New York MetroKeeping track of New York City's quality live rooms is easier than it used to be. Not because of the amazing search power of the Internet, but because 3/01/2005 7:00 AM Eastern
Keeping track of New York City's quality live rooms is easier than it used to be. Not because of the amazing search power of the Internet, but because the economic oddities of the current music industry are shrinking the number. However, there are studios today within the five borroughs that thrive as tracking rooms — especially valuable spaces for recording drums, pianos, singers and other live instruments that unarguably sound better when they start life far away from the box.
In a business already chock-full of eccentric characters, New York City tracking room owners seem to occupy their own strange space. Nowhere is this more evident than at Loho Studios (www.lohostudios.com), where co-owner/brothers Victor and Eddie Luke are nuts about getting great live sounds. “A tracking room is one of the biggest elements missing in recording today,” says Eddie Luke. “That makes us different: We understand the physics of sound moving through air to get that sound. Most importantly, Loho is just a room, the gear is just the gear, but it's the people at Loho and any other studio that make it happen for the artist.”
With a recent clients including Ryan Adams, Moby (see “Mix Interview,” page 90) and Gary Lucas, however, it's clear that Loho is not “just a room.” The focal point is the striking live space inspired by RCA's famed studios: a 1,000-square-foot space with 20-foot ceilings, a skylight and warm, lively sonic characteristics that no reverb plug-in can beat. “The live room is the closest we could come to replicating RCA's Studio A,” Eddie Luke confirms. “We wanted to go back to the days of acoustic big rooms. Sound needs to travel from a source through some air to get any color or personality, and that's what we try to achieve with the high ceiling and long-throw mics — we'll set up [Shure] SM81s at the reception door to get a Zeppelin-like decay. We're into pumping the drum set through a double 15-inch cabinet, replicating the sound of a live concert and laying it to tape, so you get the feel of the air moving and your hair blowing back. That's what I want: the impact sound.”
After the sound goes through Loho's Neve 8048 (32×24×16) and onto 2-inch tape or Pro Tools, Eddie Luke estimates that about 30 percent of his clients stay on to mix it there, while 70 percent leave with the tracks to work on it themselves. “A lot of people will make use of our room, take the recording to their home and wreck it,” Eddie Luke says frankly. “They do it for the sake of economics and, I think, control over their product, and the technology allows them to do so. I think that's where people really screw it up. We're into spending the money on tape, and we have a standard of quality here that we don't compromise on — everything hits the half-inch before it hits the DAT or CD.”
While building in all this quality didn't exactly come cheap to Loho, it also didn't come that expensive either. Luke obtained a lot of the live room fixtures from the actual RCA Studio A by sweet-talking his way into the facility when RCA dismantled it approximately 15 years ago. Other gear was obtained with similar guerrilla tactics. “We built a shell and obtained stuff that was getting thrown out,” says Luke. “We put our minds to thinking, ‘How can we get to that level without having to spend millions of dollars?’ That's engineering.”
The way Loho sees it, the dependence that a lot of people have developed on loop libraries is precisely why everyone else who wants to stand out needs their tracking room. “People will mostly just use samples; therefore, we have a real good reason to be around,” he points out. “There's a real demand for that simple element in the recording chain: a great-sounding source instrument in a great-sounding room with a great mic.”
Because they're often a necessary expense in a project, tracking rooms become even more important when they can deliver the goods while keeping costs down. Spin Music Studios (www.spinmusicstudios.com) has made it work in New York City by providing top-quality tracking with much lower rents than the Manhattan big rooms, thanks largely to its location just over the East River in the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City.
“We picked this area because we liked the space for the cost,” explains Pete Benjamin, founder/studio manager of Spin Music Studios. “You lose the prestige of being in Manhattan, but get so much space for the dollar. We wanted to build a larger facility, and this is right in the middle of most everything — it's quicker to get here than crosstown.”
