I came to New York City nine years ago from Boston to work at The Hit Factory. The experience of working as an assistant engineer there during the last years that the studio was open was a time in my life and my career that I’ll never forget. The studio was famous for many reasons, but above all, The Hit Factory laid claim to some of the most beautiful and acoustically pristine recording rooms in the world.
When the studio closed in 2005, the music and recording world lost a treasure that will never be replicated. The sound of the studio now exists only on the records of artists like Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen and many more.
Over the past decade, with advancements in digital audio technology, it’s become possible to recreate real-world acoustic spaces inside the box thanks to convolution style reverb plug-ins, presets and patches derived from impulse responses created by sampling actual rooms. One of the most popular and well-known convolution reverbs on the market is Altiverb, made by the Dutch software company Audio Ease.
In Altiverb, Audio Ease has implemented proprietary technology for capturing the sound of a room by playing back proprietary “blips” and sweep tones and recording the information. These recordings are then processed and turned into impulse responses of the room to be used like a plugin on a session.
The result is a stunning replication of the room that is so close to the original, that the difference between the reference audio recorded in the room and the same dry audio played back through the impulse response of the room in Altiverb are nearly imperceptible.
The latest version of Altiverb (version 7) has made the process even simpler. Altiverb users can now download the sweep files, record them in a room and drag the recordings directly into Altiverb to create and save their own impulse responses immediately.
Because Altiverb is such an amazing tool for capturing the sound of a room, we now have the ability to preserve the sound of any recording studio or unique acoustic space fairly easily. Of course there’s no substitution for actually recording in the original space, but having a representation of the room sound in plug-in form – especially if the room no longer exists – is a nice option, and a really cool addition to the sonic palette.
Capturing The Sounds of Brooklyn
With Altiverb 7 on my laptop, I decided to start a project aimed at capturing the sounds of Brooklyn recording studios as acoustic spaces.
Beyond just sampling these sounds for my own use, I thought it would be a worthy endeavor to showcase some of the new wave of recording studios in Brooklyn for the rest of the world through Altiverb, while simultaneously documenting a historical record of the sound of these rooms to further enhance that experience. Audio Ease has agreed to make the impulse responses I’ve created available on their website for download and use for owners of Altiverb 7. The first IR I captured, of Let ‘Em In Studios (see below), is available to Altiverb 7 users now.
Before we visit Let ‘Em In, let’s take a look at the process of capturing an impulse response:
At each studio I visited, I captured both stereo-to-stereo and mono-to-stereo impulse responses. The process of capturing the impulse response of a room is relatively simple but very precise. The basic idea is to setup a pair of good quality studio monitor speakers on stands in a spot in the room where a loud instrument like a drum kit might normally be positioned and point them directly at the capsules of a spaced pair of microphones on the opposite side of the room. Omnidirectional mics are usually best as they will capture the ambience of a room most naturally; I used a pair of AKG 414 B-ULSs.
Precise measurements were taken to make sure the distances were exact between the speaker tweeter and microphone capsule and between each speaker and mic for both the left and right side. Once we were setup, I played back and recorded some reference audio of dry drums, percussion and double bass for each setup so that I could A/B the sound of the room versus the impulse response created by Altiverb later.
After the reference audio was recorded, we then began capturing the impulse responses by playing back the blip and sweep tone. Altiverb requires four channels of audio for a stereo-to-stereo impulse response and two channels for a mono-to-stereo response. The four channels are derived from recording a stereo set listening to the left channel individually and then repeating the process listening to the right speaker individually. Once the stereo-to-stereo IR was captured, we would then move one speaker to the center position exactly between the two microphones and repeat the reference audio recording and then sweep tone.
For some rooms, we recorded multiple IRs at varying distances. Each distance will end up being a separate impulse response that can be used inside Altiverb. This gives the end user the ability to decide which mic placement in the room sounds best for their mix.
Once the sweep tones have been recorded, they can be dragged directly into Altiverb via the IR Import tab. Altiverb allows for a few different type of playback devices such as a “quality” speaker, a Tivoli PAL radio, a slate clap or a starter pistol. For full-range music production quality Impulse Responses, a quality speaker is highly recommended. The other modes of capture are more than adequate for film and post-production applications to be used when mixing or replacing dialogue.
For each studio in this series, I will provide a few different audio examples showcasing the difference between the actual audio recorded by the mics in the room vs. the same dry audio played through the Altiverb impulse response of the room. I will also provide a commercially available track recorded at each studio.
On the whole, most mix engineers would probably agree that they don’t do a whole lot of EQ or compression on the outputs of their reverbs. One interesting thing I’ve discovered in working with Altiverb and creating these new impulse responses is, Altiverb’s algorithm is so accurate to the original sound that I find it’s often necessary and quite helpful to treat the output of Altiverb with EQ and compression as if it were just another pair of mics recorded live with your session.
Let’s have a look and listen to the first studio I visited! I will continue this virtual Brooklyn studio tour in the next few parts of this series:
Let Em’ In Music – 540 President Street (Gowanus, Brooklyn)
Let Em’ In Music opened in 2009 and is owned and operated by producer/engineer Nadim Issa. Nadim is an admitted late bloomer into the recording community having studied economics in college and working briefly as a banker. “I was miserable there,” said Nadim. “I decided I needed to do what I loved and enrolled in NYU’s music technology graduate program.”
Home recording and an internship at The Doghouse Studio in Park Slope eventually led to what is now Let Em In Music in nearby Gowanus.
I was introduced to Let Em In by fellow SonicScoop writer Justin Colletti shortly after I moved to the Park Slope. Nadim designed the space himself with help from Chris Harmaty and Joe Salvatto providing HVAC and acoustic paneling respectively.
“I wanted a big live room and a comfortable control room that didn’t feel cramped,” said Nadim about his search for a space to rent. The studio is a long rectangular shaped 30 x 13 ft. room with a 12 ft. ceiling. The sound is explosive. Coupled with two of the most beautiful drum kits I’ve ever recorded (Yamaha 82’ recording custom and Ludwig 68’ kit), Let Em’ In has become one of my favorite rooms to work out of in New York City.
