Central Brooklyn Recording Studio Tour, Part II: DUMBO

February 23, 2012 by  

Atlantic Sound Studios

I had every reason to expect a good view when I walked in to Atlantic Sound Studios. It’s in a highrise commercial building at the end of Jay Street in DUMBO, only footsteps away from the water. I had seen pictures of the studio online and gathered that its windows overlooked the river. When I interviewed producer/engineer Damian Taylor about the making of Björk’s Biophilia, he had mentioned that the sights were a major factor in their choosing of the studio.

Still, none of that prepared me for just how much of a spectacle Atlantic’s panorama of the East River would be. The sight stretches from the Manhattan Bridge two blocks to the west, and sweeps up the river into the distance. Straight out from the windows, Manhattan island sits in profile like a private, life-sized diorama.

Atlantic Sound Live Room View

When I visited, the effect was calming and invigorating at once, even in the grey light of a damp February afternoon. Thanks to a brilliant layout dreamed up by musician/engineer Diko Shoturma and his draftsman father, the angles of the studio allow this sight to permeate the entire studio, through the live room, into the control room, lounge, and even Studio B.

Despite his exotic sounding name, Shoturma strikes you as wholly American, and shows few surface traces of his Ukranian heritage. As a teenager, he was the kind of kid who recorded his high school band on a cassette deck, and today he’s a friendly, handsome 30-something with the professionally unkempt look of a DUMBO creative type.

Studio A control room

Shoturma moved into this space ten years ago, building out the studio in a single flurry of construction, and bringing in an original Trident 80 console and a Studer multi-track tape machine. “It was a totally different neighborhood back then,” he told me, “I think there may have been one bar back then, and maybe one restaurant too.”

Since then, the neighborhood has rapidly reinvigorated. Abandoned factories have filled up with trendy eateries, well-appointed boutiques and creative businesses, and Atlantic Sound’s clientele has grown as well, keeping pace with the boom around it. In addition to Björk, the studio has hosted sessions for Sufjan Stevens, St. Vincent, Cat Power, Nada Surf, Jet, and O’Death.

The room’s gear selection is more than ample and reflects a priority for vibe and value over prestige. Corners are filled with odd and amazing vintage microphones – including rare ribbons and vintage Lomo’s – Hagstrom guitars, a suitcase Rhodes and an upright piano. Newer mics from boutique builders Soundelux and Charter Oak fill any holes for outside engineers who are accustomed to more pedigreed vintage breeds.

It’s a comfortable space that has just enough exposed brick to feel casual, and just enough of the right flourishes to appear professional to its core. The room has a Pro Tools HD system to complement its all-analog console and Studer tape deck, and it books at a surprising rate – low enough to accommodate any serious independent project.

Evening at Atlantic Sound

Saltlands Recording Studios

10 years ago, as Diko Shoturma was building his studio in a waterfront high-rise at 10 Jay Street, Steve Salett was also getting started a mere block away at 68 Jay. He began by renting out a single rehearsal room deep underground, in the basement of a renovated 19th-century factory building.

“The thing I hated most about being a musician was the rehearsal rooms,” Salett told me when I first visited. He’s still an active musician himself and plays in the band The Poison Tree. “They would all be so loud and uncomfortable, and I’d end up hating everybody who wasn’t sharing a room with me.”

In that vein, Saltlands began as almost a kind of anti-rehearsal-studio rehearsal-studio. Visitors will find no surly metal-heads, guarding awkwardly-carpeted vomitoriums of high-decibel leakage. They won’t find tattooed fashion-plates keying musicians in to pricey mirrored rooms either. Instead, they’re treated to the affable pair of owner Steve Salett and studio manager Jackie Lin Werner. They’ve struck a satisfying balance between the extremes and now oversee more than 12,000 square feet of private underground lairs.

Today, Saltlands is a lot more than a series of conventional, multi-purpose rehearsal spaces. It’s also home to at least four full-fledged production studios. The flagship room, Saltlands Studio A, is a built around a Neotek Elite console and a Neve Sidecar. Its sister-room, Saltlands Studio B, sports a Trident 80C, racks filled with vibey tube gear and an ample live room. There’s even an independently operated API-based studio just down the hall called Between the Trains.

Saltlands Studio A live room

 

Saltlands Studio A

On the other end of the building, house engineer Jim Smith runs an odd and charming C-room known as “Homeward Sound.” It’s a small, console-free tracking space that features an incongruously-placed kitchen table near the center of the live room. The table sits under a chandelier made of recycled rollerskates and a wall full of vintage guitars. It, too, falls under the Saltlands umbrella.

There are times when a tour of the grounds has an unmistakable down-the-rabbit-hole quality. As we made the rounds, one door revealed engineer/musician Rusty Santos tinkering with the open skeleton of an upright piano and a pillow-fort of improvised baffles; another opened up into a comfortable rehearsal room, decorated to the ceiling with playful kitsch ornaments.

