GREATER NYC AREA: For recording studios, this past summer had its typical ups and downs. But heading into Fall, bands like The Killers, The Vaccines and OneRepublic as well as artists like Tony Bennett, Kurt Vile, Sean Lennon, Rufus Wainright and more had been in NYC-area studios cranking on new and upcoming releases.
Starting in Murray Hill, Electracraft Music Works @ The Fireplace Penthouse hosted sessions with Mark Foster, of Foster The People, recording vocals for “Polartropic” – a soundtrack song for Tim Burton’s new film, Frankenweenie. Warren Babson engineered the session.
Also at Electracraft…Jack Antonoff and Andrew Dost of the band FUN were in to work on some new material, with Matt Morales engineering…Melanie Fiona came through to record some live acoustic tracks for Cricket Mobile, with Sam Katz engineering…hip-hop artist Outasight recorded with producers The Elev3n and Morales engineering, and Liz Gillies (of Nickelodeon’s Victorious) recorded some new music with Babson engineering.
Downtown, The Killers recorded and mixed their new album Battle Born over the summer at Germano Studios – with Alan Moulder mixing (various producers). OneRepublic has also been recording their latest at Germano – tracking guitars, keyboards and mandolin with singer/producer Ryan Tedder producing and engineering
And in other Germano sessions… The Goo Goo Dolls were in writing and recording new materials with John Shanks producing and Dan Chase engineering… Chris Shaw mixed an Ozzy Osbourne live DVD release, with Bruce Dickinson producing…Robin Thicke recorded vocals with Paul Falcone engineering, as did Mary J. Blige (also with Falcone)… Singer Jessica Sanchez (American Idol) recorded vocals and programming with Harvey Mason, Jr. producing and Andrew Hey engineering…and tracking sessions for a new John Legend album (recording guitars, vocals, piano, harp, keyboards in Studio 1 & Studio 2) with Dave Tozer producing and Jason Agel engineering.
The Killers went from recording and mixing at Germano, to The Lodge Mastering where Emily Lazar and Joe LaPorta mastered Battle Born. The Lodge’s mastering engineers Lazar, LaPorta and mastering engineer Heba Kadry have also recently mastered records by Dum Dum Girls, Imagine Dragons, Negramaro, Jeff Wayne’s The War Of The Worlds, James Iha, The Sea and Cake, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead and Sarah Blasko.
Also at MSR…Jazz artist/bassist Christian McBride has been mixing two upcoming albums – with Joe Ferla on the Euphonix System 5 in MSR’s Studio B, assisted by Brett Mayer…the cast album for Broadway’s Bring It On was tracked in Studio A by engineer Derik Lee and composer Alex Lacamoire for Sh-K-Boom! Records, and then mixed by engineer Tim Latham…and Derik Lee also recorded some cues for the film Greetings from Tim Buckley.
Sean Lennon brought his Ghost of the Sabre Tooth Tiger project to Sear Sound last month. Tom Schick mixed the album – for Lennon’s label, Chimera Records – on Sear’s Neve 8038 to ½” 2-track on the ATR-102 machine.
Also at Sear Sound…Rufus Wainwright tracked new material on Sear’s Steinway “C” grand piano for Verve Records, with Sear’s Chris Allen engineering…jazz bassist Dave Holland and his ensemble tracked a new album with James Farber engineering…Ron Saint Germain produced and engineered a new recording by classical pianist Tania Stavreva on the Steinway “D” concert grand…and vocalist Keiko Lee tracked via the custom Avalon/Sear console in Studio C with Jay Newland engineering and producing for Sony/Japan.
Tony Bennett was back at Avatar Studios – this time to work on his Latin duets project, in Studio A. Bennett recorded vocals with Juan Luis Guerra, Romeo Santos and Ana Carolina. His son Dae Bennett engineered and produced the sessions, assisted by Aki Nishimura and Charlie Kramsky.