When processed through Altiverb, Let Em’ In clocks in at 1.2 seconds of reverb decay. The flat impulse response of the room is fairly dark with a reasonable amount of low-mid range. Overall, the room has a wonderfully vintage woody sound to it that lends itself very well to everything from drums and acoustic guitars to vocals and piano.
Let Em’ In has hosted sessions for artists such as Dinowalrus, Sharon Van Etten, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper and Julia Nunes. Nadim is currently completing mixes for Lady Lamb’s debut full-length album, which was tracked and mixed entirely at the studio.
Here are the sounds of Let Em In Music:
Recorded July 6th 20120 via:
Apple MacBook Pro
Pro Tools 10 + Altiverb 7
I/O – Apogee Duet 2
Monitors – Dynaudio BM5A
Microphones – AKG 414 B-ULS (graciously provided by Justin Colletti)
1) Dry Drums – Drums played back in the room – Dry drums through Altiverb IR
2) Dry Congas – Congas played back in the room – Dry congas through Altiverb IR
3) Horns Dry – Horns Altiverb IR
4) Dry Drums blended with processed Altiverb IR (EQ/Compression)
Listen to a sample music track, recorded at Let ‘Em In:
Eon Contemporary Orchestra – Kashmir (Led Zeppelin)
Engineered and Mixed at Let Em In’ Music by Nadim Issa
Strings: Eon Contemporary Orchestra (ECO)
Arrangement by Gabe Lefkowitz
Vocals: Danny Musengo
Drums: Walker Adams
Zach McNees is a Brooklyn-based producer/engineer/mixer and live recordist who’s worked with Björk, Rob Thomas, Julia Nunes, The Gregory Brothers, Pixies, Liars and Alice Cooper. Get in touch with Zach via www.zachmcnees.com.
Audio player for tracks 1-4 from above + Eon Contemporary Orchestra’s rendition of “Kashmir”, in order below…
Over the past two years, crowdfunding – whether it’s through Kickstarter, Indiegogo, PledgeMusic, or a custom page on an artist’s website – has grown at a rate that’s impossible to ignore. At the current pace, contributions to Kickstarter campaigns alone are expected to account for over $150 million in arts funding in 2012. That’s more than the entire National Endowment for the Arts.
While this figure does speak to the historically low levels of national arts funding, it also says a lot about how quickly crowdfunding has become a major force in the creative economy. Just two months ago, Amanda Palmer raised over one million dollars for her new album and art book, and today, self-released artists who use the platform to secure tens of thousands of dollars to make new albums have begun to look “normal.”
In June of this year, a website called AppsBlogger shared an infographic that suggested that as many as 68% of music projects on Kickstarter ultimately reached their funding goals. But based on the newest numbers from Kickstarter, the success rate for music projects is closer to 55% today. Thankfully, this is still a bit higher than the overall Kickstarter success rate, which hovers around 44%.
According to the service itself, there’s a stark line between the campaigns that succeed and the ones that fail: “Funding on Kickstarter is all-or-nothing in more ways than one,” the company warns. “While 12% of projects finished having never received a single pledge, 82% of projects that raised more than 20% of their goal were successfully funded.”
Some artists, it seems, know what they’re doing, while some quite simply, don’t.
So what is it that separates the winners from the losers? The research suggests that it all comes down to one word: Planning. Studies show that winning campaigns are most likely to come from artists with large social networks, who create videos, offer many different reward levels, keep their campaigns short and focused, and – perhaps most importantly of all – set sensible, pragmatic goals.
What To Budget For
There are many how-to articles on the web that will give you comprehensive advice on all the ins and outs of a successful crowdfunding campaign. This isn’t one of them.
Today, we’ll focus on just one thing: setting a realistic goal for your campaign. To fill in this blank and help figure out a budgetary goal that will work for you, we reached out to a handful of our most-trusted producers, engineers and studio owners from various levels of the industry.
Nadim Issa of Let ‘Em In Music does good work and keeps his rates affordable, which has helped him become one of the busiest studio owners in his zip code – especially where up-and-coming artists are concerned. His spacious and casual Park Slope tracking room has hosted bands like Ava Luna, Soft Black and Dinosaur Feathers, as well as singer-songwriters like Sharon Van Etten and Julia Nunes.
Issa says that a growing number of his clients are coming to rely on crowdfunding, and when we spoke with him, he had just finished work on a project that was funded entirely through Kickstarter.
“For a full-length album, I’d say to shoot for at least $5,000 and up to $20,000,” says Issa. He then adds that the $5,000 figure would allow for a spirited, quick-and-dirty recording more than a refined production.
“If the artist already has a significant built-in audience then certainly that number can be much higher than either of those. Maybe $5,000 for every week spent working on the album is an appropriate rule of thumb.”
Let ‘Em In Music stands at the more affordable end of the spectrum, but Issa’s basic figures were echoed among many of the producers and engineers we spoke to.
Jonathan Jetter of Right Angle Recording in Manhattan has also found work with a growing number of crowdfunding artists. Nearly all of them, he says, have used “some kind of humorous promo video to advertise the campaign.”
To him, the $5,000 figure also seems a bit too low for a traditional full-length album. He mentions that his client Abby Payne raised more than $6,000 for her new EP, while Railbird used crowdfunding to secure a few thousand to work on their new single and video.
“Obviously, the target amount varies based on each band’s circumstances,” Jetter says, “but I think $10,000-$12,000 for a full-length is a good ballpark number.”
“Things will sound good, and there’s enough money to send the album out for mastering with someone who’s not necessarily working at [one of the top rooms], but who is still very good. The band will have to rehearse a lot, pre-production will be essential, and we’ll have to move fairly quickly – but we won’t be cutting corners, and it still leaves just enough wiggle room to deal with one or two unexpected things.”
“If we’re contracting a bunch of session players, or if we’re also trying to build in a PR budget, then that number might have to go up a bit. And if I’m just mixing the record, $400/song seems to be the ballpark number for success without bankruptcy for anybody.”
Even producer Chris Coady, who’s made a name for himself making albums that have become cultural touchstones with bands like TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Blonde Redhead and Beach House agrees that a wide variety of budgets can work. You just have to be aware of what you’re getting yourself into.
