GREATER NYC AREA: We’re all over the local and musical map in this month’s epic Session Buzz, as we trace recordings by the likes of Yoko Ono, Talib Kweli, John Zorn, MGMT, Wale, Hole, Okkervil River, The Joy Formidable and more back to their studio sessions. Find out where several busloads of notable artists have been recording, not to mention film scores and Broadway Cast Albums, and who’s all engineering and producing these sessions. Below.
Warner Bros artist Wale has been working on his upcoming LP out of Daddy’s House Recording Studios in the SSL G series Room. Daddy’s House also hosted sessions with French Montana, tracking and mixing his upcoming album with Steve Dickey and Duro CEO, Bad Boy artists such as Machine Gun Kelly, Cassie, Red Café, Los, and Megan Nicole, and sessions with Fabolous, Wacka Flocka, Q-Tip, DJ Khaled, T Pain, Jose Feliciano and more.
Nearby at Area 51 NYC, Jordin Sparks and Ryan Beatty recorded a song written and produced by Artie Green (Ashanti, Ja Rule…), with engineer and studio co-owner Roey Shamir at the console, and rapper/producer Doug E. Fresh on hand. The song is being used on an album to benefit Hip Hop Public Health and The Partnership for a Healthy America/Let’s Move initiative. Area 51 co-owner Tony Drootin is a board member of HHPH and is a co-executive producer on the album.
In other Area 51 sessions, A$AP Rocky and A$AP F3RG were working on songs from their upcoming records with Bad Boy engineer Steve Dickey at the controls; and Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, and Galadrielle Allman (Duane Allman’s daughter) were in recording a radio interview to promote the Duane Allman box set being released on Concord Records.
Uptown at David Kutch’s studio, The Mastering Palace…it was a “tale of two Justin’s” this winter – with Justin Timberlake in to put final touches on The 20/20 Experience with Kutch, and Justin Bieber’s new Believe (Acoustic) LP mastered only days before its release in January. Some other big albums Kutch has mastered of late…Bruno Mars’ Unorthodox Jukebox, Alicia Keys’ Girl on Fire and the new album by The Strokes, Comedown Machine.
Meanwhile, Mastering Palace engineer Tatsuya Sato has been working closely with Sony Mexico, mastering for artists Los Daniels and Aleks Syntec. And Michelle Mancini just completed mastering the Deb Oh & The Cavaliers EP and a new artist Josh Franklin who’s album was executive produced by Peter Wade (MNDR, WonderSound).
Urselli also tracked vocals for three different all-star collaborations with Italian pop star Jovanotti, along with a new acoustic song for a movie soundtrack; recorded a few new songs with Wilco guitarist Nels Cline for his Nels Cline Singers band; tracked and mixed four new albums for John Zorn featuring guests such as Bill Frisell, Thurston Moore, Joey Baron, Kenny Wolleson and John Medeski; and produced/engineered a new album by former Luca Carboni musical director and keyboard player Fabio Anastasi for an upcoming solo release on TempoPirata Records.
And at Germano Studios in the East Village…singer/songwriter Loren Benjamin was in mixing in Studio 2, with Steve Jordan producing and Dave O’Donnell engineering, and the artist Moxie recorded piano and vocals in Studio 1 with Freddy Wexler & Pheenix producing and Wexler engineering. Sara Bareilles recently recorded vocals at Germano for her upcoming album, being produced/engineered by John O’Mahony, and Gavin Degraw was in to record some new material with Ryan Tedder producing and engineering.
Germano Studios also hosted sessions with singer Paloma Faith – writing and recording in Studio 1 with John Legend producing and Dave Rowland engineering; Trace Adkins recording the Harlem Gospel Choir in Studio 1 with Frank Rogers producing and Richard Barrow engineering; Yoko Ono recording vocals with Sean Lennon producing and Kenta Yonesaka engineering; John Legend recording with Dave Tozer producing and Jason Agel engineering; and Fred Armisen cutting basic tracks in Studio 1 for Saturday Night Live, with Kenta Yonesaka engineering.
Meanwhile at Terminus Recording Studios in Times Square, actor Michael Cera and Kelis were shooting an awkward recording studio scene for Cera’s upcoming short film, Brazzaville Teenager – for the new YouTube-based Jash Network. While Studio A was being prepped for filming, the team also recorded a vocal for Kelis’ song that appears in the film in Studio B.
Also at Terminus, DJ Khaled tracked vocals for his upcoming album, Suffering From Success, with engineer Ben Diehl. Guest vocalists included Akon, Anthony Hamilton, Meek Mill, Jeremih and Vado. Maino and The Mafia also cut vocals for two new tracks – one, “So Cold,” featured CashOut, and the other, “Real Recognize Real” was, according to studio manager Christian Rutledge, “released on XM Satellite Radio on the night it was tracked, showing up on Rap Radar and lighting up the blogs by the next day.” The Maino and The Mafia sessions were run by Terminus staff engineers Justin Rodrigues and James Yost.
Jumping over to Jersey for a minute, the two-studio Union City facility housed in an old sewing factory, Kaleidoscope Sound, has been hosting recording sessions for improvisational jazz violinist Regina Carter, with engineer Joe Ferla manning the API. And Kaleidoscope recently completed the 25th Anniversary Cast Recording for Nunsense.
Several other Cast Albums were recently tracked at MSR Studios in Midtown Manhattan, including that of the new Cinderella: The Musical with engineer Todd Whitelock, Cyndi Lauper’s Kinky Boots with engineer Bill Whitman, Sh-K-Boom! Records’ Dogfight with engineer Lawrence Manchester, Giant: The Musical with engineer Joel Moss, and Pippin (engineered by Lawrence Manchester), and Natasha and the Great Comet with producer/engineer Dean Sharenow, and Kathy Lee Gifford’s Scandalous (produced by David Lai, engineered by Isaiah Abolin).
And some other recent action at MSR includes…Producer Salaam Remi working with Jennifer Hudson on material for her new RCA record, with engineer Gleyder “G” Disla, and MSR assistant Gloria Kaba; Engineer Todd Whitelock mixing new releases from Mack Avenue artist Kenny Garrett and Nonesuch recording artist Audra McDonald, assisted by Brett Mayer and Fred Sladkey; and the recording and mixing of David Sanborn and Bob James’ forthcoming follow up to their 1986 Grammy Award winning album Double Vision with engineer Ken Freeman with MSR assistant Brett Mayer.
Nearby, the landmark Avatar Studios played host to a couple of big film score sessions – composer Howard Shore’s score for director Arnaud Desplechin new film Jimmy Picard (starring Benicio Del Toro), with engineer Sam Okell, assisted by Tim Marchiafava and Tyler Hartman, and composer Teddy Shapiro’s score to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (directed by and starring Ben Stiller), engineered by Chris Fogel assisted by Marchiafava.