In other recent Avatar sessions…The Young Presidents tracked with producer /engineer Rob Fraboni, assisted by Bob Mallory and Tyler Hartman…Jennifer Hudson recorded for NBC’s Smash with producers Marc Shaiman and Harvey Mason, Jr., and engineer Andrew Hey…Bobby McFerrin recorded with producers Linda and Gil Goldstein assisted by Charlie Kramsky…and Esperanza Spalding was videotaped for ASPiRE TV with producer Nicole Bentley assisted by Aki Nishimura.
And all the way downtown at Engine Room Audio, 50 Cent was in the studio working with mastering engineer Mark B. Christensen to master his latest single, “New Day.” The track – released on iTunes on July 31 – features Dr. Dre and Alicia Keys, and was mixed by Eminem.
Christensen also recently mastered NYC alt-rock band Weep‘s new album, Alate, and the new Trey Songz album, Chapter V, which came out in August and hit #1 on the Billboard 200 chart in its first week.
Meanwhile In Brooklyn…
Yuka Honda (Cibo Matto, Yoko Ono) booked time at Joe McGinty’s Greenpoint synth studio, Carousel Recording, to record keyboard overdubs for Martha Wainwright’s new album, Come Home To Mama, which she is producing. Keyboardist Jared Samuel recorded on Carousel’s Moog Modular, Rhodes, Yamaha Organ and Hammond during these sessions.
DJ/producer Kid Koala collaborated with composer/producer/engineer Joel Hamburger on music for a new animated series and puppet show – both developed by Jhonen Vasquez – at Hamburger’s Park Slope studio, GödelString. For the animated series, Kid Koala (aka Eric San) and Hamburger worked off of a theme composed by Vasquez, and for the puppet show score, improvised recording sessions with James McNew and Amy Posner of Dump on guitar and keyboard.
“For me, the thrill was in working as fast as possible to set up and capture the moment and then being able to enjoy the magic of having these sketches being transformed into fairly complete pieces and soundscapes,” said Hamburger. “I also got to break out some of the great vintage keyboards we have at the studio.”
At the new Degraw Studios in Gowanus, rock band The Skins recorded and mixed an upcoming release with producer/engineer Ben Rice. Rice also mixed a new EP for Elliot & The Ghost – produced by Jared Dodd, and recorded/mixed new material for indie-rock band Chainwave.
Out of his Glassfactory studio in DUMBO, mixer/engineer Alex Aldi co-produced and mixed a Passion Pit song for the upcoming Twilight movie, Breaking Dawn – Part 2. Aldi also worked on the radio mix of The Hundred In The Hands’ “Come With Me” off their new album on Warp Records.
And back in Williamsburg, hip-hop artist K.Flay spent two weeks at The Bunker, writing and recording tracks for her upcoming RCA record – with Justyn Pilbrow producing, and Chris Mullings engineering. Singer/songwriter and pianist Johanna Cranitch also brought her band project Johanna and the Dusty Floor to The Bunker to track and mix a full-length album – with Chris Berry on drums, Rob Gentry and synths/programming, and Aaron Nevezie producing and engineering.
And in other Bunker sessions… Nevezie engineered a “monster tracking session” for a 30-minute piece called “Drummer’s Corpse”, led by drummer/bandleader Mike Pride and featuring seven drummers and multiple other musicians and vocalists…and 11-piece Afro-beat band Zongo Junction tracked their new full-length album live to the Bunker’s 24-track Studer machine over two days with Nevezie engineering.
Meanwhile, engineer/producer Matt Boynton has been busy at his Williamsburg studio, Vacation Island. Over the summer, Boynton mixed a track for Rainbow Arabia, a project that continues there this month, and finished the new Vietnam‘ record – coming out early next year on Mexican Summer. Free Blood and Wild Yaks also mixed their latest with Boynton. Fred Nicolaus of Department of Eagles mixed his solo release with Boynton as well.
