Music community spaces including WFMU, The South Sound, Norton Records, New Amsterdam Records and Tape Kitchen were devastated by hurricane Sandy last week. Find out what you can do to help.
When Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern seaboard last week, it brought with it 90-mph winds, 40-foot high waves, and in some areas, 15 inches of rain or over 2 feet of snow.
All told, Sandy caused roughly 7.5 million power outages, at least $30 billion in damages and over 100 deaths in North America alone.
Although charity organizations large and small, including The Red Cross, Occupy Sandy, Rebuild Staten Island, and Red Hook Recovery have mobilized in the hardest-hit areas, parts of the northeast still struggle to come fully back online.
Currently, expectations are for over $20 billion in lost economic activity – a full $12 billion of which will be concentrated in New York City alone.
So much of this damage was caused before the hurricane even made landfall. Perhaps most devastating of all were the rising tides caused by the storm’s surge, which exceeded all expectations and brought catastrophic flooding to low-lying areas, far ahead of the winds and rain.
An Overflowing Canal Destroys Dozens of Studios in Gowanus
Andrew Schnieder, Mike Law and Jeremy Scott were among those who were caught off guard by the early floods.
Their studios, Translator Audio and The Civil Defense, were part of a newly-opened 7,000-square-foot music space called The South Sound. Barely two weeks before Sandy hit, they enjoyed a spirited grand opening along with the inhabitants of about a dozen rehearsal spaces and small production rooms that shared the building.
The worst-case scenario in their minds was that several inches of flooding might damage carpets and force them to turn down business for a couple days as they cleaned the place up. Just to be extra-safe, they stacked expensive microphones and other hard-to-replace items high up on shelves and the tops of furniture.
In the end, it did no good.
The last thing they imagined was for a 5-foot wall of water to come crashing into the building with enough force to turn over furniture, break solid-wood doors in half, and throw a full-sized piano from one side of a room to the other.
Toxic floodwaters from the Gowanus Canal had quickly turned the parking lot into a freestanding body of water. This put insurmountable pressure against the newly renovated building, and eventually, a sturdy steel grate buckled and gave way, letting torrents of saltwater gush in.
Everything that mattered was picked up by the currents or completely submerged: Consoles, tape machines, and entire racks of gear.
But they weren’t the only studios to be damaged in the area. Mark Spencer’s Tape Kitchen, just a few dozen yards from the banks of the Gowanus was devastated as well.
Although Spencer had a little luck – he had access to some storage on the second floor and could stash some things there – the majority of gear and personal items couldn’t make it up to relative safety. The entire studio, along with Spencer’s car, was essentially destroyed.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the music community has begun to band together around these rooms, offering them help to get back on their feet.
Joel Hamilton of Studio G brought his crew together to try and help salvage some rarest pieces of vintage gear from The South Sound, and studios like The Bunker have opened their doors to sessions displaced by the damage.
If you’d like to help in an even more straightforward way, each of these studios are accepting donations to help them stay above water, so to speak, as they begin to re-book and rebuild.
Floods Damage Thousands of Rare Records in Red Hook
New Amsterdam Records is a non-profit label that gives 80% of revenues directly to their artists. Just this year, they moved into a 3,000-square-foot space in Red Hook, and spent six months converting it into a new multi-use record label, warehouse, office, venue and rehearsal studio.
Sandy hit this space hard as well, soaking amps, vintage synthesizers and more than 70% of their catalog of discs. It also destroyed essential documents and partially submerged their donated Steinway grand piano.
This performance space and record label specializes in jazz and new classical and has programmed shows that featured the likes of Dan Deacon, Nico Muhly and tUnE-yArDs. They are now accepting donations through their hurricane relief fund and have high hopes for rebuilding.
Nearby, Norton Records‘ old red brick warehouse was ravaged by a full four feet of water with enough pressure behind it to bend their thick metal doors.
Billy Miller and Miriam Linna founded Norton over 25 years ago and have been collecting and reissuing raucous and rare mid-century garage rock and R&B ever since.
Ultimately, thousands of rare records were soaked in the flooding. But a meaningful portion of them may be salvageable. Norton Records has a call out for volunteers, and so far Miller says that well over a hundred have come to their aid.
Those who can lend a hand are encouraged to call 917-671-7185 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. And put “VOLUNTEER” in the subject line.
For those who want to contribute financially, an undamaged shipment of new Norton releases is scheduled to arrive and go on sale November 13th. Sounds like a good time for some record shopping.
Storm Destroys Transmitters at WFMU and Leaves Station a Quarter Million in the Hole
Music spaces don’t need to flood themselves to be put out of business temporarily.
Atlantic Sound Studios, Joe Lambert Mastering and ishlab studio, which all occupy the same waterfront building suffered no direct damage, but had to do without power for several days, like so many New Yorkers.
They recovered quickly when power came back, but not everyone was so lucky.
At WFMU – one of the most eclectic and influential community radio stations in the country – both FM transmitters and a whole bank of live-streaming servers fried due to brownouts.
Manager Ken Freedman says that the “real problem” is that the station’s power didn’t go out all at once. “A drop in voltage is worse than a blackout,” he says, and it left some of their essential equipment beyond repair.
After 12 hours of complete radio silence, temporary web-streaming stations were set up in home studios in New York and New Jersey, and by November 5th, WFMU was on the air again, finally broadcasting from one of its two downed transmitters.
The damage to the hardware itself is only one-half of the problem. Freedman expects that replacements and repairs on that front will set the station back $100,000
This shortfall, however, is only compounded by the fact that the station’s annual Record Fair, a multi-day fundraiser that attracts hundreds of vendors and thousands of record collectors, was cancelled due to the storm. The event, which is usually responsible for a sizable chunk of revenue for the small, community-supported non-profit went from fundraiser to $150,000 loss.
Between these two challenges, WFMU finds itself nearly a quarter million dollars in the hole, and in the midst of what Freedman calls a “financial disaster.”
As bad as it sounds, the station has been through times just as trying, and they hope to make it through again. WFMU is now hosting the aptly named “Hell and High Water” fundraising marathon and needs all the listener support it can get.
If you’re not a fan yet, start listening now. WFMU is a true grab-bag of broadcast diversity and a welcome respite to the homogenized Clear Channel radio empire.
It’s also one of the last deeply relevant community free-form radio stations standing, with die-hard fans like Matt Groening, Ric Ocasek, Lee Ranaldo, Lou Reed, Jim Jarmusch, and the late Kurt Cobain.
And if it’s going to survive this storm, like the other music spaces mentioned above, it’s going to need your help.
Do what you can.
South Sound is the newly-opened home to more than a dozen rehearsal spaces and small production rooms on the Park Slope/Gowanus border of Brooklyn. It also hosts two longtime NYC studios that have banded together to share an expansive new live room, and become far larger than either studio could on its own.
Over the past ten or fifteen years, we’ve witnessed the indelible rise of a Do-It-Yourself ethos in the music industry.
But for all the benefits of that philosophy, it appears that as the music industry and the general economy finally emerge from a multi-year slump, the careers that have grown, flourished, or even just held their ground, have rarely belonged to those who have decided to “go it alone.”
Instead, the people who have been thriving in the new music business are increasingly those who have sought allies and founded meaningful communities. And that trend is continuing to grow.
As a case study, enter the new South Sound, a 7,000 square-foot collection of more than a dozen rehearsal spaces and small production rooms. It’s capped off by a beautiful new large-scale recording studio. Two of them, actually.
More and more studios have been expanding in this way.
Saltlands in DUMBO seems to add new private rooms seasonally. Both Engine Room Audio and Fireplace Studios in Manhattan have a flagship recording space with several smaller production suites each. Meanwhile, Studio G in Williamsburg has grown to 4 impressive rooms that sprawl across two neighborhoods, which are kept busy by a small handful of regular engineers and sub-tenants.
“I’ve seen similar situations where one main studio has satellite feeds to other room,” says Andrew Schneider of Translator Audio when I ask him what inspired the idea. “But I’d never seen this exact idea where two complete studios are being fed by one live room.”
“What I really wanted to have was a studio that wasn’t compromised by the state of the industry,” Schneider says, with a laugh.
“That started us brainstorming on how we could achieve that – How we could have a room that’s big enough to record a rock band – with real estate prices in New York City what they are and with budgets going down.”
So, after Schneider was priced out of his lease in DUMBO, he teamed up with Jeremy Scott of The Civil Defense, who had taken over his older, smaller studio in Williamsburg when he had moved out.
Luckily, Scott was looking to upgrade as well, and although the idea was unconventional, he said it made sense to him immediately:
“The way that Andrew and I work, we both spend a lot of time on mixing,” Scott says. “So for half the record or more, you don’t really need the big live room space.”
“It just seemed really natural from the outset. I’ve worked out of a lot of shared spaces, and to make it work this way is even better, because we can work simultaneously.”
And great pains were taken to make sure Schneider and Scott can do just that. In addition to the main live room and its pair of dedicated iso booths, both of the studios – which are mirror images of one another – have their own smaller tracking space: an ample booth with high ceilings and direct sight-lines to the main room.
Sound isolation is achieved through floated floors, along with doubled-up drywall and glass panes with a foot of soundproofed space in-between.
Scott says there haven’t been any problems yet – even though Schneider often works with extremely loud bands like Unsane, and he often finds himself working on projects with an ephemeral, neo-shoegaze tinge.
In addition to Jeremy Scott and his longtime partner Mike Law, Scheider also found a small community of close-knit partners to help fund, manage and build the new space.
One of them, Dennis Darcy, a veteran of the studio construction business who’s done design and implementation for both Manhattan Center Studios and the Blue Man Group’s LoHo Studio, helped bring Schneider and Scott’s vision to life.
Still, “It was a little bit of an experiment,” says Schneider.
“As always, when you’re building a studio you can do all the research and planning and have it look good on paper, but it’s not until you bring up the faders that you know what you’re dealing with. And we’ve been lucky. It’s working out really well.”
Currently, Schneider has managed to book dates on his calendar through June, and Scott’s work is picking up as well, thanks to the new space.
In the past, the two had sometimes used outside studios (Scott often tracked at Martin Bisi’s legendary BC Studio, just a few blocks from the new space) or made do in cramped quarters. Now they’re able to do more than before, and with less overhead.
For Schneider, there’s a simple equation that proves it’s all been worthwhile. “Space: Better,” he says, “Rent: Cheaper.”
The South Sound had its grand opening party on Saturday, but most of its spaces are already taken and are in operation. A couple of rooms however, are still available in the emerging community. Rehearsal room shares start as low as $300/month, with the very largest private spaces going for up to $1,100/month, exclusive.
In this 9th edition of the Brooklyn Studio Tour, we return to the Northside to visit the quintessential Brooklyn tracking and mixing room: Studio G . We also visit a pair of its most successful offshoots and a synth-head’s paradise near Kent Ave.