As a space, the scale of Saltlands is impressive. Not stupefying like a Kaufman Astoria Studios, but large enough to feel like its own little town. Both Studios A and B are comfortable and incredibly affordable. They’re well-equipped, with some of the most coveted compressors, EQs and preamps around, but neither room feels over-finished or stuffed with gear.

“The gear isn’t what makes us,” Salett says, “Our focus is a community focus. I think that’s what I’d want people to know, really. That we’re a vibrant music community, dedicated to making good music.”

Werner, who manages Saltlands, has worked at several studios, most recently at Williamsburg’s Headgear Recording, agrees. She says it’s the convergence of so many creative people in one place that makes Saltlands Studios distinct from the rest.

“It’s not a tangible thing at first,” she says, “But when you come down you get a sense of it. It really is this community of people – a large group of musicians and engineers who are interacting with each other everyday and helping each other out. You can walk down the hall and borrow something from a friend, or go upstairs and talk to Joel from Ecstatic Electric, but on top of all that, there’s still this level of professionalism and of people collaborating and pitching in.”

As I left Saltlands, Smith and Santos passed each other in the hall: “What are you working on today?” one said to the other. “Oh, you know… Same stuff as yesterday.” They both laughed, a bit more than I, or either of them, seemed to expect. It was just a few words, but apparently they had said a lot.

Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn recording engineer and studio journalist. He is a regular contributor to SonicScoop and edits the music blog Trust Me, I’m A Scientist.

Studio Tour: North Brooklyn, Part 2

April 14, 2011 by  

NORTH BROOKLYN: Our neighborhood studio tour continues with four more decidedly uncommon studios in North Brooklyn. We talked to the owners of Strange Weather, Headgear, Metrosonic, and the Fort about sessions, toys, and building an active niche in this teeming slice of the city.

STRANGE WEATHER
South Williamsburg (Coming Soon: Williamsburg/Greenpoint)
www.strangeweatherbrooklyn.com

Those familiar with the SonicScoop blog-roll may recognize the name of Marc Alan Goodman, who’s been recounting the saga of building Strange Weather’s new, full-service tracking studio on the Greenpoint/East Williamsburg border. In the meantime, it’s a small secret that his current location already hosts one of the most impressive collections of hand-picked ear candy in the city.

Strange Weather is built around a 24-channel API 1608 console

More than anything, this is a studio for artists and engineers with boutique tastes. No summary can do justice to the extensive selection of gear that includes names like Neve, API, Purple, Gates, Federal, ADL, Neumann, Coles, dbx, RCA, and Bricasti. Strange Weather is also home to a startling collection of guitars, drums, and keyboards at the ready for capturing any sound musicians can imagine.

Most surprising of all, according to Goodman, is the price, and the fact that all his vintage treasures are in prime working condition.

“I wanted to build a studio where people can walk in and use world-class gear at an affordable price in a functioning atmosphere,” Goodman says. “There’s nothing worse than booking a day at a studio where nothing works. I feel like that’s the rule rather than the exception in the commercial studios I’ve worked in.”

In the interest of full disclosure, this reporter has recently been in for some sessions at Strange Weather, and this kind of attention to detail has it fast-becoming one of my favorite places to work. Owning a studio has begun to turn Goodman into a capable tech in his own right:  his racks are over-stuffed with impeccably maintained vintage gear, and  handmade re-creations of studio classics like the LA2A, LA3A and 1176.

Built around a new 32-channel API 1608 console brimming with the choicest EQs, Strange Weather turns out to be an ideal room for overdubs, mixing, or any sessions that don’t require a cavernous live room.

When asked about his niche in the studio scene Goodman says: “Ideally everyone would complete their records from start to finish in a studio, but today it seems more common for musicians to combine studios with smaller at-home or portable rigs. We’re focused on making that process as seamless as possible; to give musicians and engineers used to working at home a place they can walk in and use great, often rare equipment in a functioning environment.”

HEADGEAR RECORDING
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
www.headgearrecording.com

Rates: Click for Room + Engineer Rates
Room Rate: $600/day; $550/day for blocks of 3 days or more.

If there’s any truth behind the idea that Williamsburg is a great place to make music, a lot of responsibility for that would have to fall on studios like Headgear Recording. Since opening in 1998, Headgear has been the birthplace of seminal records from  TV On The Radio, Massive Attack, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Animal Collective, CocoRosie, Nada Surf, My  Morning Jacket, Son Volt, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Moby and Santigold.

Although the “Room For Rent” model of studio has waned as competent owner-operators create their own personal oases of sound in every corner of the city, Headgear remains one of the most accessible and freelance-engineer-friendly studios in New York.

Headgear boasts one of the largest live rooms in the ‘hood, plus two iso booths.

In addition to house engineers Alex Lipsen, Scott Norton, and Dan Long, Headgear has been home to projects from a who’s who of hip and distinctive producers and engineers, including John Agnello, Peter Katis, Dave Sitek, John Hill, Chris Moore Gordon Raphael, TJ Doherty, and Chris Coady.

Headgear is also no stranger to Film and Television Post. Recent clients include “Grey’s Anatomy,” MTV’s “Skins,” “CSI: Miami” and the Columbia Pictures comedy Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.