“You can make a good-sounding record for $5,000. Of course, at that rate you’d probably just be buying some interfaces and microphones and speakers and figuring out how to use them,” said Coady. who got his humble start more than a decade ago when a friend’s band gave him their entire recording budget to buy a 24-track tape machine and hand-me-down Soundcraft desk.
“Any good producer would probably want at least $10,000, and you could make a good record for that,” Coady says. “You could also make a great record for $100,000. At that point, you’re really buying more and more time.”
“Any good producer would probably want at least $10,000, and you could make a good record for that,” Coady says. “You could also make a great record for $100,000. And at that point, you’re really buying more and more time.”
Coady maintains a healthy skepticism about what crowdfunding might mean for the long-term health of the music. In our conversation, he wonders aloud if artists lose some of their purity by appealing for funds in this way, and when he looks at some of the most desperate campaigns, can’t help but feel a little sad. But Coady also says that on some level, the approach does appeals to his punk rock roots, and from a practical standpoint, it looks like the successful campaigns can work. Crowdfunding has paid him his rate once so far.
Narrowing Down The Figure
“I think a good starting point for most indie bands is to budget for a minimum of one day per song for tracking and a minimum of a half day per song for mixing. Apply that to whatever the studio and/or producer rate is, and then add in appropriate pre-production sessions (which really can vary from project to project and producer to producer) as well as at least $100-150 per song for proper mastering.”
“For EPs, I think it’s good to have an extra day built into the budget, and for full-lengths, an extra couple of days. There are usually new ideas that come out in the studio, and it’s nice to have the space and time to try them out. Those little things can often elevate a recording from a ‘professional sounding demo’ to ‘a record’.”
“If the recordings will be overdub-heavy or have more elaborate orchestration, whether it’s layering guitars, keys, strings, horns – you name it – then tracking and mixing times would go up proportionately. If the band is going for a live type of vibe, then the tracking could move even quicker.”
That’s about as straight-forward as it can be said. If there’s a common theme here, it’s that there is no one-size-fits-all figure. Just guidelines.
To really hash out the details and come up with a concrete number for an effective campaign, it’s best to get a producer involved early on in the process. That’s what John Davis, co-owner and engineer at The Bunker Studio in Williamsburg had to say. Davis has worked with artists like The Black Keys, Dangermouse, and Lettuce, and his no-nonsense approach to making records has helped him and partner Aaron Nevzie expand into an impressive new 3,000 square-foot space this year.
“The biggest mistake people make in any case is not consulting with an experienced producer/engineer beforehand,” he says.
“The other biggest mistake is probably working with people who are completely useless and just call themselves ’producers‘ because they make beats.”
“People are a little too quick to give themselves titles these days – whether it’s a ‘mastering engineer’ who just bought some software and decided that, he too can overcompress your record – or someone who thinks that being a ‘producer’ means just sitting around in the control room, arguing with the band and watering down their vision.”
It may sound a little harsh on paper, but Davis has seen this first-hand, just like so many of us have: The well-intentioned artists, without guidance, working on albums that never seem to come to completion; or that lurch forward in jerking, sporadic chunks of undefined frenzy, until they fizzle out into a useless pile of exhausted dreams.
“People with experience know how much time it really takes to make things and how to stay on track,” Davis reminds us. “If you talk to anyone who knows what they’re doing they’ll tell you that you can’t do shit with $4,000 dollars if you want to make a full-length. You should be making an EP.”
“With a real producer – anyone who has genuine experience – their job is to deliver a master on time and in budget. If anyone tells you they can do it for a lot less, be very suspicious and ask to hear their work. They probably don’t have much experience at all.”
When he presents some offhand numbers, Davis is quick to remind potential crowdfunders to think about whether their budget will just be for production, or if a portion of it will be earmarked to press, distribute and promote the album as well.
“I’ve had some artists who’ve used Kickstarter just to cover the back-end,” he says. “The mastering, duplicating and promoting. That can sometimes be more expensive than the recording.”
“Online PR and marketing is its own little cottage industry now,” Davis says. “Sometimes people talk about how it’s so amazing that this little band is blowing up on Pitchfork, but they don’t realize that little band has one of the biggest promotion agencies in the world backing it up.”
“There are certain companies who are good at making bands blow up online,” he adds. “Of course that’s not going to work for everybody, because those agencies have to think you’re capable of being ‘blown-up’ too. But a good producer can say, ‘Well okay, it’ll take $12,000 to produce and then maybe it’s four months of online PR for $8,000, so you’re gonna need $20,000 total – and then we have to think about whether we’ll be pressing these up as well or if there will be a label for that.’”
For Davis, these numbers aren’t meant to be taken literally. The point is that unless you plan your project with someone who has seen many projects through to completion, then the chances are huge that you will suffer the same pitfalls as countless artists before you.
How To Run A Successful Campaign
There’s something to be learned from every failure, and from every success. Thankfully, if you plan on having a career, you don’t have to learn them all first hand. Zach McNees, who weighed in on last week’s mixing tips and contributes his own articles to SonicScoop regularly, has quickly become something of an expert on Kickstarter campaigns in particular.
“At this point I’ve worked on eight recording or mixing projects that were funded by Kickstarter,” he says. “I’ve consulted directly on the setup of four of them.”
“I originally discovered Kickstarter two years ago when my friend, a songwriter called Bleu, launched a campaign to fund the distribution and promotion of a new album that was already in the can. Bleu was really smart, and he sat down with a TV writer who gave him some pointers on how to do his video, and he came up with an amazingly creative set of rewards that really showed he was giving as much back to his fans as they were to him. His goal was $8,000 and he raised just under $40,000, which really blew my mind.”
Julia and Enter the Haggis’ campaigns in particular have been a stunning success. Julia raised nearly $80,000 and Enter the Haggis are close to $60,000 right now. What really stuns me the most is the average dollar amount spent per backer. Enter the Haggis’ fans are averaging $78 per person at the five week mark into their campaign. Amazing.”
For all his enthusiasm, McNees is still clear-eyed about setting workable goals. “I wouldn’t recommend using Kickstarter if you’re not going to try to raise at least $10,000,” he says. “The reason for that is that you can only go to that well so many times to ask your fans to support you and a product that doesn’t exist yet. For the more established acts with a strong fan base, a year to a year-and-a-half is a good rule of thumb in between projects.”
