Studio Event: The Fort Brooklyn “Black Tie” Benefit Rock Show, Sat. 4/20

April 12, 2013 by  

Sometimes, being a major asset to the creative community isn’t quite enough. The beloved Bushwick studio that has been operating as The Fort Brooklyn for the past 10 years knows that all too well right now – the well-equipped facility has weathered the economic storm as long as possible, but now is reaching out to its friends and neighbors to help it to keep recording.

Recording cornerstone The Fort Brooklyn wants to keep on trackin'.

Recording cornerstone The Fort Brooklyn wants to keep on trackin’.

One happy way for all interested parties to get involved is its 10th Anniversary “Black-Tie” benefit rock show fundraiser, being held Saturday, April 20, 2013 from 4pm-11pm, as The Fort Brooklyn opens its doors to the public as an outdoor/indoor event.

Attendees making a donation of $25 may enter and experience 6 + bands performing throughout the day and into the evening, from 4-11pm. The funds raised will help to The Fort Brooklyn to pay the studio’s back rent and legal expenses needed to remain open.

DJ’s and two lounge areas will contribute to the festivities on the 4th floor, including the studio itself, with food and drink provided all evening. In addition, there will be an open bar throughout the entire day, with two separate bars.

Ready to rock? There will be live performances by: Electric People, Our Mountain, The Nuclears, Youth Quake, Vulture Shit and Atomic Hips. All live performances will be taking place in the buildings’ 2500 sq. ft side lot.

Here are the complete details on the evening, and the essential musical resource that it will help to support. We’ll see YOU there!

The Fort Brooklyn, a music recording studio, located atop a hill in Bushwick Brooklyn in the center of a vibrant music culture is turning 10. On April 20th, 2013, The Fort Brooklyn will be hosting a 10th Anniversary “Black-Tie” fundraiser.

Over the past 10 years The Fort Brooklyn has hosted and launched the careers of many young artists and received numerous accolades from the press and music fans along the way. It was given the title “Best Recording Studio to Create Your Next Masterpiece” in the Village Voice’s ‘Best Of’ issue, 2006.

In 2003, The Fort Brooklyn was designed and built by James Bentley. The protege of Malcolm Chisholm (Chess records – Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Etta James, Howlin‘ Wolf, etc), the first decade of his career as a recording/mix engineer, based in Chicago, includes countless hours of freelance work at studios both big and small. To this day, The Fort Brooklyn has recorded 50+ LP’s, 40+ EP’s, countless singles and demos, and also a few songs for film and television. Label clients include: Universal/Motown, EMI, Capitol, Ecstatic Peace!, Matador, Darla, Le Grand Magistery, Chainsaw, Heartcore, Red Panda, Secretly Canadian, Kiam, and Cordless/Warner.

The Fort Brooklyn was built to keep the cost to the client low thus, allowing the time needed to capture timless performances. It is large enough to achieve the “giant room” sound if/when needed. The size also allows for a bands performance to be captured live without the need for isolation rooms. Again, allowing for timeless performances. All of the gear here has been hand picked from all eras of music from lo-fi and vintage to hi-fi and “state of the art”.

This outdoor/indoor event begins at 4pm and ends at 11pm. Food and drinks will be served for free throughout the day and there will be rotating DJ’s in the side lot, the studio itself, and another 2000 square foot space on the 4th floor.

Help The Fort's spacious live room to keep ringing out!

Help The Fort’s spacious live room to keep ringing out!



MBK Entertainment Opens OZ Studios in NYC – World Class Two-Room Record/Mix Facility

September 27, 2012 by  

Autumn has arrived in New York City, and along with it a wave of audio facilities that are either completely new or significantly improved.

Leading the charge is OZ Studios, a new world-class facility in Manhattan’s Garment District. Owned by the highly successful multimedia company MBK Entertainment — which counts Alicia Keys, Elle Varner, Gabi Wilson, Daisha, Allen Stone, Anthony Hall, and SWV among others on its production/management roster — OZ is an elite, commercially available two-room production space which should prove to be an ideal environment for tracking and mixing.

OZ includes soaring views of Manhattan’s West Side. (Photo: Cheryl Fleming)

OZ was designed by John Storyk of Walters-Storyk Design Group (WSDG), and features two relatively compact production suites. First is Studio A, a 230 sq. ft. live room, and 190 sq. ft. control room equipped with an SSL Duality SE 24 Input Analog Console, Apple Logic Pro Studio, Avid Digidesign HD3, Augspurger Custom Main Monitors and a wide range of outboard gear. OZ’ 150 sq. ft. Studio B control room has an SSL Matrix console, Adams S5X-V speakers and a 60 sq. ft. sound booth. Both studios are adjacent to a 600 sq. ft.-plus common lounge area.

WSDG came to the attention of MBK Founder/CEO Jeff Robinson and his partners Jeanine Mclean, Misha Hedman, and Suzette Williams, following John Storyk’s work for Alicia Keys, Jay-Z, and Jungle City. Subsequently, WSDG collaborated with contractors Sonic Construction and gear integrators GC Pro Boston to complete the facility.

Inside OZ Control Room A (Photo: Cheryl Fleming)

Located on the 19th floor at 519 8th Avenue, OZ also provides wide views of the Hudson River, a perspective which also reportedly includes highly inspiring sunset views. Designed to accommodate both OZ artists and outside sessions, the studio plans to make an immediate impact on music, film, and TV.

“We are developing a program to maximize the potential of our new studio,” Robinson says.  “While our artists will have first dibs on studio time for their projects, we plan to make this outstanding studio available to outside artists, producers engineers as well as for film/TV production.  In the years to come, we hope to see a return on our investment, not just in monetary terms, but also as a source for meaningful, lasting music. These studios are finely tuned instruments. We are developing a number of highly talented artists, and we anticipate a steady flow of hits from this beautiful facility.”

For OZ booking inquiries, contact Misha Hedman, 646-528-5444, or

An in-depth feature on OZ Studios will be appearing on SonicScoop soon.

The B Room is built around the SSL Matrix. (Photo: Cheryl Fleming)




John King is Baack! Chung King Studios Returns

August 12, 2012 by  

MIDTOWN, MANHATTAN: There is something afoot on West 37thStreet. Taking a stroll down this intensely bustling block, those in the know may see a sudden influx of familiar faces – a producer, an engineer, a platinum-selling artist – all caught in a tractor beam leading to the same address.

NYC wouldn’t be quite the same without it. (All photos: Janice Brown)

Follow one of these sonically-centered citizens into the elevator at 36 West 37th and ascend upward — when you step out, you should recognize this mecca. You’re in one of New York City’s most essential recording studios, with a classic 1970’s live room that’s been the birthplace of hundreds of huge hits over the years, if not thousands.

But what domain have you entered? It’s hard to know, because it’s had multiple owners, multiple name changes, and wars have been waged for the right to run it. It’s been called Skyline Studios…Alien Flyers…Chung King…Skyline Recording Studios…

Suddenly, a force you can feel enters the room. You are face-to-face with New York City’s most tenacious studio owner – a musical maven as every bit as committed as he is controversial. And then it hits you: Chung King Studios has returned.