Studio G of Williamsburg is one of the busiest, and now, one of the biggest recording studios in all of New York City. It’s also one of the most quintessentially Brooklyn studios you could ever imagine.
The original Studio G was launched in the mid-90s by Tony Maimone, who was best known then – and perhaps now – as a bassist for wildly prolific cult artists like Pere Ubu, They Might Be Giants and Frank Black.
Maimone had moved into the neighborhood in 1986, back when Williamsburg was an epicenter of the crack epidemic, and the kind of place where you could still find a New York City apartment for a few hundred bucks a month.
At the time, crime rate in the neighborhood was roughly 400% of what it is now, but Maimone’s location was good. His space was just a few blocks from the 90th precinct, and sat on a busy, central corner right across from the famous Kellog’s Diner where cops parked their cars daily for meals.
Perhaps most crucially, the studio’s door sat directly atop the step of the staircase that leads up from the G train below. Anyone who visits the area regularly has probably passed the front door of the original Studio G dozens of times without knowing it.
Maimone became a fixture of the neighborhood, and he is still one today. He’s like the mayor of every block he walks down, always finding some familiar face to wave to or smile at.
Tony is midwesterner by birth, and those smiles come easy for him. He speaks slowly, entreatingly, with a cadence like a California surfer, and he has a round, ragged face deeply lined with decades worth of wide, boyish grins.
For a half-dozen years or so, Tony Maimone made a decent go of things by himself and with a series of short-lived partners at Studio G. But the story of his studio’s rise truly begins in 1999 when a young Joel Hamilton, then in his late-twenties, came knocking on Maimone’s door looking for work.
The Rise of Studio G
It would be too easy to cast Studio G as a place that was simply built on the right spot of ground at the right time, merely riding the rising tide of a gentrifying neighborhood.
While there is certainly lot of luck that factors into the success of any space, the story of Studio G’s growth is as much the story of Joel Hamilton’s growth as anything else.
“He’s really my biggest influence as far as engineers and producers go,” Tony Maimone says of the young engineer who quickly became his partner. “Joel Hamilton is right up at the top of the heap.”
“I mean, I haven’t met a ton of engineers,” he adds, qualifying his statement, searching the room for words before beaming at me again. “I mean, I haven’t met George Martin. But I have met some top guys. He’s on that level.”
Normally, this is the part of the article where I’d add some tempering words of clear-eyed skepticism. But I have to admit that on the topic of Joel Hamilton and Studio G, I’m completely biased. I’ll even go as far as to say that Joel is easily among my own personal heroes.
Part of his success comes from taste, talent, and hard work, but part of it is because he’s consistently looked to build up communities where others have looked to build up walls.
Hamilton seems to talk to everyone he meets like he’s known them for fifteen years, and has the assertive, but genial presence of a master politician. He’s just over 40 now, with the build of a college athlete and the eyeglasses of a 1990s proto-hipster.
He speaks regularly at conferences, has done volunteer work in AIDS-ravaged South Africa, and became a fixture of the Tape Op community, writing regular reviews and actively moderating their online messageboard at the peak of its popularity. He’s also a damn good mixer.
The original Studio G, which still operates today, measures in at a bit under 1,000 square feet. Maimone, Hamilton, and an evolving cast of assistants and interns ushered it from the days of ADATs and DIGI 001s, right up to its current iteration as a climate-controlled yet thoroughly vibey space decked out with a Neve console and racks full of esoteric and boutique audio gear.
Even the acoustic treatment at the original G is spirited and unique: The control room’s diffusers are comprised of countless hundreds of vinyl records. The ones in the live room are built of salvaged scrap wood pieced together over the course of a decade. Up above, glass bricks line the south side of the building near the ceiling, allowing natural daylight to stream into the space while maintaining complete privacy and sound isolation.
Studio G 5000
As the G became busy enough to warrant an expansion, Maimone and Hamilton set their sights on a new space just North of McCarren park, a few doors down from Nicolas Vernhes’ studio, The Rare Book Room.
The New Studio G is 5,000 square feet in total, with three ample, high-ceilinged production rooms. The flagship A room is home to an SSL G Series console and some of the choicest pieces of kit from the original G.
And as the space has grown, so has the crew: An in-house tech and a “small army of interns” have joined in at the new space, and a few new engineers, Jeff Hill, Hector Castillo and John White have been helping to keep all the extra rooms busy.
In addition to a museum-worthy collection of vintage mics and a wall of rack gear that would suit three studios its size, the A room comes equipped with a Bosendorfer grand piano. Taken by itself, an instrument like that could be reason enough to book the space.
But what the owners of Studio G know better than most is that the studio world does not operate on an “if you build it, they will come” basis. Decades worth of work and career development went into warrant building a studio like this one. If Maimone and Hamilton keep up their pace, it’s easy to imagine that the new G could have an even longer run than the original. I’d bet money on that, and clearly, so would the studio’s owners.
To that point, there’s plenty of forward-looking infrastructure built into the new G. A rooftop covered in state-of-the-art solar panels promises to push the studio’s electric meter back in the other direction. It should save them on day-to-day expenses, but it’s the kind of investment – much like a grand build-out and an SSL console – that could take more than a decade to pay off.
I’m fairly certain they’ll get that chance.
Tony Maimone and Joel Hamilton have gone through a significant number of interns, assistants and protégés over the years. One of them, John Davis, has gone on to help create what’s probably the second-biggest new studio in North Brooklyn.
His Bunker Studio measures in at an impressive 3,000 square feet, with vaulted ceilings designed by Rod Gervais. At first glance, it’s reminiscent of Avatar’s iconic flagship tracking room across the East River. But the sound of the space is all its own: full-bodied and well-controlled with alternating stripes of wood paneling and absorptive material.
The appeal of this cavernous live room extends beyond its neighborhood, and is easily among the most expansive and most flexible in the city. The main space can fit dozens of players if it needs to, and two glass-doored isolation booths alone stand larger than the ones at many of Brooklyn’s mid-sized tracking rooms.
Between John Davis and partner Aaron Nevezie, the studio has been churning steadily for about a decade. The original location was set into a basement on the south side of Williamsburg, right across the hall from the original Strange Weather Studio – which incidentally, is also run by a one-time Studio G protégé, Marc Alan Goodman.
The pair learned more than a few things watching Studio G grow, and they even own Joel Hamilton’s old Audiotronics console. But Davis and Nevezie have come to be a driving force in the Brooklyn music scene in their own right.
The Bunker 2.0 may be an ambitious new build, but it’s no fly-by-night development. Davis and Nevezie slowly and steadily outgrew their old space, only shaping The Bunker into the new, world-class room it is today once it made practical and financial sense for them to do so. They keep their prices reasonable-but-sustainable and do memorable work as constantly as they upgrade their gear.
The A and B rooms at The Bunker lean on a collection of vintage Neumann, Gefell and RCA microphones, and the space comes equipped with a 1969 Steinway grand – a genuine source of pride for producer/engineer Aaron Nevezie. Add to that an extensive collection of vintage keyboards, drums and guitar amps, and it’s no wonder the studio is becoming one of the busiest in the city.
There’s one more studio I’ve been meaning to include in this series for quite some time: Vanity Sound, owned and operated by Myles Turney and Joel Arnow.
Like the owners of The Bunker and Strange Weather, Myles Turney is also an alumni of Studio G, where he interned years ago. He and partner Arnow built a decent-sized tracking room and a substantial mic collection just a few blocks from the original G, and carved out a niche working with seasoned, sometimes virtuosic players, for several years.
Earlier this year, their building was sold, and when their lease did not come up for renewal, Turney, Arnow, and their clients found themselves out on the street, with sessions scheduled and no place to go.
But luckily, there’s always a studio around the corner in Brooklyn. The pair began taking their sessions to Hugh Pool’s Excello Recording, and Oliver Straus’ Mission Sound, two of the earliest full-scale tracking rooms in the area, which stand directly across the street from one another just a couple blocks from the original Vanity Sound.
Turney says that he and Arnow originally planned to build a new, full-sized studio of their own, until they realized that this new arrangement suited them just fine.
Ultimately, the two decided they were happy to bring their big tracking dates into some of the best rooms that already exist, and focus on developing a small production suite of their own to help keep their clients’ work on-track and in-budget.
Turney has gone all-in on this new approach, and even sold off his console and moved his pair of Studer multi-tracks into Mission Sound, which has become a regular location for his full-band sessions.
“There’s so many great studios in this area, it almost doesn’t make sense to open another full-scale tracking room,” Turney tells me. “We can go to Mission or Excello to get a great recording. What people really don’t have in this area is a smaller space with some great mics that we can use for overdubs, edits or mixing. No one really needs a $1000/day room just to sit around doing vocal edits.”
For his own smaller-scale production room, Turney has finally made a leap he never thought he would: He’s picked up a Dangerous Summing Mixer and a Euphonix control, and has been thrilled with the results:
“I never ever ever thought I’d be the guy with a summing mixer and DAW controller, but after I met and got to be around Jon Kaplan and hear what he does with practically zero outboard and no console… well, that was kind of it.”
“It’s definitely a different workflow, but the first time I sat down, opened a session, and it came up just as I had left it with no time or fuss was totally mind-blowing. No more flipping back and forth from the last print to get the EQ’s set right.”
The new Vanity Sound is a streamlined setup compared to the original, but it still comes equipped with the overstuffed racks of gear Turney has put together over the years. Turney’s extensive mic collection has also made the trip to the new smaller-scale room, and it includes a pair of vintage ELAM 251s, a Neumann M49b, and one of the most complete collections of SONY microphones I’ve seen. But the available gear doesn’t end there. Turney knows that if he ever wants to track or mix on a vintage Neve, there’s at least two of them just around the corner.
Ground Control Studio
In any music scene, once-disparate communities seem to grow and cross-pollinate and combine. In elite circles, it sometimes appears that everybody knows everybody else.
But although we’ve focused today one studio and its offshoots, the truth is that Brooklyn – contrary to what some outsiders may believe – is anything but one big monoculture.
Sure, there may be more plaid here than anywhere this side of Scotland, but if there’s anything that I’ve learned from this tour of Brooklyn’s cottage industry of recording studios it’s that there are dozens of self-sustaining mini-scenes, each with their own audiences and frames of reference.
Murray Trider and John Bosch of Ground Control Studios, for instance, have carved out their own niche on the south side of Williamsburg, where Kent meets Broadway. It’s only a few blocks away from the other the studios we’ve profiled here, but over a decade of working side-by-side the two groups have yet to cross paths.
Tucked away in the basement of one of the most beautiful brownstones in their corner of the borough, Trider and Bosch have created a veritable synth-head’s paradise. It’s a clean, brick-lined space, filled with vintage analog classics from Moog, ARP and Roland. Rounding out that keyboard collection are some of the most rare and coveted iterations of the Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos ever made.