McNees, sees this approach as perhaps the most sensible option for established self-releasing artists. But he doesn’t think it’s for everybody.
“Young bands that are just getting started and haven’t played many shows or written many songs would be wise to avoid diving directly into fan-funding,” McNees warns. “You have to have fans for it to work!”
“Establish yourself as an artist that people want to listen to and go out see, and then when you’re ready to make your record, hopefully you’ll be able to arrange it so that you’re not paying 100% out of pocket.”
Crowdfunding isn’t the only way to go, and there’s no guarantee of success if you do decide to try it. But if you have some kind of following already, can secure a little expert help, and set some realistic goals, it’s certainly a workable strategy. Like the producers we spoke to for this article, I’ve seen that first hand.
I’ve mixed bands that have used this method to cover costs and I’ve set up campaigns for non-profit arts organizations that rely soley on this kind of support. If there’s one last piece of advice that I’d add from my own perspective, it’s that the key word in fan-funding is “fan.”
As much as we’ve talked about what to secure for yourself, effective campaigns are not so much about what you want and need, but about what you give to your audience. Zach McNees seems to agree:
“Most importantly, any artist thinking about getting into fan-funding needs to be prepared to prove to their audience that they’re willing to give back just as much to their fans put in,” he says. “Julia Nunes said ‘Kickstarter should be less like a fund-raiser and more like a bake sale’.”
“That’s really what it comes down to. If your fans understand that you’re putting your heart and soul into it and going above and beyond to provide them with truly original, unique and exclusive rewards, your campaign will be a success.”
GREATER NYC AREA: Tons of sessions happening around the city this Fall. Among the many, we find Black Star back at it out in Greenpoint, Department of Eagles recording in Astoria, Jukebox The Ghost in Park Slope, Oberhofer and Steve Lillywhite in Williamsburg, Spacehog in Gowanus, and OneRepublic making a new record in Manhattan. Read on and get up with what’s happening in studios all around town.
Starting smack in the middle of Times Square, producer Salaam Remi has been working with Jennifer Hudson on music for a new commercial out of Quad Studios. Meanwhile, Sean Paul has been working on new songs at Quad for an upcoming album, as has Atlanta MC Future, who recently signed with Epic Records. Producer Rico Beats has been working out of Quad as well, with various writers. Quad’s Q1 and the Q Lounge has been a listening session hotspot, hosting recent events for Young Jeezy and Mac Miller, and serving as the location for MTV’s Sucker Free Countdown with DJ Envy.
In Chelsea, BMI and composer Rick Baitz held a string arranging workshop with the string quartet Ethel and several string arrangers at Shelter Island Sound. Nona Hendryx and band were tracking at Shelter Island, with Richard Barone producing for a new album for Tracy Stark – featuring drummer Trevor Gale and guitarist Ronnie Drayton. Steve Addabbo tracked and mixed. James Farber mixed jazz singer Alma Micic’s new album, and Ian McDonald of King Crimson fame was in tracking with Steve Holley on drums.
Addabbo also recently finished a 5.1 mix for the Robby Romero long-form music video “Who’s Gonna Save You” (a song co-written by Addabbo), which premiered at the American Indian Film Festival. The film will be featured and officially released November 28 at The UNEP Conference in Durban, South Africa.
Downtown, OneRepublic has been recording their new album in Germano Studios, with singer/songwriter Ryan Tedder producing and Kevin Porter engineering. In other recent sessions at Germano: Fabian Marasciullo has been mixing T-Pain‘s new album; Isabella Summers aka Isa Machine (from Florence & the Machine) has been producing NYC-based artist/songwriter L.P., and working on her own solo project, with Kenta Yonesaka engineering; Asher Roth recorded vocals, with Oren Yoel producing, and Porter engineering; CJ Holland has been writing/recording with Swizz Beatz, and Kenny Lloyd engineering; Alicia Keys has been recording with Ann Mincieli engineering; and Sandy Vee returned for more writing sessions, and recording and mixing sessions with Jesse McCartney.
Just up the block, The Lodge’s Emily Lazar, Joe LaPorta, Sarah Register and Heba Kadry have been super busy this last month, mastering Garbage’s cover of U2′s “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” for Q Magazine’s AHK-toong BAY-bi Covered, the new Shiny Toy Guns album mixed by Tony Maserati, Arcade Fire’s “Sprawl II” Remix by Damian Taylor, Delta Spirit’s new album produced by Chris Coady and mixed by Tchad Blake, Daniel Bedingfield’s latest, Maya Postepski’s (of Austra) side project TRST – mixed by Damian Taylor – and an album by Tender Mercies, a 20-year-project by David Bryson and Dan Vickery of The Counting Crows.
The Lodge has also mastered recent releases by Brand New (Your Favorite Weapon reissue), Dion DiMucci, Harts, Future Islands, Frankie Rose and Porcelain Raft.
Further downtown, at Engine Room Audio in the Financial District, Soulja Boy and Waka Flocka recorded in the Penthouse Studio (equipped with an SSL 4064G+) with Ben Lindell engineering, and Chris Albers assisting.
And Mark Christensen mastered two new mixtapes for Trey Songz (Atlantic Records) – LemmeHoldDatBeat 2 and Anticipation 2 – and his Inevitable EP – as well as albums for Brooklyn band The Color Bars and UK indie rockers Tiger Shadow, Lloyd Banks‘ Cold Corner – also mixed by Albers at Engine Room – and War Music by Dr. Dre protégé Slim The Mobster.
Over in Queens, Department of Eagles’ Fred Nicolaus and Christopher Bear (Grizzly Bear) recently recorded drums and piano for an upcoming release with Kieran Kelly at The Buddy Project. Pianos for singer/songwriter Kyle Patrick’s new EP were also recently recorded at The Buddy Project, with producers Ben Romans and Jarrad Scharff, and Kelly engineering.
And in Gowanus, Brooklyn – Lady Lamb the Beekeeper has been recording at Let Em In Music with Nadim Issa. Aly Paltro aka Lady Lamb recorded this cover of Bob Dylan’s “All I Really Want to Do” for Brooklyn Based. According to Issa, Paltro liked Cher’s cover of the song, recorded in the 60s with Sonny Bono producing and “as such, we went for a really roomy sound with the whole band playing live in a room. A huge part of the mix is actually my two room mics, which were set up in MS.” Next up, Issa will work on the Lady Lamb full-length.