A Room of His Own

The 6000 square feet and two studios of the third facility to bear the Chung King name may seem sizable to some. But for John King, the storied midtown space he now occupies is a perfectly cozy house of sound. Especially in comparison to the two-floor, 20,000 sq. ft. behemoth that he had managed at 170 Varick Street, starting in the mid-1990’s until a fast-furious flameout in January, 2010.

“The reason I came back is: I love studios, I love equipment, and I love my friends who I’m working with,” says King, speaking rapid-fire yet somehow more relaxed. “Towards the end of my run at 170 Varick, I had a $1.2 million nut that I had to cover, and I realized everything was changing: It required too many people, we had to take two inventories a day – there was too much required to keep everything going.

“So I had a lovely vacation. I had a lovely time. And then the call of the wild sounded – I had to come back. Only this time, I wanted something more manageable.”

John King has a renewed focus.

His chance came in April this year, just after Jonathan Mover, who had been owner/operator of Skyline Recording Studios for several years, vacated the space. For King, the opportunity to move in was irresistible: at one point in the 1990’s he had been a partner in the rooms, knew them very well, and held them in extremely high regard.

The respect comes with good reason. While being helmed by Paul Wickliffe, President and Chief Engineer of Skyline Studios from 1979-1994, the list of platinum-selling artists, producers, and engineers who frequented the facility mushroomed into an awesome A-list. A tiny sampling includes Babyface, David Bowie, James Brown, Mariah Carey, The Cult, Miles Davis, Duran Duran, Mick Jagger, Meatloaf, REM, Talking Heads, and Frank Zappa, along with Jellybean Benitez, Frank Filipetti, Scott Litt, Hugh Padgham, Phil Ramone, Nile Rodgers, Ron St. Germain, Don Was, and Hal Wilner. In later years, it continued to be a hotbed of rock and jazz recording. Get the point? Plenty of platinum has been produced here.

“The original designer of this room really knew how to build the perfect studio,” King says of Chung King’s 1500 sq. ft. centerpiece, which he has dubbed “The Empire Suite”. “After making my classic CK mods, it’s ideal in here, because of the diversity of reflections and absorptions that are happening. This live room is so versatile, and it’s wonderful if you know how to use it. We’ve got a custom Yamaha C7, and I’ve never heard a grand piano sound so fabulous as it does in here.”

Inside the Empire Suite’s spacious control room, King has installed the Musgrave-modified Neve VR72 that formerly occupied his famed Red Room on Varick. Augsperger mains, Pro Tools 10 HDX with all the new trimmings such as UAD and Softube plugins, a comprehensive collection of outboard gear, and a vast collection of classic tube mics from the past and present complement. A palette of available tape machines is also on hand, for those purists who crave the sound.

“That console has made more hits than any other board I’ve ever had,” says King of the Neve VR72. “And analog is still analog – steak is still steak. I was doing a mix with this board the other day and I kept pushing the faders up. The meters were pinned to the right, and I got a Pultec-like sparkle. I couldn’t overload the console! It sounds fabulous. That’s where a Neve is the bomb.

“And the Empire control room is just the most accurate room I’ve ever worked in: What you hear is the exact presentation of what the music sounds like.”

A live room that’s recorded too many hits to count.

One recent return customer to the room is GRAMMY-winning producer/mixer Patrick Dillett (David Byrne, Mary J. Blige, They Might Be Giants, Glen Hansard, Arto Lindsay). “I think it’s the biggest-sounding small room in the world,” Dillett says. “It’s a really nice, warm-sounding drum room, but also very good for vocals because it’s not overpowering. The ceilings are high, and the walls are treated with a nice-sounding cedar. So what you get is a reflective – but not overly-reflective – space.

“John King is a real studio guy,” Dillett adds. “He understands what makes the recording process enjoyable, and how to make sure that it stays enjoyable. I think he’ll be a good steward for what should be one of the better studios in NYC.”

Trademark Design

Meanwhile, Chung King’s “B” room is The Genius Suite, a 120 square-foot production suite optimized for writing and mixing. Here, a Digidesign C24 control surface connects with Pro Tools 10 HDX and a Shadow Hills Equinox, a crafty two-rackspace unit which features two GAMA mic preamps, 30 channels of analog summing, and a mastering-grade monitor controller.

“I love a room this size – I like to be in a place like this, shut the door, and just work,” says King, who was instrumental in shaping the sounds of rap and hip hop royalty including Run DMC, LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, and many more. “I especially love the Shadow Hills Equinox passive mixer that we have in here. It’s really cool – you have two mic pres with different ‘metal’ you can run them through, either your classic Neve, and then your API. And then you have your pads, your phantom power: It’s a classic console in a box with a great monitor section. For the personal studio, that’s generally all you need.”

In both the Empire and Genius Suite, as well in the hallways, the distinctive look and feel that defined Chung King’s Varick Street complex is revealing itself in the new space. Whether its the wood wings surrounding a control surface, the angles of a producer’s desk, or the hues of a wall or hallway, all you see directly reflects King’s trademark visual aesthetic.

“Appearance should never overtake your focus on the music – you should be able to lighten up and darken down your room if you want,” he notes. “But I’m a fabric freak. I have connections with very fine fabric wholesalers, and I like to pick fabrics that go together. Color has feeling, which is why in the Varick location we had the Green  Room, the Red Room, and the Blue Room. And the Gold Room was very popular…because it was GOLD.”

Diversified Times

Free of entangling partnerships and hostile landlords, John King has entered a rather simplified space. For the moment, maintaining and refining great spaces to make great music is Job One, as he tends to details on the Empire and Genius Suites and surrounding common areas. He’s also looking ahead to the remaining raw spaces that he hasn’t played with yet.

John King and all things CK have more to say.

And from the looks of things, he’ll need to move quickly. Tracking and mixing clients eager to revisit the legendary live room are emerging, as word of the resurrected Chung King spreads. It’s a buzz of activity that already has King and his chief engineer Ron Allaire, along with engineer Jamie Zabrek, on the move.

But King is also going steadily forward with his long-gestating plans to establish a multimedia production company, Chung King Live. King had begun to build that venture in a large ex-warehouse in Jersey City, but soon grew frustrated trying to do business in the state where he lives. “It’s a police state,” King opines of New Jersey. “It took me forever to get building permits. Finally I just put the NJ location on hold, although I still have the property.”

While he may have less space to work with in Manhattan, King has big plans for Chung King Live. A multifaceted entity, it will allow him to produce original video content, as well as provide artists with a cost-effective path to create their own videos. Simultaneously, he promises that the upcoming Chung King Records will be anything but your typical record company.

According to King, it’s time for him to go back to his first love of writing songs. “I’ll be producing and touching up unfinished songs for clarity in an ever-increasing sea of medium,” he says frankly. “Producers of the original variety are sorely lacking in the music chain.

“Chung King Records will be a simple, very common-sense path to finding music that you like,” continues King. “I want to distill it so that the artists that are really good and inspiring are all in one place. And let’s worry about one song at a time, like George Martin did with the Beatles. Instead of making a whole album full of crap, can we get a little flavor back?”

Rounding out the updated business model is an audio education program, whereby Chung King is already hosting small groups of advanced students. “I get the kids who know what they’re doing,” King says. “I take them back to songs like ‘Play That Funky Music White Boy’, where we were just using simple stuff.”

