GREATER NYC AREA: This month in NYC recording found Skrillex producing Wale, Nicki Minaj working with Big Sean, The Kin recording with The Rondo Brothers, and a ton of bands recording in Brooklyn. There’s no way to report on everything, but here we run down some of the highlights from February to now…
Starting in Brooklyn This Time!
At Headgear Recording, Jersey rock band The Everymen mixed their upcoming album with producer/engineer John Agnello. And NYC-based Japanese rock band The Ricecookers tracked and mixed two EPs with engineer Ted Young.
Brooklyn bliss-pop band Cave Days has been recording a new LP at The Fort Brooklyn. James “General Crapshoot” Bentley is recording, mixing and producing with the band. In other news, The Fort has just re-capped the master section of their Neotek Elan console and – according to Bentley – “it sounds unreal!”
At Vacation Island Recording in Williamsburg, producer/engineer Matt Boynton recently finished mixing the new Suckers album, Candy Salad for Frenchkiss Records. Boynton also mixed more songs from Free Blood and finished Zachary Cale‘s new “Hangman Letters” EP. Brooklyn rock band Linfinity, Manican Party and El Dorado all recently mixed records with Boynton. And (pictured) Vacation Island’s tracking room (the “dead” room) got a facelift!
Berner also recently recorded, mixed, and played guitar on Psychic TV‘s limited vinyl-only 12″s – “Thank You Pts 1& 2″ and “Mother Sky/Alien Sky” (for Vanity Case Records) with additional engineering from Chris Cubeta – produced/engineered/played on Tatiana Kochkareva‘s “Infinity”, recorded and mixed Dead Stars‘ “I Get By” EP, and The Courtesy Tier‘s “Holy Hot Fire.” Also out of Galuminum Foil, Berner is currently recording and mixing records for Monuments, Man The Change, Jumpers, The Glorious Veins and Chris Abad.
Nearby at Excello Recording in Williamsburg, Grammy-winning Irish folksinger Susan McKeown tracked acoustic music for an upcoming release with engineer Hugh Pool. And Brooklyn-based rock band Alberta Cross tracked new material at Excello with producer/engineer Claudius Mittendorfer (Interpol, Muse), and assistant Oliver Palomares.
Trombonist/guitarist/composer Curtis Hasselbring brought in a large acoustic tracking session to Excello – which Pool also engineered. And The Veda Rays tracked drums for their upcoming release with producer Jason Marcucci, and Pool engineering, assisted by Charles Dechants. Tokyo/Brooklyn rock duo Ken South Rock also recorded for their upcoming release at Excello with Pool, and Charlie Gramidia producing.
DIVE, a new four-piece led by Beach Fossils’ Z. Cole Smith and recently signed to Captured Tracks, have been recording and mixing a 7” single and full-length LP at Strange Weather Brooklyn with engineer/producer Daniel Schlett.
Also out of Strange Weather, Schlett has recorded and mixed Royal Baths’ new LP for Kanine Records, recorded and mixed for Zulus’ new release with producer Ben Greenberg, and recorded and mixed tracks for Woodsman’s full-length, due out on Mexican Summer later this year.
Katherine Whalen and Her Fascinators (Squirrel Nut Zippers) were up from North Carolina to track a few songs with producer/engineer Colby Devereux at his studio Copperfish Sound in Brooklyn. Devereux also recently tracked a few songs with The Library is on Fire. Check out these and other recording sessions at “Live from Copperfish Sound” on Vimeo.
We also dropped by Mason Jar Music out in Borough Park this week, where Afro-Beat ensemble EMEFE was recording a new album with Mason Jar founders Dan Knobler and Jon Seale. Both producer/engineer/musicians, Knobler and Seale also just finished mixing a new album by indie-folk band Town Hall. Look out for our upcoming feature on this exciting collective of musicians, producers and filmmakers…
Meanwhile in Manhattan…
Pat Metheny took over Avatar Studio A for four days of tracking with his full “Orchestrion“. The session was produced by Methany and Steve Rodby, with James Farber engineering, assisted by Bob Mallory. Lyle Lovett tracked in Studio C with his band while in town with producer/engineer Nathaniel Kunkel assisted by Tim Marchiafava. And Lenny Kravitz recorded in Studio B with engineer Tom “T-Bone” Edmunds assisted by Charlie Kramsky.