In the center of the space sits a Trident console and a pristine Neve sidecar, the latter of which was found at a fire sale auction, then painstakingly wired for the new space by co-owner Murray Trider. On one of the far ends of this long rectangular space, a small army of vintage guitars guards a cozy isolation booth, and on the other, a golden Buddah sits atop a honky-tonkin’ upright piano.
Recently, Trider has been working regularly with Reggie Watts, a brilliantly scattered performer, and one of the most absurdly dynamic musicians and comedians working today. Bosch splits his time between recording music and doing sound mixes for independent films from genre-bending documentarians and mumblecore luminaries.
Although Bosch comes from more of a guitar-based background while Trider is a DJ-turned-producer, the two bonded over their shared love of early krautrock records and other perennial favorites of white music nerds the world over.
It reminds me that even in a musical culture as kaleidoscopic as Brooklyn’s, there’s always something to connect over. When I ask Bosch how they met, he tells me that he was having a drink at a bar where Trider worked, and the two bonded over the tunes Trider was spinning. The band that he was playing? Pere Ubu. I’ll have to remember to tell Tony Maimone.
GREATER NYC AREA: This month’s buzz finds a typically colorful spread of artists recording, mixing and mastering new works around town. The Beach Boys and Animal Collective, Empire of the Sun and Tiësto, Kurt Elling, Beirut, 50 Cent and Amanda Palmer – just to mention a few – have all been working on new releases in NYC-area studios. Which producers and engineers have been tracking, mixing and mastering these projects? And where? Read on…
First up, Grammy-winning jazz singer and songwriter Kurt Elling tracked his latest album for Concord Music Group at Sear Sound on the custom Avalon/Sear 60-input console in Studio C. Producer and Concord senior director A&R Chris Dunn produced with engineer Chris Allen at the controls. Elling’s band on the album includes Kendrick Scott on drums, Lawrence Hobgood on piano, John McLean on guitar and Clark Sommers on bass.
Chris Dunn also recently produced a “Concord Jazz All-Stars” album at Sear featuring Christian Scott on trumpet, Ben Williams on bass, Jamire Williams on drums, Matt Stevens on guitar, Gerald Clayton and Kris Bowers on piano, Logan Richardson and Walter Smith III on saxes – with Ted Tuthill engineering.
Also at Sear…electronic music duo Empire of the Sun tracked for their upcoming album in Studios A and C with Nicholas Littlemore producing and Tuthill engineering – Sear’s original Bob Moog / Walter Sear Moog modular synthesizer (Moog #2) was programmed and recorded for the album… Composer Bill Ryan recorded new music with a large percussion section and a string/woodwind ensemble, and Silas Brown engineering…and soulful singer/songwriter Amos Lee tracked vocals for the Zac Brown Band, with Allen at the controls.
Italian rap group Club Dogo (Universal Music Group) have been mixing and mastering their upcoming album at Engine Room Audio in lower Manhattan. The group’s DJ/beatmaker Don Joe and engineer Andrea “db” Debernardi flew in to work with head engineer Mark B. Christensen. Their latest single ‘Cattivi Esempi’ has reached #2 on the Italian music charts. The single, along with the rest of the album was mixed and mastered at Engine Room.
Also at Engine Room…Christensen mastered 50 Cent’s latest “Gangsta Grillz” mixtape – assisted by Benoit Holliger and Gabe MG, and Trey Songz’s new single “Heart Attack” – produced by Benny Blanco and Rico Love. The track is the first single off his upcoming album Chapter V, and the first track that has been ‘Mastered for iTunes.’ Christensen also mastered the new dance track by Jersey Shore’s Pauly D for G-Note Records.
Brooklyn rock band VietNam has been finishing up a new record with Matt Boynton at his Vacation Island Recording in Williamsburg. Boynton is mixing the album for the Brooklyn vinyl label Mexican Summer. Beirut has also been back at Vacation Island – where they mixed their ’11 album The Rip Tide – to mix their new EP with Boynton.
The Beach Boys stopped into Avatar Studios during their 50th Anniversary Tour for a vocal recording session in Studio C with producer Joe Thomas (Brian Wilson’s Imagination), and engineer Mike Czaszwicz, assisted by Tim Marchiafava.
Also at Avatar…Composer Teddy Shapiro’s film score for Great Hope Springs – directed by David Frankel and starring Meryl Streep and Steve Carell – was recorded in Studio A. Shapiro produced, and Chris Fogel engineered the tracking sessions. And source music for the film Killing Them Softly was performed and produced by Wynton Marsalis, and recorded by Jeff “Jedi Master” Jones. Bonnie Raitt recorded a live performance for World Cafe… The Young Presidents tracked new material with producer/engineer Rob Fraboni, assisted by Bob Mallory… Jimmy Fallon and the Roots recorded a comedy album, Blow Your Pants Off, with Lawrence Manchester engineering…Jon Hamm recorded a voiceover for the NFL Network…And Kurt Elling recorded a big band production of the Sinatra classic “The Best Is Yet To Come” for the Breeders Cup, with Steve McCabe and Neil Jason producing, and Roy Hendrickson engineering.
Next, the new Animal Collective album is finished – Joe Lambert just mastered it at his studio in DUMBO. Due out on Domino Records, Centipede Hz was recorded at Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, TX, and co-produced by Ben H. Allen, who co-produced, engineered and mixed Merriweather Post Pavilion. Allen mixed the record at Maze Studios in Atlanta, GA.
Meanwhile, The Lodge‘s Emily Lazar, Joe LaPorta, Sarah Register and Heba Kadry have been busy mastering a host of new records, including Alanis Morissette‘s brand new album Havoc and Bright Lights – produced by Guy Sigsworth and Joe Chiccarelli and mixed by Chiccarelli – Neon Trees’ Picture Show, Santana’s new album Shape Shifter, Jimmy Cliff’s new album Re.Birth, produced by Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, Shiny Toy Guns’ new album, mixed by Tony Maserati, and The Mars Volta’s album, Noctourniquet – produced by Mars Volta guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and mixed by Lars Stalfors
Other projects recently mastered at The Lodge include…Oneida drummer Kid Millions’ new album as Man Forever; Australian pop star Guy Sebastian‘s new single “Gold”, mixed by Manny Marroquin; Mexican rock band Fobia‘s new album on Sony Music Mexico, mixed by Jason Carmer; Tiësto’s remix of Kanye West’s “Lost In This World” off My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; and the new album by Lotus Plaza – the solo project of Deerhunter’s Lockett Pundt – which was mixed by Chris Koltay.
Also at Germano… Paul Falcone has been engineering sessions on some new material by M.I.A., with Missy Elliott and Danja producing…Mike Fraser mixed a Nickelback live album with songwriter/producer Gordini producing…Ryan West mixed Slaughterhouse… Kid Cudi recorded guitars and vocals with Dot da Genius producing, and Bill Sullivan engineering…Alicia Keys was in working with Mark Ronson, with Ann Mincieli engineering… Steve Perry was in to record vocals and keyboards with engineer Dave Rowland… TV boy band Big Time Rush were in writing and recording with producers Claude Kelly and Sandy Vee…and Isa “Machine” Summers (of Florence and the Machine) was working on a remix, with Pete Hanson engineering.
Brit rockers Bloc Party recorded their new album, Four, at Stratosphere Sound with Brooklyn-based producer/engineer Alex Newport, assisted by Atsuo Matsumoto. Check out the album trailer (featuring session footage) below. Also at Stratosphere…spoken word artist and singer/songwriter The Floacist and Raheem DeVaughn recorded with producer Nolan Weekes and engineer Arjun Agerwala…and Louis CK returned to track music for the new season of his F/X show Louie, with engineer Adam Tilzer.
Dance-pop duo Chromeo have been tracking vocals for their new album via the AKG C12 at Flux Studios in the East Village. Lawson White has been engineering the sessions in Flux’s Dangerous Room, with Dan Cherouny assisting.
Also at Flux…Mack Avenue jazz band The Hot Club of Detroit spent several days tracking live in the Dangerous Room and then moved operations into the Fabulous Room to mix their upcoming record – with engineers Todd Whitelock and Damon Whittemore…Whitelock and Whittemore also engineered new recordings by Tia Fuller, with Dianne Reeves…Fab Dupont mixed the new album by Nigerian-American rapper ElDee, and has been producing the upcoming record by French jazz singer Cyrille Aimee. Aimee and band have been at Flux for rehearsal and pre-production, and will track the full band recording in Dangerous, and then mix with Fab in the Fabulous Room.
You’ve probably heard about Amanda Palmer‘s amazing million-dollar-Kickstarter campaign? Well, the artist brought her fan-funded “Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra” two-LP set to Masterdisk to be cut on vinyl. Scott Hull cut the reference discs (pictured).
Also at Masterdisk…Hull mastered the 35mm Cast Recording – produced by Dean Sharenow and Ryan Scott Oliver for Sh-K-Boom Records; Tony Dawsey mastered the new Corey Jon album, Galactic Soul, which was recorded and mixed by Steve Dickey at Daddy’s House Recording; Vlado Meller mastered Kerrie Roberts’ new album Time For The Show (also mastered for iTunes); Andy VanDette mastered Mother Mother’s latest – produced by Ryan Guldemond and Ben Kaplan for Last Gang Records; Randy Merrill mastered the new Allison Weiss album Say What You Mean, which was produced by Chris Kuffner and mixed by Ross Petersen; and Matthew Agoglia remastered Craig Wedren’s album Baby plus some demo tracks.
Singer/songwriter Sean Wood has been working on an LP with producer/engineer Mario McNulty. The session has had them working at Studio G and Magic Shop in Brooklyn and Incognito Studios in lower Manhattan where McNulty is mixing the record.
Bell Biv Devoe were in NYC working on new material at Area 51 with producer Bink Dawg and engineer Alberto Vaccarino. Also at Area 51…Ice T & CoCo were in with DJ Dehasse working on a project for Reach Global Music in sessions engineered by Michelle Figueroa…RCA Records teen sensation Jacob Latimore has been working on his upcoming LP with producers Joe Boom and CJ. And Universal Records artist Paypa has been finishing work on his upcoming album release with Figueroa.
Also notable: Area 51 recently upgraded its North Room to Pro Tools 10HD, and added a mastering room – run by engineers Roey Shamir and Rob Murray.
