NORTH BROOKLYN: Our neighborhood studio tour continues with four more decidedly uncommon studios in North Brooklyn. We talked to the owners of Strange Weather, Headgear, Metrosonic, and the Fort about sessions, toys, and building an active niche in this teeming slice of the city.
Those familiar with the SonicScoop blog-roll may recognize the name of Marc Alan Goodman, who’s been recounting the saga of building Strange Weather’s new, full-service tracking studio on the Greenpoint/East Williamsburg border. In the meantime, it’s a small secret that his current location already hosts one of the most impressive collections of hand-picked ear candy in the city.
More than anything, this is a studio for artists and engineers with boutique tastes. No summary can do justice to the extensive selection of gear that includes names like Neve, API, Purple, Gates, Federal, ADL, Neumann, Coles, dbx, RCA, and Bricasti. Strange Weather is also home to a startling collection of guitars, drums, and keyboards at the ready for capturing any sound musicians can imagine.
Most surprising of all, according to Goodman, is the price, and the fact that all his vintage treasures are in prime working condition.
“I wanted to build a studio where people can walk in and use world-class gear at an affordable price in a functioning atmosphere,” Goodman says. “There’s nothing worse than booking a day at a studio where nothing works. I feel like that’s the rule rather than the exception in the commercial studios I’ve worked in.”
In the interest of full disclosure, this reporter has recently been in for some sessions at Strange Weather, and this kind of attention to detail has it fast-becoming one of my favorite places to work. Owning a studio has begun to turn Goodman into a capable tech in his own right: his racks are over-stuffed with impeccably maintained vintage gear, and handmade re-creations of studio classics like the LA2A, LA3A and 1176.
Built around a new 32-channel API 1608 console brimming with the choicest EQs, Strange Weather turns out to be an ideal room for overdubs, mixing, or any sessions that don’t require a cavernous live room.
When asked about his niche in the studio scene Goodman says: “Ideally everyone would complete their records from start to finish in a studio, but today it seems more common for musicians to combine studios with smaller at-home or portable rigs. We’re focused on making that process as seamless as possible; to give musicians and engineers used to working at home a place they can walk in and use great, often rare equipment in a functioning environment.”
Rates: Click for Room + Engineer Rates
Room Rate: $600/day; $550/day for blocks of 3 days or more.
If there’s any truth behind the idea that Williamsburg is a great place to make music, a lot of responsibility for that would have to fall on studios like Headgear Recording. Since opening in 1998, Headgear has been the birthplace of seminal records from TV On The Radio, Massive Attack, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Animal Collective, CocoRosie, Nada Surf, My Morning Jacket, Son Volt, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Moby and Santigold.
Although the “Room For Rent” model of studio has waned as competent owner-operators create their own personal oases of sound in every corner of the city, Headgear remains one of the most accessible and freelance-engineer-friendly studios in New York.
In addition to house engineers Alex Lipsen, Scott Norton, and Dan Long, Headgear has been home to projects from a who’s who of hip and distinctive producers and engineers, including John Agnello, Peter Katis, Dave Sitek, John Hill, Chris Moore Gordon Raphael, TJ Doherty, and Chris Coady.
Headgear is also no stranger to Film and Television Post. Recent clients include “Grey’s Anatomy,” MTV’s “Skins,” “CSI: Miami” and the Columbia Pictures comedy Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
According to studio manager Jackie Lin Werner, the studio’s appeal is personal as much as it is technical: “ We’re not stiff or pretentious. We’re down to earth and like to be helpful. Beyond the gear and the size of our rooms, I believe people trust Headgear as an established studio with a respectable client list. Headgear probably appeals most to indie bands and major label bands looking for an affordable, high quality studio in a space that has a creative vibe. “
Headgear’s A-room houses an automated Trident 80C console and offers a choice of Pro Tools HD and 24-track 2-inch tape. A well-equipped B room is also available for mixing and overdubs.
Contact for rates.
Neve Console. Pro Tools HD. Ampex 2”. Engineers who know what they’re doing. What more could you need to know?
According to Metrosonic’s Pete Mignola, it’s the people who make a studio: “The people who built it, the people who run it, the people who use it,” he tells us.
“Everyone who comes to Metrosonic talks about the vibe. Of course they like the great gear, the affordable rates, the windows & city views, but they always say that they love the vibe here. There’s human element to this that makes each studio unique and special in its own way.”
Metrosonic has always had a large, comfortable control room. More recently, the studio’s originally modest live room underwent significant renovations in 2008, and now, Pete and the crew are excited to bring a new 850 square-foot live room into the fold.