Nearby at Bryce Goggins’ Trout Recording, sessions for the new Martha Wainright were underway. Goggin, assisted by Adam Sachs, recorded drums for three songs as well as some vocals and electric guitar, with Wainwright, Yuka Honda and drummer Yuko Akari. Goggin also recently mixed a song for Marco Benevento. And Adam Sachs recently engineered a recording session with Space Hog at Trout. The band recorded three basic tracks live while being filmed for an upcoming video release. There were no overdubs, and Sachs also mixed one of the songs in the following week.
Out in Park Slope, Dan Romer has been recording, producing and mixing Jukebox The Ghost’s next record at his studios. And fellow-Rocket Music producer Mark Saunders has been writing/producing and mixing Amalie Bruuns’ next EP at BEAT360 Studios in Manhattan.
In Williamsburg, Brooklyn-based duo Little Silver recently tracked songs for a new EP at Fluxivity Recording, using the studio’s Neumann tube mics (U67, U47, M49) in the recording sessions, engineered by Gary Maurer. Also at Fluxivity, composer Gordon Minette and engineer Matt Shane mixed an album of Christmas songs – Under The Holiday Star – for Stella Artois via Human Worldwide. And music educator, songwriter and professional bassist Mariana Iranzi visited New York from Boston to record a 12-song children’s record, Hola Hello. A four-piece band recorded the songs live at Fluxivity, with producer Billy Herron and engineer Jeremy Loucas, assisted by Ed Mcentee.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn band Oberhofer has been recording their new full-length album for Glassnote out of Mission Sound in Williamsburg, with Steve Lillywhite producing. Also at Mission, NYC-based blues guitarist Dave Fields is in with producer David Z cutting tracks for his upcoming release, and the Cassette Kids are back to cut tracks with engineer Oliver Straus.
Nearby at 3 Egg Studios in Williamsburg, engineer Brian Penny has been working with I’ve started working with drummer Charlie Zeleny on some upcoming projects. To kick things, Penny reports, Zeleny decided “to play a drum solo in one take up all 6 stories of the 3 Egg building, involving more then 80 drums, 100 cymbals, 90 microphones, and four Pro Tools rigs. Video to come!
Meanwhile, Suckers have been recording their latest album at Vacation Island in Williamsburg, with Matt Boynton producing. And going back over the past month or so, Vacation Island has been destination to a number of cool sessions, including Marnie Stern and Justin Pizzoferrato tracking some new music, Christina Files mixing Talk Normal, Free Blood finishing up tracking and beginning to mix their upcoming release with Boynton, as well as mixing sessions with Lucy Michelle.
Also out of Brooklyn, Joe Lambert Mastering in DUMBO has been the final location of production on a couple anticipated new records. First, Lambert recently mastered Sharon Van Etten‘s new album – for CD and vinyl – produced by Aaron Dessner of The National for Jagjaguwar Records. According to Pitchfork, the album was recorded in Dessner’s own studio and features performances by Beirut’s Zach Condon, Julianna Barwick, Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, the Walkmen’s Matt Barrick, and Thomas Bartlett of Doveman.
And Lambert has also mastered the new School of Seven Bells full-length, Ghostory, produced by Ben Curtis for Vagrant Records. Other albums mastered out of JLM include Peter Salett‘s new EP and the Don Byron New Gospel Quintet‘s Love, Peace, and Soul, produced by Hanz Wendl for Nottuskegeelike Music
And recently out of Rough Magic Studios in Greenpoint…Blacksmith artist Idle Warship (Talib Kweli and Res) released Habits of the Heart – largely recorded by Rough Magic chief engineer Alby Cohen. Kweli came back to Rough Magic recently to record two new tracks with Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), for their Black Star project. The first new, Madlib-produced single “Look Sharp” debuted on The Colbert Report. Cohen engineered those sessions, assisted by Chris Pummill and Aaron Mason.
Up in Yonkers…at Oktaven Audio, engineer Ryan Streber has been recording, editing and mixing new works by flutist Claire Chase, and composer Reiko Fueting – both for New Focus Recordings – the debut album by new music ensemble, counter)induction, for New Dynamic Records, and pianist Max Barros‘ recording of the complete piano music of composer M.Camargo Guarnieri for Concert Artists Guild.
Oktaven and Streber also hosted recording sessions for new works by composers Vivian Fung, Ryan Francis, and Jakub Ciupinski, pianist/composer Michael Brown, and a film score by composer Gil Talmi and Konsonant Music for a documentary feature. Streber also engineered tracking sessions on location at the Academy of Arts and Letters on 155th Street, with the Talea Ensemble for an upcoming CD of music by composer Anthony Cheung.
Down from there to Avatar Studios…the legendary Studio A has been hosting some big sessions, including the cast album for Follies – featuring the largest orchestra on Broadway with Bernadette Peters and Elaine Page – recorded with producer Tommy Krasker, and engineer Bart Migal assisted by Bob Mallory and Tim Marchiafava. The Morehouse College Glee Club was also recorded in Studio A – for Spike Lee’s upcoming film Red Hook Summer – by Jonathan Duckett, assisted by Charlie Kramsky. And America’s Got Talent star Jackie Evancho recorded with an orchestra for her holiday release Heavenly Christmas, with producer Rob Mounsey and engineer Lawrence Manchester.
The orchestral film score for So Undercover was also tracked in Studio A with composer / producer Stephen Trask and engineer Greg Hayes. Additional recordings were done in Studio B and the 5.1 mix was done in Studio G with engineer Tim O’Hare.
And on the album recording front, Ingrid Michaelson recorded in Studio A with producer David Kahne and engineer Robert Smith; Billy Ocean recorded with producer Barry Eastmond and engineer Anthony Ruotolo; Joe Jackson mixed an upcoming release with engineer Elliot Scheiner, assisted by Aki Nishimura; and Adam Lambert recorded with producer Nile Rodgers, and engineer Rich Hilton.
