, and its superstar rock, jazz, and pop clientele.

Over the years, its client list has included many of music’s top names including Steely Dan, Billy Joel, Patti Smith, Avril Lavigne, Shakira, Gov’t Mule, David Byrne, Jessica Simpson, Natasha Bedingfield, Mariah Carey, Wu-Tang Clan, Madonna, David Bowie, The B-52’s, Tori Amos, Tony Bennett, Michael Brecker, James Brown, and many more.

In May, 2010, the Southern Federal District Court of New York ruled against Skyline in a suit brought by software developer Waves, which charged Reckless Music, LLC d.b.a. Skyline Recording Studios NYC with intellectual property infringements and the illegal use of its software. The suit followed a covert sting operation undertaken by Waves to root out studios using crack versions of its software.

The studio will apparently continue on as a music production hub, however. A visit by SonicScoop to the facility today revealed that John King — who abruptly ceased operations at the famed Chung King studios at 170 Varick Street in January, 2010 – was moving gear into the former Skyline.

According to King, Skyline’s previous owners had been out of the space for approximately two weeks. King estimated that the studio would once again be operational in one and a half weeks, and would be the new home of Chung King.

King added that the Chung King music facilities on 37th Street would be just one part of a multimedia company, which will also offer video production and other capabilities in a large Jersey City, NJ complex.

Phone calls and emails to Mr. Mover requesting comment for this article were not returned.

Redefining NYC Recording: Downtown Music Adds a Neve 8014 Console

March 22, 2011 by  

SOHO, MANHATTAN: The studios of NYC are not sitting still. As evidence consider the latest sonic escalation, launched from right below Broome Street and Broadway. There, Downtown Music Studios has upped the Big Apple ante with the installation of a vintage Neve 8014 console into the control room of Studio A.

The centerpiece of Studio A is now a vintage Neve 8014 console. (Photo credit: Jung Kim)

Extra musically satisfying and aesthetically amazing, this 16-channel board represents more than just a fancy bunch of faders from the year 1970. Its addition provides a focused window on NYC studio economics in 2011, shedding light on the artistic and technical demands of the sector’s current clientele, as well as the informed interplay between facilities striving to be competitive instead of repetitive.

The console has been busy since it arrived earlier this year. Early projects on it include Santigold, David Guetta, Mike Posner, Benny Blanco, and Jason Goldstein mixing SNL-borne rock stars The Lonely Island. Downtown Studios Chief Engineer Zach Hancock explained to SonicScoop exactly why this bold new board has rolled into town.

How long has Downtown Studios been going now?
The studio is approaching our third year. It’s evolved from a production space that we rented at Chung King to the full-fledged, two-room commercial recording facility that it is now.

We initially started this facility with two control surfaces, moving from two Digidesign D-Commands to just one of those, in Studio B.  That’s because of the importation of an 8014 Neve into Studio A.

What led Downtown initially to the D-Command for both rooms?
For the longest time we were large format console people, and we fought passionately to prove not only to ourselves, but to the world that mixing in the box was a viable option. The move from SSL desks to mixing with a Pro Control and an HD5 was a revolutionary phase for us in the early 2000′s. Working with Tony Maserati and Vaughn Merrick, they proved that it could really be done. Implementing mixing-in-the-box with a control surface in both rooms was in part an outgrowth of my relationship with Vaughn, and his astute idea that it was the best way to work.

Part of what makes Downtown Music Studios special is that as a record label, and a publishing company. We’re generating content ourselves. We provide a commercial workspace for clients half the time, and the other half we are the client. I wanted artists and the publishing company to be able to use the space as creatively as they could.

Downtown is a brand dedicated to forward-thinking artists, and that comes out intensely in the music.  Part of that is having the studio time that they need, therefore a device at the center of the workspace that isn’t proprietary.  If we had a large format console that was doing the mixing, I felt that they’d have a hard time translating that at their personal spaces, or in another commercial studio.

I saw other people’s workflows following suit — mixing in the box. So that’s why we equipped studio A to what we previously had. I still believe in it, and it was an amazing opportunity to work that way for two years.

What paved the way for switching to the Neve 8014?
Something happened when Avid acknowledged to the rest of the music community that native processing was just as robust as a small TDM system. When PT9 came out, I realized all at once that so much of our workflow – editing, doing overdubs, mixing – was going to happen in personalized spaces. It was an outgrowth of the music community, an outgrowth of the robust environment the computer now provides.

