Do you consider yourself a true audio warrior? If so, then jump into that foxhole with the founders of the Long Island City studio MONOLisa.
That would be the team of Denise Barbarita and Rich Kulsar, who cannot be stopped in their mission of providing top-level tracking and mixing – affordably – to the New York area. The proof? Try being forced to move your studio three times in four years, and imagine what that would take out of you. Could you rise up and design your control room and live space, once again?
These two have done just that, but it may all have been worth it for MONOLisa to have finally found a home in the burgeoning audio hub of LIC. Check out Barbarita’s distinguished discography and her commitment becomes clear: Her credits include David Bowie, Herbie Hancock, David Byrne, The Roots, DMX, Mary J Blige, and many more. With the skills to please a demanding clientele like that, blinking in the face of danger – or massive frustration – was not an option.
What follows in this unique “Sweet Spot” is a story of true grit and determination. Enter their studio, and you’ll feel the blood sweat and tears of a team that’s totally dedicated to audio. In fact, their true gratitude for the opportunity to engineer every day is massively inspirational.
What were the three huge obstacles they had to overcome, that faces virtually every studio owner looking to set up shop in and around NYC? And what guiding principles have allowed them to maintain and expand the client base, across multiple genres?
Despite their hard-won 21st century smarts, Barbarita and Kulsar are proudly old school when it comes to being pros. It’s a creed that they’ve got clearly defined — and always follow.
Facility Name: MONOLisa Studios
Date of Birth: January 2013
Location: LIC, NY
Denise: One great thing about our current location is the proximity to multiple subway and bus lines. We are a walk or a bike ride (Citi Bike across the street) away from Greenpoint or Astoria. Also, only one subway stop outside of the city on the E line.
We have the G/E/F/7/N/R trains literally 2-4 blocks away from our building. I’m excited by the recent development in our neighborhood. I’m hoping we will see more restaurants and nightlife in our area.
Rich: Also, the neighborhood has a sense of community with there being other studios around, and a big film production presence. I just found out there is an African drum maker and Sadowsky Guitars is in the area as well.
Denise: Over my 20 years in this business, I’ve had the pleasure of working in the studio alongside musical legends like David Bowie, Herbie Hancock, David Byrne, The Roots, DMX, Mary J Blige, Angie Stone, Alan Ginsberg & the Kronos Quartet, Philip Glass, the list goes on… Obviously, a diverse crowd.
MONOLisa Client reel SOUNDCLOUD EMBED CODE:
Denise: At MONOLisa, we have worked with quite a few amazing artists representing many different genres.
Last year was one of the best yet!
In the world of musical theater, we have been working with New York Film Academy’s Award winning movie musical program since it’s inception, in 2011.
This past year’s Scores feature composers, Zoe Sarnak, Bobby Cronin, Christopher Gene and Avi Amon.
We recorded the vocals for Polkadots: The Cool Kid’s Musical (Lyons/Tunstall) a demo recording for Lyons/Pakchar’s new production, Five Points, and a single with John Arthur Green (Matilda/Rock of Ages) with producer Kiyanu Kim.
Also last year, Lucy Kalantari recorded her IMA winning album, “Big Things”.
In the world of classical music, we recorded the performances “on location” then mixed at the studio. Two noteworthy recordings are pianist/organist, Artis Wodehouse’s “Arthur Bird: Music for the American Harmonium”, and composer José Bevia’s album “Symphony No. 2: Shapes of the Cities”
We worked with singer/songwriters, Yui Yamamoto (SensationaLLY SensationaL), Halley Devestern (still in progress), Mike Acerbo (still in progress), Jason Shand (Because of Zeeva), and NJ band Use Big Words (Gently).
We also were the preferred room to record the political podcast, “How do we fix it” hosted by Richard Davies and Jim Meigs.
Music in Motion:
Denise: Yes. MONOLisa has had 3 locations since 2013, and that’s not including the move from our spare bedroom. LOL
So, a little back story- I worked at Kampo studios for 10 years, and I was freelancing around the city as an engineer also.
Around 2001/2002, as budgets were beginning to slide, and it was clear Pro Tools was here to stay, we realized we needed to be able to provide editing/mixing, or overdub (OD) options for clients to help keep record making affordable.
So, we would do basic tracks at Kampo, or wherever, edit/OD at home, and we tended to go to Kampo to finish off lead vocals and mixing. That worked until Kampo closed in 2010.
I was in limbo for a while working from home or moving from studio to studio as each project progressed. Negotiations generally meant, in order to afford the client quality studios, I’d take a hit on my personal day rate, not just to keep working, but also in large part, to keep budgets on target.
As many of your readers know, working from home is less than ideal.
Rich and I were noticing that our personal relationship was beginning to suffer and we knew it was time to move the home studio outside of the home. So, when the opportunity arose to have my own room, with a vocal booth that was already built, with a reasonable rent, I ignored the few red flags that were waving in front of my face and, well, I jumped on it.
Rich had been skeptical and he was right to be, but honestly, at that point, it was “now or never.” And you know, even though that first year was plagued with drama, I’m glad we jumped on it, because if it taught us anything, it’s that there was a market for what we offer.
Truth be told, we grew out of that space fairly quickly, as clients were asking about recording horn sections, and drum tracking and all sorts of other scenarios that we really couldn’t provide with a small booth.
Long story short, the decision for us to move into a larger space was made for us, as the folks we were renting from had to close their doors, and that brought us to the Upper West Side. Again, not the most ideal space, as it needed a ton of work, but it was in Manhattan, a few blocks from the train, and it had been a studio prior to us moving in.
It was in a basement of a residential building, our only neighbor was above us and it was a moving company. Our bookings shot up pretty quickly, and our last year was our busiest ever. So, we were dismayed that in March 2016, instead of a renewal lease, we were told the building was being sold and turned into condos. Bitten by the NYC Real Estate Monster! We had to go.
We were VERY lucky that the owner was patient with us and agreed to extend our time there until we were able to move in September. I’m still in shock how generous they had been, as it took a while for us to find our current space.