Also in Midtown, Area 51 NYC Studios has been abuzz of late, with Talib Kweli also logging time on numerous projects, with engineer Michelle Figueroa and John Lurie. Jive/RCA artist Jacob Latimore has been tracking at Area 51 with producer Chris Jackson and engineer Alberto Vaccarino. And R&B artist Deborah Cox was also recently in to work with producer Devo Springfield, and Figeuroa engineering. Interscope artists Far East Movement were also in working with engineer Jay Stevenson.
In the Brill Building at KMA Music, EMI writer/producers Twice as Nice have been holed up in sessions with Pete Wentz and Bebe Rexha of Black Cards, August Rigo, Neon Hitch, Andrea Martin, Elle King and James Bourne in Studio B, with Serge Nudel engineering. KMA also hosted CNN interviews with both Peter Gabriel, and R.E.M.
In other KMA sessions…Neyo recorded vocals for the upcoming T-Pain album, with Ben Chang engineering, Unique has been recording and mixing his new album, with production by Chuck Harmony and Claude Kelly, and Chang engineering. That same team — Chuck, Claude and Ben — also worked with Jade Alston on an upcoming release, and with Sony artist, Karmen, and Universal artist, CJ Holland. A$AP Rocky finished up his album at KMA, with Pat Viala, and Roc Nation’s J. Cole recorded and mixed his most recent album at KMA, with Juro “Mez” Davis engineering.
Across the Hudson in Hoboken, Caligula – a hard rock band featuring Erik Paparozzi of Cat Power and Bambi Kino – have been working on a record out of Nuthouse Recording, with Tom Beaujour mixing. Beaujour has also been finishing up a new track with Doug Gillard of Guided by Voices.
And new to “Session Buzz” is a private facility we recently came across called Newkirk Studios – home base to producer/engineer Ben Rice, in one of those awesome landmark houses in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. There, Rice has recently held sessions with the band Blackbells, who tracked and mixed a song for Surfrider, and The Wicked Tomorrow whose EP Rice is mixing. He also tracked and mixed a full-length “pop rock” album for Nocera (“Summertime, Summertime”) out of Newkirk, with bassist/producer Antar Goodwin, Reni Lane and Gian Stone.
Finally, and as previously reported…the members of Vampire Weekend were at Excello Recording in Williamsburg writing and recording material for their next release, tracking to tape with Ethan Donaldson and Nathan Rosborough. Engineer/producer Chris Shaw was also Excello working with the group Nick Casey – which is Nicholas Webber and Casey Spindler with the rhythm section of Dan Rieser and Tim Luntzel. This crew tracked between 20-30 songs over just two days. Also at Excello, engineer/producer Scott Solter recorded cellist Erik Friedlander‘s latest solo project, and mixer/engineer Hector Castillo recorded with singer Sophie Auster and singer/songwriter Clarence Bucaro, and recorded the soundtrack for the film, La Camioneta, with composer Todd Griffin.
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 email@example.com.
WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN: Native New Yorker Chris Harmaty has that “seen-it-all” attitude you want in a contractor, whose job tends to involve a lot of complex problem solving. “There are a lot of different ways to make a room work,” Harmaty said at least once during our conversations over coffee at Kellogg’s Diner.
We first met at nearby Converse Rubber Tracks when the facility was still under construction. Harmaty’s company, Audio Structures, had just wrapped up work on Jungle City Studios when they started on Rubber Tracks, along with another major, yet-to-be-announced high-end midtown studio. His candid and open-minded perspective on studio building is like the wisdom that comes with experience – if he hasn’t exactly “seen it all,” he’s sure seen a lot.
For Rubber Tracks, as with Downtown Music – for example – he served as contractor-builder on a team that includes an architect and an acoustic consultant. For Jungle City, Harmaty and crew built out designs by John Storyk and WSDG. And for a more modest build-out, like Let Em’ In Music in Gowanus, he worked directly with owner Nadim Issa to execute the studio plans.
With each project comes new insight into the work, which Harmaty seems to appreciate like both a craftsman and a businessman motivated to hone and refine, to streamline.
“I’m not an acoustician, and I don’t claim to be,” Harmaty says straight up. “But I do know what works and what doesn’t work. And I’ve worked with several different designers who have completely different theories of sound design in a room, and we have happy customers on all fronts.”
Harmaty goes back in this business 25 years. He built his first studio in 1984 – the venerable Studio B at Al Fierstein’s Sorceror Sound, which hosted tons of big sessions over the years, and in its final months, recording sessions for Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me.
“Sorceror was my visual design and Al’s acoustical design,” says Harmaty. “I learned a ton about acoustics on that job and after we finished, Al started recommending me to build other studios. I immediately liked the work – for a contractor, home owners are hard to deal with, where studio owners are business people who’ve usually been through the building process before. So I started doing more and more studios.”
Since then, Harmaty’s had a long run building audio and video production and post-production facilities mostly in the NYC area. The list includes studios for Queen Latifah, R. Kelly, Jim Jones, Alicia Keys, Bang Music, and JYP Entertainment, Blastoff Productions, audio post facilities including audioEngine, Pomann Sound, Dig It Audio, Headroom, Sound Lounge and Northern Lights, and video post houses including Click 3X and Vidiots.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DETAILS
Harmaty may have stumbled into his first studio job but when he did, something clicked – the experience harkened back to lifelong interests and a general propensity for making things work. “I’ve been building stuff since I was a kid,” he shares. “I used to build these electronic devices and hide them in my teachers’ desks. And when I was in high school, I built this big psychedelic light show that won the New York State Industrial Arts contest. This was in the late 60s…before there were light shows!
“I can even remember back to when I was in kindergarten, we were weaving potholders and I questioned the weave we were using – my teacher freaked out on me,” he recalls. “I’ve always been the type of guy where I don’t care if somebody’s been doing something a certain way for 100 years, I want to know why they’re doing it that way. If you can’t come up with a good reason, then why should I go along with your program? Maybe I can come up with a better solution!”
Between his aptitude for building and electronics, and the now many years experience building studios, Harmaty has the skill-set and expertise of a rarefied few.