On the recording front, Boynton recently tracked and mixed two new songs for Hospitality and recorded (with Rob Laasko) a new song for Kurt Vile. Most recently, Boynton tracked a new song for UK artist Amy Studt, and The Vaccines came through while in Williamsburg between shows to track and mix a new song.
Also in Williamsburg, Grand Street Recording (<– new website) recently hosted the 8-piece indie-pop band, Sky Pony – led by Kyle Jarrow – to record and mix their new EP with engineer/producer Ken Rich.
Also at Grand Street, acoustic punk band The Narrowbacks recorded a full-length record with Tomek Miernowski…Noe Venable has been constructing an acoustic album “filled with unexpected sounds and compelling arrangements” – recorded by Ken Rich, and featuring Mathias Kunzli and Todd Sickafoose…
I’m In You finished mixing and mastering their third full-length release with Rich…and TV On The Radio‘s Kyp Malone stopped by to record vocals with Emily Long & Velta on their latest record, with Miernowski engineering and mixing.
Grand Street also recently added a pair of Mohog MoFET76 limiting amplifiers and an AKG D30 to its ever-growing collection of vintage microphones. In drum-land, the studio added a 1959 Ludwig WFL Badge 6 ½” x 14″ Snare that still has the original Ludwig calf-skin resonant head – serviced by John Fell over at Main Drag Music.
And we know there’s so much more going on out there! If you’d like to be featured in “Session Buzz,” please submit your studio news to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently at Fluxivity, Nat Priest’s Neve 8048-equipped Williamsburg studio…
Blonde Redhead drummer Simone Pace produced sessions for Grammy-nominated vocalist Juan Son, recording and mixing songs for a forthcoming album for the Guadalajara, Mexico-native / NYC-based artist. Brian Thorn engineered these sessions.
The album was produced by Agnello with “Kurt Vile and the Violators” — Mike Zanghi (drums), Adam Granduciel (guitar, mellotron, percussion) and Jesse Trbovich (guitars) — and recording and mixing sessions went down in four states and multiple studios, including Philadelphia (Miner Street and Uniform Recording), New York (Magic Shop, Headgear, Fluxivity, Vacation Island), New Jersey (Water Music), and Amherst, MA (J Mascis‘ Bisquiteen Studios).
For more on Fluxivity, visit www.fluxivity.com.
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.
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:
Check out Headgear’s new website for more information on the studio and recent projects, and to get in touch.
THE FIVE BOROUGHS: 2010 has been busy all right. For anyone involved in New York City’s expansive business of music – producer, publisher, entrepreneur, engineer, artist, and many more – the environment remains fast-paced, ultra-competitive and constantly changing.
With 2011 looming, SonicScoop looked for the news, trends and topics that stood out to us over the past 365 days.
In audio post, it was grow or die in the uppermost echelon. The biggest facilities, including hsr|ny, Nutmeg, and Sound Lounge made serious expansions into audio and/or video:
Large and mid-sized recording/tracking/mixing studios kept making capital improvements and expanding:
Advanced smaller studios – independent and within larger facilities — and producer rooms also opened up at a peppy pace:
Avid capped off a furious year of reinvention and new products with the release of Pro Tools 9.
Music houses and composers still had a ton of TV, film and video game work to go after and win:
Production music and synch licensing remained a solid business, especially for those who got in at the right time or had a smart approach.
One of NYC’s most controversial music business plays, peer-to-peer file sharing network Limewire, appeared to be finally finished.
Tracking, mixing and mastering at NYC’s established facilities did a relatively healthy volume of A-level and independent work throughout the year:
New software and hardware happiness abounded:
NYC suffered losses when beloved people and places left us:
NYC-based producers, mixers, engineers and artists became businesses in their own right:
Producer Chris Coady worked on some hugely acclaimed records this year, including Beach House Teen Dream and Delorean Subiza, as well as records with Hooray for Earth, Zola Jesus, Smith Westerns, Cold Cave.
The studio scene got a lot more socialicious and FUN:
What big stories would you include? And what do you see next in 2011? Don’t be shy – leave a comment and let us know!