Rates: $40/hr, including Jim Bentley as Engineer.
Over the past decade, North Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood has filled up with enough small private studios to fill an area twice its size. In that time, Jim Bentley’s studio The Fort has stood as one of the neighborhood’s active mainstays.
Persevering in this competitive new territory since 2003, owner/operator Bentley has hosted noteworthy clients including Brit Daniel of Spoon, Doug Gillard and Kevin March of Guided by Voices, James McNew of Yo La Tengo, Jennifer O’Connor, John Agnello and Jemina Pearl.
This especially affordable studio is equipped for both analog and digital sessions, offering a Neotek Elan console, Tascam 1” 16-track, and a 24-channel MOTU/Apogee system. The studio bills at $30/hr on weekdays from noon to 6pm and at $40/hr 6pm-midnight or weekends, and includes Bentley’s services as engineer.
Bentley is most proud of his live room, a large, vibey space with vaulted, heavy-timber ceilings: “I love to track full bands in the room live for feel and then sauce it up and make it sound supernatural from there,” he says.
Bentley’s down-to-earth approach is made clear in his parting words to us. The Fort, he says, “appeals to the clients who realize making records is more about the man and the performance than the machine or the media buzz behind it.”
Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn-based audio engineer and music producer who’s worked with Hotels, DeLeon, Soundpool, Team Genius and Monocle, as well as clients such as Nintendo, JDub, Blue Note Records, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Visit him at www.justincolletti.com.
Montreal’s electro-funk duo Chromeo released their latest single “Don’t Turn The Lights On” (Vice Records/Atlantic) on June 29, 2010. The track was mastered in NYC at The Lodge, by Chief Mastering Engineer Emily Lazar and Mastering Engineer Joe LaPorta.
Composed of two long-time friends David “Dave 1″ Macklovitch on guitar and lead vocals and Patrick “P-Thugg” Gemayel on talk box, keys and synths, Chromeo is notorious for their infectious 80′s-retro dance beats and lyrical hooks, and their latest single is no exception.
“Don’t Turn The Lights On” marks the first collaboration between The Lodge Mastering and Chromeo, as well as engineer/producer Phillippe Zdar (Cassius, Phoenix, The Rapture, MC Solaar) who mixed the track.
Chromeo’s “Business Casual Tour,” with special guests Holy Ghost! and Telephoned, comes to the Bowery Ballroom June 29th. Show’s already sold out so try to catch them at the Williamsburg Waterfront (Free Summer Pool Party) August 22!
Known for their “hook-heavy,” soul-infused dance music, Chromeo’s P-Thugg and Dave 1 brought their super analog synth setup into Metrosonic, and have been utilizing the studio’s modified Neve 5315 console.
The “wall of synths” that keyboardist/bassist P-Thugg brought along for the session consists of 11 synthesizers, the majority of which are vintage analog synths including a Vocoder, mini Moog, and various versions of the Sequential Circuits Prophet.
Drum machines included an old classic Drum Traks, an MPC 1000 and MPC 5000. Chromeo also brought in their own PC, which they use for pre-production and MIDI, a Les Paul, and a Fender bass.
Metrosonic reports: “The goal for the writing/recording process was to be able to track multiple instruments simultaneously. Chromeo’s comfort in the control room and ability to move fluidly from station to station were paramount to the productivity of their writing process. It was important for them to have mics like the vintage Neumann UM57 ready to roll, as Dave 1 and P-Thugg were constantly coming up with new vocal ideas and harmonies.”
For more on Metrosonic Studios, and the complete story with video, visit: http://www.metrosonic.net/chromeo.html
New York, NY — Fans of the HBO series Flight of the Conchords might have a hard time imagining slacker-heroes Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement racing between the show’s stage in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and recording studios city-wide to get all of the show music fully written and produced and albums of it recorded and mixed. But, that’s exactly what they did during both seasons of the award-winning series.
Their second full-length record, I Told You I Was Freaky, comes out on Sub Pop in October, produced by Mickey Petralia and recorded by NYC-based engineer Matt Shane: the production team responsible for capturing all of FoTC’s musical antics for TV.
It’s a compilation of songs from season two — including the R. Kelly-inspired “We’re Both In Love With A Sexy Lady” and club anthem “Too Many Dicks (On the Dance Floor)” written/produced during the show’s production.
Shane describes, “As opposed to season one, most of the songs for season two hadn’t been performed live, so instead of starting out with two guitars, we were starting out with these full-up beats they worked up in the studio with Mickey, and then they’d add elements later to make it fit or change genres.