I saw the opportunity to focus Studio A as a tool to record bands, and handle all the elements of a project’s tracking. I thought that if you’re going to end up doing 30 to 40% of your workflow at home editing, maybe some mixing, etc… that it would free up your budget to work at an “A” level studio to do your recording. So we picked the console that was best for that.

This Neve 8014, working in coordination with PT9 and a EuCon control surface, is the perfect implementation of the modern workflow we’re talking about. It is truly the best of both worlds, a hybrid analog digital environment. It sounds astonishing, everything works in a very elegant workflow, and people are reacting to it very strongly.

What were the criteria going in to the new console search, before you settled on this particular board?
The selection process was laborious, we looked at every option out there: SSLs, APIs, Neves of different variety. Ultimately, the most important things for us were that 1) it was not counterproductive to the way we had worked previously, and 2) that it had had the best sounding mic-pres, the best sounding EQs, and it could really bring something to the table that wasn’t there in the market before.

I’m close to people who, on paper, could be considered to be our competition. It didn’t make a lot of sense for us to be doing what they were doing. I’m really happy to see that the community of studios run by people in NYC are really good people. That wasn’t always the case.

Another side of the integrated 8014. (Photo credit: Jung Kim)

Let’s drill down to this Neve 8014 that’s sitting in front of us. Why did it finally make the cut?
The main reason is that this console is in pristine condition, and it has the best of what we want for tracking, mixing, summing or any other in-the-box permutation of analog and digital equipment.

One of the things that we’re very mindful of is the acoustical installation in this room. It sounds like one of the best rooms I’ve ever worked in, and I’m not the only person who feels that way: Tony Maserati, Jason Goldstein, Vaughn Merrick, Ari Raskin, are serious engineers. We work out of this room for different reasons, but one is that it’s acoustically flat – Pilchner-Schoustal knocked it out of the park.

I didn’t want to get a console that would require us reworking the acoustical or mechanical infrastructure. I didn’t want to have to put in another AC unit or bulkhead, or rip apart the room to get it in, because to me the most important part of the room is the acoustics, and the ergonomics.  The equipment is always within reach, and the fact that there’s not a credenza behind you is meaningful. That’s why if we had put in a 72-input console, that would have been counterproductive.

Where did you locate this particular board?
I always said I wanted an 80-series Neve. The difficulty in acquiring an 8068 is that it would have been too big a car to fit in our garage. The 8014 is really the perfect-size console, given the modern integration of the computer, and the way Studio A is layed out. We found this board in Ireland – I sent Joe Russo, who’s an amazing young tech, to Ireland to inspect it, and he spent four or five days there. We did a very thorough inspection, and decided it really was the console. Rock-It Cargo handled the logistics of getting the desk here quickly and safely.

We split a lot of hairs when it came to planning the actual switch from the D Command to the 8014. When the time arrived, we executed the plan and there weren’t a lot of surprises — it went very smoothly. The people at Neve and Geoff Tanner were kind enough to send us some documentation, and Alto Music NYC provided us with a lot of outboard gear and a new Pro Tools rig. Everybody did a really exceptional job.

You’ve been working on this board since January – how has it matched up with your vision of an ideal tracking tool?
I think that there’s an “X-factor” to the sonic architecture of the mic pres and the EQ that make you feel as though you’re listening to a record. Working in the box is transparent, and sometimes indicative of something a little bit lifeless, but this console sounds a little less like real life in a super-natural way. Ergonomically, it’s the best way to work in a tracking situation. All of your mic pres and EQs are there. It’s not arduous. It’s logistically easy to accomplish tracking.

The other thing is that the Class A mic pre really is a cut above. I think these mic pres are the best for pop and rock music. It’s a very clear, robust sound, and it has a harmonic detail in certain frequencies that are very musical. It’s difficult to explain how they sound better, but they’re famous for a reason. Having them inline, directly in front of you and your PT rig is great. You can get what you need really fast.

The artists we’ve been working with on this console have been excited about the sounds that we’ve gotten. That gives you confidence in your ability, and that’s what it comes down to: making sure the artist can create. This console has definitely augmented our ability to do that. That’s a really rewarding feeling after working so hard to acquire it.