– Janice Brown and David Weiss
JERSEY CITY: In 1979, a Brooklyn teenager and avid record collector named John Agnello landed an internship at one of Manhattan’s most prominent music studios. Thanks to some hard work and genuine affability it wasn’t long before he found himself assisting on major releases from contemporary heavyweights like Aerosmith, Cyndi Lauper and Twisted Sister.
It’s an unexpected beginning for a Producer most known for his involvement with classic Indie Rock darlings, many of whose records still pepper the favorites lists of young fans. Success on early releases with Dinosaur Jr, Screaming Trees and Buffalo Tom made way for work with The Breeders, Sonic Youth, The Hold Steady and Nada Surf.
Looking through your early discography, we see you listed as an assistant on some pretty mainstream releases. It’s interesting to see your credit list take a left turn in the early 90s toward more bold and unique artists, branded back then as “Alternative Rock.” It looks like you’ve never turned back. I’d like you to take us through that journey a little. How did you get your start?
I started assisting at the Record Plant in ’82, and started engineering in ’84. I was engineering for a long time, all through the 80s and into the early 90s. It took a while to really get considered to produce records. And with good reason! (laughs) I wasn’t really a “Producer” at first.
What changed? Were there any seminal records that acted as a turning point for you?
The first Dinosaur Jr. record was a really great experience. I was credited as an engineer, and I wouldn’t say I was a “producer” on those records. But I definitely helped J. [Mascis] get to a different sonic level. When we worked on together, Dinosaur Jr. records started to sound like classic records, not just gnarly discs with great songs covered in “Ka-Kssshhhhh” (makes sound effect of gnarly midrangey goodness). Once those records were doing really well and A&R guys noticed what I was starting to contribute to the process, things began to change.
How does your approach as a producer differ from that of your engineering days? Is there a learning curve?
Over the years I’ve learned a lot about what a producer can do, and pushed the envelope a lot more. When I started producing, it was in the middle of this Indie/Alternative Rock explosion. Things were really open. What a producer had to do was create a vibe, get the bands to perform, and let them do their thing. You might help with an arrangement here or there, but that was it. Bands were being signed because somebody somewhere liked them.
Today, I spend a lot more time in rehearsals with bands really working through arrangements and giving them actual direction. Things these days are so much tighter. There are so many records coming out, indie-wise at least, and it’s so much more competitive because everyone posts their songs online.
For an unknown band to have a chance of getting noticed, it’s really important for the record to be concise and bring out the best of what they do. Sometimes we’ve got to leave out all the extra filler that makes listeners go: “Boring!” Attention spans have gotten to be…miniature.
So do you find yourself working more as a musical gatekeeper than you would have in the past?
Absolutely. I’m in pre-production rehearsal with bands right now, and you have to bring these things up: ”The song’s too long, let’s cut the chorus here in half here,” or “The key’s not right for your voice, let’s try modulating there.” When you’re making good suggestions, bands are really receptive. And it’s fun too. You feel like you’re even more a part of the band and a part of the record. It’s great to notice: “Hey the verse… It’s really this song’s chorus, isn’t it? Let’s build around that.”
Let’s face it: anyone can be an engineer these days. That’s no slight against the guys who are great engineers, because there are some really good ones. The point is: Any one of these bands *could* stay at home and make their own record. These days just being an engineer isn’t enough to separate yourself from everyone else out there. You’ve got to bring something else to the table.
So here you are being hired for your ability to filter and to make perceptive musical choices… but you didn’t even start out as a musician?
No, not at all!
How did that happen? Did you become a player as things wet along?
I didn’t. That’s another thing that’s interesting to think about: when I first started assisting, I really had no concept of pitch. I was just a kid who loved listening to records. I wasn’t a musician, I wasn’t trained. I had to learn to listen and understand what pitch was and to focus on it. It’s just another one of those things that you learn to do well through repetition.