World-class studio architect and acoustician John Storyk, who has been working with Harmaty for years – and currently on a private studio for a high-profile artist in NYC – expounds: “With studio construction, more than any other type of construction I’ve ever seen, it is all about the details. It’s similar only to very high-end residential in the level of execution needed in the construction and accuracy.
“Most of our projects have serious timelines. People need to open on time and there’s not a lot of room for doing things twice. So the knowledge of the details is important. If we’re building in NYC, I don’t have to worry – we just call Chris. At this point he’s seen these details hundreds of times; he knows them by heart.”
And Harmaty has an added specialty even within the audio facilities niche. “Chris is not only a craftsman-style builder, but he’s also specific to NYC, and there’s a whole art to working in NYC,” adds Storyk, who as the designer of Electric Lady, Jazz At Lincoln Center, Jay-Z’s Roc The Mic, and JSM among others, knows a thing or two about building in Manhattan.
“There’s a real, very specific skill-set in dealing with Manhattan studio construction. Chris lives in Manhattan, his guys travel on subways, they know how to get the garbage out, they know how to deal with deliveries, etc. If he doesn’t build a room we’re designing in NYC, it’s because he’s not available.”
WORK FOR HIRE
Harmaty assures that between building some of the highest-profile rooms in the five boroughs, he can also consult with DIY studio owners about to embark on building a new space or new room.
“I can red-flag a situation,” he says. “Before you rent or buy a space where you’re going to build out a studio – call me. Let me walk around the space with you and help you evaluate whether or not the space will work the way you want.”
This is what Nadim Issa, owner of Let Em In Music in Gowanus, initially hired Harmaty to do.
“I made an appointment with Chris to come check out the space with me, prior to renting it. We went through and discussed why it might be good or bad for sound-proofing purposes. And he gave me a rough estimate of what a barebones build-out would cost.”
Later, Issa hired Harmaty to build out his design. “I couldn’t afford to do something extravagant,” he notes.
“But Chris definitely worked with my budget. I knew I wanted to float the live room, though I didn’t know how exactly – there are many ways you can do it and different products you can use. Chris has done a ton of these rooms, and knew which products he wanted to use so I just let him do what he does. He also designed the AC ductwork and laid that all out.”
As more and more producer/engineers and composers consider building out their own rooms and collective facilities, Harmaty’s Audio Structures can be a great first call.
“I can be a source of good advice on how to build your studio – even if you are going to build it yourself,” he notes. “I can also help with costs, and give you ammunition to deal with your subcontractors. Or you can hire me to oversee your subcontractors, come in every couple weeks to supervise
“I can help people on a lower budget to tell them the basics – what they absolutely need to take care of. If you haven’t tested the room, I’ll bring in an acoustic engineer with the proper measuring instruments; it takes a half-an-hour. You may not have the budget to hire a studio architect, but there’s no need to go it totally alone.”
Building his business on referrals all these years, Chris Harmaty never quite got around to setting up a website, though he believes 2011 may be the year! In the meantime, email him with inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CENTRAL BROOKLYN, NY: For this installment in SonicScoop’s tour of Brooklyn studios, we took a trip along the border of Park Slope and Gowanus to bring you into four singular spaces that have each carved out their own distinct niche.
Room Rate: $825/day with Bryce Goggin; $725/day with house engineer
To profile Trout Recording, we spoke with studio owner Bryce Goggin, who is himself one of the best reasons to track a record in his neighborhood.
In a career that has spanned more than two decades, he and his studio have built up an impressive client list that includes names like Pavement, Herbie Hancock, Swans, Apples in Stereo, Phish, Sebadoh, Spacehog, King Missle, Elliott Sharp, Marc Ribot, Antony and the Johnsons, Lemonheads, Akron/Family, The Molecules, and Lisa Loeb.
Built around a Neve 8028 console, Trout’s open-studio design overflows with vintage rack gear, natural plate reverbs, and a half-dozen tape machines that Goggin and the crew routinely use for everyday tracking sessions and genuine tape-slap.
Bookings here also include access to a Pro Tools HD system, ample mic locker, and an assortment of useful vintage amps and keyboards.
According to Goggin, the purpose of having all this gear is forgetting that it’s even there: “Working at a studio like Trout allows the artist to focus on the project at hand,” he says. “You can walk in here with picks and sticks and walk out with a finished record.”
When asked about specialties, Goggin tells us that Trout is a place uniquely suited for capturing live music. “The studio allows real collaboration between real people,” Goggin says. “That’s something you still can’t do at home.”
THE DOGHOUSE NYC
Special Promotional Rate for Spring 2011: $65/hour (includes engineer)
The next studio on our list also features an distinctive semi-open design, this one focused around owner/operator Nathan Rosenberg‘s “immaculately restored” 1926 Mason & Hamlin grand piano.
Rosenberg, an accomplished jazz pianist and producer himself, says he had trouble finding a drum kit to match the tone and balance of his prize piano, so he commissioned master tambourier Frank Ascenza to build him one from scratch.
The result is a kit Rosenberg describes as “versatile and dynamic.” It’s an “exceptional jazz instrument with enough punch and growl to excel in more aggressive musical styles,” he says.
Similarly, the three adjacent live rooms were each designed toward a distinct sonic goal, but made to blend together enough to feel like a single space. These rooms open into one another in succession, providing seamless sight-lines and a musical balance between sonic isolation and natural spill.
Rosenberg tells us his chief aim was to build a studio that would serve as a “musician’s oasis.”
To that end, he forgoes computer screens and glass windows in the studio, instead opting to open up the feel of the space by projecting his DAW’s display on to a wall that can be seen throughout all three conjoined live rooms. “No screens separate the composer, the musician, or the client,” says Rosenberg.
It’s an unconventional approach, he admits, but since Rosenberg is just as likely to be playing piano or producing for his clients, he maintains that the setup’s functionality is paramount as well: “Musicians should look and listen to each other,” he says. “Not screens and consoles.”
LET ‘EM IN MUSIC
Room Rate: $450 per day with house engineer; $300 for room only
Let ‘Em In offers a surprisingly large live room for the money, that offers “a big warm sound and comfortable, homey vibe,” that have earned owner/engineer Nadim Issa praise since opening day.
It’s one of the few commercial studios in the neighborhood, and Issa says the price makes it an ideal space for artists in need of a suite to hole up in while they work on long stretches of writing and pre-production.