How are you’re using the 8014 in the mix phase?

The first thing I should note is that it’s not an inline console – it’s a split console. It’s got an interesting set up for monitor returns. We’ve integrated the monitor returns at mixdown to become inputs to the console, but with a flick of a switch they can function, as they would have when they left the Neve factory in 1970.  Some engineers prefer this for tracking.

So we have, essentially, 32 inputs to the desk; 16 of those inputs have faders and 1084 mic pres and EQs etc…, and the other 16 inputs allow the room to use some of the other pieces of the installed outboard– the Chandler TG1, the Distressors, 1176, Pultec style EQs, GML EQ, tube limiters.  Everything can fold down to the stereo bus.

It’s all new outboard equipment in Studio A that we thought would be the perfect complement to the console, and we made a point not just put in vintage equipment. There’s some incredible new gear, and we’ve adopted a lot of that stuff in the workflow. I think of outboard processing as an opportunity to add different spices to your mix. So we bought valve EQs that would complement the Neve – they have some color that the transistors in the console don’t have, and the dynamics that we have are different than the compressors in the desk. We wanted to have mono tube limiters and compressors that you would use in a tracking environment, and the stereo bus compressors that you would use in a tracking environment or on groups in a mix.

The automation comes from the Euphonix Artist Series Controller with EuCon, integrated into Pro Tools 9, which together works like the D Command. So we were able to get the same level of integration into this amazing analog console as we had before.

Can you explain exactly how that EuCon-to-Neve connection works?
We’ll come out of Pro Tools, and dedicate an analog output to a group of audio i.e. a “stem”, or one analog output per instrument. So that comes from Pro Tools into the desk, and then the desk functions as an analog mixer.

It goes a step beyond a summing mixer, in that you can do inserts on the console that allow you to step away from hardware inserts in Pro Tools.  That requires a level of digital-to-analog conversion, then analog-to-digital, so you covert twice while you go out of the box then back in. The beauty of the Neve is that you can use the inserts on the channel fader and avoid all that conversion.

For automation, we modulate parameters in Pro Tools, volume data etc… with the Euphonix control surface.  Any volume changes happen before they arrive at the console. It’s an important step in making recalls easier, more convenient for all parties involved. Most people are doing automation in the box so if you open the session the next day, the automation is there. There’s no lengthy recall, and that can save your client money.  You can also bring it home, etc…

Recordists record in Downtown’s live room. (Photo credit: Jung Kim)

You said before that you were paying attention to where Downtown fits into the overall scene, in NYC and I guess that goes for nationally as well. Why is that so important?
One of the difficult things about owning or running a studio is that there are so many choices at hand for people. At the same time one of the incredible things about making music is you have so many choices.

For me, the challenge was to live on the side of the debate where you’re making music and loving the choices. I think it’s silly to be doing the same thing that five or six other people are doing. So it was a no-brainer for us to do something a little bit unique. But it’s not just the console – the truth is I feel that we have the best Pro Tools rigs – an HD5 system, an HD Native system and an Avid Symphony system. We take each one seriously, whether its Logic or PT. We can accommodate at a high level of integration. We have almost every plug-in you could want, and a UAD 2 card, which I’ve been raving about.

The bottom line is that the computer has always been the most important thing for us. One of the ways to find a lane is to take our expertise as computer and process people, and combine it with the best hybrid approach which we’ve been developing over the last 10 years. It’s not completely unique, but it’s not run-of-the-mill by any stretch of the imagination. It’s something that people are really excited about – the response that we’ve gotten so far is amazing.

In the last several months we’ve covered some significant console switches in NYC – the ICON was switched out for an SSL G+ at Stadium Red, and prior to that Tainted Blue traded their SSL J9000 for a Euphonix System 5. Why this increased activity?
I think that studios have always changed consoles. I read Stadium Red integrated Just Blaze into their workflow. Not only is that an amazing facility, but he’s one of the greatest producers of all time. Just Blaze has had an indelible mark on hip hop and R&B. His work is amazing. The guys at Tainted Blue I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting, but time to time you hear glowing reports of what they’re doing. I can’t tell you why they switched, but I know the System 5 is the pinnacle of post production consoles. Some people use it for music, and for post it probably is one of the best tools.