You’ve done a lot of work with promising bands as they’re discovering their sound. But you’ve worked with established artists as well. The last two Sonic Youth records you’ve worked on have featured some really masterful sounds.
Considering how long they’ve been around and how long I’ve been around, it’s been really great to finally work with them. It made me feel really good about my station in life, to be able to make two really wonderful records with a band I’ve always loved.
Sonic Youth are a band known to have a lot of vision and often share production credit on their records. How is your role different with a band like that?
Oh, they know what they’re doing. A big difference between working with a Thurston Moore or a J Mascis and all the other bands we’re talking about, is that you don’t need to tell either of those guys anything about songwriting (laughs). What’s the point?! What a band like Sonic Youth really requires is that we’re on time delivering the record, and I can help keep them on track while they have so many other projects going on.
Rather Ripped in particular made some waves for helping put the band back on the map after some rare time away from critical acclaim. That album took a distinctly punchy and muscular sonic direction compared of their prior records. The guitars in particular command an unusual amount of power and clarity. Can you tell us anything about your approach there?
Rather Ripped (2006) and The Eternal (2009) both have Lee on the left and Thurston on the right. That’s how they stand on stage. I just love the clarity of stereo. It’s great to hear each dude doing their part, and it’s really cool to hear that in headphones, especially when one part steps out a bit from either side.
Definitely. It leaves a lot of room for power in the drums too. I hear that kind of spread on one of your newest releases as well. Dead Confederate’s Sugar came out this past month, and in some places the guitars are also really wide, but much more textured and layered sounding.
They have a cool sound. I joke that’s almost like “Freedom Grunge.” You know? Like Freedom Rock + Grunge, with some shoegaze mixed in. It combines a lot of things I like.
I’ve heard you tend to use the same mics a lot on guitars: a classic combination of [Shure] SM57, [Neumann] U87 and [Sennheiser] 421 mixed together. Is that true of those two records, even though they have such different sounds?
Yeah, a lot of it comes from the amp, and the player. That’s the first place to change things. If there’s something that ties those sounds together it’s that I really like my guitars close-miked, even if they have a lot of effects on them. If your amp is really blowing and you have the mic right on it, that’s where you get a lot of intensity. If you start to move it back, sure you can get some more air and some room maybe, but you sacrifice that intensity.
When you use a blend of mics like that, which mics are you listening to in the control? What about the players?
I’m old school. I’ll blend them together and print it to tape or to Pro Tools. If I’ve got a great sound that’s moving me, I don’t want to have to think about how I got it ever again. When I’m producing, I want to shut up the Engineer-guy in my head as much as possible so the Producer-guy can take the wheel. Sometimes I’ll even print my snare top and bottom on one track.
What about kick drums? Some of your records have a powerful-yet-organic sound you don’t hear a lot these days.
I think both those Sonic Youth records and a lot of the Dino stuff is a double-headed kick drum, no hole. It’s really hit-or-miss though. If you put a mic up on either side and it sounds good, you’ll have an amazing sound. If it doesn’t, you could struggle with mics and anything else for hours and you’ll never get there.
What else are you excited about? I hear you’re in the studio with Kurt Vile now, making a record for Matador.
He’s great. Really quirky, unique stuff while also being classic and beautiful. My daughter Bella is in love with him and sings his songs in the car all the time!
Have the digital and home studio revolutions changed the way you work much?
Not a lot in my niche. Every once in a while I’ll get a record to mix that was recorded by a new band at home. You wouldn’t get projects like that years ago. And sure, I use Pro Tools and edit digitally, but other than that, I pretty much work the same way.
I feel like you can’t make the same record all the time, and each album should be unique, but I use the same tools a lot. I pick my favorite studios like Water Music, Headgear and Magic Shop because they have tape machines that work and the monitoring is great. It’s almost embarrassing to admit, but I’ve been using the same stereo bus compressor for almost 24 years! (Laughs.)
— Justin Colletti
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 and Blue Note Records.