An international music education has become a lot more accessible – and enticing – thanks to recent developments at Berklee College of Music.
The renowned contemporary music education school has opened its first campus outside of Boston with Berklee in Valencia (Spain). Located within the stunning Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia – a multipurpose arts complex – Berklee in Valencia features a highly advanced recording/teaching complex designed by Walters-Storyk Design Group (WSDG) (Highland, NY).
The studio facility within the Music Technology Complex represents the final element of Berklee’s first international campus, which recently launched its master’s programs, and comprises five inter-related components. The 1600 sq. ft. scoring stage/studio – Studio K – which includes an 860 sq. ft. live room with 15-foot ceilings and features variable acoustic wall treatments developed for diverse recording configurations. The studio’s windows provide full views of the Palau and allow the public to view Berklee’s music activities. The live room is supported by a 500 sq. ft. control room, two 250 sq. ft. ISO/overdub booths, and an isolated machine room.
Each aspect of the studio combines to form a world-class recording complex designed to support Berklee’s master’s students and visiting artists, as they transition from student to music professional. Avid/Euphonix controllers are deployed throughout to take advantage of the Eucon protocol, for seamless migration of projects across the facility, up to and including the flagship System 5. Future plans include the installation of an identical console in Boston, which will facilitate real time joint sessions between the two locations.
The entire facility, whose design was overseen by WSDG architect/acoustician John Storyk, is configured through a central machine room for speed, ease of turnaround, and high interconnectivity between rooms, including the Palau de les Arts’ concert halls. The System 5 has 48 channels, with 128 channels of I/O, and 176 mic lines. In addition, there is a broad selection of analog processing with plenty of room for additions should the need arise.
Take a video tour of the new Berklee in Valencia facilities:
Monitoring in the production suites is all-Genelec – 5.1 surround in Studio A, and 2.1 stereo in Studios B, C, and D. The control room in Studio K features the Meyer Sound Acheron 7.1 surround monitoring system. The room also includes Griffin Audio G2B Active main stereo monitors, along with ProAc and Yamaha NS-10’s. Additionally, the room has been designed to Dolby specifications and readied for the new Dolby Atmos Cinema Sound monitoring protocol.
Along with the Valencia campus, WSDG was also responsible for designing and constructing recording studios for Berklee College of Music’s $100 million + new building at 160 Massachusetts Avenue in Boston. WSDG’s portfolio includes facilities for clients including Bruce Springsteen, Celine Dion, Def Jam Records, ESPN, Jay-Z, Jazz at Lincoln Center, MTV Latin America and the 2012 TEC Award-winning Jungle City Studios, among thousands of other domestic and international clients.
Autumn has arrived in New York City, and along with it a wave of audio facilities that are either completely new or significantly improved.
Leading the charge is OZ Studios, a new world-class facility in Manhattan’s Garment District. Owned by the highly successful multimedia company MBK Entertainment — which counts Alicia Keys, Elle Varner, Gabi Wilson, Daisha, Allen Stone, Anthony Hall, and SWV among others on its production/management roster — OZ is an elite, commercially available two-room production space which should prove to be an ideal environment for tracking and mixing.
OZ was designed by John Storyk of Walters-Storyk Design Group (WSDG), and features two relatively compact production suites. First is Studio A, a 230 sq. ft. live room, and 190 sq. ft. control room equipped with an SSL Duality SE 24 Input Analog Console, Apple Logic Pro Studio, Avid Digidesign HD3, Augspurger Custom Main Monitors and a wide range of outboard gear. OZ’ 150 sq. ft. Studio B control room has an SSL Matrix console, Adams S5X-V speakers and a 60 sq. ft. sound booth. Both studios are adjacent to a 600 sq. ft.-plus common lounge area.
WSDG came to the attention of MBK Founder/CEO Jeff Robinson and his partners Jeanine Mclean, Misha Hedman, and Suzette Williams, following John Storyk’s work for Alicia Keys, Jay-Z, and Jungle City. Subsequently, WSDG collaborated with contractors Sonic Construction and gear integrators GC Pro Boston to complete the facility.
Located on the 19th floor at 519 8th Avenue, OZ also provides wide views of the Hudson River, a perspective which also reportedly includes highly inspiring sunset views. Designed to accommodate both OZ artists and outside sessions, the studio plans to make an immediate impact on music, film, and TV.
“We are developing a program to maximize the potential of our new studio,” Robinson says. “While our artists will have first dibs on studio time for their projects, we plan to make this outstanding studio available to outside artists, producers engineers as well as for film/TV production. In the years to come, we hope to see a return on our investment, not just in monetary terms, but also as a source for meaningful, lasting music. These studios are finely tuned instruments. We are developing a number of highly talented artists, and we anticipate a steady flow of hits from this beautiful facility.”
For OZ booking inquiries, contact Misha Hedman, 646-528-5444, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
An in-depth feature on OZ Studios will be appearing on SonicScoop soon.
EAST HAMPTON, NY: Cynthia Daniels was surrounded by foam. But when the natural beauty of the famed Hamptons – and the surprisingly abundant audio needs of its equally famed residents – are beckoning, this is not a good thing.
What were the reasons for the acoustic insulation overload that was affecting Daniels, a GRAMMY-winning engineer/mixer/producer who has been recording sounds of every sort since 1984? Her condition stemmed from two causes:
1) Nonstop demand for her talents, which span recording and mixing for Broadway, film, TV, and music clients of every stripe, and
2) The almost total lack of an acceptable audio facility to work out of anywhere near her Hamptons home base
“I can’t tell you the amount of money I spent on foam, and trying to make records in a small space,” Daniels relates of her home studio days. “Sometimes I got good results. But there are many people who come here over the summer – or live here all year – who need a place to record. They’re used to a beautiful environment where they’re being taken care of, and they like finding it run by an engineer with the same years of experience in cities like Los Angeles and New York.”