I do think that technology is at a place where for the last four or five years there was an identity crisis of how people wanted to work. The expediency of working in the box became really important, because recording budgets have scaled back. The need to make changes at the last minute possible has made a definite impact on our workflow.

Computers have gotten so good that a large-format console isn’t a need, it’s a want, whereas before you had to have one. Whether or not a studio needs an analog console is something you need to look at on a case-to-case basis. But for us, this change is exciting. It makes a lot of sense.

– David Weiss

Review: Softube Valley People Dyna-mite Plug-In

March 22, 2011 by  

When I started my career working at a big NYC recording studio, I – like all of the other interns and assistants – just wanted to look at, play and experiment with all of the high-end and unattainable classic gear decking out each room. Although most of us had very little experience with the piles of gear we were exposed to, we all had strong opinions about each piece based on hearsay and watching experienced engineers work with the stuff. The debates never ended and conclusions were rarely reached.

Digital Dyna-Mite by Softube

One piece of gear that had a presence in most of the rooms at the studio where I got my start (Chung King) was the Valley People Dyna-mite.

It didn’t hold a place of honor in the producer’s desk, and it always seemed to be racked in the back of the room next to the timelynx and clock generators. Because of its dubious placement in the control room, we tended to treat it as a 2nd or 3rd class piece of equipment, often overlooking it altogether.

Most engineers tended to ignore it, always picking something more tried and true…and if they did go outside of the console for a gate, the Drawmer always seemed to be the first and only choice. After all, that’s what the Dyna-mite is… a gate, right?

When I left Chung King, I have to admit that I don’t recall seeing the Dyna-mite in any of the other studios I frequented, and hence, it slid out of my consciousness. That is, until I was made aware of Softube’s new emulation of this mysterious processor.  My first thought was “who needs another gate?” especially in the DAW world where that specific tool was even less necessary than ever before.

My second thought was that there must be something “special” about it that I had overlooked over the years while gleefully being blinded by 1176’s, Fairchild’s, and the rest of the superstars of the outboard world.

SWITCHES & SETTINGS

As it turns out, the Dyna-mite is much more than a gate, and can be configured to be used as many different things:

  1. A fast attack limiter.
  2. A slower attack limiter.
  3. A gate.
  4. An expander.
  5. A de-esser.
  6. Any combination of the above.

Softube's Dyna-mite interface

Admittedly, I initially had to reference the manual quite a few times to keep track of what exactly it was doing and how to set it. Luckily however, Softube has had the forethought to add a window to the interface that explains each mode as you toggle the switches, so it’s quite easy to get moving quickly.

LIMITING

For the most immediate gratification it is best to start working with the limiter.  The basic mode is achieved by setting the detector source switch to INT (internal), the mode switch to limit, and the detector type to either AVG (slower attack) or PK (fast attack). The threshold, release, and range control are all typical in function in this mode.

Classic threshold control: determines the signal level above which limiting, or below which expanding action begins.

Using this on a snare drum will make you smile: instant smashing and pumping that sounds very good right away. In the sheer aggression department, this limiter is a force to be contended with. While it is supposedly more transparent in the AVG mode, it is actually anything but. The minute I heard this thing doing its work I was able to get awesome drum sounds out of it, and quickly too. I almost felt guilty about neglecting some of my other more refined compressors for this work. Almost. The overt character of the Dyna-mite’s limiter screams at the listener: “I used aggressive compression on this track!” and thus, should be used accordingly!

For additional functionality, you can toggle the detector source switch to DS-FM, which adds a high-emphasis filter into the detector circuit.  This makes the limiter more sensitive to higher frequencies, allowing for double duty use as a de-esser or simply a way to tame source material with a lot of high end, like cymbals in the overheads for instance.  Ultimately, however, I found this functionality better suited to making alterations in the character of the source material, as the limiting functionality is a bit to brutish for fine de-essing.

GATING/EXPANDING

Although earlier I noted that there is some redundancy in using a gate in conjunction with the editing power of the modern DAW, I’m afraid I may have been a bit glib, as I actually use gates all the time.  With the right source material they are very quick to solve problems, and also have a distinct sound to them that can add a cool character to different sources.