Also at Grand Street…Christian Gibbs’ (of Lucinda Black Bear) new band Motherwell Johnston recorded basics for their debut album with Ken Rich engineering and Jake Lummus assisting…Trumpet player Shareef Clayton (Stevie Wonder, The Roots, Wynton Marsalis) recorded basics for his upcoming album with Rich engineering and Bobby Mosier assisting…Rich is mixing the full-length debut by Sara Syms, which was recorded at Dreamland and features Andy Stack on electric guitar, Nick Africano on acoustic guitar, Brett Bass on bass, Spencer Cohen on drums, and Misty Boyce on keys…Williamsburg rockers, Velta completed a video for the song “Cheat On Me” which was recorded and mixed by Tomek Miernowski.
Also at Excello, Jamie Block recorded with producer/drummer Dean Sharenow and engineer Hugh Pool; Brooklyn garage-rock duo Twin Guns tracked an album with producer Lase Salgado, and Pool recording to 2” tape; jazz guitarist Joel Harrison has been recording with engineer/mixer Oliver Palomares, rock band Pale Moon Gang was in to track on 2” tape with guitarist Richard Dev Green producing and Pool engineering; and singer/songwriter Lorraine Leckie has been working on an album based on the prose of art-critic Anthony Haden-Guest, with George Jackson producing, and DeChants engineering.
Also at Rough Magic, Kyp Malone’s new Rain Machine LP is still under way…Rough Magic chief engineer Alby Cohen has been tracking the LP; Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet has been mixing up a storm between Neneh Cherry’s ”Dream Baby Dream” and “Nova”, his new collaboration with London dubstep artist Burial; and Jest.com shot and recorded their “50 Shades of Grey read by Gilbert Gottfried” spot.
And we know there’s so much more going on out there! If you’d like to be featured in “Session Buzz,” please submit your studio news to email@example.com.
WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN: Joel Hamilton has some priceless advice for any studio owner contemplating a move to a larger space.
Actually, the co-proprietor of Studio G can break the action items for this complex operation into two simple steps: “First you cry,” Hamilton explains, “then pull the plug on the bottom of your bank account, and watch it drain all over town!”
Still interested in expanding? Well, obviously, there’s a lot more to it than that, and when pressed for details Hamilton – one of the planet’s most excitable talkers when the topic is recording – is more than happy to share. Alongside of Studio G co-founder Tony Maimone, Hamilton has been overseeing his facility’s ongoing transition from the one-room shop where it was born in 1993 to a 5,000 sq. ft. recording complex operating clear on the other side of Williamsburg – an often painful process, but one that’s been a long time coming.
“We’ve been pulling back the slingshot for the last 10 years!” Hamilton laughs. “A one-room facility with two engineers has a limited lifespan. You just step on each other’s toes too much of the time. The only way to grow from there is to make another studio with two rooms.”
And what a pair of rooms they are, each adding their own wrinkle to the plethora of options available to artists recording and mixing in NYC. Starting in Studio A, Hamilton goes to work on the faders of a 48 in/96 out [at mix] x 24 x 4x 2 SSL 8048 G+ (“like an SSL 4000 with SSL 9000 routing, including the 4 stereo ‘A-B-C-D’ busses”) , while visually monitoring the spacious 560 sq. ft. live room via an expansive floor-to-ceiling window that puts most other control room/live room portals to shame.
Meanwhile in Studio B, which is in its final stages of construction, the guys are flying the beloved Neve 5316 (40 x 8 x 2) from Studio G’s classic location (which continues to remain open for business for the time being). The compact Neve is connected to a slightly smaller live room that measures 525 sq ft, endowed with three big iso booths to Studio A’s two.
Locating the Ideal Studio Space in Brooklyn
Hamilton and Maimone found the new Studio G space, a former Brooklyn Industries/Triple 5 Soul warehouse that lives on a quietly humming industrial block just off of McCarren Park, after an exhaustive search of available Brooklyn real estate.
“Finding a 2500-5000 sq. ft. space that’s zoned commercial is really difficult, because it’s what everyone else also wants,” Hamilton points out. “Once we made the site selection, the actual space dictated the build. We had originally thought we would build modest rooms – just replicate the first Studio G with side-by-side studios and a hallway slit down the middle – but instead we threw away the spreadsheets of our original plan and did this: leaping into the early ‘90’s with a Neve in one room and an SSL in the other.”
They had their new studio space in hand in May 2011, when the pair sculpted their plans from the best practices their careers had exposed them to. For Hamilton, that comprises a globetrotting portfolio that includes co-producing Blakroc with the Black Keys, Pretty Lights, Matisyahu, Elvis Costello, Sparklehorse, Tom Waits, Dub Trio, Talib Kweli, Soulive, Lettuce, and countless other indie/major label artists. Maimone’s notable travels began as the bassist for Pere Ubu, then evolved into producing/engineering for the likes of Ani DiFranco, Destronauts, Peg Simone, and his own supergroup collaboration Book of Knots (of which Hamilton is also a member), to name just a few.
“Going back to Pere Ubu, Tony knew the places he loved making records,” says Hamilton. “And I knew the places that I thought worked the best. So this place is an amalgamation of a pretty large pool of experiences between Tony and me, rather than being designed by an architect who had his own ideas about how the space should be.”
In the large Studio A control room, warm woods and carefully culled fabrics surround the SSL 8048 G+, a pristine console which previously enjoyed a privileged existence at NFL Films in Mount Laurel, NJ. Averse to summing boxes (“its kind of the MP3 of consoles”), both Maimone and Hamilton were thrilled to finally locate an affordable, commercial grade mid-size board from the relatively rare SSL 8000 G+ series. Mix in the fact that this 8048 G+ had been rigorously maintained on a broadcast TV schedule, and pouncing on the console was a no-brainer for the Studio G team.
What may be less clear is why Hamilton – hailed far and wide as an indie recordist’s recordist – would opt for an SSL, and all of its platinum associations. So allow him to explain his decision.
“Having a dogma attached to a piece of gear is bullshit,” Hamiltion states. “I own a Neve! I don’t see them (SSL and Neve) as mutually exclusive. That’s a flawed premise. This SSL answers a lot of questions when you mix, just like the Neve answers a lot of questions when you have Marshall amps in the live room and the band is ready to rock.
“I find the SSL to be incredibly flexible, very natural, and we have a lot of color that we can add from the outboard gear in the racks. Michael Brauer really felt that his SSL 9000 was the first time that he could have this channel sound like a Distressor, this one sound like a Tri-Tronics, and then have the next channel sound like a different compressor. This board sounds like nothing until you put a thing on it. It’s up to you. There’s nothing automatic-sounding for every channel. So if you have a vision of how you want things to sound, this is a great tool. It’s worth mentioning that we still keep a ton of Neve channels and cool vintage pre’s in the rack behind the SSL.
“Feeling like a Neve console, or tape, helps to make things turn out great is valid, but in this case, with the SSL, you’re steering it – we have the luxury of patching in a channel that people may find colorless or not. We could do an Erykah Badu record one day, AC/DC the next, and a purist jazz recording right after that. That flexibility, to me, is part of the new breed of thinking that this generation of engineer has, rather than staying tied to a way of thinking about a particular piece of equipment.”
When it comes to those sound-shaping tools, Hamilton and Maimone made the seemingly counter-intuitive decision to begin migrating the outboard gear to the new G that they tended to use the least at the old location. “(The classic) Studio G will keep rocking until the B room is completely done,” says Hamilton. “We started here with the equipment that we didn’t want to pay to put in a storage space – it’s literally the least of what we have, and it’s all the weird stuff. This DaviSound two-channel optical compressor is a great example: It’s like a freakish LA-3A that I love, with meters that just flop around and mean nothing, but the line amps add a great color right when you patch it up.”
Live from Studio A
All the better to focus on getting the sounds right on input from the studio A live room, a sizable 25’ x 28’ main live space — complete with a 1908 Bosendorfer grand piano and two iso booths — that provides a transporting experience upon entry.
“I wanted a big, very live space with lots of cubic volume and a linoleum drum room, like in Avatar’s Studio A and C, which I love,” Hamilton says. “The main space is really balanced, for the same reason that theaters and churches work so well acoustically without any trademark diffusors. The angle between the top of the iso booths and the ceiling makes that whole area a trap, and that grabs a lot of the low mids. Tracking strings has been amazing in this room.”
One of the best expressions of the Studio G artist-centric philosophy lies neither in A’s live room or the control room, however, but in that aforementioned 8 ft. x 8 ft. span of glass in between them. “There’s something about floor-to-ceiling glass that doesn’t feel disconnected – it feels like something you could walk through, instead of dividing us,” observes Hamilton. “There’s a connection between the two rooms, energy-wise, but with acoustic isolation. I’m a fan of the people I record, and with this design I can be more supportive in that role.
“You can actually be there for the people on the other side of the glass in a very literal way,” he continues. “Your presence is clear – you’re not checking email when they’re tracking. Instead, this is part of giving the artist the sense that what they’re doing matters. It’s the foundation of what we do. How can it not be? My experience of being on the other side of the glass, and Tony’s too, guides everything. The whole thing is to serve the musician.”
Being Studio B
Meanwhile, the facility’s Studio B is fast approaching completion, and should provide the perfect counterpoint to the SSL-based 21st Century Temple of Sound. “Studio A is more like a studio, while B feels more like a repurposed French farm house living room that just happens to be on floated floors,” he says. “The control room is a little smaller than in A, but the Neve is smaller than the SSL, so it fits the room in the same way. B also has the three iso spaces, plus an airlock, so you can have up to four things happening at the same time with complete isolation.”
Complementing the Studio G options is the presence of bassist/engineer Jeff Hill’s (Brazilian Girls, Rufus Wainwright) private production suite, a space that feels amazingly lived-in for the short time that it’s been in operation. “Jeff’s room has its own personality,” says Hamilton. “You can tell someone is in there.”
The last near-future addition on the agenda is a reverb chamber that will be constructed in the building’s basement. “For the chamber we’re making a weird, flopped-on-its-side, industrial shower room,” Hamiltion enthuses. “It’ll be a slab with a six-foot ceiling, plaster on the side, speaker, and microphones. We already have a conduit going down there, so we’re psyched, because we got addicted to having a real acoustic chamber in the mix at our original location.”
“It’s a huge part of the workflow! Because with a lot of things that people give me these days, the vocal is recorded in a hotel room, while the guitar might be recorded in a bedroom. The 2% that’s missing, you can put back in the mix with a chamber and pull it all back together, instead of sounding like it was made all over the world — a real acoustic chamber can put ‘eye contact’ back in the performances.”
A Community-Based Approach to Recording
In its expansive new guise, Studio G emphasizes the communal approach that drives its founders to not just make outstandingly expressive music with their clients, but to bring as many interested people as possible in on the process – whether it’s at their studio or any other on the planet.
“It’s about an inclusionist aesthetic – because when everyone collects together and works as a team, things get better for everybody on that team,” Hamilton says. “A family of studios that share a common aesthetic all get business when we all start talking about each other. Enthusiasm – the love of recording and the process of making records – is infectious.”