That engineer would be Daniels, and the place they can now go to record anything from a quick VO to a full-on rock album is MonkMusic, a new 650-sq. ft. studio designed by the Walters-Storyk Design Group. As versatile as its owner, the three-room complex is built to welcome an East End jam band outfit one day, and an airtight ADR session for the likes of local residents like Sir Paul McCartney, Alec Baldwin, and Sarah Jessica Parker the next.
Like a lot of smart ventures, location location location was a massive part of the strategy for making MonkMusic – an aesthetically appealing wing attached to Daniels’ home – a reality.
“Having lived in the Hamptons for 15 years, and vaciatoned here for 15 years before that, I know there is nothing close to this – technically or sonically — for at least 70 miles,” Daniels explains, in her high-energy manner. “So I’m providing what I hope is a technical and aesthetic excellence that comes from my experience. Meanwhile, I try to keep my ears and mind open, because innovation and new means of expression are the name of the game.”
If anyone knows the game its Daniels, a Connecticut native attracted early on to the wonders of audio engineering, who then moved to NYC and managed to get her early training with no less than Phil Ramone at the landmark studio A&R Recording. Surrounded by the “Platinum Crew” of legends like Ramone, Elliot Scheiner, Ed Rak and Tom Jung, Daniels quietly became an A-list engineer in her own right, amassing a dizzyingly large list of clients since her first credited session in 1984.
Of her hundreds of credits — from Broadway to Carnegie Hall soloists and Lincoln Center opera, TV, film and spoken word — highlights include a 2002 GRAMMY Award for recording and mixing The Producers, a 2007 Emmy for composition and music supervision on the longest-running daytime series “Guiding Light“, and yet another GRAMMY in 2011 for her work on the Julie Andrews Collection CD.
Her music clients span the best of orchestral pop to big band jazz, including Chaka Khan, Judy Collins, Barbara Cook, Sandra Berhnard and Eartha Kitt. There’s literally far too much to list – a trip to her Website is highly recommended for the full picture.
Sporting a singularly spectacular place for her business, and 2.5 decades-plus of contacts to complement it, Daniels had a clear vision of what MonkMusic should be. Working closely with WSDG principal John Storyk and his team, she was able to map out a vision for a tailored facility where space – due to the Hamptons’ understandably specific zoning requirements – would be the only limitation.
Zen and the Art of Studio Design: “More Than a Mix Room”
For Daniels, the opportunity was not simply to have the best-sounding studio possible, but one molded exactly to her ears and workflow. “The goal was to get a room that I really understood,” she explains. “In terms of sound characteristics, predictable results and aesthetic appeal, it needed to deliver a consistent product in a place that had a great vibe.
“I never imagined I would have my own John Storyk-designed room, and that’s a selling point for the studio. I think people like to know that, from the ground up, you’ve chosen the best for a project, to create a room that’s well-made for recording. The result here is the best money could buy, in this amount of space. I don’t think we cut any corners – what we cut was real estate.”
Although 650 sq. feet may sound small for a three-room recording/mixing complex, MonkMusic in fact feels expansive, and fittingly zen. Daniels’ priorities in the design were to make it “more than a mix room”, specifying clear lanes for visual contact between the compact live room and iso booth that flank the invitingly spacious control room. High ceilings of 11’ 2” allow the sounds from vocalists, guitar amps, drums, horns, strings, and/or a piano to breathe without being overly live.
At all turns, of course, total sound isolation between the rooms and especially to the outside world — where a permanent “Do Not Disturb” sign hangs on the high-priced homes in all directions – is essential. “This is a commercial-grade studio in a residential town,” says Daniels. “The soundproof double doors here are one of the most expensive parts of the facility.”
With magic carpets clean out of stock, Daniels chose a hybrid Avid C-24 console to fly the room, currently running Pro Tools 9 (an upgrade to 10 is imminent) with HD 3. A set of 5.1 Genelec 8240DSP monitors w/subwoofer were tuned for the room by Genelec and Mike Chafee of Michael Chafee Enterprises.
Available preamps include choices from Avalon, NPNG, Pacifica, Sytek, Millenia, and Focusrite, connecting to a treasure chest of classic and custom mics including a pair of DPA 4006-TL’s, a vintage AKG C-12 with original 6072 tube, Tab Funkenwerk UM 25 and UM 17 handbuilt by Oliver Archut with NOS Telefunken tubes, Neumann U87 and U89, AKG 414, Sennheiser 421S, and Royer R-122 Tube mic. Allesandro amps and cabinets, vintage guitars, a Yahama upright piano, and much more for the noisemakers are all on site.
Ready for the Pressure
While WSDG project manager Matt Ballos nailed down the studio’s acoustics (working closely with the local contractor who had never built acoustically-focused rooms before), Daniels worked with WSDG associate Judy Elliot-Brown of Rocket Science, and Mike Donahower on the wiring program and systems integration/installation. All the better to best handle what she identifies as the single-most daunting task on Monk Music’s menu of offerings.
“An ADR session can be extremely complex,” she points out. “It often requires you to send time code down the line, as you deliver the video into a part of the country with a different time zone. You are checking the synch, while you have pages and pages of lines close to each other, setting up leads in beeps, keeping track of the takes, which are moving fast because the artist needs to move fast. The director and three other people are in L.A., and another producer is over here. That, to me, is incredibly challenging in terms of focus and flow. I’m more relaxed recording a 60-piece orchestra on any given day!”
Sonic Sophistication Fit for the East End
But as it turns out, the difference in executing fast, painless ADR and VO for the mega-celebs that populate the Hamptons isn’t entirely about what she brings to the sessions – it’s also what they arrive with. “I’ve found that the more professional a person is, and the more experienced they are, the less they have to prove,” says Daniels. “What they really want is to do the job, so they can get out of here and go do what they want, without having to go all the way to Manhattan. No matter how famous the person is, your task is the same: You’re working with an artist, and your job is to make their job easier. As an engineer, you are facilitating – you are a facility.”