Designed by studio architect Alex Kyriavis, the 2,800-square-foot studio focuses on a spacious, reverberant and highly inviting 34×22 maple-and-birch-construction live room, with 13-foot ceilings and variable acoustics. “The room is designed to be loud and just take off,” Benjamin says. “Drum sets are at home here, plus a lot of string sessions — that kind of thing. Everyone is blown away by the sound there. We're all rock guys, so this place is going to be a rock and pop facility, but we've been able to do everything. Plus, we also have the two iso rooms and line of sight for everything.
“The biggest thing I wanted, however, was for people to feel like they were at home. That's important for tracking, because really, feeling comfortable is the most important thing: If you and the client are comfortable, that will reflect in the way they play.”
Many clients, like regularly scheduled producer Nik Chinboukas, will mix on Spin's Amek Big console and Pro Tools|HD system after tracking there, but many others will grab their sounds in the live room and then hit their personal studios. “When Pro Tools came out, they said middle studios would get squeezed out,” says Benjamin. “That probably is the case, but we have a lot of factors working for us. In Long Island City, we can keep the rate as low as what we offer. We do a get a certain percentage of people on the local level that track their drums here, then go home and finish everything in the box; or they do their overdubs in the box and then come back here to mix; or they record here and go to Avatar to mix. The room itself usually goes for $600 a day, and then the engineer will negotiate on top of that.”
With a clientele ranging from ultra-indie acts to Chris Caffery (Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Clown (Slipknot) and the Flux String Quartet, Benjamin is happy to have found a formula that keeps his studio busy. “The biggest thing is sound-to-dollar value,” he states. “I think in New York City today, everyone is so budget-conscious — even the bigger labels — you almost have to prove yourself to have a great-sounding drum room. People want the most amount of value for no money and to be comfortable while they're doing that.”
You can forget about analytical thinking, however, when you head back to Manhattan and M&I Recording (www.mirecordingstudios.com), where “retro” doesn't even begin to describe the ambience. Founding brothers Mitch and Ira Yuspeh built their magical live room in 1978 and haven't changed the studio's décor since, treating visitors to a time capsule experience that mixes old-school engineering attitudes with 2005 gear and distinguished tracking.
The brothers have no desire to mess with anything connected to their successful sound, and they admit to getting a little lucky with how their makeshift combination of carpeting and shingles came together in the Phil Kapp — designed 25×35 live room. “We got more than the desired results,” says Ira Yuspeh. “The warmth of the wood in the shingles really was incredible, and because they're not flat, they disperse the sound really nicely. The carpeting [on the wall] is about five feet up, and that was great for absorbing sound. Together, the wood and the carpet work really well.
“Our clients always come back to us and say they can't get the vocal sound they get here. We get a lot of gospel work and people tell us there's something about that space in the middle of the room — the voice just sings in that spot; there's a presence. At the same time, horns and our drum sound have always been great. It's a combination of the room, and we were smart enough to get a really good complement of microphones — that's another thing people can't have in their home studio. It's also nice to have engineers with 27 years of experience in a single room who know how to get that sound.”
M&I's aesthetically unchanging '70's flashback feel may seem strange in this image-conscious industry, but it's one that's kept them focused on the music and firmly in operation. “As far as the gliss and the gloss and the sushi bar — we didn't go in that direction,” Yuspeh states. “Let's face it: This business has its ups and downs, and we're one of the few guys that are left. Many of the guys that spent a fortune upgrading their studios have gone out of business.”
Recording through a Trident Series 80 console to Pro Tools or tape, the M&I client list ranges from Herbie Hancock, Dr. John and B.B. King to the NFL, NBC, radio, Broadway and beyond. “You can do a lot in a home studio, but number one is live musicians playing together and there's nothing like the sound of a real cymbal — you can use loops all you want, but it's just not the same,” Ira Yuspeh says. “With a great tracking room, you don't have to think of anything but your music.”
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