A Sonic Rennaisance

Both the studio at 36 West 37th Street and its newest owner have histories as chaotic as they are beautifully musical. Kindred souls are reconnecting. That could prove to be a very positive development.

“I want to take advantage of every square inch of this space,” John King says. “The expectations are high, but I’m going to work with the well-funded, and the beggars and borrowers, at the same time. I’m not particular about that. The ones who notice that the rooms sound good will come here.

“I jump out of bed every day now. Things are just getting bigger and better. Do I worry? Of course! But it’s like they say, ‘Do you want to worry or work?’ I may as well work.”

– David Weiss

The halls are starting to show the history.

The Neve VR72 from downtown’s Red Room is at home in the Empire Suite.

Tape remains irreplaceable.

Another view of the studio’s famed live room.

A most royal panel.

Fresh air, with engineer Jamie Zabrek.

Dubway Studios: Relocation, Rebuilding, and Renaissance

July 22, 2012 by  

FINANCIAL DISTRICT, MANHATTAN: Putting a new spin on a classic can be a very risky endeavor. Unless you have no choice, that is – in which case you may as well gyrate away with everything you’ve got.

(l-r) Dubway's Al Houghton and Mike Crehore are a tenacious NYC studio ownership tandem.

That’s the exact challenge that Mike Crehore and Al Houghton, the founders of Dubway Studios, willingly took on in 2010. Having been given a long-distance heads up that the lease on their Chelsea recording warren would not be renewed, the pair made the daunting decision to relocate and rebuild – not an easy call after a decade-plus of constant refinements had established your studio as a dependable choice for music recording, mixing, and audio post clients of all stripes.

But after a serious think, Houghton and Crehore – who had first met in 1983 when both had overbuilt one-room facilities in the famed Music Building on 8th and 38th,before opening up their Chelsea studio in 1997– decided they were game. And if they were going to do it again, they reasoned, why not get it right this time? REALLY right.

“By the time you’ve built your third studio, you know what you’re doing,” grins Houghton, surrounded by the clean, artistic lines of the latest Dubway Studios, which now resides at 42 Broadway. “What all that experience taught us to do was build something that can work together and serve the most possible applications — from recording to post to audio books.

“In that sense, it’s about providing flexibility by learning what the clients want, and what the engineers who work here need. Whether you’re talking about monitor height, what gear should be in the room, or what shouldn’t be in the room, these are things you can only really do if you’ve been through it.”

Sonic Architecture

Exploring the latest Dubway Studios, Financial District Edition, which has been up and running since early 2011, Crehore and Houghton’s experience – an impressive 30 years of combined NYC studio ownership – is something you can feel. Unstressed feng shui, sunlight, and a serene sense of functionality pervades Dubway’s Main Floor, where light woods and visual art create a calming headspace that enables the clients, engineers, and talent to maximize the hours spent there.

The Main Floor of the complex that this positive energy pervades is centered around three control rooms, accompanied by two VO/instrument overdub booths, and a larger triangular grand piano room with plenty of space to hold a drum kit if needed. It’s an ideal atmosphere for small-scale tracking and music mixing for indie artists, as well as stereo and 5.1 surround mixing for Dubway’s numerous audio broadcast and film audio post clients — which have included HBO, Discovery Channel, Nick Jr., PBS, Showtime, McDonalds, iTunes, IFC, NFL Films, Twentieth Century Fox, and many more.

But the highly efficient Main Floor is only half the story at Dubway. In an innovative arrangement, Dubway shares the impressive penthouse Mezzanine studio with Engine Room Audio, which originally constructed the 1100 sq. ft. recording space and operates its own busy studios adjacent to Dubway. With 20 ft. ceilings, large iso booths of its own, and an SSL 4064 G+ console, the Mezzanine gives both businesses a no-compromises recording resource for its major label and indie clientele, while mitigating a massive overhead that would be prohibitively costly for either to shoulder on their own.

With a room of that scale in the mix, Dubway continues to build confidently on a music recording portfolio that includes Antony & the Johnsons, Devendra Banhart, Patti Smith, They Might Be Giants, David Byrne, Cyndi Lauper, Dar Williams, Alicia Keys, Joseph Arthur, Dan Bern, Richard Barone, and Cat Power, to name just a few.

Room to record -- the spacious Mezzanine live room that Dubway shares with Engine Room Audio.

The result: a highly flexible facility that serves Dubway’s clients and engineering staff more effectively than the Chelsea location, which had charm — but also plenty of quirks, as that multiroom studio was constantly retrofitted and built out, to mesh with the additional audio verticals that Dubway added on to its service offerings.

Supporting Multiple Revenue Streams

Today, Dubway Studios has mastered a wide range of revenue streams that many other studios would envy. The facility has successfully positioned itself as a leading provider of audio post for TV, with mixing, sound design, and VO recording accounting for nearly half of their billable hours. From there, the list includes healthy doses of music recording/mixing, audio books, and remote recording (such as the iTunes “Live from SoHo” series). A relatively recent addition is location audio, with Dubway personnel going onsite with boom mics and lavaliers to provide top-quality audio to TV, reality shows, and film clients.

Once the two industry veterans had settled on the space at 42 Broadway as their next professional home, Crehore explains the thought process for designing it. “We started with an existing footprint of rooms and said, ‘We could make this work as three control rooms and some live spaces.’ We knew we also needed a lobby, a tech room where the assistants and interns could hang out and store the gear, and minimal office space. So when we walked through and saw what was going on we said, ‘How do we make this as flexible as possible?’”

Instead of knocking down walls or fighting physics, Crehore – an experienced builder and woodworker – carefully evaluated each of the existing rooms, calculated maximally inclusive listening and viewing angles for engineers and clients, then created custom mixing desks that would best enable it all. Floors were all floated and extended to the full room or not as space and interior/external noise considerations dictated — both VO rooms are quieter than anything they have ever worked with, and roomier as well. Additionally, audio tielines, and a hybrid system of high-resolution security cameras and iChat, can connect any room to any other in the facility.

Although they have different proportions, each control space – nicknamed “The Red Room”, “The Blue Room,” and “The Sandbox” – is designed to shoulder the same load. Equipped with Pro Tools HD3 systems, Dangerous Music monitoring systems, and Genelec or Yamaha monitors in stereo and/or 5.1 surround configurations, the rooms are intimate, but still give Dubway’s engineers sufficient space to craft a highly accurate mix while hosting clients.

One of the three Main Floor control rooms maximizes its space.

Speaking of engineers, Dubway’s longevity in the NYC recording scene has made it a key breeding ground for some of the city’s top talent – many of who have stayed loyal to the facility for years. On any given day, Houghton and Crehore may be joined in battle with Operations Manager Brandon Hollely, Remote Recording Manager & Chief Engineer Jason Marcucci, along with Keith Rigling, Chris Abell, Mike Judeh, Stephen Schappler, Chris Camilleri, Chris Montgomery, and Josh Tucker. Assistants Josh Friedman and Josh Burnette are also onsite. Eric Spring, John Thayer, and Anthony Gibney were all active Dubway engineers who recently moved overseas, and the producer/engineer/mixer Emery Dobyns (Travis, Fran Healy) is an alumni of the system.