While it may be easy to channel some reverse snobbery of sorts at the Hamptons, the fact is that this collection of villages and hamlets on Long Island’s South Fork is a vibrant cultural beacon all its own. The serene beauty of the ocean and land have long served as a muse for American artistic giants ranging from Jackson Pollack and John Steinbeck to Billy Joel, a setting inspirational to an active East End music scene that stays creative year-round.
Daniels does her part to shed light on that scene with her MonkMusic Radio broadcast, which happens twice a month on WPPB 88.3 FM. “I’ve produced and recorded a lot of local artists, put them on the air, and its blossomed into something bigger than I ever expected,” relates Daniels, whose recent guests have included Nancy Atlas, Joe Delia and Garland Jeffries (go here to check out the archived broadcasts). “I’m really active in the community, and I’ve created a facility for the local musicians to come to. And I realized that I’m in service of something – service is not a penance, and everything they said is true: The more I give, the more I get.”
What Cynthia Daniels and the Hamptons have both gotten is a much-deserved sonic sanctuary. Finally in a home away from foam, her new wing is a wonderland where an accomplished career is taking flight once again.
“I’m feeling an advance in my level of creativity,” she confirms. “There’s something about the feeling of this space…it’s an amazing environment where musicians want to come, play live, and record with each other. I can spend innumerable hours a day here, and want to come back for more.”
– David Weiss
This handsome commercial facility – located on Thompson Street, naturally – comprises an SSL 4000G-equipped A Room, Neve 8108-based B room, and a savvy production suite. All are tied to a substantial live room and iso booths, with access to a full kitchen and lounge. Click for the virtual 360° tour of each room in this facility, created by Cheryl Fleming and Patrick St. Clair.
Along with the SSL 4000G Series console – fitted with Automation and Total Recall, and recapped and restored by 81series.com – Thompson Studio A has been equipped with Pro Tools HD3, Studer 827 24-track tape machine, and Boxer T5 Main Monitors, coupled by two Genelec 1094 subs, Yamaha NS-10′s, Genelec 1031′s and Auratone Speakers. An iso booth and robust array of analog outboard gear and keyboards, synthesizers, instruments and microphones, flesh out the room for production, tracking, mixing, overdubbing, film scoring and composition.
In Studio B, the Neve 8108 (also restored by 81series.com) is complemented by a choice of DAWs – Pro Tools HD3/ Logic/ Cubase – Barefoot MM27 and NS10 monitors, and its own vocal booth. Studio C is a comfortable writing/production room equipped with Pro Tools, Logic and Final Cut Pro and ties to the main live room and both iso booths.
Benedetti had apparently been searching for a space for two years before he landed at 54 Thompson. Following the completion of an initial buildout, the Walters-Storyk Design Group (WSDG) provided extensive design recommendations. WSDG architect/acoustician John Storyk and project manager Joshua Morris oversaw substantial improvements that achieved complete acoustic isolation and extremely accurate sound translation throughout the complex.
Thompson Studios is a welcome addition to a neighborhood that’s historically been populated by artists but short on world-class recording/mixing options. It will be interesting to see if Benedetti proves successful in attracting a loyal clientele from NYC and beyond.
Check out some photos of the space below, by Cheryl Fleming Photography. And visit www.thompsonstudiosnyc.com, email email@example.com or call 212-925-4400 for more info and to book time at Thompson Studios.
Walters-Storyk Design Group (WSDG), the acoustics and audio/video design firm based in Highland, NY, continues to expand its presence in Europe. Dirk Noy, partner and European GM for WSDG, has announced the opening of new offices in Cologne, Germany and Barcelona, Spain.
Carlo Fickler, who has been with WSDG since 2006, has been selected to head up the Cologne branch. Fickler is an expert in architectural acoustics and audio/visual technology integration, and will be focused on existing projects and on expanding the firm’s client base on the Continent.
Fickler completed the interdisciplinary program in audio and video technology at the University of Applied Sciences and Robert-Schumann-College of Music Duesseldorf in 2004. After a year as an assistant recording engineer in NYC, followed by freelance work as a sound engineer in Germany, Fickler joined WSDG in Basel, Switzerland in 2006.
WSDG’s Cologne branch is equipped with a full complement of advanced measurement equipment and software tools to analyze all room, structural and electro acoustical issues.
The Barcelona office will be overseen by Marc Viadiu and Robert Alfageme. Viadiu studied Technical Engineering in Sound and Image and Higher Engineering in Electronics at the University Ramon Llull in Barcelona. After graduation, Viadiu worked in an industrial acoustics company in Barcelona, before heading his own acoustic engineering and acoustic/audio product distribution firm. In 2009 Viadiu served a six-month internship at the WSDG NY office where he focused on project drawing, acoustical measurements and room acoustical calculations. Following his return to Spain in 2010, he rejoins WSDG in the new Barcelona office.
Robert Alfageme studied architecture at the University International of Catalunya, Spain, where he specialized in Acoustical Construction at the Sert School in Barcelona. Independent acoustical consultant assignments led to a collaboration with Marc Viadiu, and on to their WSDG Spain association.
“Since opening our Swiss office with Dirk Noy in 1997, we have completed a number of high profile European assignments,” WSDG co-principal John Storyk says. “These range from Moscow’sVGTRK Broadcast/Recording complex, the Sunshine Mastering facility in Vienna and the Swiss Parliament Building in Bern to Zurich International Airport. We are extremely enthusiastic about the potential of the European market and are confident our new German and Spanish offices will enable us to better serve the international corporate, institutional, recording and broadcast communities.”
WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN: Native New Yorker Chris Harmaty has that “seen-it-all” attitude you want in a contractor, whose job tends to involve a lot of complex problem solving. “There are a lot of different ways to make a room work,” Harmaty said at least once during our conversations over coffee at Kellogg’s Diner.
We first met at nearby Converse Rubber Tracks when the facility was still under construction. Harmaty’s company, Audio Structures, had just wrapped up work on Jungle City Studios when they started on Rubber Tracks, along with another major, yet-to-be-announced high-end midtown studio. His candid and open-minded perspective on studio building is like the wisdom that comes with experience – if he hasn’t exactly “seen it all,” he’s sure seen a lot.