Audra McDonald also recorded out of Avatar’s Studios A, B and C with producer Doug Petty and engineers Todd Whitelock and Roy Hendrickson assisted by Bob Mallory and Mike Bauer. And Depeche Mode, Jonatha Brooke and Thompson Square were also recently in session at Avatar.
In SoHo, SweetSounds welcomed Brooklyn’s own Talib Kweli into the studio for some vocal tracking and sampling in the Crosby Room. Head engineer Brian Cid manned the room’s Neve 5088 console for the session as Kweli recorded in the studio’s windowed Live Room. And Crosby resident engineer Jason Finkel also tracked a full-on session with Brooklyn psychedelic chamber-pop band Friend Roulette. The tracking sessions included two drum kits recorded simultaneously, violin, bass, clarinet, electronic wind instruments and vocals.
In other Sear sessions, German actress and chanteuse, Ute Lemper, recorded an album with Chris Allen at the Sear/Avalon console and Todd Turkisher and Lemper producing. The tracks were mostly Spanish and French traditional songs utilizing an array of exotic percussion instruments; Tracks for a new film directed by George C. Wolfe, You’re Not You (Hilary Swank) were recorded with Ted Tuthill piloting the Neve 8038 and Todd Kasow producing; Jazz singer Gregory Porter recorded his new album with large string and wind ensembles – Brian Bacchus produced and Jay Newland engineered; Yoko Ono and Antony continued recording at Sear with Allen engineering, and Yoko producing; and Mack Avenue Records tracked and mixed a new album for the jazz pianist Alfredo Rodriguez with James Farber engineering, Al Pryor producing in Studio ‘C’, and Esperanza Spaulding singing and playing bass.
Masterdisk worked on a number of notable projects, including The Great Gatsby soundtrack for Interscope – produced by Jay-Z, and mastered by Tony Dawsey, assisted by Tim Boyce; a new album by The Brian Blade Fellowship Band, Landmarks, for Blue Note – mastered by Andy VanDette and mixed by Chris Bell; and Linda Thompson’s new first album since 2007′s Versatile Heart, mastered by Scott Hull and produced/mixed by Ed Haber.
Also mastered at Masterdisk recently…Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society’s Brooklyn Babylon for New Amsterdam, mastered by Randy Merrill, mixed by Brian Montgomery and produced by Beth Morrison Projects, and Kermit Ruffins – ‘We Partyin’ Traditional Style’ for Basin Street Records – produced by Tracey Freeman, recorded and mixed by Chris Finney, and mastered by Vlado Meller.
All the way downtown at Engine RoomAudio…alt-rock band The Joy Formidable (Atlantic) filmed a live recording session of their song, “Silent Treatment” with engineer Ben Lindell. Also at Engine Room…Anthony Daniel mixed Kat Dahlia’s (Epic) debut EP, Gangsta, 50 Cent mastered his latest single, “We Up” (feat. Kendrick Lamar) with Mark B. Christensen, and Austin band Boyfrndz mastered their new Ikey Owens-produced album, Natures, with Dan Millice.
Producer/engineer John Agnello mixed three new albums at Fluxivity in Williamsburg, including Kurt Vile’s new Walkin on a Pretty Daze. In keeping with John and Kurt’s appreciation of analog sounds and following on the mixes made at the studio for his last record Smoke Ring For My Halo they returned to mix on the Neve 80 series console, and as before, the mixdown masters were recorded on ATR Magnetics tape using the studio’s Ampex ATR-102 tape machine.
Agnello also mixed the new Okkervil River album at Fluxivity, as well as the new record by Canadian band Your Favorite Enemies Between Illness and Migration, the tracks for which were recorded in the band’s studio in Quebec, and brought to New York for John to mix through the collection of vintage gear in the Fluxivity mix room.
Mastering engineer Joe Lambert recently mastered a new Moby album at Joe Lambert Mastering in DUMBO, which by the way recently added a Buzz Audio REQ 2.2 Mastering EQ to its arsenal. Other new albums recently mastered at Joe Lambert Mastering include the latest album from Washed Out, mixed by Ben Allen; the new Deerhunter record, Monomania; and some Kronos Quartet songs composed by Bryce Dessner of The National.
Down the block at Saltlands, disco band Escort recorded with engineer Nick Stumpf; Aussie singer/songwriter Scott Matthew recorded his latest with engineer Augustus Skinner; model-turned-singer Hannah Cohen spent a couple days writing and recording new songs with producer Thomas Bartlett (Doveman) – the producer of her debut, Child Bride – and engineer Jon Altschuler; and Audioms – a new (coming soon) “indie rock licensing company” tracked music with Shannon Ferguson from Longwave. Audioms founder Kevin Mazzarelli produced the sessions, with Jesse O’Connor engineering.
Back in Williamsburg, Grand Street Recording has been busy with a number of album projects, including Jared Saltiel’s upcoming The Light Within – an album of “magical realist” songs weaving layered instrumentals with “elaborate orchstrations and clever, Beatles-esque production” and featuring musical contributions from a talented lineup of players, including Max Moston, Rob Moose, Olivier Manchon, Clark Gayton and Rich Hinman. The album was engineered by Ken Rich and Tomek Miernowski, mixed by Rich, and mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound.
In other Grand Street sessions, Diane Birch was in recording stripped down piano and vocal sessions with Miernowski engineering; Bluegrass artist (fiddler) Michael Barnett (The Deadly Gentlemen, Tony Trischka) tracked the basics for his upcoming album with engineers Dave Sinko (Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck) and Miernowski, mandolinist Dominick Leslie, and Punch Brothers members Paul Kowert & Chris “Critter” Eldridge laying down basics; John Andrews (Nena, PeterMurphy, Botanica, Morley) brought in his rock band, Loudboy for a week to track the basics for a new release (13 songs in a day and a half) with Ken Rich engineering and Jake Lummus assisting; and Rene Lopez recorded his latest album with a world-class rhythm section including Bill Dobrow, Brett Bass, Daniel Sadownick and Avi Bortnick. Working in tandem with producer Daniel Collas (the Phenomenal Handclap Band) and Miernowski engineering, the group was able to track 15 songs in 4 days, with overdubs to follow.
In gear related news, Grand Street has added a matched pair of Coles 4038 Ribbon Mics, a Placid Audio Copperphone, 1965 Ampeg Reverberocket II, and a Danelectro Series D amp from the 50′s (on loan from friend and tech John Charette).