Live Room Sharing 101

Whomever at Dubway is working a session in the Mezzanine upstairs, they’re part of a team that has learned to accomplish something tricky — but which may be increasingly important for studio survival in NYC: the aforementioned sharing of a live room.

As Houghton points out, making the system work starts with the intangibles. “Ultimately, there’s a lot of trust and mutual respect in sharing a room,” he says. “Everyone’s gear is in there, everyone’s using it, and it’s easy to be very overprotective of that stuff. At first Engine Room and Dubway were all nervous about it, like, ‘What if the other guy books it out for the whole year?’ But as it turns out, the bookings are easy to work around each other. Our staffs have been cultivating a rapport, so booking from one session to another is seamless. And we’ve also all learned how to zero out the space so everyone is comfortable with it.”

And while Dubway Studios and Engine Room may have their own distinct corporate cultures and clientele, Google has served as the Great Logistical Unifier for Everybody (GLUE). “We have a Google calendar we share with each other, and there’s also a ‘Mezz Board’ Google group that we collaborate on,” Crehore adds. “So if there’s a piece of gear that everyone needs to know about, then that comes up on the Mezz Board: ‘Channel 23 of the SSL is funky today!”, and everyone avoids it. Everyone sticks to the system, and it works.”

Mainland: Manhattan

While there’s an undeniably building buzz about Brooklyn studios the Dubway trail reminds that, for some, Manhattan will always be an essential address.

“A good deal of the business that we get is due at least partly to the fact that we’re in Manhattan,” Mike Crehore confirms. “A lot of our clients live in Brooklyn, but especially when it comes to audio post their business and offices are still in Manhattan – so the new location actually became an easier commute for some of our clients.”

It’s also intriguing — and not a little bit inspiring — that this sage and savvy studio tandem committed to building their third facility after what must have been the deepest of gut checks. Then they delivered, with a lean and mean full-service studio that’s as technically proficient as it is appealing.

“The bottom line is we love this business,” says Al Houghton. “We’re musicians ourselves and we love working with musicians, and the creatives doing the TV shows. There’s a great crew to collaborate with here, and that’s always a fun adventure. This business is not for the faint of heart. But it is satisfying.”

– David Weiss

There's a way for us: Entré Dubway.

Each control room fits right in for audio post and music mixing. Note the desk custom made for the room.

Set up for 5.1 surround.

Up close on the command view -- clean lines and lack of clutter make the Dubway rooms hospitable for long sessions.

Clients can get comfortable.

Video tielines keep all spaces visually connected.

The piano room can also host a full drumkit.

Gear to go: Outboard at the ready for switching into Main Floor control rooms or the Mezzanine.

Another view of the Mezzanine live room.

An SSL 4064 G+ looks out into the live space.

Join this merry crew!




Summing Up: Quad Launches Studio Q1

July 27, 2011 by  

MIDTOWN, MANHATTAN: Blink, and you might miss it. The action in the NYC studio scene right now is raging fast and furious, with noteworthy new rooms opening up at a pace almost too fast to keep track of.

Q1 caps off a completely new Quad.

The latest big-time addition to the cityscape: Q1 at Quad Recording Studios. The flagship revision to this storied facility, Q1 represents the latest evolution in NYC’s world-class studio offerings for artists, producers, mixers, and songwriters in search of new creative options and inspiring surroundings.

With its arrival, the fascinating timeline of 723 7th Avenue gets yet another update. The seeds of this new room were sown in Quad’s 2010 sale of its 8th floor — emerging lean and mean, Quad President Ricky Hosn and his staff embarked on a $500,000 overhaul of its remaining territory, the 3500 sq. ft. 10th floor.

Ask Hosn about the current NYC studio climate, and he’ll readily admit that navigating the scene is more challenging than ever. “It’s kept us on our toes,” he says, “and restructuring the place was essential for us. Quad was five floors at one point, but the market won’t sustain that anymore. We had to reinvent ourselves, to move in step with a changing of the times — we feel we have the right formula now.”

Making the Update
The results of the remake are as easy to see as they are to hear. Visitors step off of the elevator directly into the atmospheric Qlounge, complete with a pool table, bar and a carnivorous fish tank (show up for feeding time – if you dare). Those familiar with the powerful audio pod previously known as Studio D – now Q2 – will be happy to know that that room remains intact, although it is equipped with a new lounge that flanks it to the left.

Also with a brand new lounge is the latest addition Q1, a space designed to make all kinds of waves. At 320 sq. ft., the comfortable Larry Swist-designed control room may seem slightly compact, but once the advanced functionality and exhilaratingly loud and accurate acoustics have been experienced, size no longer matters.

Get comfy in the Qlounge.

To the contrary, Q1 is already making a big impact with its extreme flexibility, both in workflow and capabilities. “In the past a studio would have a mix room, a production room, a tracking room,” Hosn explains. “We said, ‘Let’s put all three together, and make a room where any producer, engineer or artist can walk in and feel at home.

“That’s the approach we took. There’s a producer’s desk in the back where you can sit, listen accurately, and work. The producer or artist is never sitting too far from the controls and the engineer. It’s geared around the artist and production, and that’s the trend we see: A lot of producers are handling the whole project, and we built it around that reality. It’s the same principle we had with creating Studio D five years ago, but we made this a bigger format, with better gear and a much bigger live room, so you really can handle any kind of music project.”

Outfitted with oiled walnut wood appointments, Swist’s pleasing design employs generous views to the outside and the adjacent control room, providing Q1’s users with an expansive experience while they work. “Windows were essential: You’re in Times Square so take advantage of it,” Hosn says. “Both the live room and control room have windows out to Times Square, and the window between the live and control room is bigger than most windows in the city. You feel like you’re right next to the artist — it just feels like one big room between the control and live room.”

Once clients get settled into the welcoming environment, things get increasingly interesting. While the ICON control surface won’t raise any eyebrows, the Pro Tools HD 4 Accel 9.0 system is to be expected, and the comprehensive list of plugins is de rigueur, where the signal can flow from there is unique: three different summing mixers – a Chandler 16 x 2, SSL X Logic 16 Channel, and a Manley 16 x 2 Custom mic/line – flanked by a who’s who of outboard gear.

Larry Swist designed Q1 for versatility.

“We had the opportunity to go with a typical analog desk, but we said, ‘Let’s do something different and get creative with the equipment,’” Hosn says. “We focused on summing, with three summing mixers to give the engineer more of a choice for the sound. This is the best of the summing world: Chandler comes from the old EMI consoles, SSL is the industry standard, and we have something different in the Manley mixer, which is amazing on vocals. As far as outboard gear, we went for — not vintage, but brand new — Chandler, GML, SSL, Manley EQ/compressor, and of course the Universal Audio units like the 1176 and LA-2A.”

For monitoring, a pair of Augspurger Dual 15” main monitors, custom built by Professional Audio Design, supplemented with 2 subwoofers, throws down the gauntlet for mega volume listening in NYC. In a recent visit listening to hip hop, pop and rock through these speakers in the tight, well-tuned room was a sonically exciting experience, revealing extremely high levels of full-frequency detail cleanly across the stereo field. For those who need to craft, check or just feel their mixes at massive SPL’s, Q1 may well become a mandatory stop on the way to the mastering lab.