For Rubber Tracks, as with Downtown Music – for example – he served as contractor-builder on a team that includes an architect and an acoustic consultant. For Jungle City, Harmaty and crew built out designs by John Storyk and WSDG. And for a more modest build-out, like Let Em’ In Music in Gowanus, he worked directly with owner Nadim Issa to execute the studio plans.
With each project comes new insight into the work, which Harmaty seems to appreciate like both a craftsman and a businessman motivated to hone and refine, to streamline.
“I’m not an acoustician, and I don’t claim to be,” Harmaty says straight up. “But I do know what works and what doesn’t work. And I’ve worked with several different designers who have completely different theories of sound design in a room, and we have happy customers on all fronts.”
Harmaty goes back in this business 25 years. He built his first studio in 1984 – the venerable Studio B at Al Fierstein’s Sorceror Sound, which hosted tons of big sessions over the years, and in its final months, recording sessions for Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me.
“Sorceror was my visual design and Al’s acoustical design,” says Harmaty. “I learned a ton about acoustics on that job and after we finished, Al started recommending me to build other studios. I immediately liked the work – for a contractor, home owners are hard to deal with, where studio owners are business people who’ve usually been through the building process before. So I started doing more and more studios.”
Since then, Harmaty’s had a long run building audio and video production and post-production facilities mostly in the NYC area. The list includes studios for Queen Latifah, R. Kelly, Jim Jones, Alicia Keys, Bang Music, and JYP Entertainment, Blastoff Productions, audio post facilities including audioEngine, Pomann Sound, Dig It Audio, Headroom, Sound Lounge and Northern Lights, and video post houses including Click 3X and Vidiots.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DETAILS
Harmaty may have stumbled into his first studio job but when he did, something clicked – the experience harkened back to lifelong interests and a general propensity for making things work. “I’ve been building stuff since I was a kid,” he shares. “I used to build these electronic devices and hide them in my teachers’ desks. And when I was in high school, I built this big psychedelic light show that won the New York State Industrial Arts contest. This was in the late 60s…before there were light shows!
“I can even remember back to when I was in kindergarten, we were weaving potholders and I questioned the weave we were using – my teacher freaked out on me,” he recalls. “I’ve always been the type of guy where I don’t care if somebody’s been doing something a certain way for 100 years, I want to know why they’re doing it that way. If you can’t come up with a good reason, then why should I go along with your program? Maybe I can come up with a better solution!”
Between his aptitude for building and electronics, and the now many years experience building studios, Harmaty has the skill-set and expertise of a rarefied few.
World-class studio architect and acoustician John Storyk, who has been working with Harmaty for years – and currently on a private studio for a high-profile artist in NYC – expounds: “With studio construction, more than any other type of construction I’ve ever seen, it is all about the details. It’s similar only to very high-end residential in the level of execution needed in the construction and accuracy.
“Most of our projects have serious timelines. People need to open on time and there’s not a lot of room for doing things twice. So the knowledge of the details is important. If we’re building in NYC, I don’t have to worry – we just call Chris. At this point he’s seen these details hundreds of times; he knows them by heart.”
And Harmaty has an added specialty even within the audio facilities niche. “Chris is not only a craftsman-style builder, but he’s also specific to NYC, and there’s a whole art to working in NYC,” adds Storyk, who as the designer of Electric Lady, Jazz At Lincoln Center, Jay-Z’s Roc The Mic, and JSM among others, knows a thing or two about building in Manhattan.
“There’s a real, very specific skill-set in dealing with Manhattan studio construction. Chris lives in Manhattan, his guys travel on subways, they know how to get the garbage out, they know how to deal with deliveries, etc. If he doesn’t build a room we’re designing in NYC, it’s because he’s not available.”
WORK FOR HIRE
Harmaty assures that between building some of the highest-profile rooms in the five boroughs, he can also consult with DIY studio owners about to embark on building a new space or new room.
“I can red-flag a situation,” he says. “Before you rent or buy a space where you’re going to build out a studio – call me. Let me walk around the space with you and help you evaluate whether or not the space will work the way you want.”
This is what Nadim Issa, owner of Let Em In Music in Gowanus, initially hired Harmaty to do.
“I made an appointment with Chris to come check out the space with me, prior to renting it. We went through and discussed why it might be good or bad for sound-proofing purposes. And he gave me a rough estimate of what a barebones build-out would cost.”
Later, Issa hired Harmaty to build out his design. “I couldn’t afford to do something extravagant,” he notes.
“But Chris definitely worked with my budget. I knew I wanted to float the live room, though I didn’t know how exactly – there are many ways you can do it and different products you can use. Chris has done a ton of these rooms, and knew which products he wanted to use so I just let him do what he does. He also designed the AC ductwork and laid that all out.”
As more and more producer/engineers and composers consider building out their own rooms and collective facilities, Harmaty’s Audio Structures can be a great first call.
“I can be a source of good advice on how to build your studio – even if you are going to build it yourself,” he notes. “I can also help with costs, and give you ammunition to deal with your subcontractors. Or you can hire me to oversee your subcontractors, come in every couple weeks to supervise
“I can help people on a lower budget to tell them the basics – what they absolutely need to take care of. If you haven’t tested the room, I’ll bring in an acoustic engineer with the proper measuring instruments; it takes a half-an-hour. You may not have the budget to hire a studio architect, but there’s no need to go it totally alone.”
Building his business on referrals all these years, Chris Harmaty never quite got around to setting up a website, though he believes 2011 may be the year! In the meantime, email him with inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The latest addition to the active upstate NY recording scene, World Harmony Studios has officially opened.