Adds owner Ken Rich: “We’ve also expanded our studio to include a “B Room” Pro Tools rig that can be used for light tracking/overdubs and editing. We’re running Pro Tools 10 with an Apogee Duet 2 and can offer clients last minute time slots at a significantly reduced rate (50% off!) while still offering access to our extensive mic and amp collection. In addition, we’re also revamping our FX Rack, and have acquired some classic reverbs and delays including a Lexicon PCM 42 delay unit as well as PCM 60 and PCM 70 reverbs.”
Nearby at GaluminumFoil in Williamsburg, producer/engineer Jeff Berner was juggling a bunch of records, including finishing the new album by Naam, Vow, that’s due out on TeePee Records on 6/4. Berner produced, engineered and mixed the record, tracking to GaluminumFoil’s Sony/MCI JH24 2″ machine and transferring to Digital Performer for overdubs and mixing), and added some additional guitar/synth/percussion/backing vocals along the way. The record has been mastered by Alex DeTurk at Masterdisk, and was “co-produced by X-Box the dog and many strong pots of coffee.”
Berner also recently engineered and mixed Dead Stars’ new EP, “High Gain” (also mastered by DeTurk and due out – via Uninhabitable Mansions – on 6/4; co-produced and engineered the new full-length album by Gunfight!, Stripes, which will be released later this year; and recorded new material by Weird Owl. “They came in super-prepared and finished four tracks in less time than it took to get a snare drum sound in 1987,” Berner noted of the session, which took place last weekend. Really excited to mix these great tunes in the forthcoming weeks!”
Meanwhile over at producer/engineer Matt Boynton’s Vacation Island Recording…sessions have been steady going. Most recently, Carsick Cars recorded and mixed a new record with Pete Kember (Spacemen 3) producing and Boynton engineering.
Over the last few months…Boynton also engineered sessions with MGMT – tracking vocals for their new album – and Andrew Vanwyngarden (one half of MGMT) recording and mixing songs for a movie; Bad Girlfriend – tracking basics with Aaron Phenning (Chairlift) producing; Kurt Vile tracking for waking on a pretty daze; Free Blood finishing mixes; Zachary Cale, tracking and mixing new material. Jolie Holland also tracking basics at Vacation Island for a new record with Doug Jenkins engineering.
Mastering engineer Julian Silva has worked on a number of new releases out of his Greenpoint studio, On Air Mastering. Silva’s recently mastered products for Bennett Jackson – “Texana” – Noah Lamech/ Jazz Cafe, and Heyerdahl, and all the “Live at Braund Sound” series, featuring Fall of another year, Lazer Cake and Tim Daoust.
And finally, it just makes sense to end at The End – also in Greenpoint – where The Daptones recently tracked new music with engineer Rocky Gallo, and Dirty Projectors and Holy Ghost! have been rehearsing for their upcoming sets at The Governor’s Ball in June. Also at The End…engineer Chris Boosahda has been busy working with Shakey Graves to track their album, finishing up mixing on Liam Finn‘s new record and Monogold’s upcoming new album. Boosahda’s also been recording demos for Kevin Devine’s new record.
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.
GREATER NYC AREA: There have certainly been some down years in recent recording biz history, but 2011 was not one of them.
By all accounts, this was a big year for recording in NYC: There were the major mainstream Made-in-NY albums, i.e. Lady Gaga’s Born This Way (Germano Studios), John Mayer’s upcoming release (Electric Lady), Beyonce 4 (MSR, Jungle City), Sting’s latest (Sear Sound) and Tony Bennett’s Duets II (Avatar). There were the critically-anticipated indie releases, i.e. Bjork (Sear Sound, Avatar, Atlantic Sound) and Beirut (Vacation Island) and of course a ton of indie activity emanating out of Brooklyn, as well as big moves in the way of new and newly renovated high-end facilities for record production.
Drink it all in with this “Best of 2011” session highlights and studio hits:
We’ll start uptown at StadiumRed in Harlem – home to a team of engineers and producers that includes David Frost, Just Blaze, Sid “Omen” Brown, Ariel Burojow, Tom Lazarus, Joe Pedulla, Andrew Wright and mastering engineer Ricardo Gutierrez.
StadiumRed hosted Chris Brown (Jive Records) for a stretch as he worked on his Grammy-nominated record, F.A.M.E. and a future album. The single “She Ain’t You” produced by Free School was recorded in Studio A at StadiumRed, and two additional songs off his upcoming album were produced by Just Blaze. Rick Ross also worked quite a bit with Just Blaze and StadiumRed this year – his albums Self Made Volume 1 and I Love My Bitches were both produced, mixed and mastered at Stadium Red with Just Blaze producing, Andrew Wright mixing, assisted by Keith Parry, and Ricardo Gutierrez mastering.
The track “Lord Knows” off Drake’s acclaimed new album, Take Care, was produced by this same StadiumRed team – Just Blaze, Wright and Gutierrez. The choir in this song was recorded in Studio A.
Other highlights include Ariel Borujow mixing three tracks for Chiddy Bang’s (EMI) debut album Breakfast, Joe Pedulla and Andrew Everding producing and engineering the new album by rock band La Dispute (click to read our feature about this album produced with no artificial reverb) and the Grammy-nominated Mackey: Lonely Motel – Music From Slide (David Frost, producer and Tom Lazarus, engineer); Far Away: Late Nights & Early Mornings by Marsha Ambrosius (Just Blaze, producer and Andrew R Wright, engineer); and J. Cole (Keith Parry, assistant engineer).
Rufus Wainwright (Universal Music Group) tracked portions of his new album “Out of the Game” in Studio ‘A’ (Neve 8038) at Sear Sound in Midtown, with Alan O’Connell engineering and Mark Ronson producing. Sear’s own Ted Tuthill assisted on these sessions.
“During his sessions at Sear, Rufus’ new opera Prima Donna premiered at the New York City Opera,” says Sear Sound manager Roberta Findlay. “They recorded using our Studer A827 2″ 24 track with BASF 911 2″, as well as Pro Tools. Tracking and overdubs varied from piano and vocal, whole band takes (piano, bass, drums, vocals), to piano overdubs, bass overdubs, keyboard overdubs, electric guitar overdubs, choir overdubs, drum machine overdubs, and many more. Mark Ronson brought in a wide variety of his personal vintage synths.”
Sear also hosted recording sessions for Bjork’s latest Biophilia, with Damian Taylor co-producing/engineering, and Sting tracking for his latest with engineer Donal Hodgson and co-producer/arranger Rob Mathes. And Iron & Wine tracked and mixed their song “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” which can be heard in Twilight: Breaking Dawn. Tom Schick engineered with Brian Deck producing. Rob Berger wrote the arrangements. [Click for a video of this session.]