On the other hand, Mssrs. Hamilton and Maimone most assuredly are realizing a personal expression – and maybe even an obsession – with this 5,000 sq. ft. statement in the artistic heart of Brooklyn.
“I need to make stuff within these walls,” Joel Hamilton says. “I keep heading toward a vision, which is why this place is dripping with intent. It’s what Studio G is all about, and I would hope that’s how it reads when you walk in: Whoever built this place really gives a shit about making records.”
– David Weiss
GREATER NYC AREA: There have certainly been some down years in recent recording biz history, but 2011 was not one of them.
By all accounts, this was a big year for recording in NYC: There were the major mainstream Made-in-NY albums, i.e. Lady Gaga’s Born This Way (Germano Studios), John Mayer’s upcoming release (Electric Lady), Beyonce 4 (MSR, Jungle City), Sting’s latest (Sear Sound) and Tony Bennett’s Duets II (Avatar). There were the critically-anticipated indie releases, i.e. Bjork (Sear Sound, Avatar, Atlantic Sound) and Beirut (Vacation Island) and of course a ton of indie activity emanating out of Brooklyn, as well as big moves in the way of new and newly renovated high-end facilities for record production.
Drink it all in with this “Best of 2011” session highlights and studio hits:
We’ll start uptown at StadiumRed in Harlem – home to a team of engineers and producers that includes David Frost, Just Blaze, Sid “Omen” Brown, Ariel Burojow, Tom Lazarus, Joe Pedulla, Andrew Wright and mastering engineer Ricardo Gutierrez.
StadiumRed hosted Chris Brown (Jive Records) for a stretch as he worked on his Grammy-nominated record, F.A.M.E. and a future album. The single “She Ain’t You” produced by Free School was recorded in Studio A at StadiumRed, and two additional songs off his upcoming album were produced by Just Blaze. Rick Ross also worked quite a bit with Just Blaze and StadiumRed this year – his albums Self Made Volume 1 and I Love My Bitches were both produced, mixed and mastered at Stadium Red with Just Blaze producing, Andrew Wright mixing, assisted by Keith Parry, and Ricardo Gutierrez mastering.
The track “Lord Knows” off Drake’s acclaimed new album, Take Care, was produced by this same StadiumRed team – Just Blaze, Wright and Gutierrez. The choir in this song was recorded in Studio A.
Other highlights include Ariel Borujow mixing three tracks for Chiddy Bang’s (EMI) debut album Breakfast, Joe Pedulla and Andrew Everding producing and engineering the new album by rock band La Dispute (click to read our feature about this album produced with no artificial reverb) and the Grammy-nominated Mackey: Lonely Motel – Music From Slide (David Frost, producer and Tom Lazarus, engineer); Far Away: Late Nights & Early Mornings by Marsha Ambrosius (Just Blaze, producer and Andrew R Wright, engineer); and J. Cole (Keith Parry, assistant engineer).
Rufus Wainwright (Universal Music Group) tracked portions of his new album “Out of the Game” in Studio ‘A’ (Neve 8038) at Sear Sound in Midtown, with Alan O’Connell engineering and Mark Ronson producing. Sear’s own Ted Tuthill assisted on these sessions.
“During his sessions at Sear, Rufus’ new opera Prima Donna premiered at the New York City Opera,” says Sear Sound manager Roberta Findlay. “They recorded using our Studer A827 2″ 24 track with BASF 911 2″, as well as Pro Tools. Tracking and overdubs varied from piano and vocal, whole band takes (piano, bass, drums, vocals), to piano overdubs, bass overdubs, keyboard overdubs, electric guitar overdubs, choir overdubs, drum machine overdubs, and many more. Mark Ronson brought in a wide variety of his personal vintage synths.”
Sear also hosted recording sessions for Bjork’s latest Biophilia, with Damian Taylor co-producing/engineering, and Sting tracking for his latest with engineer Donal Hodgson and co-producer/arranger Rob Mathes. And Iron & Wine tracked and mixed their song “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” which can be heard in Twilight: Breaking Dawn. Tom Schick engineered with Brian Deck producing. Rob Berger wrote the arrangements. [Click for a video of this session.]
In other highlights, Joss Stone tracked new material at Sear with an all-star band (Ernie Isley on guitar, James Alexander on bass, Latimore on piano and Raymond Angry on B3 and keyboards), and Steve Greenwell engineering and co-producing with S-Curve’s Steve Greenberg. “At Joss’ s request, we built a western version of a resplendent ashram for her, to stimulate her creative juices,” says Findlay. “I believe it worked!!”
Meanwhile, mixing sessions for Regina Spektor’s anticipated new album What We Saw From The Cheap Seats went down in Studio A at The Cutting Room – with producer Mike Elizondo, and engineer Adam Hawkins, assisted by Matt Craig. The album is due out in May 2012 on Warner Bros Records.
At nearby Germano Studios – where Joan Jett & The Blackhearts have been recording this month – it’s been a huge year of pop, rock, rap and R&B. In addition to Jett, who’s been in with longtime producer Kenny Laguna, and engineer Thom Panunzio, Germano’s hosted writing and recording sessions with Ne-Yo, OneRepublic and Alexander Dexter-Jones recording with engineer Kenta Yonesaka for his The Last Unicorn album, and mixing sessions with Sony Italy artist Fiorella Mannoia with Dave O’Donnell engineering.
Highlights from the year include the recording for Lady Gaga’s Grammy-nominated Born This Way, Adele’s Grammy-nominated 21, “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5 ft. Christina Aguilera, Beyonce’s 4, and the new will.i.am album…The studio also added new Exigy subs, and launched a joint-venture into Tampico Mexico, creating RG Germano Studios Tampico.
2011 has also been an epic year of releases out of The Lodge. Mastering Engineers Emily Lazar & Joe LaPorta mastered Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light, which received six Grammy nominations including nominations for Lazar and LaPorta in “Album Of The Year” category. And the team mastered countless records released to critical acclaim, including Tuneyard’s Whokill, mastered by LaPorta, Liturgy’s Aesthethica, mastered by Heba Kadry, the Cults debut, mastered by Lazar and LaPorta, EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints, mastered by Sarah Register, and albums by Dum Dum Girls, Cold Cave and Hooray for Earth – all mastered by LaPorta.
As covered here on SonicScoop, LaPorta also mastered the huge Neutral Milk Hotel release, the band’s first (an all-vinyl complete box-set) since ’98′s classic In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. Lazar and LaPorta also mastered Boy & Bear’s award-winning Moonfire, produced by Joe Chiccarelli.
For EastSide Sound and chief engineer Marc Urselli, it’s been a year of recording some of NYC’s finest avant-garde, jazz, fusion and acoustic music greats like John Zorn, Bill Laswell, Chihiro Yamanaka with Bernard Purdie, and more recently John Zorn, John Medeski and Mike Patton. Citizen Cope and Swiss crossover jazz band The Lucien Dubuis Trio have also been recording albums with Urselli at East Side Sound.
In the Fall, Broadway veteran singer Wren Marie Harrington teamed up with arranger/producer jazz wunderkind Art Bailey to record a collection of jazz and Latin infused American and world standards at EastSide with Lou Holtzman engineering and Eric Elterman assisting. Bailey, Dave Acker, Marty Confurius and Diego Lopez formed the band for this record.
Plenty of jazz, avant and orchestral sessions recorded at Avatar Studios this year, including Stanley Jordan, James Carter, Steve Reich / So Percussion, Joe Jackson with Elliot Scheiner, Esperanza Spalding with Q-Tip and Joe Ferla, Chick Corea, Zak Smith Band. One of the big, ongoing sessions of the year at Avatar was Tony Bennett’s Duets II album, produced by Phil Ramone and engineered by Dae Bennett. In March, Bennett and Sheryl Crow recorded “The Girl I Love” in Studio A. In July, Bennett sang and recorded “How Do You Keep the Music Playing” with Aretha Franklin in Studio C, and at the end of July, he recorded “The Lady is a Tramp” with Lady Gaga in Studio A.
Other pop/rock artists recording at Avatar this year include Paul McCartney recording a Buddy Holly tribute, Ingrid Michaelson recording her upcoming album, Human Again – both with producer David Kahne and engineer Roy Hendrickson – Elvis Costello, James McCartney, and VHS or Beta.
And Avatar’s Studio A and C were used on many a Broadway cast album, and TV and film score/soundtrack recording sessions, including: Boardwalk Empire featuring Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks with producer / engineer Stewart Lerman, and Mildred Pierce, also ft. Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, with producer Randy Poster; Louie, produced by Louie C.K. with engineer Robert Smith assisted by Bob Mallory; Glee, with producer Tommy Faragher and engineers Bryan Smith and Robert Smith; and the films Moonrise Kingdom (the new Wes Anderson), A Late Quartet, Friends with Kids, and So Undercover.
Across town, some of the biggest pop artists were working out of Stratosphere Sound in Chelsea, where songwriter Amanda Ghost and producer Dave McCracken were stationed much of the year working on new material with Florence and The Machine, Santigold, John Legend, the Scissor Sisters, The xx and Daniel Merriweather.
Ever the awesome rock recording studio, Stratosphere hosted several album projects this year including Canadian band Jets Overhead with producer/engineer Emery Dobyns, Japanese band The Telephones with Alex Newport, The Static Jacks with Chris Shaw, and Delta Spirit with Chris Coady. And, switching gears, both Sarah Brightman and Aaron Neville recorded at Stratosphere – both tracking vocals with Geoff Sanoff.
Finally, The Sheepdogs, a rock band from Saskatchewan, were paired with Stratosphere owner/producer Adam Schlesinger for Rolling Stone’s “Choose the Cover” contest. They worked on several songs with Adam…and they won!
BIG YEAR FOR BROOKLYN
In 2011, Manhattan saw the opening of Ann Mincieli’s impressive, golden-age-reviving Jungle City Studios, and major renovations and new rooms at the legendary Electric Lady Studios, but Brooklyn has been the real hotbed of new studio activity. Converse opened its Rubber Tracks Studio this year, and The End in Greenpoint recently opened the doors to its recording and live performance complex. And much building has been underway elsewhere…
2012 will see three new serious recording facilities open in Williamsburg – all three bigger/better versions of existing local indie favorites.
The Bunker, for one, has already held inaugural sessions at its impressive new two-room facility which features an exciting new Studio A with large live room with 25-ft ceilings and three isolated sections which can be closed off by sliding glass doors.
In one of the room’s first sessions, Bunker co-owner John Davis tracking the new record for funk band Lettuce (featuring Soulive members Eric Krasno and Neal Evans). “I tracked all the basics live to 2″ ATR on my Studer A80, and we had drums, bass, 2 guitars, keys (B3 and clav) and one sax going down live,” Davis describes. “Additional horns were later overdubbed. It was a great, super funky party in there the whole time, with a bunch of friends hanging and generally great positive creative vibes going on. We went for (and captured) a live, raw, authentic funk vibe.”