Set the detector source to Internal or External

The Dyna-mite’s gate is no slouch and works very well. The detector source can be set to int (internal) or ext (external) if you’d like to trigger the gate open with another track/sound source. This is perfect for the old hip-hop kick drum trick of triggering (keying) open a gated 60 Hz (or lower) sine wave in conjunction with a regular kick sound. The gate is keyed to open by the original kick source, and then blended with the sine tone: instant low end.

As a matter of fact, after I remembered this trick, I actually incorporated it into a rock track where the kick was only miked on the inside of the drum. I was instantly able to capture some of that bottom end I needed.

Setting the detector source switch to INT, the mode switch to EXP, and the detector type to GATE creates a scenario in which the Dyna-mite behaves like a traditional gate.  Any signal that is below the set threshold is reduced by a 20:1 ratio in gain directly proportional to the value set on the range control. Adjusting the detector type to either PK or AVG results in a kindler, gentler gating scenario with longer attack times. The gate exhibits little/no chatter and does what it should well.

I rarely, if ever, use an expander in my work, and experimenting with this aspect of the Dyna-mite made me a believer almost instantly. I had a set of drum tracks that had a lot of room in the overheads, definitely more than I wanted. As I played around with the expander settings I was thrilled to find that I could keep all the space I wanted around the snare/hat/tom attacks but greatly reduce the apparent level of room decay.  Awesome!

In this case I had the Dyna-mite set to EXP mode with the detector type on peak.  Essentially, any transients above the set threshold are allowed through with the preferred amount of decay, and any transients below the threshold are gently reduced by a 1:2 ratio.

WEIRDNESS!

In the Dyna-mite manual, Softube makes specific mention of “Weird Limiting” mode. Although I have not yet found a use for this, it is an interesting, odd side-effect that may not have been intended in the original Dyna-mite’s design phase.

Detector Mode

True to form, the Softube engineers have faithfully modeled this functionality (or lack thereof) into their emulation.  If the detector mode is set to LIMIT and the detector type is set to GATE, you end up with a scenario in which any signal above a certain threshold is hard limited. The range and release controls really come into play here. If the range is set too high, you end up hearing nothing except clicking, presumably the attack time of the limiter as it is engaged.

Similarly, if the release time is set too long, you also end up with silence, as the compression takes to much time to be released.  However, if your range is set to around 5-6 dB, and the release time around a few ms, you’ll hear some interesting pumping and modulation effects on your source.  A fascinating idiosyncrasy that I expect may end up saving the day once or twice over the coming years…

IN SUM

As I have duly noted above, the Dyna-mite is far from a simple gate, in fact it may have more surprises for me still lying in wait. You may ask yourself whether it’s worth the $279.00 price tag, and I would have to answer yes. Although it is not the most romantic of emulations, the fact is that it is now on so many of the sessions that I am working on that it must be worth the price of admission.

At any rate, it is definitely worth checking out the demo available on Softube’s website, you’ll be thrilled the first time you hear that limiter obliterating everything in its path…

Softube’s Valley People Dyna-mite is a plug-in that will work with VST, AudioUnits or RTAS compatible host applications. Click for more information and sound samples. And to purchase the Softube Valley People Dyna-mite plug-in, visit Softube’s U.S. distributor, MV Pro Audio. Visit www.mvproaudio.com for more information.

Bo Boddie is a Grammy winning engineer/producer and composer who has worked with Santana, Everlast, Korn, Reni Lane, and many others. He is currently beginning work on Imperial Teen’s second release on Merge Records. Also check out Psychic Friend, his new band with Will Schwartz(Imperial Teen) and Patty Schemel (Hole).

Return of the Nomad Engineer: The Top NYC Studios of Freelancer Ari Raskin, Part I

February 27, 2011 by  

CHELSEA, MANHATTAN: No one can say Ari Raskin hasn’t paid his dues. This in-demand freelancer engineer may regularly make the rounds of NYC’s top studios today, but it’s only after he’s sweated it out for a decade-plus, making a name for himself in the city’s fiercely competitive studio scene.

Ari Raskin in his element: with producers Mysto and Pizzi, and artist Wynter Gordon in Chung King’s famed Blue Room (RIP).