In other highlights, Joss Stone tracked new material at Sear with an all-star band (Ernie Isley on guitar, James Alexander on bass, Latimore on piano and Raymond Angry on B3 and keyboards), and Steve Greenwell engineering and co-producing with S-Curve’s Steve Greenberg. “At Joss’ s request, we built a western version of a resplendent ashram for her, to stimulate her creative juices,” says Findlay. “I believe it worked!!”
Meanwhile, mixing sessions for Regina Spektor’s anticipated new album What We Saw From The Cheap Seats went down in Studio A at The Cutting Room – with producer Mike Elizondo, and engineer Adam Hawkins, assisted by Matt Craig. The album is due out in May 2012 on Warner Bros Records.
At nearby Germano Studios – where Joan Jett & The Blackhearts have been recording this month – it’s been a huge year of pop, rock, rap and R&B. In addition to Jett, who’s been in with longtime producer Kenny Laguna, and engineer Thom Panunzio, Germano’s hosted writing and recording sessions with Ne-Yo, OneRepublic and Alexander Dexter-Jones recording with engineer Kenta Yonesaka for his The Last Unicorn album, and mixing sessions with Sony Italy artist Fiorella Mannoia with Dave O’Donnell engineering.
Highlights from the year include the recording for Lady Gaga’s Grammy-nominated Born This Way, Adele’s Grammy-nominated 21, “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5 ft. Christina Aguilera, Beyonce’s 4, and the new will.i.am album…The studio also added new Exigy subs, and launched a joint-venture into Tampico Mexico, creating RG Germano Studios Tampico.
2011 has also been an epic year of releases out of The Lodge. Mastering Engineers Emily Lazar & Joe LaPorta mastered Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light, which received six Grammy nominations including nominations for Lazar and LaPorta in “Album Of The Year” category. And the team mastered countless records released to critical acclaim, including Tuneyard’s Whokill, mastered by LaPorta, Liturgy’s Aesthethica, mastered by Heba Kadry, the Cults debut, mastered by Lazar and LaPorta, EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints, mastered by Sarah Register, and albums by Dum Dum Girls, Cold Cave and Hooray for Earth – all mastered by LaPorta.
As covered here on SonicScoop, LaPorta also mastered the huge Neutral Milk Hotel release, the band’s first (an all-vinyl complete box-set) since ’98′s classic In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. Lazar and LaPorta also mastered Boy & Bear’s award-winning Moonfire, produced by Joe Chiccarelli.
For EastSide Sound and chief engineer Marc Urselli, it’s been a year of recording some of NYC’s finest avant-garde, jazz, fusion and acoustic music greats like John Zorn, Bill Laswell, Chihiro Yamanaka with Bernard Purdie, and more recently John Zorn, John Medeski and Mike Patton. Citizen Cope and Swiss crossover jazz band The Lucien Dubuis Trio have also been recording albums with Urselli at East Side Sound.
In the Fall, Broadway veteran singer Wren Marie Harrington teamed up with arranger/producer jazz wunderkind Art Bailey to record a collection of jazz and Latin infused American and world standards at EastSide with Lou Holtzman engineering and Eric Elterman assisting. Bailey, Dave Acker, Marty Confurius and Diego Lopez formed the band for this record.
Plenty of jazz, avant and orchestral sessions recorded at Avatar Studios this year, including Stanley Jordan, James Carter, Steve Reich / So Percussion, Joe Jackson with Elliot Scheiner, Esperanza Spalding with Q-Tip and Joe Ferla, Chick Corea, Zak Smith Band. One of the big, ongoing sessions of the year at Avatar was Tony Bennett’s Duets II album, produced by Phil Ramone and engineered by Dae Bennett. In March, Bennett and Sheryl Crow recorded “The Girl I Love” in Studio A. In July, Bennett sang and recorded “How Do You Keep the Music Playing” with Aretha Franklin in Studio C, and at the end of July, he recorded “The Lady is a Tramp” with Lady Gaga in Studio A.
Other pop/rock artists recording at Avatar this year include Paul McCartney recording a Buddy Holly tribute, Ingrid Michaelson recording her upcoming album, Human Again – both with producer David Kahne and engineer Roy Hendrickson – Elvis Costello, James McCartney, and VHS or Beta.
And Avatar’s Studio A and C were used on many a Broadway cast album, and TV and film score/soundtrack recording sessions, including: Boardwalk Empire featuring Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks with producer / engineer Stewart Lerman, and Mildred Pierce, also ft. Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, with producer Randy Poster; Louie, produced by Louie C.K. with engineer Robert Smith assisted by Bob Mallory; Glee, with producer Tommy Faragher and engineers Bryan Smith and Robert Smith; and the films Moonrise Kingdom (the new Wes Anderson), A Late Quartet, Friends with Kids, and So Undercover.
Across town, some of the biggest pop artists were working out of Stratosphere Sound in Chelsea, where songwriter Amanda Ghost and producer Dave McCracken were stationed much of the year working on new material with Florence and The Machine, Santigold, John Legend, the Scissor Sisters, The xx and Daniel Merriweather.
Ever the awesome rock recording studio, Stratosphere hosted several album projects this year including Canadian band Jets Overhead with producer/engineer Emery Dobyns, Japanese band The Telephones with Alex Newport, The Static Jacks with Chris Shaw, and Delta Spirit with Chris Coady. And, switching gears, both Sarah Brightman and Aaron Neville recorded at Stratosphere – both tracking vocals with Geoff Sanoff.
Finally, The Sheepdogs, a rock band from Saskatchewan, were paired with Stratosphere owner/producer Adam Schlesinger for Rolling Stone’s “Choose the Cover” contest. They worked on several songs with Adam…and they won!
BIG YEAR FOR BROOKLYN
In 2011, Manhattan saw the opening of Ann Mincieli’s impressive, golden-age-reviving Jungle City Studios, and major renovations and new rooms at the legendary Electric Lady Studios, but Brooklyn has been the real hotbed of new studio activity. Converse opened its Rubber Tracks Studio this year, and The End in Greenpoint recently opened the doors to its recording and live performance complex. And much building has been underway elsewhere…
2012 will see three new serious recording facilities open in Williamsburg – all three bigger/better versions of existing local indie favorites.
The Bunker, for one, has already held inaugural sessions at its impressive new two-room facility which features an exciting new Studio A with large live room with 25-ft ceilings and three isolated sections which can be closed off by sliding glass doors.
In one of the room’s first sessions, Bunker co-owner John Davis tracking the new record for funk band Lettuce (featuring Soulive members Eric Krasno and Neal Evans). “I tracked all the basics live to 2″ ATR on my Studer A80, and we had drums, bass, 2 guitars, keys (B3 and clav) and one sax going down live,” Davis describes. “Additional horns were later overdubbed. It was a great, super funky party in there the whole time, with a bunch of friends hanging and generally great positive creative vibes going on. We went for (and captured) a live, raw, authentic funk vibe.”