Meanwhile, across town on the Williamsburg/Greenpoint border, Joel Hamilton and Tony Maimone are preparing to open the new Studio G – this is one of the original recording studios in the ‘Burg now expanded into 5,000+ square feet. Studio G will house one of the city’s only commercially available Bosendorfer grand pianos (to our knowledge), and three full featured studios – a 48-input SSL 8048 “A” room, and an equally spacious Neve 5316-equipped “B” room – with ample tracking space and isolation…built by musicians for musicians. (Look out for our upcoming feature on Studio G!)
According to Hamilton, they’re booking the A room for January and beyond, but “things are already booked in super tight, so call now!”
Besides building an insane new studio, Hamilton’s been making records all year too. He worked with the electronic artist Pretty Lights tracking the band in a live-to-two-track analog scenario – all analog and vintage signal chains with no isolation. The band played live in the room together and the masters went straight to vinyl – only to ultimately be sampled by Pretty Lights (Derek Smith) for his album, I Know The Truth. It’s a production style the artist calls “analog electronica.”
Another engineer/producer with an ambitious new studio in the works for 2012 is Marc Alan Goodman who you may recognize from his “Building Strange Weather” blog here on SonicScoop. While work has been heavily underway at his studio’s new location on Graham Ave in Williamsburg, sessions have continued across the ‘hood at the existing Strange Weather Recording. Among the year’s highlights were Here We Go Magic recording overdubs for their upcoming album with producer/engineer Nigel Godrich who was over doing television sound for Radiohead.
The band Friends also recorded two singles and an upcoming full-length album at Strange Weather with co-producer/engineer Daniel Schlett. And the band Lakookala made an EP at the studio (“start-to-finish in 3 days”) with Goodman co-producing and engineering.
Over at Fluxivity, 2011 was the year that the studio’s recently-completed tracking room got a workout, with everything from full tracking with drums to guitar, vocals and all manner of overdubs. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion has been working at Fluxivity, with Spencer and engineer Brian Thorn mixing the new album. Ed Mcentee assisted.
Says Fluxivity owner Nat Priest: “This was primarily a tape-based project, mixed to the studio’s Ampex ATR 102 tape machine in the ½” stereo format. Jon Spencer and Brian Thorn used quite a few pieces of the studio’s vintage analog equalizers, compressors and delays including the 1/4″ slap machine and EMT plate reverb.”
Black Dice also made a new record in Williamsburg with Matt Boynton recording, mixing and producing at Vacation Island Recording. Free Blood (members of !!!) and Suckers also made new albums at Vacation Island with Boynton this year. And, Zach Cale is currently in the studio completing mixes for his latest EP, Hangman Letters.
A couple 2011 Vacation Island highlights were Beirut mixing their latest release The Rip Tide with engineer/producer Griffin Rodriguez, and the “Recorded for Japan” compilation which saw Ariel Pink, Kurt Vile, Chairlift and R. Stevie Moore through the studio. Boynton recorded and mixed a lot of this record, and the rest was mixed by Jorge Elbrecht. Vacation Island engineer Rob Laakso mastered the album.
Over at The Brewery Recording, also in Williamsburg, members of breakthrough rap group Odd Future tracked vocals for three songs and started mixing for their new side project The Internet, due out in early 2012. Matt Martians and Syd tha Kyd produced and Andrew Krivonos engineered on these sessions.
The Brewery reports they had 700 sessions through their one-room facility in 2011, running round the clock. Another highlight is happening currently with WZRD, the rock duo formed by Kid Cudi and producer Dot Da Genius. Noah Goldstein has been engineering these sessions.
Brooklyn producer/engineer Allen Farmelo – who you may remember designed this awesome custom console with Greenpoint designer Francois Chambard for his own studio The Farm – just finished mixing a record with noise duo Talk Normal, a project by artist/engineers Sarah Register and Andrya Ambro, with producer Christina Files.
Farmelo also produced/engineered an album for Brooklyn-based children’s musician Elska, out of Mavericks Studio in China Town and back at The Farm, and mixed/mastered two new film scores by Cinematic Orchestra, produced by band-leader Jason Swinscoe for Ninja Tune Records. “These two scores were for films from the 1920s: the Dada-ist masterpiece Entr’acte and the early city portrait called Manhatta. Both were performed live to a packed house at London’s Barbican Center this year, a beautiful night of music and film.”
And, as covered this month in the New York Times, Farmelo produced and mixed a new album by 85-year-old jazz pianist Boyd Lee Dunlop which was tracked at Soundscape in Buffalo by Jimi Calabrese, mixed at The Farm and mastered at The Magic Shop by Jessica Thompson
“An old friend and photographer met Boyd in a state-funded nursing home in Buffalo and began recording him on his cellphone and sending me MP3s and asked if this was any good,” says Farmelo.
“I was blown away by what I heard and arranged to record Boyd with bassist Sabu Adeyola and drummer Virgil Day. Buffalo has few studios, but thankfully I found a room tucked away on Buffalo’s West Side with a Steinway and amazing vintage mics and pres (RCA 77s, Neumann U47s, Neves, etc). I put up and tracked the session in one day and mixed on the API/Studer combo here at The Farm. I aimed for a vintage sound (late 50s Atlantic Studios in particular), and feel I got it (mono is a big part of that). Jessica Thompson just nailed the mastering perfectly.”
Next, to Greenpoint where Joe McGinty’s unique Carousel Recording – with its heavenly collection of vintage synths – recently hosted Finland electronic act Husky Rescue. Led by Marko Nyberg, the group booked a week at Carousel to lay the groundwork of their next record, utilizing many of the vintage synthesizers in the studio. “They were ace analog synth programmers,” says McGinty, of Psychedelic Furs, Losers Lounge fame. “It was great to see them in action, and I learned a few things as well!
Carousel has also opened a second room to accommodate that ever-expanding keyboard collection, which we featured earlier this year. Recent additions to the collection include a Moog 15 Modular, Freeman String Symphonizer, Yamaha YC-30 organ, and Yamaha CP-70 Electric Grand Piano.
In DUMBO, Joe Lambert Mastering had a record year. First off, Chief Engineer/Owner Joe Lambert was nominated for a Grammy in the “Best Engineered Album, Classical” category for the aforementioned Lonely Motel: Music From Slide by Steven Mackey and Rinde Eckert.
And other highlights include: mastering the major label debut by Fanfarlo (Atlantic Records/Canvasback), produced by Ben H. Allen, and recorded by David Wrench, the popular Washed Out (SubPop) album Within and Without, also produced by Allen, the Atlas Sound (4AD) record Parallax, produced by Bradford Cox and Nicolas Vernhes, and the Panda Bear (Paw Tracks) album, Tomboy, produced by Noah Lennox and Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember.
Over at The Fort, engineer/producer James Bentley has been working a bit with Brooklyn-based Goodnight Records, including tracking for the new KNTRLR LP, and recording/filming an in-studio performance with the venerable Brooklyn band The Big Sleep. “There were about 40 people and a keg, it was an amazing party,” says Bentley.
OUTSIDE THE CITY
Emerging Brooklyn band Thieving Irons trekked up to The Isokon in Woodstock to make a record with engineer/producer D. James Goodwin, Nate Martinez and Josh Kaufman co-producing. “Incredible songs, deconstructed, then put back together in a left brain way,” says Goodwin of the project. “Very few cymbals, tons of space. Lots of Kaoss Pad!” Stream a track “So Long” from the album.
Goodwin also made an album up at the Isokon with art-folk group Bobby – tracked and mixed the full LP for Partisan Records.
In Jersey City, Big Blue Meenie is still going strong, and hopping with sessions all year. Highlights include Rainey Qualley mixing her EP with Tim “Rumblefish” Gilles and Matt “Dasher” Messenger (the single “Peach In My Pocket” is featured in the 2011 Sundance-winning film To.Get.Her), and Alright Jr tracking their new EP Scratching At The Ceiling with Chris “Noz” Marinaccio, Colin “Gron” Mattos, Matthew “Debris” Menafro, and Jeff “9/11″Canas, and mixing with Gilles and Messenger.
Also six-piece NJ prog-rock band The Tea Club mixed their “Live at Progday 2011″ show with Messenger, Marinaccio and Gilles, and – most recently – the jazz-fusion oriented Dennis Haklar Project tracked new material (9 songs in 2 days) with Marinaccio engineering, assisted by Colin “Gron” Mattos.
What a year, and those are just some of the highlights! We can only imagine what 2012 will bring to NYC in the way of new recordings — and we can’t wait to hear them.
WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN: For a lot of people at this year’s AES, the action at the Javits Center was a mere appetizer for the intensive show-spawned nightlife spanning New York City.
Producers, artists, engineers and audio heads of all stripes found plenty to keep them buzzing on Friday. Many started out at the Fred Perry Artist Lounge at Stratosphere Sound, others kicked it off at an intimate gathering at Area 51, while still more got going at an energetic midtown bash at Quad Studios.
But for those in the know, all roads led to Brooklyn and the Progress Party at the new 5,000 sq. ft. home of Studio G, just off of Williamsburg’s McCarren Park.
The new facility will be home to musician/producer/engineers Joel Hamilton (Blakroc, Elvis Costello), Tony Maimone (They Might Be Giants, Bob Mould), and Jeff Hill (Rufus Wainwright), and no doubt a great many records to come. Studio G has been a Williamsburg recording destination for over a decade, and has built a reputation for its discerning staff, selective gear, and work with boundary-pushing artists like Blakroc, Matisyahu, Mike Watt and Dub Trio.
Guests arrived to find the new G in gloriously raw form as it moves closer to its opening, while like-minded Brooklyn-based sponsor Audio Power Tools and its premium brands – Burl Audio, Mojave Audio, Royer Labs, Slate Digital – lavished them with tamales and positive vibes.
But don’t take our word for it – the camera never lies!
WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN: Slip into the musical continuum, and you’ll find yourself streaming ahead with Erica Glyn. But exercise caution when absorbing her densely engaging new album, Static – this is an audio solider you’re dealing with, one who will sound off using any means necessary.
Even the most dedicated band member catches themselves thinking…about what would happen if they dropped democracy to pursue their own unilateral vision. With the 10 songs of Static, the Brooklyn-based Glyn has done just that: She deliberately took leave of groupthink to proclaim artistic independence, and create an adventurous nebula of trip hop, acoustic instruments, programming, distortion, alluring vocals and deadly serious hooks.