Australia four-piece band The Rubens recorded with producer David Kahne, and engineer Roy Hendrickson. And the film score to Yaron Zilberman’s A Late Quartet (Catherine Keener, Philip Seymour Hoffman) – composed by Brooklyn native Angelo Badalamenti – was recorded in Studio A, produced by Badalamenti and Jim Bruening and engineered by Todd Whitelock. And Chris Lord-Alge held a mixing event for the students of NYU Steinhardt School sponsored by SSL. Chris demonstrated his mixing techniques in Studio G on the same console he mixes on at his Mix LA Studio, the SSL 4000 G series.
Downtown at Germano Studios, Chris Shaw has been mixing a Paul Simon Graceland live concert from San Sebastian, Spain with producer Steve Berkowitz, The Kin recorded basic tracks with The Rondo Brothers (Foster the People) producing and engineering, John Legend recorded with Dave Tozer producing and Jason Agel engineering, and Chris Rene (X-Factor) was in for mixing sessions with Claude Kelly producing and Ben Chang engineering.
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts continued recording in Germano Studio 1 with Thom Panunzio engineering and Kenny Laguna producing, Brazilian singer Michel Teló worked on a new release with Kenta Yonesaka engineering and John Doelp (A&R at Sony/Columbia Records) producing, hit songwriter Sandy Vee was in recording with Butch Walker and Dreamlab, and “The Last Unicorn” recorded with DJ/producer Alexander Dexter-Jones and Sean Parker producing, and Kenta Yonesaka engineering.
At Premier Studios in Times Square, Nicki Minaj and Big Sean were working on a project together, with engineer Chad Jolley, assisted by Kevin Geigel; Young Jeezy came in to work with artist/producer Ryan Leslie on a new track in sessions engineered by Stickabus; Rapper Wale worked in Studio F with Grammy-winning artist/producer Skrillex, and engineer Derek Pacuk, assisted by Kelby Craig; and Yo Gotti recorded some new original material for his upcoming album, with engineer Angelo Payne and assistant Colin Rivers.
Also at Premier, the casts of Broadway’s Anything Goes and Mamma Mia! recorded respective projects in Studio A with Matt Polk producing, and Kevin Geigel (Anything Goes) and Sam Giannelli (Mamma Mia!) engineering.
Right in the same building at Quad Studios, indie-to-Epic pop band Oh Land worked on music for a new album with Brandon Boyd and Andros Rodriguez, MBK artist Gabi Wilson worked on songs for a new project, Interscope artist J. Randall tracked songs for a debut album, and Remo the Hitmaker was camped out in Studio Q1 producing and writing with various artists.
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: Both through the grapevine and straight from the source(s), we’ve been hearing about a number of different recording projects going on in studios throughout the NYC area. The following is but a sampling of recent sessions, and works in progress…a snapshot of what’s going on around town:
Germano Studios has been going non-stop in 2011, between multiple months of lock-out sessions with Lady Gaga, and sessions with a host of other major artists.
Gaga and crew have been working out of both Germano Studio 1 and Studio 2, recording and mixing her upcoming album, Born This Way – due out May 23 – and the title track lead single, released in February.
Also – as previously reported – T-Pain was also at Germano Studios, recording vocals in Studio 2 with Levar “LV” Coppin producing and Javier Valverde engineering. And producer Steve Jordan and engineer Dave O’Donnell were in tracking basics with Kelly Clarkson and writing/recording with Keith Richards.
Meanwhile in the Brill Building, KMA Music has been going strong, with Beyoncé locked out Studios A and B for writing, recording and mixing sessions for her new album with an array of producers – The-Dream, Switch, Robert “Shea” Taylor, Jeff Bhasker – and engineers, including Swivel, Pat Thrall, Serge Nudel. Mya also booked out KMA for tracking and mixing sessions with producer Chuck Harmony and engineer Ben Chang. And Joe Jonas tracked and mixed material for his new solo project with Danja producing and Marcella Araica engineering. Lil Wayne was at KMA for a late-night vocal session as well.
In Brooklyn, producer/engineer Tim O’Heir has been holed up in his “Golden Ear” studio in the Music Garage in Williamsburg mixing the upcoming Austin TV double album epic. Austin TV, according to O’Heir, is “an instrumental group from Mexico City who compare themselves to Mogwai but with more ‘theatre.’
“The tracks were produced by Meme from Cafe Tacuba in Mexico and they FTP’d the Pro Tools sessions to me here in NY. It’s been a trip as these pieces are 100% math rock. The trick for them, and myself, was to get them as musical sounding as possible. (I think that was accomplished.)