Meanwhile, across town on the Williamsburg/Greenpoint border, Joel Hamilton and Tony Maimone are preparing to open the new Studio G – this is one of the original recording studios in the ‘Burg now expanded into 5,000+ square feet. Studio G will house one of the city’s only commercially available Bosendorfer grand pianos (to our knowledge), and three full featured studios – a 48-input SSL 8048 “A” room, and an equally spacious Neve 5316-equipped “B” room – with ample tracking space and isolation…built by musicians for musicians. (Look out for our upcoming feature on Studio G!)
According to Hamilton, they’re booking the A room for January and beyond, but “things are already booked in super tight, so call now!”
Besides building an insane new studio, Hamilton’s been making records all year too. He worked with the electronic artist Pretty Lights tracking the band in a live-to-two-track analog scenario – all analog and vintage signal chains with no isolation. The band played live in the room together and the masters went straight to vinyl – only to ultimately be sampled by Pretty Lights (Derek Smith) for his album, I Know The Truth. It’s a production style the artist calls “analog electronica.”
Another engineer/producer with an ambitious new studio in the works for 2012 is Marc Alan Goodman who you may recognize from his “Building Strange Weather” blog here on SonicScoop. While work has been heavily underway at his studio’s new location on Graham Ave in Williamsburg, sessions have continued across the ‘hood at the existing Strange Weather Recording. Among the year’s highlights were Here We Go Magic recording overdubs for their upcoming album with producer/engineer Nigel Godrich who was over doing television sound for Radiohead.
The band Friends also recorded two singles and an upcoming full-length album at Strange Weather with co-producer/engineer Daniel Schlett. And the band Lakookala made an EP at the studio (“start-to-finish in 3 days”) with Goodman co-producing and engineering.
Over at Fluxivity, 2011 was the year that the studio’s recently-completed tracking room got a workout, with everything from full tracking with drums to guitar, vocals and all manner of overdubs. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion has been working at Fluxivity, with Spencer and engineer Brian Thorn mixing the new album. Ed Mcentee assisted.
Says Fluxivity owner Nat Priest: “This was primarily a tape-based project, mixed to the studio’s Ampex ATR 102 tape machine in the ½” stereo format. Jon Spencer and Brian Thorn used quite a few pieces of the studio’s vintage analog equalizers, compressors and delays including the 1/4″ slap machine and EMT plate reverb.”
Black Dice also made a new record in Williamsburg with Matt Boynton recording, mixing and producing at Vacation Island Recording. Free Blood (members of !!!) and Suckers also made new albums at Vacation Island with Boynton this year. And, Zach Cale is currently in the studio completing mixes for his latest EP, Hangman Letters.
A couple 2011 Vacation Island highlights were Beirut mixing their latest release The Rip Tide with engineer/producer Griffin Rodriguez, and the “Recorded for Japan” compilation which saw Ariel Pink, Kurt Vile, Chairlift and R. Stevie Moore through the studio. Boynton recorded and mixed a lot of this record, and the rest was mixed by Jorge Elbrecht. Vacation Island engineer Rob Laakso mastered the album.
Over at The Brewery Recording, also in Williamsburg, members of breakthrough rap group Odd Future tracked vocals for three songs and started mixing for their new side project The Internet, due out in early 2012. Matt Martians and Syd tha Kyd produced and Andrew Krivonos engineered on these sessions.
The Brewery reports they had 700 sessions through their one-room facility in 2011, running round the clock. Another highlight is happening currently with WZRD, the rock duo formed by Kid Cudi and producer Dot Da Genius. Noah Goldstein has been engineering these sessions.
Brooklyn producer/engineer Allen Farmelo – who you may remember designed this awesome custom console with Greenpoint designer Francois Chambard for his own studio The Farm – just finished mixing a record with noise duo Talk Normal, a project by artist/engineers Sarah Register and Andrya Ambro, with producer Christina Files.
Farmelo also produced/engineered an album for Brooklyn-based children’s musician Elska, out of Mavericks Studio in China Town and back at The Farm, and mixed/mastered two new film scores by Cinematic Orchestra, produced by band-leader Jason Swinscoe for Ninja Tune Records. “These two scores were for films from the 1920s: the Dada-ist masterpiece Entr’acte and the early city portrait called Manhatta. Both were performed live to a packed house at London’s Barbican Center this year, a beautiful night of music and film.”
And, as covered this month in the New York Times, Farmelo produced and mixed a new album by 85-year-old jazz pianist Boyd Lee Dunlop which was tracked at Soundscape in Buffalo by Jimi Calabrese, mixed at The Farm and mastered at The Magic Shop by Jessica Thompson
“An old friend and photographer met Boyd in a state-funded nursing home in Buffalo and began recording him on his cellphone and sending me MP3s and asked if this was any good,” says Farmelo.
“I was blown away by what I heard and arranged to record Boyd with bassist Sabu Adeyola and drummer Virgil Day. Buffalo has few studios, but thankfully I found a room tucked away on Buffalo’s West Side with a Steinway and amazing vintage mics and pres (RCA 77s, Neumann U47s, Neves, etc). I put up and tracked the session in one day and mixed on the API/Studer combo here at The Farm. I aimed for a vintage sound (late 50s Atlantic Studios in particular), and feel I got it (mono is a big part of that). Jessica Thompson just nailed the mastering perfectly.”
Next, to Greenpoint where Joe McGinty’s unique Carousel Recording – with its heavenly collection of vintage synths – recently hosted Finland electronic act Husky Rescue. Led by Marko Nyberg, the group booked a week at Carousel to lay the groundwork of their next record, utilizing many of the vintage synthesizers in the studio. “They were ace analog synth programmers,” says McGinty, of Psychedelic Furs, Losers Lounge fame. “It was great to see them in action, and I learned a few things as well!
Carousel has also opened a second room to accommodate that ever-expanding keyboard collection, which we featured earlier this year. Recent additions to the collection include a Moog 15 Modular, Freeman String Symphonizer, Yamaha YC-30 organ, and Yamaha CP-70 Electric Grand Piano.
In DUMBO, Joe Lambert Mastering had a record year. First off, Chief Engineer/Owner Joe Lambert was nominated for a Grammy in the “Best Engineered Album, Classical” category for the aforementioned Lonely Motel: Music From Slide by Steven Mackey and Rinde Eckert.