Design Assignment
According to Swist, whose credits include Tainted Blue, Premier’s Studio E, Eastman School of Music, SUNY Fredonia, and The Lodge, the directive for Q1 was to create a warm but contemporary look and feel. “We used a lot of sharp lines, and the sound has got to be there — the acoustics need to be spot-on because people are going to mix in there,” Swist notes. “The challenge today in an NYC facility is that you don’t have the cubic footage you used to, so you have to spend more time in the design phase ensuring that the room will translate in the outside world, especially with bass response. It also has to have a broad sweet spot. It’s easy to make it work right in the middle, but to make the room work for the producer standing next to you or in the back is a challenge.

The live and control rooms are united by expansive glass.

“Most live rooms have an idiosyncratic quality to them: The great engineers find its good characteristics, the right places for the drums and mics, and use gobos,” Swist continues. “My approach is to keep it a relatively active room, and then you can come down from there. So Q1’s tracking room sits in a relatively live place: It’s good for drums, but reverb times can be cut down with gobos and more acoustical absorption. I think the live room is larger than most. It’s not huge, but then again most people are just putting in booths in a production suite today. This offers the ability to actually track a band. A lot of those rooms are going away, and this fills that void.

“Overall, the studio is something fresh, and you do have a really good initial emotional reaction to it. It’s positive creatively, and that’s what we were striving for. It’s like, ‘Wow, it feels nice and it sounds nice. We have a good combination there.’”

Under the Hood
Cleanly integrating Q1’s three analog summing mixers and outboard gear with the ICON was no plug ‘n’ play operation. “We wanted to do something focused on an easier workflow, quick mix recalls for engineers and easy accessibility for producers,” states Alessio Casalini Operations Manager and Chief Tech for Quad Studios NYC/Halo Records. “This improves the possibility to change little things fast and maintain top quality in terms of outboard gear and technical components like patchbays, wires, and connectors.

“The wiring of the whole studio and the patchbay’s layout were designed by Glenn Baughmann and myself,” continues Casalini. “We brainstormed in order to find the best result to yield a simple layout, one noted example being: The three summing mixers normalled to the multitrack outs, and the outs of those mixers normalled to the Stereo inputs of the (ICON) XMon (monitoring controller), and dedicated computer output to the XMon. Even the TV is on the bays.

“We started with the best quality wires and connectors, and used only two DB25 patchbays for connections with XMon and audio interfaces. All the other patchbays are soldered by hand and split to DL connectors panels.”

Connectivity in Q1 is obsessive: Every wallplate in the live room, control room and in the lounge are equipped with SpeakON plugs, Ethernet, instrument, MIDI, and BNC. “The goal being,” says Casalini, “to give the engineer every possibility, without trying to find a way around what he has in mind. In this scenario the artist, producer, and/or engineer will have everything accessible in the clearest way possible.

“New York City studios are looking to the future, and retaining our experience from the past. We expect that our careful planning yielded a room ninety percent ready for anything — with the client left only to decide the direction of the last ten percent.”

In Action
Online since June, Quad has quickly been breaking in Q1. Sessions include Engineer/Producer Andros Rodriguez (Shakira, Oh Land), Music Producer Rico Beats (Justin Bieber, Niki Manaj), and Universal Music Artist Stephen Marley. One frequent visitor has been the NYC engineer Stuart White (Alicia Keys, K’Naan), who’s gotten to know the room via mix sessions for the artists Borni, Fumibella, and Sunny.

These go up to 11,000: The dual 15" Augspurgers are a sonic thrill ride.

“The mains are really smooth,” he says. “They sound good and balanced. The ProAc monitors I use a lot and they’re dialed in, very smooth on the top end. Having three different summing boxes gives you three different colors. The Chandler is really punchy, with a lot of transformers in it: It’s got color to it, with some punch when you drive it hard. I typically use that summing bus. The Manley is all tubes, which provides a fat tubey sound, and the SSL is a different color.”

According to Stu, Q1 met Quad’s objectives in smoothing out the NYC studio continuum. “I think in a lot of ways Q1 is bridging the gap between the old-style, large-format console style way of working and the new summing bus-style way,” Stu adds. “There’s not a large format console, but still a plethora of analog gear so you can mix with the speed of what we need today. You have clients that expect you to mix in the box for speed, but at the same time Q1 makes you and the analog purists happy by being able to sum in analog gear.

“I think it’s a new breed of room in that sense. A few years ago, most engineers didn’t want to mix on an ICON, they wanted a large format board. But Tony Maserati is working exactly this way, and he’s the one who kind of inspired me to do it: You’re mixing with faders, and tactile controls, so you can stay creative and not use the mouse so much. But if someone wants to come in and change the song, it’s very easy to pull your mixes back up. It bridges the gap between the older generation rooms and the newer ones that are all digital.”

Cue the Q
As New York production possibilities continue to morph, at least one thing is clear: As previously noted on this site, a subtle sense of cooperation is weaving itself into the intensive competition between NYC studios. Facilities are avoiding blatant duplication in favor of an overall sense of regional integration, where each new room creates a fresh niche, rather than further crowding an existing one. “You don’t want to build what’s already there, and then compete against the same thing,” Hosn says. “The key for us was to make it a top notch room at an affordable price.”

As Ricky Hosn points out, the big winner in the friendly NYC studio arms race are music’s avid listeners, whose insatiable appetite for new sounds are increasing yet again with the availability of Spotify in the U.S. “Who knows what the next big record will sound like?” he says. “There’s a lot of opportunity to come up with something that hasn’t been heard yet.”

– David Weiss

Studio Project: Steve Salett and Gary Maurer on The Poison Tree & Saltlands Studios

March 29, 2011 by  

DUMBO, BROOKLYN: In an era when a record’s “production” often overwhelms its “performances” – for better or for worse – a worthy and well-recorded live performance can sound like a revelation. The newly released, self-titled album by The Poison Tree, a Brooklyn-based project led by former King of France frontman and producer Steve Salett, captures performances so worthy and so well that it actually feels familiar, forges an instant connection.

The Poison Tree

The Poison Tree’s self-titled album is available now at iTunes

What feels so right here? The immediacy of Salett’s deep baritone vocal, his nylon string guitar, and the sparse but essential ensemble including Thomas Bartlett (Doveman) on keys, Jeff Hill (Rufus Wainwright) on upright/bass and drummer Konrad Meissner (Graham Parker) captured in the perfect room (Sear Sound) by a skilled engineer/producer, Gary Maurer (HEM). The songs are intimate and wistful, lyrically driven and cinematic, and the music is a sophisticated spin on folk-acoustic-jazz. Timeless.

According to Salett, The Poison Tree was awhile in the making, both before and after the two days of tracking at Sear Sound in January of ’09.

They mixed the album over several weeks in Brooklyn at Saltlands, the recording collective Salett operates with Maurer and two other musician/engineer/producer partners — Dawn Landes and Eli Janney.

Salett also runs the adjacent 10,000 square feet of production/rehearsal spaces known as the Saltmines, and the ‘collective’ extends to include his many tenants. The sprawling basement facility is like its own little sub-set of the Brooklyn music scene, an underground coop where multi-dexterous music and recording professionals share gear, swap techniques, play on each other’s projects and book each other’s rooms.