A high-end destination studio geared to accommodate a wide range of theatrical, feature film and music recording projects, World Harmony Studios is owned by producer/ businessman Samuel Nappi. Set on a 300-acre horse farm overlooking the Adirondack Tug Hill plateau, the 2500 sq. ft. complex was designed by architect/acoustician/WSDG co-principal John Storyk,
World Harmony Studios is built into a 3-story, 4500 sq. ft. redwood lodge/guest house, the 2500 sq. ft. complex includes a custom-built 700 sq. ft. live/screening room, a 300 sq. ft. control room; 120 and 220 sq. ft. iso rooms, and a lounge. There is also a guesthouse offering a comprehensive range of comfort-focused amenities including a gourmet kitchen.
Highlights of the World Harmony equipment list include an SSL AWS924 Hybrid Console, Adams S4X-V mains, Neumann, Royer, AKG, Shure, Electro-Voice and Sennheiser mics, and an Antelope Engineering Isochrone OCX Master Digital Clock. WSDG system integration specialist Caroline Feldmeier developed the studios’ comprehensive, easily accessed wiring program
According to Nappi, World Harmony was designed with social consciousness as one of its core missions. Projects for the studio include a feature film based on the life of Martin Luther King Jr. in conjunction with DreamWorks, Suzanne de Passe and Madison Jones; co-production of a Broadway show based on the original Woodstock Festival, with Michael Lang; and the musicals Prometheus Bound and The Gift of the Magi.
World Harmony Studios can be contacted at 315-391-0094.
I ride the 6 train sometimes, and it’s loud. The New York subway experience is degrading and filthy at worst, just plain noisy and jarring at best. Part of the NYC gig.
I also attend a neighborhood gym, and often could do without the ever-present bass thump and moronic lyric of most house dance music. Let’s consider the overly inquisitive child on the flight from JFK to LAX. Remember Bill Cosby’s “Jeffrey”? Google it, it’s on YouTube. Hilarious stuff. Or the screaming infant in seat 31C.
Car horns, fire trucks at 2am. New York is not a gentle and quiet place. Part of why we love it? Love it, hate it, love it, hate it, love it, hate it. Evelyn Mulwray to the white courtesy phone, please.
“Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.”
Be Quiet, I Can’t Hear You
The world intrudes on my focus and internal space far too often (“…dude, chill.”). I don’t think I have A.D.D. – HEY, LOOK! But I do miss the quiet at times. Not even quiet per se. I lose that focus, that “peace”. The world seems so full of external noise. Visually, I can deal, but I am a musician and an engineer: sound helps define my life. I can’t turn sound off, can’t ignore it. I hear rhythm in all things, harmony everywhere. But at some point, some times, I need to control it, at least try to attenuate/filter/regain my focus.
I remember sitting on a train with my wife, on the way to an airport at the close of our vacation. At Kandersteg station (we were in Switzerland), a significant herd of school kids joined us, hormones a-pumping. An uncontrollable group-howl of excitement. The look on Donna’s face was one of realization. Realization that our peaceful vacation was rushing toward a frenzied close. How this hurt me!
I reached into my briefcase and withdrew my trusty MP3 device and two pair of in ear monitors (IEM)’s with a splitter. We chose Brahms. We smiled. Blood pressures fell, smiles appearing. Into our own private world, our retreat, peace.
So I have IEM’s. Lots of IEM’s. IEM’s that fit well and…don’t fit so well. IEM’s that sound hyped and sound flat, loud and not loud, cheap and expensive. And this works! I can filter out the noise when I want to, when I need to. Nothing like riding the #4 express to Union Square and listening to Tom Waits. Surreal. Perfect. Tolerable.
The sanctuary of it. The sheer delight in not being forced to aurally participate in what is going on around you. Think of the peace, the seclusion, the focus, the efficiency.
You get it, right?
Let’s move on…
Armed (Eared) and Dangerous
I got that call again back in the Fall, that call to go to Brazil. I love that call. “Come on down, George, we need you to engineer a couple of sessions, and while you’re here you can teach our staff a bit, play some gigs, eat churrasco, drink cachaça and unwind, breathe in Brazil.” I love that call. It’s kinda quiet tonight. (hint, hint…)
I think the only bummer about the trip is the sound in their control room. The live room is a WSDG jewel, it’s gorgeous, huge. They now have the right mics as well, the console from my old studio, a bunch of great outboard, and a kind-hearted cook (‘Neide’) that makes a “corn cake” to MURDER for, and the churrasco nearby at Jardineira is about the best on the planet. Beats Fogo de Chao hands down.
But the sound of control room A for mixing, and the monitors…not so great. I track in A and then move the entire session, vibe, bevvies and body count to their B room to mix, hoping that what I tracked translates well. What a pain, and no, I am certainly not shipping my Proacs down there! For some reason I don’t fully grok, they don’t want to fix the room, or buy new monitors! Been to Brazil for work? Then you know…
So I bring my “SWEG’s”. Every time. They save the session for me. Every time. My “Secret Weapon Ear Goggles”. (music: accent here)
The Big Confession
Ok, ok…I blab, I meander. Let’s get to the point.
Look, I mix in headphones, ok? (enter: cries of derision from the chorus…)
Ok, ok…not all the time, but often, effectively and with a smile.
Ohh, here it comes! I anticipate sharp intakes of breath, chiding comments about lack of room interaction, the nature of stereophony, proximity of sound to (in) the head, poor frequency response, crosstalk, fatigue and discomfort, exaggerated panorama. Cries of “INFIDEL!” (“…dude, chill.”).
Yes, it’s true. I’ve reached the point where I feel that my headphone mixes are 100% valid and of high quality. Yes, I do take the cans off and check the mix on monitors periodically, as often as I would switch between different sets of monitors. Normal.
Fact is, there are many things one can learn from mixing in cans, things one can focus on microscopically, other benefits. Let’s talk about that.
Room interaction, stereophony. Not getting into the nitty on this stuff, ok? I am going to assume that you are already aware of (or can research) the physics of sound to the point where you understand the effects of a room and monitor placement on your work, how sound reaches your ears, etc… You should have a great and accurate room. Agreed? Good. We should spend a lot of time and money on acoustic design.