And other highlights include: mastering the major label debut by Fanfarlo (Atlantic Records/Canvasback), produced by Ben H. Allen, and recorded by David Wrench, the popular Washed Out (SubPop) album Within and Without, also produced by Allen, the Atlas Sound (4AD) record Parallax, produced by Bradford Cox and Nicolas Vernhes, and the Panda Bear (Paw Tracks) album, Tomboy, produced by Noah Lennox and Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember.
Over at The Fort, engineer/producer James Bentley has been working a bit with Brooklyn-based Goodnight Records, including tracking for the new KNTRLR LP, and recording/filming an in-studio performance with the venerable Brooklyn band The Big Sleep. “There were about 40 people and a keg, it was an amazing party,” says Bentley.
OUTSIDE THE CITY
Emerging Brooklyn band Thieving Irons trekked up to The Isokon in Woodstock to make a record with engineer/producer D. James Goodwin, Nate Martinez and Josh Kaufman co-producing. “Incredible songs, deconstructed, then put back together in a left brain way,” says Goodwin of the project. “Very few cymbals, tons of space. Lots of Kaoss Pad!” Stream a track “So Long” from the album.
Goodwin also made an album up at the Isokon with art-folk group Bobby – tracked and mixed the full LP for Partisan Records.
In Jersey City, Big Blue Meenie is still going strong, and hopping with sessions all year. Highlights include Rainey Qualley mixing her EP with Tim “Rumblefish” Gilles and Matt “Dasher” Messenger (the single “Peach In My Pocket” is featured in the 2011 Sundance-winning film To.Get.Her), and Alright Jr tracking their new EP Scratching At The Ceiling with Chris “Noz” Marinaccio, Colin “Gron” Mattos, Matthew “Debris” Menafro, and Jeff “9/11″Canas, and mixing with Gilles and Messenger.
Also six-piece NJ prog-rock band The Tea Club mixed their “Live at Progday 2011″ show with Messenger, Marinaccio and Gilles, and – most recently – the jazz-fusion oriented Dennis Haklar Project tracked new material (9 songs in 2 days) with Marinaccio engineering, assisted by Colin “Gron” Mattos.
What a year, and those are just some of the highlights! We can only imagine what 2012 will bring to NYC in the way of new recordings — and we can’t wait to hear them.
GREATER NYC AREA: Summer sessions were all over the map this year. Now – just a week into September – we take a look back at some of the later-summer recordings happening around town…
Just last week at East Side Sound in the Lower East Side, Irish rock band Preacher’s Son were in recording and mixing with engineer/producer Marc Urselli. The Preacher’s Son sessions at East Side Sound featured Dubliner Brian Hogan (from the band Kila) on bass, guitar and vocals, and NY-based session drummer and percussionist Kenny Wollesen (Tom Waits, Bill Frisell).
In East Williamsburg at Vacation Island Recording, Matt Boynton has been producing and engineering the new Black Dice record. Boynton’s also been recording with Zachary Cale, and working with Free Blood on their next album. He also tracked and mixed two songs for Tearist, and worked on an upcoming release with Golden Animals.
Recording engineer and drummer Christina Files was at Vacation Island tracking a new record for Talk Normal with Rob Laakso assisting. Laakso has also been plugging away with the studio’s new mastering facilities.
Says Hard…“It’s an old-timey country album and Jonathon had other mixers try it and did not feel they captured the authenticity he was looking for. I called in a friend who has a “portable” record lathe and bounced the individual tracks to vinyl and back into Pro Tools. Worked like a charm.”
Meanwhile in Midtown, Manhattan Transfer was recording vocals at Skyline Studios, with Janis Siegel producing and Rick Perez engineering… Horacio ‘El Negro’ Hernandez and Italuba were in recording percussion, horns, piano and vocals for an upcoming release, and Billy Paul and Chimene Badi recorded a vocal duet, produced by Yves El-Baze, and engineered by Rick Perez and Lionel Elmaleh. Perez also engineered sessions with Wayne Krantz (guitar), John Pattitucci (bass) and Charlie Drayton (drums) recording as a trio. And recently re-formed rock band Fuel is recording new material at Skyline, with engineer Argel Anaya.
Skyline has also hosted a few film sessions, including Janeane Garofalo recording voiceovers for the film Mojobuddy, Al Pacino (as Phil Spector) filming scenes for the HBO Phil Spector biopic, directed by David Mamet, and engineered by Jonathan Mover, and Julianne Moore and Alexander Skarsgard filming scenes for the film ‘What Maisie Knew’ – directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel.
Across the river at Rough Magic in Greenpoint, tracks were being laid down on Jean Grae’s “Cookies or Comas Mixtape” – hosted by DJ Drama – featuring production by Royce da 5′ 9″, Pharaoh Monch, DJ Drama, Styles P and Boogie Blind. Alby Cohen engineered. And Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet produced a remix for Malian desert-guitar band Tinariwen’s latest album featuring TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone. Listen to the track at Pitchfork.
Additionally at Rough Magic, Talib Kweli has been working on his upcoming solo record for Blacksmith / EMI with Alby Cohen engineering. The Brooklyn native rapper has been utilizing many of Rough Magic’s string and horn players for his sessions.
Back over in Midtown at Sear Sound, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski – co-hosts of Morning Joe on MSNBC – recorded tracks for the 9/11 tribute in N.Y. Mika produced, Joe, sang and Sear Sound’s Chris Allen was the engineer. They also began work on Joe Scarborough’s own new album.
In other Sear sessions, producer Brian Deck and engineer Tom Schick worked on tracks for Iron & Wine, with arranger Rob Berger, Universal / Paris artist Laika recorded with Jay Newland engineering and co-producing with Gil Goldstein, Jac Holzman produced tracks for an upcoming Bob Dylan tribute, recording the group Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Stewart Lerman returned for ongoing music recording for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.
Downtown, Germano Studios has been typically pop-star-studded, with Lady Gaga recording her next single – which she’s co-producing with Mutt Lange – in Studio 1 with Dave Russell engineering, singer/rapper K’naan writing and recording in both Studios 1 and 2 with Steve Jordan and Chuck Harmony producing, Dave O’Donnell, Ben Chang, Ryan West and Yohei Goto engineering, and Alicia Keys writing and recording with Ryan Leslie producing and Ann Mincieli engineering.
Steve Jordan was also in recording with his band The Verbs, with O’Donnell engineering.
Germano also hosted dobro master and singer/songwriter Jerry Douglas recording with Russ Titleman producing, rock singer Zander Bleck recording vocals with Mutt Lange producing, and Conor Maynard writing and recording with producer/songwriter Sandy Vee. Kevin Porter engineered all three sessions. Michael Buble also recently recorded a duet with Thalia at Germano, with Humberto Gatica producing/engineering.