We sat down with Salett and Maurer in Saltlands, a fully functional recording and mixing room where artists like The Soft Pack, Obits, Alexi Murdoch and The National have recently recorded. Like The Poison Tree music, this studio is real and unpretentious – made by friends.

We are big fans of The Poison Tree record. Tell us, what was the inspiration behind this project and the sound?

Steve: I wanted to write songs that were like the very first songs I wrote, before I started trying to have an indie rock band and chase certain sounds. I was writing folkier tunes. So I wanted to do that kind of record.

Also, I’d always wanted to write something fast and slow at the same time. There are so many things I’m inspired by that I wanted to do it all. I wanted it to be lyrically driven. I wanted it to have very simple arrangements. I wanted to focus on the sonics of it. I was excited to use tape and to really think about the songs. I felt like I’d never made a record that sounded to me like the records I loved. They just never sounded good enough to me.

As I learned more about recording and producing, and I’ve learned a lot from Gary – I realize that a great sounding record is very much about performance. It’s about capturing good players playing thoughtful parts. Do that and it will sound good!

What was the approach going into the studio? Musically, sonically, what was the direction?

Steve Salett, The Poison Tree. Photo by Bernie Dechant

Gary: One of the early definitions of this project was that this was not going to be an indie rock record. In fact, this record has nothing to do with indie rock. The original idea was to go to Sear Sound for two days with this four piece, all acoustic band and just record these guys playing the songs. And that’s how it started. It was totally simple. It was all about the vocal performance.

Steve: It was a lot of live takes. And even though we worked on the record for a long time, we were working on pretty small changes, or adding stuff that we ultimately got rid of in favor of the live take. It’s funny to work so hard on something that was already there!

Gary: But it’s an easy trap to fall into. You figure: I’m a producer — isn’t it my job to put stuff on there? Isn’t that the work? I’ve made a conscious effort for a long time to get away from that – with HEM and other projects – saying we’re not going to do overdubs, we’re just going to play. The Poison Tree group of songs are so much about the lyrics and the stories that a lot of the other stuff we tried just ended up feeling like it was detracting from that.

Why was Sear Sound the right studio for this project?

Gary: Sear Sound is a place where I’ve worked a lot since the 90s. For the kind of record we were talking about, this kind of ensemble – upright bass, piano, drums, Steve playing nylon string guitar and singing – it was the natural choice. At Sear Sound, there’s no impediment to getting that on the tape. You walk in and everything is ready to go. I’ve worked with those guys for years. I can send them a mic list, and when we walk in it’s all ready to go.

Steve: Also, we really wanted tape. And we didn’t have a tape machine at that time. We recorded to 2” 16-track. (Gary: Also Walter had some 996 hidden away that we bought off of him to use on this!)

Salett recording at Sear Sound in Manhattan

I remember the process like: OK, we want the record on tape. Can we do it here [at Saltlands]? At that time we didn’t have a piano. We didn’t have a tape deck. So we started to think – what do we need to buy to get set up to do the record here instead of spending the money on Sear Sound? And in that process you realize just how good Sear Sound is! (laughs) It’s incredible. The equipment, the microphones, at that time Walter…

Gary: Yeah. I mean just the signal path for the vocal chain alone: chrome long-body Neumann U47 with a Pultec MB-1A preamp and an original LA2A that Walter bought new in the box going to 15 ips 16” 2-track. I mean…what more do you want? Listen to those vocals – it sounds like Leonard Cohen. And I take no credit for it: that was Steve and Walter. I had nothing to do with it!

So you were working with these great players – were these arrangements all written and rehearsed ahead of time, or was it more collaborative with you guys trying different ideas in the studio.

Steve: I had a good idea what I wanted and we did pre-production and recorded all the parts. And we rehearsed. Gary was really instrumental in helping to shape the songs. But when it was time to go, some of that went out the window and we just played.

On certain songs, like “Welcome to the Neighborhood,” it seems like there’s so much going on and it’s really just me, upright bass, piano and CJ Camerieri (trumpet player) came in and put down some horns. That was it.

And that was exactly the type of thing I wanted to get to, which took me a long time to realize – that it’s not really about trying to add all these things. It sounds so full as it is. Just left alone, an upright bass is a very rich and full instrument.

And you can hear the space too.

Gary: Right and the space that’s allowed for the melody and the vocal is just wonderful.

Sounds like you took some time with the mixing – what was your approach on that? Staying true to the live performances?

Gary: We wanted to concentrate on really getting to the emotional core of the performance. I tried to concentrate more on revealing that – what was truly important about the performance – than worrying about ‘oh, can you hear the hi-hat there?’ I tried to concentrate on what it felt like. What would feel the most emotionally impactful.

I love Steve’s lyrics and voice, and so I wanted to make that as immediate as possible. Is it sort of loud at 80Hz? Who cares! The more I could shut off the technical part of my brain, the more I liked what was going on. The way you hear the song is what your original intent was. You’re not focusing on how loud the snare drum is. It’s about what is the intent of the song.

Steve: And it’s funny because, as we were working on it, when something sounded wrong, we would have an emotional reaction to it. It would piss us off! It’s a funny way to work – to try to listen for that – because there is no science to that.

If this is all about amazing vocal performances and lyrics, I would think that the feeling would be there right away. So what was all the tweaking and experimenting about?

Gary: Maybe a lot of the experimentation was about trying to hear all the parts. Again, a good example of this is the song “Welcome to the Neighborhood” – which was going to be this whole ridiculous orchestrated thing – and a lot of the experimentation there was us adding and then getting rid of things.

Steve: It’s part of the process because I think it’s scary to have your songs just laid out there very clearly.

Gary: Yeah. I think there is that element of commitment and belief in the songs and the more we believed in it, the less stuff we needed to add, the more stuff we ended up leaving on the floor.

And it’s difficult to know when a part, no matter how much you love it, is detracting from that moment rather than enhancing it.

Gary: It is! And it seems like the job of the modern producer often comes down to finding more interesting things to put in the song – a lot of times things that are just like every other song that came out in the last 6 months. We really were trying very hard to get away from that as much as possible. And just make it about Steve’s songwriting and singing.

To me there’s a big line between what I refer to as performance records and what I call production records. I don’t like working on production records anymore. It’s tedious, and the same ideas get recycled in terms of arrangements and overdubs, over and over.

And then there are performance records. And they’re very difficult to copy because it’s this original thing. This group of songs is the most original group of songs I’ve heard in 20 years. You can’t rip that off. And when you can manage that, you don’t have to worry about ‘should I turn on the tremolo pedal or not?’ It doesn’t matter!

Good songs and good players makes a producer’s job….the best advice Lenny Waronker ever gave me: “Just always work with the best musicians you can. Then you don’t have to ‘produce’ anything.”

Great advice. Now switching gears, let’s talk bit about Saltlands. Steve, you are also an engineer and producer, yes?

Steve: Yes, I’m new to the game certainly, but I did get pretty crazy about it. It’s a great experience to build a studio and work with these people. Gary’s been very good about teaching me a lot. And you learn a lot about the gear it when it breaks!