Acousticians — I know a few and they all deserve white lab coats. These guys and gals are Shamans…Shamen? Shawomen? They’re scary gurus. We all benefit from their knowledge and ability. But what if the room you are in was not designed by one of said gurus? What if the sound of the room basically…stinks? (oh no, surely not YOUR room, of course!)
How about the gear in the room? What if the studio monitors you have to use for your job are made by…oops! Almost got me! Let’s just say they are — less than adequate? Or maybe you’re just not used to them yet? What are you going to do? What are you going to do NOW, immediately?
Hey, what if you’re working in a home studio and you have the dreaded NEIGHBORS??
Ok, go on, lug your Genelecs around with you when you travel for work. Better yet, lug your Gene’s AND your Hothouse monitors with the matching Hothouse amp and Kimber cables…some do in fact. I don’t often have that luxury all the time.
Me? I “lug around” my extremely high end “SWEG’s” and their equally dangerous and sneaky “Cansamp” (someone please coin that). They travel in a small Pelican case. What exactly do I use? Tell ya later…
In yo’ FACE!
Over the years, I have enjoyed studying the work of many engineers (still do), getting inside their sound and trying to learn from their approach. I hope never to stop learning. We all have our mentors or those from whom we have shamelessly stolen tricks or techniques. Elliot, Al, Bob, James, Bruce. I could list 50 more.
I’ve found that by donning a great pair of ‘phones, I can really “see” what these greats are doing. I can hear mic placement, the room, the “digi” effects added, the subtleties of the mix, and the “whys and hows” of their magic. In headphones I can hear that with a closeness and precision that beats monitors. To get right up on the mic? To hear the “issues”? I go to the ‘phones.
Listen to one of Elliot’s mixes or Roger’s mixes: the panning, the detail, the precision. Instruments are tucked into just about every little nook and cranny of the panorama and soundstage. I can smell the room. What about Pink Floyd mixes? The AM radio transition in “Wish You Were Here”…stuff in the way far distance of a mix moving from ear to ear? Headphones, baby. Great engineers might or might not go to headphones for their work (some actually do), but when I want to get downright microscopic on mixes? I go to the ‘phones. Find the click, the pop, the mouth noise, the pencil hitting the music stand. Headphones. You want to get into this level of detail? Get the gear. Tell ya later.
ALL ABOARD !!
I recently read that “the majority of music is produced to be listened to in rooms with speakers”. Wow. As simple as that. Hell it was in one of those “big” audio magazines!…gotta be gospel, right? Not really…I looked up at the date of publishing and it was 2003. These days, the largest amount of produced music is being purchased by and marketed to a generation that chooses to experience their music on various “I-boxes” using “Eargizmos”. Come on…PLEASE argue with me. Then go look at the literally hundreds of IEM and portable music players out there. Every color of the rainbow, every size, models that are endorsed by Hollywood Stars!! Somehow I doubt the Stars spent hours at the bench testing “their” products.
This is the age of personal music experience, even you audiophiles reading this probably have IEM’s…they might have cost $9000, but you have them, just so that you can debate which model is of higher fidelity. I submit that we should be mixing at least to some degree with this in mind. There is not one mix job that I have done in the last ten years where I haven’t gone to earbuds or IEM’s to check the relative levels and low end.
Why? Come on, didn’t you do that with “Horror-Tones” for years? Or that little metal speaker on the Studer two-track? Come on, own up. Whether or not we are supporters of the quality of the MP3 format (or lack thereof), it’s a format here to stay, at least for a long while. Remember the big “Digital Debate”? You still stomping your feet? I maintain that if you are working with any genre of music that is going to be played on these little gizmos, you should work your mix on them as well. Get onboard or get left at the station. Adapt. Paradigms change. Deal.
Mine is better than yours!
Sure it is. You like it more, it’s better. Most likely though, you’re just used to it. There are limitations in headphone design that will impact frequency response, comfort, accuracy and soundstage…funny, just like there are in monitors. Open back or closed back ‘phones? What kind of cabling? What is your source? Your headphone amp is at least as important as your headphones, surely. As a caring professional, I have to assume that you do your research, test and compare, settling on gear of the highest possible quality – dictated by your budget and your needs.
The technology is pretty advanced these days. At the top end of the food chain there is some pretty amazing-sounding equipment. All along that level and below, manufacturers are constantly developing tools to make your headphone environment more like your “room”. Some work, some don’t work as well. I urge you to get out there and check some of this stuff out. I bet it will change the way you look at mixing in headphones.
SPL, Focusrite, 112dB. Innovations that control speaker placement and angle, crosstalk, center level response. It’s impressive, when it works. And in some cases it certainly does work. I can say that with my chosen system, I can hear clear, strong and focused low end and smooth hi’s without the fatigue that so many associate with working in headphones. Times have indeed changed. And what about “familiarity”? How long did it take for you to get used to the sound of your best set of monitors so that you knew what to expect from a consumer level system after your work left your room? Do you not tailor your work to your equipment? Hell, I’ve heard fantastic mixes come out of rooms with only a set of mid-priced, near-field speakers, by great engineers that knew what they were doing and what to expect. That’s called experience.
The bottom line here is that you CAN mix in headphones accurately and comfortably now. Whether you need to or not, you can.
What’s more, the idiosyncrasies of headphones can certainly aid the process. Mixing in headphones works to differing degrees, depending on your level of experience, your equipment and its limitations, your knowledge of what you’re after and what you can expect. Basically it’s the same deal with monitors.
I’d rather mix a project with great headphones, a superior headphone amplifier that boasts such controls as Crosstalk, Speaker Angle and Center Level than mix the same project in a mediocre sounding room with marginal gear. I believe (and I support) that there is technology available to make this possible now. Consider getting more into it. It’s another source of reference.
What I am using…
Well, this is not a review. I am actually going to write a few of those soon and get FAR more detailed on this whole headphone thing, as well as writing some reviews about other studio gear. But for now, let’s say that I’ve compared what are considered to be the very top brands at their “flagship” level. Way up there in the stratosphere they’re all pretty impressive, let’s be clear.