With that in mind, Let ‘Em In runs several DAWs: Logic, Pro Tools, Live, Reason, Max/MSP and Cubase, making it a logical choice for producers and artists who’d rather have the studio adapt to them than work the other way around.
Issa is also a producer and engineer in his own right, and provides promising audio samples on his site.
He’s made smart choices on the gear front as well, with a list that features front-end gear from Great River, API, Universal Audio and ADL, all feeding a 24-channel Apogee Symphony system.
Rates: $550 for 12 hours or $275 for 6 hours. (Includes engineer)
Seizures Palace is an inimitable and cavernous space that sits along the eastern edge of the Gowanus Canal. A step into the control room reveals dueling consoles, where Jason LaFarge normally works on his preferred Otari 18R.
The other console that sits here is mostly a vestige of the space’s other life as the Brooklyn mainstay “BC Studios,” where Martin Bisi worked on seminal records with Sonic Youth, Afrika Bambaataa, Brian Eno, Lydia Lunch, John Zorn, Bill Laswell and Bootsy Collins, before lightening the load to pursue his career as a solo musician in earnest.
Today, the space is kept busy by owner LaFarge and other engineers who embrace this studio’s distinctive and flexible sound.
In his time at this former automotive factory, La Farge has attracted his own reputable client list, including Akron/Family, Chicha Libre, Angels of Light, Hopewell, Swans, Devendra Banhart, and Mighty High.
When asked about the lasting appeal of this singular space, LaFarge says: “I think what makes Seizures Palace special is a combination of vibe and acoustics. It’s located in an old factory building on the Gowanus Canal and has beautiful stone walls and high ceilings in both tracking rooms that give it an amazing sound.
“It’s an amazing place and I think it reflects on the sessions. I’m often told by clients how comfortable they feel here and how easy it is to work. I take pride in that.”
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.
GOWANUS, BROOKLYN: Back in the Fall, we took a ride over to a newish studio in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn called Let Em In Music.
Owned and run by engineer/producer Nadim Issa, Let Em In will appeal to musicians and producer/songwriters for a few reasons, but first and foremost for its ample recording and work space.
In designing Let Em In, expanding out of his home studio, Issa took note of the shortage of affordable tracking rooms in the area. The studio he set out to create for himself – with builder Chris Harmaty of Technical Structures and acoustics by Joe Salvatto, of Salvatto Sound – would effectively fill a gap in the market.
“I wanted a big live room, and I wanted to really take advantage of digital technology and focus on keeping the rates affordable,” he explains. “I knew I was going to go all digital – recording to Logic or Pro Tools and mixing in the box with an Apogee Symphony – and wouldn’t be buying up a lot of outboard gear, at least not at first.
“I would love to work in analog and use tape, but it’s just not realistic right now, and I think it’s cost-prohibitive to so many musicians to work that way.”
Let Em In provides a space for writing, recording and mixing over, perhaps, a longer period of time than a band might spend in a commercial studio otherwise. “The studio is ideal for bands who want to write and record with or without a producer,” says Issa, “And for songwriters who want to get together and work on pop songs for a publishing deal, a song-camp type of scenario. It’s affordable, so it works for anything requiring longer blocks of time.”
The Let Em In live room has 13-ft ceilings and is stocked with choice musical equipment including a 1968 Ludwig kit and upright piano, Rhodes, guitars, amps and keyboards. The spacious control room features select and requisite equipment (see below) for the client’s DAW of choice, and plenty of natural light.
“We’ve all been to the studios with the shiny floors and the black leather couch and they all feel sterile,” shares Issa. “I wanted this studio to feel homey and relaxing.” Read on for all the deets!
Facility Name: Let Em In Music
Location: Gowanus/Park Slope, Brooklyn
Studio’s Date of Birth: September 2009
Facility Focus: Mostly tracking and mixing. Increasingly we do writing sessions as well.
Mission Statement: Our mission is to give musicians and producers the opportunity to hunker down and experiment in a comfortable and homey setting (with a fairly spacious live room). We want musicians to be able to forget the clock and give their music the time it deserves, which is not easy to do in NYC.
Clients/Credits: Sharon Van Etten, Sean Bones, Julie Doiron, Dinowalrus, Milagres, Jean on Jean, Magic Eyez, Dinosaur Feathers, Shark?, The Ludlow Thieves, Goes Cube, Simone Stevens, Coyote Eyes, Mancino, Nyle…
Neighborhood Advantages: Near the Atlantic-Pacific transportation hub. All the food/amenities that 5th Avenue in Park Slope has to offer. There is also a lot of music in the hood: it’s close to venues like the Rock Shop, The Bell House, Brooklyn Lyceum, Union Hall, Littlefield, and Southpaw.
Key Personnel: Nadim Issa, Dan Teicher (in-house producer)
System Highlights: Apogee Symphony system (24-in/8-out), Logic/Pro Tools 9, Mic Pres by Universal Audio, API, Great River, ADL. All your usual mics by AKG, Beyer, Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, Shure, Rode, etc.
Distinguishing Characteristics: I think that we have a rare combination for NYC: affordable rates, good gear, and a large 450 sq. ft. live room with 13′ ceilings.
Rave Reviews: The sound of the live room. In fact, we’ve had a lot of string and horn musicians tell us how great it sounds to play in it. Most people also respond to the vibe/decor of the studio. It’s clean and modern without being sterile.
For instance, we took inspiration from the dark matte plywood floors found in a lot of bars and we made sure all acoustic treatment was aesthetically pleasing in its own right and blended in nicely. We added some “homey” touches: a few paintings and photos, a light globe, and soft lighting in general.
Most Memorable Session Ever: Sharon Van Etten. She came in solo with an electric guitar and cut a cover of “Blue Christmas.” She has such a beautiful voice and we found a perfect match with our Rode K2 mic. Everything came together quickly and it was nice to sit back and just enjoy the performance.
The building is on fire, you only have time to grab ONE thing to save, what is it: Not sure “grab” is the right word, but I’d take our beautiful Perzina upright piano – my most prized possession without a doubt…That, or a hard drive.
Dream Session: Pet Sounds sessions with Brian Wilson.