And singer/songwriter Javier Colon (winner of NBC’s The Voice) was at Germano writing and recording with Chuck Harmony and Claude Kelly producing for an upcoming Universal Republic release.
Gaga was also recording up at Avatar Studios – in a duet with Tony Bennett for his upcoming Duets II album. The session was produced in Avatar’s Studio A by Phil Ramone, engineered by Dae Bennett, and assisted by Fernando Lodeiro and Tim Marchiafava. Tony Bennett also sang and recorded a duet with Intergalactic Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin in Studio C for the same project.
Also in Avatar Studio A, Jean Morrison recorded for her upcoming album with help from Nile Rodgers and Vernon Reid. Diego Paul produced the session and Hillary Johnson engineered, assisted by Charlie Kramsky.
And Detroit-borne jazz great Kenny Garrett recorded some transcendent new songs (SonicScoop received a special preview – story to come) in Studio C with producer Donald Brown and engineer Todd Whitelock.
The Gaddabouts returned to Avatar to record with producers Steve Gadd and Edie Brickell, engineered by Andy Smith. And Studios A and G were rocking with the bluesy jams of The Zak Smith Band, recorded by producer Zak Smith, engineer Milan Sudzuk assisted by Aki Nishimura.
Evanescence also recorded at Avatar recently, with Nick Raskulinecz producing, and Scarlett Johansson recorded vocals for a Dean Martin project, with producer/engineer Eric Rosse.
Over at The Spot Mastering in Brooklyn Heights, Greg Vaughn has recently mastered Princess Superstar’s new album, The New Evolution, and Kiko Navarro “A Long Hot Summer” for King Street Sounds. Vaughn also just cut the vinyl masters for an album he mastered in February for Brooklyn-based psych-rock outfit, Artanker Convoy.
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.
GREATER NYC AREA: Heading into Summer, the city’s recording studios show no signs of slowing down. The following is but a sampling of recent sessions, and works in progress…a snapshot of what’s going on around town:
Aventura – the Bachata band out of the Bronx – has been at Daddy’s House tracking and mixing a new release with Justin Sampson engineering. Pop artist One Love has also been recording at Daddy’s House – tracking basics and vocals with producer/engineer Jon Thimple for his upcoming full-length album on Intrepid Music.
Meanwhile, Daddy’s House is currently undergoing a complete overhaul of infrastructure, operations, and aesthetics – with extensive work being done to both the SSL G Series and Neve VR consoles. Stay tuned for more on this, as the studio prepares to re-set as a full-blown commercial operation.
Queens born rapper Ja Rule was at Area 51 tracking and mixing for his upcoming LP with producer Seven Aurelius and engineer Darren Moore. Also at Area 51: Jacob Latimore recorded new material with producer “CJ” and engineer Alberto Vaccarino, and David Banner was in to mix his upcoming release with Pat Viala (50 Cent, Mariah Carey).
Downtown, Christina Aguilera was recording vocals at Germano Studios for a duet with Maroon 5 – the song “Moves Like Jagger” – with Manny Marroquin (Kanye West, Alicia Keys) engineering. Aguilera has also been writing and recording with producer/songwriter Sandy Vee at Germano in sessions engineered by Kevin Porter.
Vee – whose songwriting/producing credits include Katy Perry’s “Firework,” Rhianna’s “Only Girl in the World” – was also working at Germano with Disney ingenue Demi Lovato, and with pop artist/singer Dev, writing and recording new material with Porter engineering.
Other Germano sessions include will.i.am, Beyonce, The Kin recording with producer/engineer Thom Panunzio, DJ/producer/remixer Chew Fu, and Tiësto mixing with engineer Ben Chang. And Chris Taylor (Grizzly Bear) brought his new solo project, CANT – featuring George Lewis Jr. of Twin Shadow – to Germano to mix with Jake Aron (Yeasayer, Jamie Lidell). The new album will be released September 13 via Taylor’s own Terrible Records.
Up the block, experimental Toronto punk band Fucked Up mastered their conceptual sophomore LP David Comes To Life (on Matador Records) at The Lodge. An epic 18-song rock opera, David Comes To Life was produced by NYC’s Shane Stoneback (Cults, Sleigh Bells, Vampire Weekend).
Other records mastered at The Lodge and released this month include Hooray For Earth’s True Loves, Ford & Lopatin’s Channel Pressure, and both The Postelles’ and Cults’ debut albums.
Vernon Reid has been through to play guitar on several tracks on the album, and Nuno Bettencourt will be adding guitars on this project as well.
This week, Universal Japan artist Chihiro Yamanaka recorded at EastSide Sound in the Lower East Side. The recording session, engineered by Marc Urselli, featured Yamanaka playing (piano) with legendary drummer Bernard Purdie and upright bass player Larry Grenadier.
Urselli has also been engineering sessions with John Zorn this week – recording soundtrack music for a play featuring Zorn on sax, Bill Laswell on bass and effects, Kevin Norton on vibes and percussion and Rob Burger on piano/organ/Rhodes.
Also at Spin, Andy Wallace mixed Natalie Findlay’s upcoming album for Polydor, guitarist-producer Alex Skolnick (Testament) worked on Adrienne Warren’s upcoming album with engineer Nik Chinboukas, and Jeff Kazee (Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, Bon Jovi) produced Jersey rock-and-rollers Outside the Box for their upcoming release – also with Chinboukas engineering.
And south to Williamsburg, indie rock band Nada Surf recorded basic tracks for their upcoming LP at Headgear Recording with producer/engineer Chris Shaw. Also at Headgear… Virgin Forest tracked and mixed their second full-length album (for Partisan) with Alex Lipsen engineering; Lipsen produced some new music by Sam Marine, which John Agnello mixed; Kelli Scarr did some tracking with Scott F. Norton; and Male Bonding mixed their upcoming SubPop album with Agnello.
Chris Shaw and Nada Surf also recently booked Joe McGinty (Psychedelic Furs, Loser’s Lounge) at Carousel Recording in Greenpoint to play and record keyboard parts on new songs. McGinty added Hammond Organ, RMI Keyboard Computer, Mass-Rowe Vibrachime, ARP Strings, Modular Moog, and Fender Rhodes to their forthcoming record. McGinty also recently recorded Piano, Hammond, Combo Organ, and others for Lianne Smith’s debut record, being produced by Anton Fier.
Back in Manhattan, Carol King has been at KMA Studios mixing her upcoming holiday album with producer Louise Goffin and engineer Nathaniel Kunkel.