But one has certain needs, and one works with certain types of music. I’ve settled on what I consider to be the very best combination for my needs and budget, and have found that these choices exhibit exceptional levels of sonic integrity, high quality construction and a sense of “reality” that is just staggering. What I use has brought me new enjoyment and excitement about my work and about listening to music. And this has been downright inspiring, and worth twice the price of admission. I am pretty blown away. I find it hard to take the ‘phones off these days.
My headphone monitoring system:
IEM’s: Grado GR10 and GR8
Headphones: Grado PS1000, SR325
I have been using Grado products for 20 years. The Grado product line has a quality and sound character that is present in all their models, true continuity through the line — a LOT more on this in an upcoming review of the Grado Sound.
Amplifier: SPL Phonitor
I am incredibly impressed by this unit, it is a total gamechanger. I can simply find no better or more flexible headphone amplifier, whether using their controls to effect Crosstalk Center Level and Speaker Angle, or just listening for enjoyment. The quality is unbeatable (IMNSHO!!).
Thanks for reading. The next installment will be about Mentoring, Teaching and…Theft.
Oh, and if you’re that guy on the #4 train with the HUGE cans with the big ‘b’ on the side? Could you please turn it down a bit?
George Walker Petit thinks a lot about mixing and many other musical things. An award-winning producer and mixer, he is based in New York City. Visit George at his Website, and keep up with him and the Drew Zingg Debut Album Project here.
CHELSEA, MANHATTAN: NYC is quite literally the backdrop to Ann Mincieli’s brand-new Jungle City Studios. One step into the top-of-the-world Studio A, with panoramic views uptown along the High Line and west to the Hudson River, and you’re hitting the Alicia Keys chorus of Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind;” it’s a cinematic moment.
This is how Mincieli — Keys’ longtime engineer and studio coordinator — conceived of the deluxe studio facility, incorporating the best of everything she’s encountered in studios around the world to her own vision for a top-of-the-line and uniquely “New York” studio experience.
She’s quick to reference Hit Factory Studio 1 as her all-time favorite live room, but also mentions immersive destination studio experiences in France and Germany, as influential in her designs for Jungle City, located on W. 27th Street.
“I wanted to find the ultimate location that really represented New York City with the views, the art and culture,” Mincieli shares. “This is such an up-and-coming neighborhood — you have the art galleries, the High Line, views of the Empire State building and the water. And there’s a luxury hotel [Hotel Americano] opening right next door which benefits us so much because people will stay there and work here.
Looking at the post-Hit Factory/Sony/Chung King/Clinton NYC studio landscape, Mincieli saw a void. “I wanted to bring something back to NYC, to the industry here, give people something they can be excited about. A real experience. Not just to bring back the clients from NYC, but from around the world.
On the day of our visit, in fact, the Japanese pop band Dreams Come True were recording in Studio A with Ed Tuton. Downstairs, Swizz Beatz had been working out of the Euphonix room, and Keys has been in working on a couple projects, including material for her next album. Like Keys’ Long Island recording studio complex, The Oven, Jungle City was devised by Mincieli with superstar artists in mind, and designed with signature features by John Storyk and Walters-Storyk Design Group (WSDG).
Jungle City Style, Sights, Sounds
Situated on the top two floors of a brand-new building, Jungle City’s three studios provide distinctly different environments, though all feature the custom Augspurger mains with Aura subs — an expensive custom system (painted at a car dealership for extra flash) but a necessary expense as Mincieli sees it.
“The Augspurgers sound incredible,” she notes. “They’re loud, the image on them is great. It’s a no-brainer. People come in and it’s psychological — they’re relieved to see them. You have to give the clients what they want.”
For that matter, Mincieli sourced what she determined was “the best of everything” for every aspect of this facility — that is three impeccably equipped studios, lounges, kitchens, bathrooms, the works. And though she knows her audience well, she did her homework.
“I co-designed the studio with a lot of research, input from artists, labels and producers on what they felt the industry was missing,” she explains. “I’d ask them, ‘What would you like to see in a studio in NYC?’ ‘We want light. We want it to feel like home.’” From the Louis Vuitton wallpaper and fabrics in the control rooms to the tastefully appointed lounges, to the unique acoustic treatments, the Jungle City interior design — coordinated by WSDG’s Beth Walters — lends that opulence of a high-end hotel, or home.
And then there’s the gear. Knowing what her network of top-tier artists and producer/engineers would expect, Mincieli handpicked all the gear with attention to every last detail for different users and workflows.
“There are so many ways to work now,” she notes. “Different mixers mix in different ways — some have migrated all in the box, some are half-in half-out, some are SSL, some are Euphonix. So I wanted to give people a few different flavors. The two mix/overdub/production rooms are very versatile with both the retro and cutting-edge technologies.”
And each has its own flavor of console: one with an Avid D-Control, and the other a Euphonix Fusion System 5. Both have Pro Tools HD3 rigs loaded up with plug-ins and corresponding iso booths. Along with the 32-input D-Control, the ICON room highlights include “the newest Avid HD IOs, Dangerous summing and the great [Antelope] OCX-V clocks.” Across the way, the Euphonix room offers a whole ‘nother experience.
“The integration between Avid and Euphonix is just incredible,” Mincieli says of the S5 Fusion.
“They’re taking advantage of the EUCON control so the features and plug-in channels that you see in Pro Tools show up on the desk. It’s a dual-purpose desk and control surface. I have 16 channels of Euphonix mic pre’s, and running at 96K, I can still get 64 channels of EQ and compression. And when you want to be all in the box, you can use the EQs, compressors, the bussing, and it’s all digital — it all converts via the new Avid Digi I/Os and Avid also made a new MADI converter specifically for this desk.”
Mincieli adds, “I love the way it sounds: the EQs, compression, the stereo bus. You can pull a compressor up in Pro Tools and control it without having to look at a monitor. And the 7.1 surround and film panning is insane — I can do a 12.2 mix in here. This is the wave of the future.