The tracks were mixed in the box, summed through a Dangerous D-Box. Waves and Sound Toys as well as a few Digi plug-ins brought the whole thing to life.”
Nearby at The Bunker in East Williamsburg, Aaron Nevezie tracked and mixed the debut album by the Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra. This is an 11-piece traditional salsa band tracked live, playing fresh arrangements of indie-rock songs by LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire, Spoon and more. Nevezie also produced new releases for local Brooklyn bands Des Roar, and Crinkles, and mixed Peoples Champs.
The Bunker is also excited to have added a 1969 Steinway M grand piano and a new pair of vintage RCA ribbon mics to the studio.
And down in the financial district, Engine Room Audio has been popping with projects up in its SSL 4064G+ equipped penthouse tracking/mixing room, including G-Unit’s Tony Yayo and Waka Flocka tracking a new single with engineer Drew Fisher. Sean Kingston and Trav also mixed a new single at Engine Room, with engineer Sam Jacquet. Indie rock band Lowry just wrapped mixing on their new full-length album for Engine Room Recordings, with Mark Christensen producing and Fisher engineering. And “indie-pop-on-Mozart quintet” Wakey! Wakey! has been in recording for an upcoming Engine Room Recordings compilation.
Down in his mastering suite, Christensen’s been working on a new OK Go! live album, mixed by Dave Fridmann, as well as a new album by The Color Bars. Christensen also recently mastered the new Ryan Leslie single, “Glory,” and a new record by Cheryl Englehard.
Inside another popular NYC mastering haunt, The Lodge, mastering engineers Emily Lazar, Joe LaPorta, Sarah Register, and Heba Kadry have been busy with releases by Serg Tankian and Shirley Manson, Against Me!, The Naked and Famous, and Chris Taylor’s newest production work on Blood Orange’s upcoming 7″. (Lazar and LaPorta also mastered Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light!)
Other albums recently mastered by The Lodge crew: Tune-yards’ w h o k i l l, Fucked Up’s David Comes To Life, Ford & Lopatin’s Channel Pressure, Cold Cave’s Cherish The Light Years, EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints, Liturgy, Xray Eyeballs, Eternal Tapestry/Sun Araw, White Hills and more.
Back uptown at Area 51 NYC… singer Vita Chambers was working on a new release for Universal Motown with producers CJ, Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers, and Henry “Skem” Kaprali engineering, assisted by John Lurie. Also for Universal Motown, Gail Scott was in session working with producer Kenneth “Soundz” Coby and Michelle Figueroa engineering. French house DJ/producer David Guetta was at Area 51 co-producing new material with CJ, and engineer Dan Smith, for Guetta’s own Gum Productions.
Area 51 also installed new Augspurger mains in the North Room. Says Area 51 co-owner/manager Tony Drootin: “We purchased the dual 15” cabinets and subs that used to reside in Studio D at Sony Studios. We replaced all the components, added a new crossover, and tweaked the system to our room.” He also reports that Area 51 is now configured for drum tracking out of the South Room, and has added some new mics and outboard gear to its arsenal.
Nearby at Avatar Studios, the city’s most famous “Studio A” hosted… a duet by Tony Bennett and Sheryl Crow, produced by Phil Ramone, and engineered by Dae Bennett; Elvis Costello recording a song for an upcoming film with engineer Kevin Killen; and James McCartney recording new material with David Kahne producing and Roy Hendrickson engineering. Meanwhile in Studio C, Steve Reich / So Percussion recorded with producer Judith Sherman and engineer John Kilgore.
At Threshold Recording Studios NYC… singer/songwriter Alana Kessler worked on her new single “The Best Thing” with producer/engineer and multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Sklarsky; composer / PBS producer Tim Janis prepared for his upcoming annual Christmas show at Carnegie Hall with Alexa Ray Joel; and Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke was back as part of the Road Recovery Performance Workshops Program.
And finally, Stratosphere Sound hosted New Jersey indie rockers The Static Jacks for a month, recording their debut full-length in Studio A with producer/engineer Chris Shaw. R&B legend Aaron Neville also recorded vocals at Stratosphere recently with Geoff Sanoff in Studio A.
And Amanda Ghost, producer Dave McCracken and engineer Andros Rodriguez – long-term clients in Studio B – have been working with female rapper KFlay, singers Sky Ferreira and Murray James, as well as John Legend.
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.