“The guys would do 12-hour days shooting during the week and then we’d be in the studio at nights and on the weekends. We split the work between a handful of studios — Mission Sound and Metrosonic in Williamsburg, One East, Looking Glass and Chung King in Manhattan, and A Bloody Good Record in Long Island City.”
In appropriate contrast to their TV persona, Flight of the Conchords is a highly active band, releasing singles via iTunes during the seasons, albums post-season (including a Grammy-winner) and touring in support of all. For their U.S. tour last Spring, the Conchords tapped Shane and My Morning Jacket FOH engineer Ryan Pickett to help them take the show on the road
BIGGER SHOWS, BIGGER PRODUCTION
“We were going to be doing way bigger houses than we did on their first, smaller tour last year, so they stepped up the production as well,” explains Shane. “They share management with My Morning Jacket, who happened to not be on the road at that time, so Ryan and Marc (Janowitz), MMJ’s lighting designer, were available to get involved.”
Being so familiar with the material, having recorded all the music, Shane took on monitor duties on the road. Orientation took place at Soundcheck in Nashville, where the crew staged the show and Shane and Pickett put their heads together on how to best present this unique act, live.
FoTC enlisted fellow kiwi and multi-instrumentalist Nigel Collins to fill in musically on cello, background vocals, keyboards and percussion. “The second season had just finished airing and the songs had been created in the studio and never played live,” says Shane. “With only a few days of rehearsal, the guys used the first couple weeks of the show, during sound-checks and even the actual concerts, to sort of reverse-engineer some of these fully produced tracks and bring it back down to two guitars and vocals.”
Technology helped them genre-hop and do their best Prince falsetto or T-Pain croon. “They use a lot of effects in some of their songs — like in hip-hop tunes where they copy the AutoTune effect, and they wanted to be able to do that, live,” says Shane. “So, we researched and found the new ElectroHarmonix Voicebox, a vocal synth processor pedal that matches whatever reference signal you send to it. With that, they were able to do all kinds of things — harmonies, vocoder, etc.”
RULE ONE OF COMEDY CONCERT: EVERYTHING IS MATERIAL
Though rehearsal got everyone in gear, the FOTC shows were largely dictated by band-audience interplay and therefore quite unpredictable. “It was very common that songs would not be done the same way twice,” explains Shane. “Jemaine would play an Omnichord on a song in sound-check and then during the show, he’d stay on guitar for that song.”
Pickett adds, “I’ve never had to be on my toes quite so much; for having such few musicians on stage, it was pretty intense. I never knew where they might go, because of dark-outs and things like that, which kept it fun.”
The variable set-list became a joke with the crew. “It was just a list of 30 songs, but they hardly ever went in order and rarely played them in the same order twice,” describes Shane. “That improvisation added to the comedy routine. So, if Marc didn’t bring the lights up or didn’t change the colors in time for a sad song, they’d ask, ‘Can you make it look like we’re inside a tear?’ They’d make us part of the show. I’d become part of the bit if I had to run out and fix something. Everything is material.”
RULE TWO: THEREFORE, EVERYTHING HAS TO BE HEARD
Allowing for audience interaction in large halls, Pickett had the band on wedges. “In-ears just wouldn’t have worked for this show, since every song came out so different each night, in terms of tempo and instrumentation,” he explains. “And sometimes one of the guys would lay out and then come back in — if they were on in-ears and the levels were locked in, and there were no ambient levels or they couldn’t hear the other guy’s wedge or bleed, etc. they’d be alone, out in space.”
Diction and comic timing were key show elements that needed to come across as much as the music in these large halls. “I’ve done a few acoustic arrangements, but the whole comedy factor of this show really adds a whole new element to what we’re doing,” adds Pickett. “Every little corner of the room needs to hear what’s being said, and their accent is a bit of an obstacle for the audience to begin with, so you really had to be on your mark.”
Shane elaborates, “It took a lot of tricky microphone placement and EQ to give us the most headroom before feedback possible. We never knew where they were going to go during any given song, so we had a lot of mics open all the time and since they were on wedges, there was a lot of foldback that Ryan had to deal with.”
Never a dull moment during this tour, Shane also ran sessions with the guys on days off to finish the next album. “We’d be doing vocal overdubs in dressing rooms so that we could send stuff off to Mickey who was re-mixing the songs for the record.”
Look out for the Flight of the Conchords’ record, I Told You I Was Freaky, in October.