Upstairs in Studio A, Mincieli went retro-futuristic with the centerpiece 48-input SSL Duality analog console, Pro Tools HD3 and a rare 1968 EMI TGI 12345 Mark 3 console she’s completely restored. The EMI sits to the right of the SSL, side-car-style. “You can use it in a variety of ways,” Mincieli notes. “The EMI console can be used for mic pre’s, for the EQ/compressors, and it’s a fully patchable console.”
And of the sizeable control room, Mincieli shares, “I wanted one big old-school control room so we could accommodate artists who want to have their four guitar heads, or several keyboards in there with them.”
With the unique clear glass diffusion panels across the back wall windows, the clients are working inside a North and South facing top-floor studio.
On this, the studio’s ultimate wow factor, John Storyk describes, “To maximize the impact of the studios’ expansive North and South picture windows, we floated the custom Augspurger Dual 15 Vertical main speakers in an outsized glass speaker baffle. This is only the second time we have done this, creating a kind of transparent ‘wall of sound’ between the live and control rooms.
“This provides artists and engineers with the creative advantage of full visual connectivity plus, NYC’s ultimate eye candy, views ranging from The Empire State Building to the Hudson River. The audio sound field is extremely accurate throughout the full frequency range, particularly at the critical low end, necessary for many of Mincieli’s demanding urban music clients.”
Monitoring accuracy is paramount in these environments, as Mincieli points out more than once during our tour. Just prior to opening, in the first week of January, she worked closely with mastering engineer Dave Kutch and WSDG’s Dirk Noy to tune all three Jungle City studios over four days. For an inside look at Jungle City, check out this video documenting that tuning process:
Jungle City’s Studio A live room — with 14’ ceilings, inspiring views and glass-encased iso booth — is tempered by entirely custom acoustic treatments and programmable color LED mood lighting. “Drums sound great in the big room,” Mincieli assures. “And the shades are remote-controllable via the Crestron system. You can close the shades for 40% deadening.”
Clients on both floors can easily access a terrace, and if that’s not enough fresh air, they can hit the 2400-square-foot rooftop deck. Sweet!
Jungle City was an ambitious design/build carried out by an expert team. “Our project manager, Joshua Morris; systems designer Judy Elliot-Brown and studio builder Chris Harmaty of Technical Structures all fully embraced the complexity, and scope of this project,” Storyk notes. “The ultimate goal was to realize Ann’s dream of making Jungle City a significant addition to NY’s recording industry.”
The Future Is Now…
The Jungle City layout provides ample space for the modern artist doubling as producer a la Keys, Kanye West, Jay-Z, in that they can maximize production by running two rooms at once and jumping between projects. And the construction will continue.
When all is said and done, Mincieli reports, Jungle City will encompass five studios, including a second Studio A-style room. Inspired by Jungle City, Keys will build an Oven Manhattan location.
To continually tailor the studios to top-tier clientele, Mincieli draws insight from everyday experience with these artists while always looking ahead. “With a new studio, I’m looking to see what’s next,” she notes.
“What can I do? How can I be out front of everything that’s coming. The record labels didn’t do that, and it hurt everyone. We’re catching up now, but artists [at this level] need to have people in place with that foresight. And the artists and the labels need to be looking to the future.”
In this age of major releases leaking early and often, security is a huge concern, and protocols are in place at Jungle City. “I don’t have any of my rooms networked together,” Mincieli points out.
“Artists bring in their own drives and I don’t have copies of anything when they leave. I will have the ability to store anything the labels need me to store (in a fireproof safe) but until then, I have these internal SATA drives on the computers. You can’t pull them out so you are forced to copy your stuff onto an external drive and take it with you when you leave. And then we’ll erase SATA drives. You don’t want to be the studio who leaks someone’s album.”
Leak-proof, airtight and on top of the game, Jungle City has arrived. Records are made to be broken, and elite studios are designed to be outdone. Just don’t be surprised if it takes the world a minute to surpass the new standard that’s been set on West 27th Street.
To book Jungle City, visit www.junglecitystudios.com.
And for more on the Walters-Storyk Design Group, visit www.wsdg.com.
Northern Lights recently opened a new 5.1 surround sound audio room, designed by John Storyk of the Walter Storyk Design Group. The suite represents a continuing expansion of Northern Lights’ audio division, which is currently home of sound mixer/designers and composers Ted Gannon and Damon Trotta.
Business has been expanding for Northern Lights, which was formed in 1995 by co-owners David Gioiella and Mark Littman, and serves a diverse clientele including commercial, promo, show open and feature film work. With sound mixer/designer/composer Damon Trotta joining Northern Lights in ’09, the partners decided a high-end 5.1 mixing suite would position them for more technically demanding/higher profile work.
“I have wanted a John Storyk-designed room for as long as I’ve been in the business,” Trotta says. “David and Mark went the extra nine yards to make this studio as comfortable as possible.
We’re outfitted with Millennia mic pre’s, Neumann U89‘s, Empirical Labs Distressors, Dolby 160A, Focal 5.1 monitoring, Dorrough metering, Pro Tools HD and Logic Pro 9. Driving a top-of-line room definitely impacts on my creative thinking, And,” he adds, “our clients have been extremely complimentary. This investment will pay dividends for Northern Lights for years to come.”
With a staff of 25 editors and artists, Northern Lights designs, creates, edits, mixes and finishes a wide range of projects including commercial campaigns for brands such as General Mills, Wyeth, Pepperidge Farm, and Novartis, and promos and interstitials for clients like USA Network, Food Network, Nickelodeon, VH1, Versus, and BET. The firm’s Mr. Wonderful motion graphic division did the new show open for Comedy Central’s Colbert Report, and was in competition at the first-ever SXSW Festival Title Sequence category. Northen Lights offers three audio mixing studios, six editing suites, two Smoke suites and a Flame suite.
Northern Lights is located on W. 27th Street. For more information, visit http://www.nlpedit.com/