Also at KMA recently… Pianist Eric Lewis recorded and mixed an album with Bryan Williams engineering, Mike Posner recorded songs for his upcoming Sony album –producing/engineering the sessions himself – hit songwriters Claude Kelly and Chuck Harmony wrote/recorded for CJ Holland with engineers Ben Chang and Conrad Martin, Corey Gunz cut vocals for his upcoming Cash Money/Universal release with S. Dot engineering, and Yo Gotti recorded vocals for his album on Sony with Leo Goff engineering.
Yo Gotti’s new album – Live From The Kitchen – is scheduled for release on Sept 6th, and is expected to have guest appearances by Lupe Fiasco, Lil Wayne, Nicky Minaj, Ciara, Rick Ross, Waka Flocka and Young Jeezy.
John Lithgow was also at KMA doing voiceovers for a children’s book – Trumpet of The Swan – with Jayson Brown producing and Ian Kagey engineering for PS Classics.
Out on Long Island at PIE Studios in Glen Cove…NYC rock band Lion in the Mane recorded a new EP, taking advantage of Pie’s Neve-equipped, George Augspurger-tuned control room and 35’ x 28’ x 18’ live room. NYC-based producer/engineer William Wittman oversaw the sessions.
Back in big town, Joe Jackson recently recorded his upcoming self-produced release at Avatar Studios with engineer Elliot Scheiner, assisted by Aki Nishimura. Other recent sessions at Avatar include… Esperanza Spalding recording her upcoming release co-produced with Q-Tip in Studio A with engineer Joe Ferla, assisted by Fernando Lodeiro; Honor Society recording on the SSL 9000J in Studio B with producer Adam Blackstone and engineer Jon Smeltz, assisted by Tim Marchiafava; and the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra recording with producer Howard Cass and engineer David Merrill.
Also in Midtown, Foreigner checked in at Threshold Recording Studios NYC to cut acoustic versions of ten of their greatest hits — Mick Jones and Jeff Pilson produced, with Jeremy Sklarsky (Freelance Whales) engineering. And Dave Eggar and Heather Holley produced a track for singer/songwriter Jacob Baine Fields at Threshold recently, also with Sklarsky at the controls.
On the way west side, Santigold was at Stratosphere Sound working with songwriters Amanda Ghost and Ian Dench in Studio A. Ghost, Dave McCracken and Andros Rodriguez also worked with Daniel Merriweather in Studios A & B, and Louis C.K. was in Studio A, overseeing music recording for Season Two of his FX sitcom Louie. Ruddy Cullers engineered.
And staying on the west side, mastering engineer Vlado Meller is up and running in his new studio at Masterdisk.
Here, Meller recently mastered the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ single “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie,” produced by Rick Rubin and engineered by Andrew Schoeps for Warner Bros, and a Harry Connick, Jr. album, The Happy Elf, produced by Tracey Freeman and engineered by Vince Caro for Marsalis 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.
Who remembers being electrified by great singers and their great performances? We all do. They were all around us at least until 1997 when Antares’ Auto-Tune showed up: the license to sing out of tune and still find the courage to release a record!
Advances in digital music technologies have been amazing and exciting but undoubtedly they have also lazy-fied musicians worldwide (the “we’ll fix it in the mix attitude”) and contributed to the dropping levels of musicianship. One used to have to put in hours of practice to deliver a great performance, and a mistake or two might even have contributed to the character of the song.
Now we live under the tyranny of perfection, everything needs to be fixed… I’m not immune myself, been there, done that. It’s what the client wants — because supposedly it’s what the listener expects.
The problem with Auto-Tune is that people rely too much on it. They don’t want to rehearse longer to avoid using it, and they’d rather go into the studio knowing they just will fix their mistakes.
Do You Guys Have Auto-Tune?
I’ve gotten calls to my studio (EastSide Sound) where one of the questions was: “Do you guys have Auto-Tune?” What’s wrong with that picture? They used to ask about drums, mics, board… now they ask if we have Auto-Tune!!! What the hell? You lazy bastards, get up an hour earlier in the morning and sing your butt off… and if after a year (that’s 365 hours of singing practice, by the way) you still can’t sing, then maybe it’s time you get the hell out of the way and make room for somebody with far greater skills than yours!
Then came Cher (and whoever in her team twisted all the Auto-Tune knobs) who in 1998 released the hit single “Believe”. To their credit, that was probably the only artistic and creative way AutoTune was ever used, but they also created a monster we now all have to run from. Every other R&B singer abuses that so-called “Cher effect” (trying to be cool or trying to make up for lack of singing abilities) and it makes me sick! Enough of that, it’s been 13 years, get over it. MOVE ON.
But it goes beyond that. What drives me crazy is that nowadays you can hear Auto-Tune everywhere… Besides the annoying “Cher-effect”, the use of the plug-in on vocal performances is ubiquitous. The untrained might not hear that, but those of us who spend some time with music and computers can. And it’s awful.
Later came Melodyne (by the German company Celemony), a pitch correction software that takes tuning vocals to a whole new level (closer to the graphical mode in Auto-Tune, as opposed to the ubiquitous Automatic mode) and so the floodgates of untalented’s crap have opened even wider! Although Melodyne allows for greater control, you can still hear the pitch correction at work on soooo many records, it’s just sad.
Be Like Mike…PLEASE
A few weeks ago I did a session with one of the greatest singers of our time — Mike Patton — for an upcoming Christmas record by John Zorn. We recorded a version of “The Christmas Song” and Mike’s first take was just gold! I thought about how refreshing it was not to have to even think about opening the Auto-Tune plugin.
Patton sings with the confidence, pitch, skill and attitude of those who came before the Auto-Tune generation and learned the craft of singing by… (can you guess?) Singing! I even told Mike after his first take: “Thank you for not making me use Auto-Tune”! He smiled.
Learn Something Here
For those who are reading my first SonicScoop column and would rather read about the nitty gritty than hearing me rant, I’ll let you in on how I do things to minimize the damage — assuming I am not being rushed by the client.
I listen down to the vocals and manually pitch shift (without Auto-Tune) the really offending notes. Only when all the notes of the performance are in the ballpark I might open Auto-Tune. This way the adjustments Auto-Tune needs to do are a lot smaller and you’ll hear those artifacts a lot less, or not at all. The goal for me is to hear a vocal that’s in tune and not to hear Auto-Tune.
Auto-Tune has unfortunately become a necessary evil. When people hire me as a producer or engineer they want me to make them sound perfect, and I’m good at that. It’s what I do.
But guess what? Even if I get paid more for sessions where I have to spend hours Auto-Tuning or Melodyning vocals, the sessions I love and remember the most are the ones where the use of talent surpasses the use of technology!
Marc Urselli is a three time GRAMMY Award winning engineer and producer. He is chief house sound engineer at New York’s EastSide Sound studios and he does live sound for major artists as well.