[Saltlands is equipped with a Neotek Elite 32 Channel Console and Neve 54 12-Channel Sidecar with Purple Audio Balanced Track Outputs, Pro Tools HD2 and a highly configurable recording space. Says the studio: “The gear in the studio has been chosen with a selectivity gained from the years of professional experience of the Saltlands partners.” And in that regard, the gear collection is being refined and augmented all the time.]

And the studio has been booked commercially a fair amount, right? How does the business vs. collective work out for everyone involved?

Steve: Most of what we do is commercial – for paying clients. But the Saltlands is a collection of a lot of people’s gear and time. The rehearsal rooms occupy about 10,000 square feet down here – 16 rooms. Many of those have turned into little private studios.

Then there’s a part of it where some of us do ad work and can be hired like a music house. We’re also building a music library.

Cool. Sure would seem there’s no shortage of original music around here – makes sense to go after some of that work…

Steve: Absolutely. And a lot of people are doing this now, and that makes sense. I think there’s definitely a division between people’s art – their music – and the craft of writing for commercials which is totally different. You’re doing what someone else wants. But in my experience it certainly helps you think about getting to what you want to do.

Interesting. So do you think that the writing you do for commercials and TV has any influence over what and how you do for art’s sake, or vice versa?

Steve: Yeah, I think maybe at least in the way that I feel more secure or confident in how I approach things. I know that I can write to a specific direction successfully without feeling like I’m being led by the nose with my inspiration. I can kind of direct it more.

Gary: It’s a really good exercise to do work for hire – it’s actually sort of liberating. You judge what you’re writing in a totally different way than something that goes on your album. It’s like a functional exercise. You know how it’s going to be judged, which is totally outside of what art criticism is. I love writing that stuff.

Steve: Also I think there is a whole kind of ‘school,’ or approach, to this work as a craft. This whole experience at Saltlands is one where everybody makes everybody better. And that’s really great. All the engineers who are partners have been musicians for a long time and either focus more on engineering/producing now, or balance music and engineering.

And coming at it from that angle can distinguish Saltlands from other ‘music houses,’ just in that you’re all actively artists as well as writers and engineers. There aren’t too many people bridging those worlds really effectively.

It can be hard to navigate [for those of us not coming from the traditional music house] but I think you just have to take on the things that you really want to do. A lot of times you’ll get some kind of project for a commercial where they’re like ‘make it like this song.’ And I hate that because whether I like the song or not, that is someone else’s song. That’s stealing. And I’m not going to do that.

I think the easiest way to approach a commercial is to make it something you like. I know there’s this other force, where you want to do exactly what people want. But if you can’t stand behind it, it’s not worth it.

For more on Steve Salett, Gary Maurer and Saltlands, visit And follow The Poison Tree via Facebook and Twitter. Download The Poison Tree record at iTunes.

Dream Gig: Travis Harrison Records Guided By Voices Heroes at Serious Business

January 20, 2011 by  

SoHo, Manhattan: Travis Harrison — record producer, engineer, founder of Serious Business Records & Studio and Guided By Voices super-fan — met late era GBV guitarist Doug Gillard when his band, The Unsacred Hearts, shared a bill with Gillard at Piano’s.

Serious Business: Doug Gillard, Travis Harrison and Robert Pollard during Lifeguards sessions

Harrison gushed about GBV, Gillard dug The Unsacred Hearts, and they stayed in touch. Later on, Harrison inquired about future prospects for Lifeguards, the Gillard and Robert Pollard GBV side-project whose one and only release, Mist King Urth, came out in ’02.

“I was a huge fan of the first Lifeguards album,” says Harrison, “I buy everything that Bob [Pollard] puts out. After I met Doug, Bob had been in touch to tell him if he wanted to produce the music and find a label, he’d be into doing another Lifeguards record. That’s when I swooped in and pitched Doug: I have a studio, a label, the [recording] skill-set and I’m a huge fan. Let’s do this! I expected to get no response.”

Of course, Gillard did respond and the new Lifeguards record, due out February 15 on Serious Business / Ernest Jenning Record Co., was engineered by none other than Harrison. Scroll down to stream “Product Head,” the album’s single released on 7″ in advance of the record. And read on for an interview about the recording and production of Lifeguard’s Waving At The Astronauts by this Guided By Voices super-fan…

Awesome that you got to engineer this record at Serious Business! So tell me about how it all came together.

The way they worked on this project is that Doug wrote the instrumentals and recorded them at home in Garage Band and then sent them to Bob who then created the melodies and lyrics on top of these instrumentals. It’s just one of the many ways that Bob works.

Doug’s GarageBand demos were pretty fully fleshed out — he recorded most of the guitars, and bass and other little sonic treatments. Then he brought it to me and at my studio, I salvaged any less than ideally recorded stuff, but we also tracked drums, bass, re-tracked any guitar that I could get him to re-track and then we recorded Bob’s vocals.

What were your first impressions of the material? Were you so psyched?!

First of all, I was just in awe. As far as Doug’s instrumentals go, the shit’s amazing. He’s a great guitar player, and has an amazing musical mind that always goes somewhere you don’t expect. He’s awesome. But I didn’t actually hear these tracks as songs beyond instrumentals until Bob was actually in the studio, at the microphone. He drove in from Dayton in May to do his vocals. And that was just amazing. The guy is a genius! Obviously I’m a huge fan, but just to see him work and see how completely natural and instinctual it is, I was blown away.

Wow, very cool! And I know you’re a drummer — did you by any chance get to play on the record?

Yes, I played on five songs and Doug played on the rest. He’s a great drummer, he basically plays everything, but it was obviously a crazy honor for me to play drums on this record. There were some parts that were really fast, that either exceeded his technical ability or that he thought I’d have a good groove for – that’s the stuff I got a shot at.

And what was your goal in the studio what aspects were you re-recording or adding, and how did you approach the recording?

Travis Harrison in the zone

It was very important to me to make it sound as un-GarageBand-y as possible. We didn’t want it to sound homemade at all. And Bob’s vision for the record was like “ARENA ROCK.” He’s known for lo-fi, but we were consciously not going for that. Doug was the producer, so he really called all the shots. He called for a lot of really heavy compression on drums.

On one song in particular, “Nobody’s Milk,” Doug had done the original drum track on a drum machine and it was incredible but it wasn’t totally in time and he’d used the GarageBand compressor at 10 to really squash it. It was really clean but insanely compressed and I begged to redo them.

It took a ton of work to match his exact part because it was very intricate, but to achieve the compression, I used the API 2500 bus compressor as the first stage and then after that, the Fatso pretty much demolishing it in parallel. And I really favored the compressed side and went for this ultra squashed sound to simulate his Garage Band demo. That was my goal throughout the whole project, to please Doug and Bob as much as I could. I willingly and gladly checked my ego at the door!

In that process, do you feel like you learned from them? From following their instincts?

Of course, although this way of working — taking a fully fleshed out Garage Band demo and turning that into the record — is incredibly tedious. So it was a matter of enjoying the tedium of that. I spent an insane amount of time on my own editing, beat-by-beat, that ultra compressed drum track because I didn’t want Doug to hear really anything different from his version. I just wanted it to be real drums instead of these samples.

But do you feel you came up with something new and different in the process — something cool you wouldn’t have come up with otherwise?