Beyond songwriting, Glyn’s deep experience as an audio engineer had no small part in producing Static. A disciple of Bob Power, Glyn sharpened her chops working with the NYC mixmaster on projects for the likes of India.Arie, The Roots, Ozomatli, Citizen Cope, and Meshell Ndegeocello. All the better to mix it with, as Glyn consciously turned standard moves upside down to merge the enveloping tracks of Static in her home studio.
For any artist, producer, or engineer looking to bust out, Static serves as an example: If you don’t like the rules, it might be time to write your own.
Erica, you said that the making of “Static” was quite intentionally a dictatorship. How was this in contrast to your previous records, and why did you feel the need to rule Static with an iron fist?
In the past, I’ve been a part of bands where I was the leading force in it, the songwriter and the singer etc…, but there was always a mock-democracy thing happening. I always wanted to play in bands and to collaborate, but in retrospect, those mock-democracy type situations never ultimately served the music, the productions nor the effectiveness very well. I was always concerned with and/or dealing with personalities — egos — and that was ultimately a distraction from the music, but valuable learning experiences all the same.
With this project, though collaborative, at the end of the day I had veto power and didn’t worry about the work that went into a part or the person who created it, myself included. If it didn’t work for the greater good of the song, it didn’t stay. It seems like an obvious thing, but when you are trying to pacify people, self included, it can be difficult to keep focused.
And at the same time as I was being highly tyrannical, I allowed the musicians to do what they do best. I worked with people that I knew I could give guidance to, while simultaneously giving them the freedom to put themselves into it. And I think that comes across in the energy of the music. For example, Leron Thomas who played trumpet on “Animal” came in to play a part that I had written out for him. Afterwards, I asked him to play some fanfare stuff and improvise over the outro. After he did one take, he got inspired and said, “Let me do another one that’ll work with what I just put down.” And then after that he did another one that fit with the previous two takes. It was great and worked perfectly with the track and I didn’t change a thing.
It was the same with Dan Neustadt and his amazing keyboard playing and synth sounds. The intro of “Commonplace” was done in one take. I just told him I wanted the song to start with a memorable hook, and voila! There were other moments that took more crafting on my part, but that was also part of the fun for me. I’ve become pretty good at Pro Tools and have been able to utilize it more like an instrument rather than a recording device.
How else did that outlook go into planning the writing and production of this album? And did everything then go according to plan?
There was no plan. I wrote a bunch of songs in about three weeks, made demos of them and then shared them with musician/producer Brice Malahude who lives in Brussels — we would Skype and file share via FTP. He got inspired and came back at me with a ton of ideas, and I would sift through them picking out what I thought worked best. As those ideas grew, the record unfolded. I worked a bunch at home, studying my Pro Tools maps, cleaning things up, trying things out, really enjoying the process, and enjoying receiving the surprises Brice would leave for me to check out.
Besides doing what I thought would serve the music best, I didn’t have an MO. I tried to let things go where they were going to go, and not try to force anything to work or fit in any direction. If things got scrapped, then they weren’t right or weren’t good enough.
Sounds like a really efficient, but still musical approach. What were the various recording environments? How did they affect the outcomes?
A lot of the record was recorded in my home studio in Williamsburg. A bunch of it was recorded at Brice’s home studio in Brussels – not to mention the pilgrimage he made to Jarno Van Es, somewhere in the countryside of Belgium.
Other than that I worked with Blair Wells at his studio, Purple Velvet, Joel Hamilton in his studio, Studio G, Shahzad Ismaily in his studio, Rivington 66, and drums, trumpet and cello were recorded at The Bunker. Oh, and Nathan Larson sent me tracks from his home studio as well. Blair and I worked at Flux one day to record Casey Benjamin on piano. They have a beautiful Steinway there and the room sounds great.
In terms of how these studio choices affected the sound, well, I think that they all are up to snuff in terms of equipment and technology — but it’s not really about that at the end of the day, is it? I think because most everyone was on their home turf, they felt at ease and excited to play with little pressure and I think that energy — that organic energy — is captured. There was never any belaboring of parts.
How did the mix phase unfold after that?
I ended up mixing the record because I sort of had been mixing it as I was producing it. I was very aware of the sonic spread of the recordings as I was working on them. So I was thinking of instrumentation, parts, melodies etc… as well as the sonics of it. And I had a very clear idea of how things should sound, where they should be placed in the mix, what instruments should be featured when.
There’s a lot in the music – it’s crafted and if you’re not familiar with all the little details that I worked hard to create, moments within moments, well, then they would get lost in the mix. Also, instruments and sounds that traditionally might take the foreground or the background weren’t necessarily taking on their traditional roles, and leaving it in the hands of someone else just didn’t make any sense.
What song or songs are an example of how your mix fulfilled your vision?
For example, in “Commonplace,” both the keys and the electric guitar are strong forces in the verses and they sit in similar registers, so who takes the lead? For me, it’s the electric guitar, hands down. But someone else mixing it might have chosen to feature the keys.
Same with “Polar Shift:” The bouzouki Lyenn played was so beautiful and the recording is pristine, and so it would make sense perhaps to feature it, and have the synth sounds take a far back seat. But that makes no sense to me in the context of the song, the production and how I envisioned it.
Have you always been an audio engineer as well as being an artist? At what point in your career did being an engineer become important to you?
I think I’ve been becoming both simultaneously. I started working in recording studios as a teenager — I was always interested in not only making music but making records as well. I used to fall asleep as a kid listening to records – and each night I would listen to a different instrument all the way through the album. One night I would just focus in on the bass, the next night the guitar, the next the background vocals.
I guess that came naturally to me. And I never wanted to be lost in the studio — I thought from the get-go that it was important to know how things worked if I ever wanted to make a record of my own. I had to know how to communicate with the people I was working with, so that I wouldn’t be at their mercy.
You’ve had the opportunity to work with Bob Power. What are some of the lessons – large and small – you soaked up under his tutelage?
Bob is an amazing teacher. Not only does he have a wealth of knowledge, but he’s also very excited to share that knowledge. And he’s extremely patient while being expectant simultaneously.
The biggest lesson I learned from Bob — and this may seem like a no-brainer — but the biggest lesson I learned from him is to listen: To really listen to the instrument that you are recording in the room that you are recording it in. That, and a bunch of technical stuff you wouldn’t be interested in.
Oh, but we are! Maybe next time. In an earlier conversation, you were adamant that – your experience with Bob Power most unequivocally excepted — female engineers are subject to various inequalities in the workplace. What were some of your experiences that you can share about that?
I would love to share the nitty gritty of the experiences I’ve come up against, but this isn’t that kind of Website. Recording studios are very boy-centric. This is not news to anyone. I definitely have been treated extremely inappropriately, and not just by the old geezer types either, contemporaries as well.
I’ve had people tell me outright that they do not want me in the studio – I was delegated to the lounge, tech room, front office, what have you – because they didn’t want to have to change the way they talked. There was a long stretch where no one would let me graduate to the next rung, no one would let me do anything technical. Working for Bob changed that for me.
Do you have any suggestions for how some of these unfortunate attitudes can be overcome?
Unfortunate attitudes — that’s up to boys to alter. In general we too often let the subtle nuances of sexism slide under the radar, which really just reinforces them.
Other than that: don’t let other people project their insecurities on to you. And, knowledge is power. Educate yourself and just do. Learn by doing. You don’t necessarily need to work in a studio these days – there is so much you can do on your own now.
Circling back to Static, how would you characterize the final result? Why is this such a satisfying artistic statement for you? And what are you looking to do next?
This is a satisfying piece of work for me, and I think it’s because I never compromised.
Musician/Producer/Engineer Blair Wells, who contributed tremendously to the back-end of the record and who co-mixed it with me, was unbelievably relentless in allowing me to revise and hone as much as I wanted. An incredible gift. And I worked with a bunch of musicians that I totally admire and who really put themselves into the music, and for that I feel grateful as well.
As for next what’s next, I’d love to perform the record — I think it would be a really fun album to re-create live. And more production work, more music making. More writing.
– David Weiss
When told you’re about to hear a “Producer’s album,” it’s easy to imagine something like a finely-honed Swiss watch. The last thing to expect might be The Book of Knots’ critically acclaimed 2007 release, Traineater, a crumbling, over-wound, “endlessly clacking cuckoo-clock”- to borrow the words of Joel Hamilton, the Brooklyn-based producer/engineer who is also a core member of the band.
This year, Hamilton [Blakroc, Sparklehorse] has reunited with bassist and fellow Brooklyn producer Tony Maimone [Pere Ubu, Frank Black], violinist/vocalist Carla Kihlstedt and drummer/keyboardist Matthias Bossi [both of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum] to release Garden of Fainting Stars.
It’s the final installment in a trilogy of edgy, esoteric rock records that began with the band’s 2004 self-titled debut.
From the outset, The Book of Knots knew this third record would be their last. First by sea, then by land, and now by space, each album investigates the appeal of frontiers, and ultimately, the perpetual anti-climax that goes along with our never-ending urge to explore.
“What’s actually out there is never as exciting as what mankind imagines,” says Hamilton with some wistful humor. “We wanted to ask, what the hell is in us that keeps us looking over that next hill? What is that drive, what’s the purpose, and what’s kept us from just sitting in southeast Africa as an entire human race?”
If there’s a sonic thread through these releases, it may be that each one has somehow managed to play off as rickety and grandiose at once. These are records that combine raw performances on thrift-store finds with a production sensibility that favors heavy-handed mixing in search of massive sonic impact.
For Traineater, the band decided to err on the dilapidated side of the spectrum, offering a sense of gigantic, rustily-creaking musical machinery that paired well with the iconic bray of prominent special-guest Tom Waits.
Now, Garden of Fainting Stars brings back much of the anthemic heavy-metal bombast of the band’s first release.
“I think some of that [sound] comes from the subject matter itself,” says Hamilton. “The second record is all about these Midwestern doldrums; Towns that had so much promise in them, and are now just decaying into dust. Once you start talking about the high seas and aerospace test pilots, you’re bound to find some more bravado in there. I mean, you’ve seen Top Gun, right?,” he laughs.
But there’s a distinct air of melancholy, uncertainty, even dread, to go along with it. Hamilton, who can hardly go more than a minute without dropping a satisfyingly idiosyncratic visual descriptor, says their goal was to make an album that sounds like “a theater built by the set designer for the City of Lost Children.”
Although the newest album features collaborations with Blixa Bargeld [Nick Cave, Neubauten] and honorary 5th Knot Mike Watt [Minutemen, fiREHOSE] Hamilton tells us the band has “reigned in the outside influences this time around.”
The influences that do remain are alternately strident, operatic, cacophonous, somber. If it reminds you of some of your favorite early-90s out-metal, there’s a good reason for it: Garden of Fainting Stars is slated for a June 14th release on Ipecac Recordings, the personal imprint of metal maverick Mike Patton [Faith No More, Mr. Bungle].