Caruana also recently engineered some new material with producer/musician/singer Ryan Leslie at Area 51.
LOWER MANHATTAN: In all incarnations, including its latest, Mark Christensen’s Engine Room Audio has run ahead of the curve, taking risks to provide the local artist and producer/engineer community with something it really needs. Back in ’03, Christensen opened a multi-room production and mastering facility on Canal Street, making high-quality, acoustically designed rooms available for long-term lease to producer/engineers, songwriting teams, composers, etc. There was an immediate waiting list.
Now, with the opening of a brand-new, large-format tracking and mixing studio located in the penthouse of its year-old, 11,000-square-foot financial district facility, Engine Room again goes out on a limb and the result is again huge for the community.
At its core, Engine Room is a DIY-inspired enterprise, and this latest move sees Christensen, a Grammy-winning engineer, producer and songwriter, realizing a nascent vision.
“When I started the first Engine Room Audio, I was technically still signed [to a record deal] and owed the label another album, but I’d gotten so fed up with everyone telling me what to do; I really wanted to be able to do my own thing,” Christensen recalls.
“I wanted to build a facility where I could record, mix, master and even manufacture and release my own records without being forced to do anything I didn’t want to. And ultimately I wanted to be able to offer that to other artists.”
He started with a home studio, moving a Trident board and CD manufacturing facilities into his East Village apartment, and quickly found a lot of clients in like-minded NYC artists. Christensen built a name for himself as a mastering engineer and expanded his business with the WSDG-designed modular facility on Canal Street.
Yet with all of his production rooms always leased out, and a new record label — Engine Room Recordings — beginning to get some traction, Christensen longed for a full-blown studio where he and his growing community could produce and mix albums at the highest level.
This spurred another move all the way downtown to 42 Broadway, where he took over the entire top floor and penthouse and began his most ambitious build-out to date. The new location is home to Engine Room Audio and Engine Room Recordings, encompassing eight production suites, Christensen’s mastering facility, and the big penthouse studio as the cherry on top.
“If we were going to have a nice space, then I wanted it to have all of those things that a really nice studio should have,” says Christensen of the penthouse, “including a tuned control room with nice big far-field monitors as well as the nearfields so you can tell what’s going on in the sub frequencies. I wanted to build as pro a studio as we could.”
A DELUXE STUDIO IN THE SKY
In all, EngineRoom’s sprawling facility incorporates nine control rooms, including seven in long-term lease situations housing the likes of producer/engineers Bill Racine, Paul Falcone, DJ Cassidy and J. Chris Griffin among others. The eighth studio houses some of Christensen’s gear — including Pro Tools HD and an Amek console — and is setup for tracking and mixing sessions. The rooms are all big enough to comfortably house a mid-sized console and everyone has their own booth.
Every control room is also tie-lined into the new two-story live room up in the penthouse — a large, full-band tracking room with two large isolation booths. A third iso booth is located off the corresponding control room, which features an SSL 4064 G+ console, Dynaudio M4 main monitors, stacked producer’s desk and spacious listening area.
It’s the studio he’s always wanted to build — a deluxe A room with ample space maximized by sightlines and natural light. From the control room, Christensen points to the outdoor surface area, soon to be a roof deck. We’re on the 22nd Floor and it’s a sweet view.
“These rooms are all floated and it’s all triple-rock, ¾” plate glass everywhere,” says Christensen. “The isolation is hard-core. We wanted to have good sightlines and natural light everywhere, but we didn’t want to have too much glass, so that was a big challenge Chris Bowman solved in the design.”
A longtime friend and colleague of Christensen’s, Bowman and his CHBO, Inc. have contracted and built many a studio in the NYC area, including the Canal Street Engine Room and the Fran Manzella-designed Sterling Sound. “I’ve absorbed as much as I could from him over the years, so that now we can work together really well, with Chris focused on the layout and look and me on the acoustics from a mathematical perspective,” says Christensen of their collaboration on the penthouse studio.
“The construction of the control room relative to the live room is such that — in theory — we can do two sessions up here simultaneously. We’re going to add shutters to the windows between the two rooms, so if someone’s doing a mix in the control room, or vocals in the booth, someone else could be tracking out in the live room, recording down to one of the production rooms.
“Obviously we won’t do this with, say, John Williams and the Ramones, but if people are somewhat cooperative, it seems like it will really work. A drummer can be pounding away in the live room and you don’t hear it at all in here.”