Yes, but you know Doug was the producer and this is what he wanted to hear. And when he heard it, he (and Bob) loved it.  But the way these guys work…and I should separate them, because Doug is more of a meticulous craftsman. But at the same time, he does kind of bang it out. He’s not going to do 30 takes of something. Where Bob does ONE take.

Tell me about that! What was it like recording Bob’s vocals on this?

I had a [Shure] SM7 set up in the studio. The SM7 is my favorite mic, especially for a singer like Bob. I was really excited. My thinking was to record Bob onto two tracks simultaneously.  One track was just about capturing him with very little compression — an SM7 to a Great River mic pre to a distressor at 2:1 (but barely touching it) — and then on the other track, I hit him with an 1176 at 4:1 with the super-spitty setting (the fastest release and the slowest attack). And that’s the track I ended up using for most of the final mixes.

Also, for every track, I printed either Space Echo or Echoplex live. Bob would step up to the mic and say “Alright man, this one is arena rock!” or “This one’s Elvis!” or “psychedelic” and between the Echoplex and the Space Echo, I was able to get what I wanted. I would print that live so there were certain freak-outs in sections — wild, completely tasteless effects stuff.

Bob basically sang the record in sequence. He stepped up and sang the first song all the way through, he listened to it played back over headphones and then moved on. Couple tunes, he’d punch in a word here and there. He did Side A, then we took a break, had a couple tall, cold ones, and then move onto Side B. It was incredible. I’d always heard he was first-take-jake, and he really was. And he was in wonderful voice too. As good as I’ve ever heard him sound.

Stream “Product Head” off Lifeguards’ upcoming album Waving At The Astronauts, also now available as a single on 7″ vinyl:
LIFEGUARDS – Product Head by seriousbusiness

Awesome. And he was digging what he was hearing?

Yeah, I was giving him Space Echo on his headphones. Monitoring off my Soundcraft Ghost, I was recording the output of the Space Echo back into Pro Tools, and I knew he wanted to hear a lot of it, so I gave it to him and made it long, made it do stuff! I tried to provide him with something he was really feeling.

And that was the vocal chain throughout?

Yeah, this was a bang-it-out situation. He did the whole 10-song record in four hours, and two of the hours we were just screwing around. The thing about Bob is he doesn’t like to spend a lot of time in the studio, but he works really hard. He wakes up every morning and writes. He’d worked hard on these tunes and had practiced them a lot at home. He was on point.

And you mixed the record as well? What was the focus there?

Lifeguards' "Waving At The Astronauts" will be released on February 15 via Serious Business / Ernest Jenning Record Co.

Yes, Doug and I mixed the record together. And he’s into hearing stuff pretty bright. He doesn’t want to hear a ton of kick drum. He has a specific way that he hears records, coming from this late 70s, post-punk place, and the end result is awesome.

We worked very quickly. I mix in Pro Tools, but not in the box. I spread it out on the Ghost as much as I can and try to use as much outboard as I can, but I also keep it as recallable as possible. So I would sit at the desk and get the mix up for a few hours and then when it came time to mixdown, Doug sat at the desk and I would hit record, and he would do all kinds of cool shit!

He ended up using the console in very obviously un-Pro Tools-like ways. Like, panning sweeps on Bob’s lead vocal and on the guitar solos. Expressive moves that you wouldn’t do in Pro Tools.

And I really encouraged Doug to do this because there’s a character to all that GBV music that’s the exact opposite of Pro Tools. In the back of my mind through the whole project, I kept in mind the essential character of the GBV recordings that people love so much, and they’re on 4 track or on ADAT made in a garage somewhere.

How would you describe that “un-Pro Tools” quality? Just totally unpolished and lo-fi, or what?

Well the entire GBV and Robert Pollard’s solo oeuvre is about as varied as you can imagine. He’s obviously famous for being the king of lo-fi. You have certain records, like Vampire On Titus, which just sounds like the shittiest possible thing you can imagine. 4-track and whoa…you can barely hear the vocals! It takes like 8 listens to realize how amazing the songs are.

On the other hand, they made records with Ric Ocasek and Rob Schnapf for TVT, and those are glossy and way more hi-fi. The Rob Schnapf record sounds incredible. It’s a huge guitar record, lots of compression but modern sounding. So they run the gamut.

But the quality I’m talking about is… this thing we all get into when we make records with Pro Tools — even when you’re not trying to make polished sounding music, you polish your mixes because you can do anything you want. You have all these shades of subtlety…all these things you can do in Pro Tools, where when you’re working with this big beast of a board and you’re just trying to get something done, you make mistakes and the mistakes becomes the essential character of the music.

Do you feel you had to hold yourself back from the way you usually engineer records at all to capture that?

Yes, somewhat. But in this case, a lot of times there just wasn’t any time to do things that I should have done. Like getting the drum mics perfectly in phase, or creating musically perfect EQ relationships between all the overdubs — all the things we do as mix engineers. We just did it fast. And that speed is an essential part of the GBV aesthetic. Bob does not ponder the music.

Awesome, well congrats! Now, fill us in on Serious Business — it’s a studio and a record label — how long have you been around?

I started the Serious Business studio in Long Island City with my good buddy, Andy Ross, who’s now the guitar player in OK Go. We had a G4 with Pro Tools and the audacity to put an ad on Craigslist advertising as a studio, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

We moved from there to a big loft in Williamsburg and then partnered up in a collective-type fashion — an engineer friend of mine, Halsey Quemere, brought a tape machine (a Sony MCI, acquired from Jimmy Douglass) into the fold, and then I felt we needed a more proper studio space, so we found the SoHo location. Last year, I hooked up with [producer/engineer] Shannon Ferguson (of Longwave, etc.) and with him came this great influx of cool gear.

And the label? You guys are actually putting out the Lifeguards release, yes?

Yes, I started the label awhile back as an outlet for my own bands, and my friends’ bands, and though it tends to take a back seat to other (paying) gigs, it’s continued as a total labor of love. Artists like Benji Cossa, Higgins, Rocketship Park, etc. it is all music I love. The binding theme of the label is Class A songwriting.

For Lifeguards’ Waving At The Astronauts, Serious Business is partnering with Ernest Jenning to put it out. I did the A&R and recording and production and layout of the artwork, and Ernest Jenning is doing the promotion and distribution, etc.

And you’re also doing a podcast for BreakThru Radio — it’s cool! Tell us about that!

In this week's "Serious Business Live on BreakThru Radio," Travis Harrison (at right) welcomes Dawn Landes and band into the studio.

BreakThru Radio produces a ton of original content — including a few in-studio sessions with bands. The main property is a show called “Live Studio,” where the band comes in, plays a set, and talks to the host Maya MacDonald, a college radio-style interview. I started recording the lion’s share of those last year at Serious Business, and after awhile, I convinced them to give me my own show!

My show is the same kind of format, but way less formal — there’s drinking, silly craziness and lots of potty-mouth. My vision for that show is to create an atmosphere of what it’s really like when bands come into the studio to record with me. So far I haven’t gotten fired, which is a miracle!

Tune in every Monday morning for a new installment of Serious Business Music Live on BreakThru Radio Check out Serious Business, the studio, at and the label, at And pick up the Lifeguards single “Product Head on iTunes.