As for the recording process, “It’s absolutely the wrong-est you can get” according to Hamilton. “It’s not even cool-wrong. We’re not going for “lo-fi” as an aesthetic or sticking an sm57 in a PVC pipe. That would be a choice. This should sound like it was recorded by accident.”
The way Hamilton tells it, an important part of making a record for his own band is giving up control during the tracking process. “It’s the pursuit of getting the part down at all costs, and then dealing with the corner we’ve painted ourselves into later on. It’s running, not walking, not stepping, not thinking, absolutely running to the destination.”
This philosophy leads Book of Knots to settle on some pretty unorthodox mic placements: spinning a vocal mic around to roughly face in the direction of a drum kit, and later, angling it down a few inches to capture a guitar overdub on the other side of the room. One distant U87 room-mic stands in for duties normally filled by overheads and tom mics on their latest single, “Microgravity,” much like a single dynamic mic (the low-cost and long discontinued Electro Voice RE-11) captured every sound and overdub on the song “All Is Nothing.”
Click to stream “Microgravity” by The Book of Knots.
The approach leads to some unique sounds, not only thanks to the haphazard capture method, but also due to the ruthless mangling these sounds are subject to on the other side of the process. When it comes to mixing, Hamilton takes back nearly all the control he once relinquished for the sake of the performance: “[this method] forces the use of 7 stacked EQs and four-thousand db of compression to even hear the kick drum. But that’s a tone that you would never have gotten with a more quote-unquote standard mic setup.”
As for that RE-11? He ended up sending it through his Valhalla reverb plug-in, and then sending that effect return into Studio G’s custom-built echo chamber for an effect that makes him think of “a Motown [song] being swallowed into a vortex”.
Does this mean Hamilton is no longer allowed to complain about woefully recorded tracks sent to him to mix by his own clients? “The only time I’d even complain would be out of insecurity,” he laughs. “There are those times where you can’t make the tracks you’re given sound the way you know the band or producer was hoping for. But [for The Book Of Knots] I don’t have anyone else to answer to, so that doesn’t really matter.
“It’s not supposed to sound like a Blink 182 record,” he says with a dose of good-natured contempt. “So [if the production does end up sounding strange at times], the engineer didn’t f*k up. We just weren’t out there chasing after someone else’s aesthetic to begin with.”
NEW PALTZ, NY: Anthony DeMaria never intended to create an audio company. “In a way, it created me,” says the one-time wiz-kid turned entrepreneur.
Like many makers of boutique audio electronics, DeMaria had little formal training to start, but found himself attracted to sound, organization, and work that demanded fine manual dexterity.
“Although I didn’t have a lot of background with circuits, my father was a model-maker, and I think that influence made me comfortable working with my hands,” says DeMaria. “My first schematic was the [Teletronix] LA-2A, and I quickly found that I could turn out prototypes pretty immediately.”
From there, DeMaria would go on to streamline and expand his one-man operation, before teaming up with PreSonus to bring high-fidelity tube preamps to the masses, and then ultimately throw his chips back into the boutique world to develop a faithful recreation of the breathtakingly over-engineered, 20-tube, 14-transformer behemoth known at the Fairchild 670.
Over the decades, his sense of excitement, awe and graciousness has barely receded: “It’s just so cool that I can have a thought in my head, put it into metal, and someone will come along and say ‘what do I owe you?’ All money aside, it’s so great that out of a whole world [of gear makers] out there, they call me.”
If you ask DeMaria and his clients, it’s that eagerness to pick up the phone and interact with his customers that kept ADL selling high-end niche merchandise throughout dire economic times. ADL 670 owner and Brooklyn-based producer/engineer Joel Hamilton reminisces that “Anthony said it best when I first started to talk to him about getting a 670: ‘I’m not selling boxes, I’m cultivating relationships with engineers and users of this stuff’. That was years ago, and he’s stayed so true to that very high standard all the way.”
Back in 1987, DeMaria’s initial, successful stab at the LA-2A evolved into a product called the ADL 1000.
Although it’s been eclipsed in the press by his newer, more sensational pieces, DeMaria’s version of this classic opto circuit is what built his company, and it remains an essential backbone of his product line.
And, over 25 years DeMaria has labored to see that circuit maintain its integrity: “If I were to re-interpret one little thing, I’d have to explain why, and lose a certain crowd.”
There are challenges: “Whether you’re doing 10 or 100 you have to go though the entire parts list, make sure all the vendors still have those parts available. There are so many parts that go into any product, and if you go into production without checking that every part is still made, you’re playing Russian roulette. You could have to change your entire design if you can’t find or make a suitable replacement.”
The hardest thing, DeMaria says, are the transformers: “The sonic footprint of any good piece of tube gear is, hands down, the transformer. You have to nail that first – if you screw it up, you’ve got nothing.”
Some of the most critical elements are built in-house. “Often, the original transformers we try to duplicate are very old and there’s no documentation. You measure everything, but at the end of the day, you’re throwing a dart. You create the transformer, stick it into the original design and say ‘Okay, what’s it doing? Should we go up, down, left or right?’
“It could take a month or two and 4 or 5 versions, or it could be 8 months and 12 versions. You don’t really know until you try.”
All this experience re-engineering vintage circuits and maintaining standards in his own creations prepared DeMaria for his biggest challenge yet: if the ADL 1000 was DeMaria’s original flagship, the ADL 670 has usurped that title through sheer ballsiness and heft. With a 6RU mainframe and 4RU power supply that weigh in at a combined 84lbs, the ADL 670 is a heavy load on the back, and the wallet. This elegant giant lists at $19,000 MSRP. And it sells.
670 user and Strange Weather Studio engineer Daniel James Schlett says, “It can be subtle at times, but what it is doing cannot be done with any other units I’ve used in the past.”
“The 670 is pretty fantastic on a lot of things,” says Schlett. “It’s not a ‘blow up your room mics box’, but it does a fantastic job of imparting great character on a vocal or bass track while staying extremely hi-fi. It can give a singer that extra sparkle that was missing in the chain, or help pull out a performance no one in the room was ready for.”
“It’s also in constant use on the mix buss – here is where the 670 has a way of standing out and blending in all at the same time.”
Studio G‘s Hamilton agrees that the unit excels on the stereo buss, a function that’s driven the value of the original Fairchild through the roof: “I’ve used the ADL 670 on almost every single record I’ve mixed since I got it years ago. I could probably just normal it to the main mix insert point on my Neve, and save the trouble of patching it at all.”
An impressive box for sure, but is it worth over $9,000 MSRP per channel? It’s one of those unanswerable, subjective questions. Value, as always, depends on the user’s resources, needs and desires. But this much is clear: DeMaria’s 670 delivers the tone of the original, at a lower price than a vintage unit, with a new warranty and uncommon customer service.
Hamilton’s own story about his interaction with DeMaria, for example, is far from unique: “I was in the middle of doing the new Pretty Lights record, and we were printing live to two-track tape with the ADL 670 on the mix. I was running everything hot, and had the power supply in a ‘less than optimal’ position. My power supply fried. I said “Wait… Does anyone smell that? Something burning?’ And someone replied ‘smells like your wallet’.”
“Anthony drove down from his shop that morning (on a Sunday!) with a calibrated bench unit for me to continue tracking. Besides the fact that I like Anthony personally, that he goes out of his way to really make things work is just incredible and dear to my heart. Try getting that type of service from a random manufacturer. You’d need a time machine and cab fare from White Plains to make that happen with an original Fairchild 670.”
But what about the sound? The ADL has routinely passed discerning user’s tests, coming up as nearly indistinguishable from the original. To this engineer’s ears, mixes seem to take on new weight, depth, and girth when the 670 is laid over the mix buss. It’s an effect that is at once powerful, satisfying and refined. As soon as the inserts are engaged, whole productions sound as if they’ve pumped out 100 push-ups and chased them down with a couple of grass-fed cheeseburgers.
Of course, not all of DeMaria’s designs are so pie-in-the-sky. In 2006, a collaboration with PreSonus brought high-end tube audio down to earth for thousands of pro and semi-pro studios across the world.
“Economy of scale made that product possible,” says DeMaria of their creation: the ADL 600. “It’s the only way we could bring the product in at that magical $2,000 price-point. A connector that costs me a buck, might cost them a penny.”
Unlike many of his other best-selling designs, the 600 is a novel creation that takes a more indirect inspiration from vintage circuits. “We looked at tube preamps that The Beatles used, but in the end some of them had too much character. When you want to capture it pristine – this is the piece. We decided the best thing to do in a preamp like that is to give people the most open sounding pre with the most amount of gain.
“And it’s just got an enormous amount of gain,” he notes. “You’ll never outrun it. It’s a really nice-sounding preamp.”
We asked DeMaria if he learned anything from that mass-market collaboration which has been useful at his own boutique operation, where he hand-assembles units in New Paltz, NY. “They really understood simplicity and clarity of layouts, and have a great ability to maximize the ease of manufacturing. There’s this old adage, ‘Go slow now, go fast later’. Those guys really know it.”
He’s even applied some of those concepts to his own designs, adapting the mono ADL 1000 and stereo ADL 1500 circuits to work in the same chassis, using interchangeable platform boards that allow quick fixes in-the-field. “Now, instead of a client sending me the unit, I can send a replacement board overnight in a soft-pack. I just helped a client install a power supply board over the phone in 4 minutes and helped save the session! How happy was he?”
DeMaria says that it now takes less technical aptitude to build his earlier designs, saving more time for QC and answering phones. On the flip-side, there’s an increased part count, but allowing these two units to share some elements has helped control prices and enhance uniformity across the line.
Having mastered point-for-point recreations of classic gear and super-clean mass market creations alike, DeMaria has is ears set on new horizons: “I’d love to create another branch-out company. I’ll always continue to make the traditional ADL pieces, but I also want to create products that go the other way – less expensive. Gear that disrupts the sound. I’ve already created a box to make the most pristine sound. Now I want to go in the opposite direction. It seems like musicians are shifting away from capturing pristine sounds and moving toward effecting it.
“I want to be on the ground,” he says,” See what’s going on, visit some of these studios. I’ve always been talking to musicians and studio owners. That’s where the ideas come from. So much has changed in recording, and the question becomes – how do you reconnect the dots?”
And staying in New York is a big part of that plan, according to DeMaria, who was born in Brooklyn and toys with the idea of opening an office in the borough. He tried a move to California for a while, but couldn’t “sink his teeth” into LA.
“I couldn’t see myself anywhere else,” he tells us. “I mean, where are you gonna get the best food? In Brooklyn! C’mon!”
Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn-based audio engineer and music producer who’s worked with Hotels, DeLeon, Soundpool, Team Genius and Monocle, as well as clients such as Nintendo, JDub, Blue Note Records, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Visit him at www.justincolletti.com.