The SSL 4000 Series console, which Christensen points out “is the model that’s historically, mixed more hits than all other consoles combined, ever,” comes to The Engine Room from The Franklin House in Nashville.
“We’re only the second owners,” Christensen notes. “Still, any vintage console needs work. My head tech Pawel Szarejko shares my insanity when it comes to electronics and — even though this console was in way better shape when it came through the door than other consoles I’ve worked on around town recently — we’ve begun recapping the entire thing. It already sounds great, but will be awesome when we’re done with it!”
ENGINE ROOM’S MANY MOVING PARTS
Engine Room is far from a build-it-and-they-will-come dream studio. Good thing, too, as the timing of all this building couldn’t have been much worse. “October ’08 practically put us out of business,” Christensen admits. “We lost all of our construction financing with the economy crashing, and then that was compounded by the typical problems you face building a facility like this — a lot of the construction estimates were miles off the mark.”
Built for an already ailing industry, however, the business plan for the space was solid. In addition to the tenant control rooms, Christensen also built out the rest of the floor, with his other company Space Initiatives, to eventually house additional tenants whose studios could also tie into (and therefore subsidize) the penthouse. NYC’s Dubway Studios took him up on this arrangement.
“Dubway will have their production facilities downstairs, including three decent size studios with booths, and they’ve effectively bought 25% of the monthly studio time in the penthouse,” Christensen explains. “I’ve known Mike [Crehore] and Al [Houghton] for a long time; it’s a great fit.”
When we visited Engine Room in August, Dubway had just begun renovations on their new facility in this space, and will be moving down from 26th Street. With Dubway moving in, the facility will be home to that many more of NYC’s top-level music production talent. This is just the kind of world Christensen’s been working to create all along.
“One of the coolest aspects of Engine Room is the huge community,” he acknowledges. “We all talk about bands, production techniques, we borrow microphones from each other, etc. It’s an amalgamation of all these cool people, creating this community where cool things are happening. It gets back to my original impetus for starting the Engine Room, it’s not like I was trying to escape the music industry and do everything myself, alone, it was more that I was trying to reinvent it, recreate it in some way.”
Engine Room Recordings, the record label Christensen founded with singer/songwriter Peter Block, is another sign that he’s no longer “trying,” he is reinventing, recreating.
Counted on the Engine Room Recordings roster are several NYC-based artists including Tracy Bonham, Jody Porter (of Fountains of Wayne), The Bloodsugars, Porter Block, Robbers On High Street and Luke Wesley.
On the day of our visit, the Brooklyn-based folk-rock band Lowry was in the studio working on a new album for Engine Room Recordings. “Lowry’s last record sounds good, but they’ve never had the opportunity to record in a facility like this,” says Christensen. “We’re doing this for the love of the music and since we can handle every aspect of it in-house, we’re able to take the time to make a really great record.”
THE PRODUCER’S PERSPECTIVE
Now that he has his proper studio, Christensen is also finding time to produce, as on dance-pop duo Hank and Cupcakes’ latest EP. Though he’s got golden ears and plenty of mastering clients, Christensen is still that rock-and-roll singer/songwriter looking to give a band what he was always looking for as an artist.
“When I produce, I’m all about the songs,” he assures. “If you have great songs and great singers, you can record a great album on a cassette player from Kmart. I am pretty specific about the sound as well — the fidelity — but not in some weird, audiophile kind of way. I just want the record to have a sound. Like Bon Iver’s [For Emma, Forever Ago] — that record sounded amazing even though it was clearly not recorded at some expensive studio. It’s not about having a million-dollar sound, the music just has to be present somehow.
“I try to make all of that effortless to the band though — they should be concentrating on creating art and energy. When you have great gear and a great room, that stuff becomes a lot easier to capture.
“As a mastering engineer, I’ve really come to understand how important the sound of the room that you’re both listening and tracking in is — it’s just such a massive part of what you do. If I had the choice between the most expensive mics in the world in a crappy room or crappy mics in a great room, I’d definitely choose the room every time.
“So that was part of my motivation for making as good a studio as we could upstairs, so we could actually tell what’s happening in the kick drum, for example. I can’t tell you how many records I’ve mastered even for major labels where the whole thing was tracked and mixed on nearfields and they had no idea what was going on below 70 Hz. And there’s all kinds of stuff down there that’s really coloring it. To some extent you can save that in mastering, but it makes more sense to actually be able to hear what the kick drum is doing while you’re tracking.”