Raskin can contribute in many ways to a project – tracking, mixing, editing, drum programming, and even the occasional master – and has done just that for a wide range of artists: Whitney Houston, Wyclef Jean, Meshell N’Degeocello, Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, Kid Cudi, J.Dilla and Illa J — Yancey Boys, and Justin Timberlake among them. His career got moving after he departed Berklee College of Music with the goal of being the next Brendan O’Brien or Andy Wallace, then went from being an intern at Chung King to House Engineer.

Today, no longer afforded his home base that was Chung King, Raskin makes music all over Manhattan and beyond – a positive vibes traveling man that makes him the perfect subject for the return of our Nomad Engineer series.

How would you describe the ups and downs of a New York City freelance audio engineer in 2011?
The real benefit of freelance engineering and traveling is getting to choose which studio is right for the project — be it the sound of the live room, the sound of the control room, the vibe of the control room, the gear, the rigs’ plugins, the budget, or just how late the staff stays — so that you can comfortably make a great recording that fits the music. Also, having clients agree that you suggested a good studio for them is a nice thing too.

If you’re a staff engineer at a small Pro Tools studio with a 5′ x 8′ live room, and a rock band is introduced to you by the studio manager, you’re never going to be able to tell them, “We should do the rhythm section at Avatar or Skyline. You’re never gonna get real big drum sounds here, and these reissue mic preamps and 414′s just don’t have the real rock-star vibe you’re after.” Although of course most of us now would just shut up and do the modern thing and use Drumagog or SoundReplacer.

I’d like to note, though, that when I first stepped into the major-label part of the recording industry when I moved to New York 10 years ago, there were LOTS of freelance engineers working from studio to studio. It seemed much less common for labels to use house engineers unless it was for a transfer session. Engineers definitely used to be more highly regarded before everyone and their sister had Pro Tools, so I think that’s why hiring the respected freelance guys was much more the norm in the day, whereas now labels just want a house engineer who knows how to use Pro Tools and isn’t expensive.

Lately, whenever I run into former Chung King clients at other studios, I constantly get told “Oh, I didn’t know you were still working since Chung King closed,” or “You work here now?” as if the idea of a tracking engineer being freelance is now an unknown concept.

We’re glad to get the inside track from you on your fave NYC recording spots. What made you say “Yes” to this article, rather than keeping your top studios close to the vest?

Seemed like a fun topic, and I do work around, and do have opinions on a number of various rooms. I just wish there were more large-format rooms in this city, with all the standard vintage outboard gear and mics. Five years ago there were a lot more real-deal pro-studio choices, and 10 years ago a lot more than that.  It’s getting hard now, especially when your first choice-room is already booked, and you’re actually trying to do a serious recording and not just track vocals. Therefore…

Raskin sez: Thumbs up for Downtown’s live room. (Photo: Kristy Simchick)

Downtown Music Studios, Studio A; SoHo, NYC

Many positives about this place.  For one, there isn’t a vibe like they are dying for business and need to squeeze every penny they potentially can out of your clients.  Also, the ProTools rigs have more plug-ins than any other rigs I’ve seen.  Unlike so many rooms, the studios at Downtown were planned and configured by good working engineers, so things make a lot of sense in real world practice.

Studio A there is possibly the most accurate-sounding control room in the city that I’ve worked in, and has no room EQ on the mains. The almost-mint Neve 8014 console they just installed is not only amazing for its sixteen 1084 pres for tracking, it’s also possibly the best summing amp in Manhattan for Pro Tools in-the-box mixing. There’s also a ton of clean vintage and high-quality modern gear — they won’t let someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing assist in sessions.

The live room in Studio A is very clean and neutral-sounding, great for tracking vocals, instrument overdubs, or a live band. You can easily get a dry drum sound, or put up some far room mics, 1176 them, and get a big rock sound. Studio B has a great rig as well, with good external converters, a totally different vibe from Studio A, and is probably the most-equipped room for the money in Manhattan.

Some of my recent sessions there include Sean Paul, Black Thought, Kat Deluna. I’d recommend this studio to any type of client, other than a gigantic orchestra or those craving a huge castle drum sound, or those wanting to mix on an SSL. The Neve console they have has no automation, but for mixing a jazz, acoustic, or a small production, it sounds incredible.

Platinum Sound Recording, Studios J and K; Times Square, NYC

The custom Augspurgers in Platinum’s Studio K will blow your mind…in a very good way.

