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 email@example.com. 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.