According to studio manager Jackie Lin Werner, the studio’s appeal is personal as much as it is technical: “ We’re not stiff or pretentious. We’re down to earth and like to be helpful. Beyond the gear and the size of our rooms, I believe people trust Headgear as an established studio with a respectable client list.  Headgear probably appeals most to indie bands and major label bands looking for an affordable, high quality studio in a space that has a creative vibe. “

Headgear’s A-room houses an automated Trident 80C console and offers a choice of Pro Tools HD and 24-track 2-inch tape. A well-equipped B room is also available for mixing and overdubs.

METROSONIC
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
www.metrosonic.net

Contact for rates.

Neve Console. Pro Tools HD. Ampex 2”. Engineers who know what they’re doing. What more could you need to know?

Metrosonic’s vitals = Neve 5315, Pro Tools HD, Ampex 2”

According to Metrosonic’s Pete Mignola, it’s the people who make a studio: “The people who built it, the people who run it, the people who use it,” he tells us.

“Everyone who comes to Metrosonic talks about the vibe. Of course they like the great gear, the affordable rates, the windows & city views, but they always say that they love the vibe here. There’s human element to this that makes each studio unique and special in its own way.”

Metrosonic has always had a large, comfortable control room. More recently, the studio’s originally modest live room underwent significant renovations in 2008, and now, Pete and the crew are excited to bring a new 850 square-foot live room into the fold.

THE FORT
Bushwick, Brooklyn
www.thefortbrooklyn.com

Rates: $40/hr, including Jim Bentley as Engineer.

Over the past decade, North Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood has filled up with enough small private studios to fill an area twice its size. In that time, Jim Bentley’s studio The Fort has stood as one of the neighborhood’s active mainstays.

Mission control at The Fort, equipped with a Neotek Elan console

Persevering in this competitive new territory since 2003, owner/operator Bentley has hosted noteworthy clients including Brit Daniel of Spoon, Doug Gillard and Kevin March of Guided by Voices, James McNew of Yo La Tengo, Jennifer O’Connor, John Agnello and  Jemina Pearl.

This especially affordable studio is equipped for both analog and digital sessions, offering a Neotek Elan console, Tascam 1” 16-track, and a 24-channel MOTU/Apogee system. The studio bills at $30/hr on weekdays from noon to 6pm and at $40/hr 6pm-midnight or weekends, and includes Bentley’s services as engineer.

Bentley is most proud of his live room, a large, vibey space with vaulted, heavy-timber ceilings: “I love to track full bands in the room live for feel and then sauce it up and make it sound supernatural from there,” he says.

Bentley’s down-to-earth approach is made clear in his parting words to us. The Fort, he says, “appeals to the clients who realize making records is more about the man and the performance than the machine or the media buzz behind it.”

Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn-based audio engineer and music producer who’s worked with Hotels, DeLeon, Soundpool, Team Genius and Monocle, as well as clients such as Nintendo, JDub, Blue Note Records, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Visit him at www.justincolletti.com.

TV On The Radio Album, “Skins” Soundtrack Recorded At Headgear

March 3, 2011 by  

The upcoming TV On The Radio record, Nine Types of Light — due out April 12 on Interscope Records — was largely recorded at Headgear in Brooklyn last May.

TV On The Radio's "Nine Shades of Light" due out April 12

TVOTR’s David Andrew Sitek produced the sessions, with engineer Zeph Sowers tracking. Headgear’s Scott F. Norton also engineered a couple of days of tracking sessions with the band. Stream the awesome new track, “Will Do” below…

More recently, Headgear — the studio and friends/family of the studio — has had a hand in multiple tracks featured on MTV’s Skins.

First, the Skins theme song, “Lina Magic” by 3D Friends (Daniel Chavez-Wright), was tracked at Headgear by producer/engineer (and former Headgear intern and assistant) Gabe Liberti.

Another featured track, Unsolved Mysteries‘ “You Only Live Once,” was also tracked at Headgear and engineered by former Headgear intern, Colin Alexander. Alexander is the electronics maestro in Unsolved Mysteries and he releases his own original music under the name Tiny Specks of Many Things.

Next, the Many Colors song “Peaks and Valleys” also soundtracked a recent episode of Skins — Many Colors is Jackie Lin Werner, otherwise known as Headgear’s studio manager. “Peaks and Valleys” was mixed by engineer Nick Smeraski, another Headgear alum.

Keepaway‘s song “Evil Lady” was also featured on Skins, and was tracked with Headgear’s Kyle Boyd for their Baby Style EP.

Meanwhile, producer/engineer John Agnello has been working out of Headgear a bunch, most recently with Joy By Proxy, Andy Shernoff and Sons of Bill. Coming up, Cymbals Eat Guitars will be tracking and mixing their new album at Headgear with Agnello producing and engineering.

And back to TV On The Radio, listen to the advance single “Will Do” off Nine Types of Light here:

TV On The Radio – “Will Do” by Interscope Records

Check out Headgear’s new website for more information on the studio and recent projects, and to get in touch.