The “sexiest” of the big studios in NYC. I think it’s the only studio I know of — not that I claim to have worked in every studio — that has a designated receptionist and interns always ready for runs, 24 hours a day. That might seem like a minor detail, but for those who have clients who like to work past midnight, it’s a major concern.  Very cool vibe, cool staff.

They have a real live K, and a J — and unlike most SSL’s in NYC, they get used for mixing regularly still, so the assistants aren’t new to that: big board mixes with old-school engineers who use lots of gear are often the most demanding type of session for an assistant. Also, I haven’t heard the new Augspurger speakers in studio K, but the J room has the HEAVIEST bass of all time — although Studio C at MSR is quite thumpin’ too.

Some of my recent sessions there include Wyclef, Kat Deluna and Ritz Crackers. This is a good studio for SSL board mixing; good studio for late-night artists/producers; decent-sized live room with some good mic pres, so it’s not a bad choice for producers who like live instruments. The best for those who like it so loud their faces melt and eardrums shred. Great for those who like to vibe and create.

Premier Studios, Times Square, NYC

Premier is the former Studios A and B of Quad, renovated and heavily cleaned up, with two newer, very good Pro Tools “writer’s” rooms, very fairly priced.  Studios A and B were both recently tuned and both sound accurate and get quite loud. The live room in B is great for a clean drum sound, and great for any vocal or instrument overdub.

Think big: Premier’s Studio A with SSL J 9072 console.

The staff there is eager and friendly and understands the concept of working towards the future — in other words, they don’t take the clients that come in for granted. They have real LA-2A’s in most rooms — which didn’t used to be unusual anyway — and they are maintained.

Another great thing — they have four rooms, all with excellent Pro Tools rigs with all the necessary plugins, so if a room is booked, there’s still likely others open. How many other 3+ room studios are left and commercially-bookable in NYC today? Also, so many other studios are opening now with gear you can also easily get at Guitar Center, and not enough real mic pres or compressors in the room, forcing clients to rent every little thing (which, along with today’s tight budgets, can make a freelance engineer seem needy).  Instead, Premier seems to be constantly investing and trying to improve their gear arsenal to impress engineers and producers. The recent addition of two perfect vintage Neve 1073′s and the overhauling of their Studio A Steinway piano are both welcome improvements and important tools for making great recordings.

My recent sessions there include Oh Land, Duane McLaughlin, Rich Hil, Kat Deluna. Premier is great for J9000 mixing, Pro Tools in-the-box mixing, instrument and vocal overdubs, pop songwriting sessions, and jazz and rock bands that want some real isolation but don’t want to pay for one of the city’s massive rooms.

Gear taken seriously here: Grand Street Recording.

Grand Street Recording, Williamsburg, BKLYN

I only worked there once, but I think it’s by far the best studio for tracking instruments for the money.  Amazing selection of vintage mics, pres, keyboards, amps, and drums — nothing I used there seems modded or overly repaired, and none of the current reissue stuff (that doesn’t actually have any magic. I’m a snob about having the real vintage stuff, clearly).

The staff is knowledgeable too.  The ceilings aren’t that high and live room isn’t terribly ambient, but for plenty of bands it’s perfect.  You can make a real, classic-sounding, proper recording there for not a lot of money.  And their vintage mics may be in better shape than any other studios I know of.

I recently did a tracking session there for the jam/rock band Moose Convention. I think Grand Street is great for rock or jazz band tracking — live and overdubs — and vocal tracking.

(Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to this studio as Grand Street Studio. It should have referred to Grand Street Recording.)

jrock Studios, Chelsea, NYC

 

You too can rock at jrock.

I saw you guys did a piece on Jamie Siegel and his studio recently, and I will second that it’s a cool spot. Great location, nice dry-sounding live room that has some breathing space so it doesn’t sound like you’re tracking in a closet, some nice pres, and a real chill pleasant vibe, good for getting work done.  And of course, not nearly as pricey as the big SSL rooms.

Recently I did some vocal and percussion sessions there with singer/songwriter Erin Barra. Recommended for anyone who wants a relaxed spot to do overdubs, writing, or Pro Tools mix sessions.

Next Week! Return of the Nomad Engineer Part II: More finds, from Midtown to Greenpoint.

You can find Ari Raskin at REThuggz.com and AmIaGoodSinger.com.

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