Cynthia Daniels and MonkMusic: A Versatile Space for a Versatile Producer

Cynthia Daniels talks fast. She answers questions in an elliptical but always focused manner, returning to the core answer at the precise moment you think a tangent is coming. You get the sense that

Cynthia Daniels of MonkMusic, left, and Beth Walters of Walters-Storyk Design Group

Cynthia Daniels talks fast. She answers questions in an elliptical but always focused manner, returning to the core answer at the precise moment you think a tangent is coming. You get the sense that for her multitasking is a way of life, and you have the confidence that she can get any and all jobs done, on time and under budget. She was born with an Extra Ambition gene; in many ways, she is the prototypical New Yorker.

She is also emblematic of the trend toward high-end personal studios, engineer-owned and operated, that has made its way across the U.S. over the past decade. Sometimes these rooms are in homes, sometimes out in the world, sometimes right in the middle of a commercial facility. Sometimes they are single-purpose, as in mixing-only; other times, they are multi-purpose. When Daniels, over the course of several years, migrated her primary workspace from the City to East Hampton, she built a space to accommodate anything and everything music-related.

“I’ve known pretty single-mindedly that I wanted to be a recording engineer since I was 16,” Daniels says. “I went down to the Institute of Audio Research for my first day of engineering school and realized that there was a whole new language, and I didn’t speak it! So I availed myself of every opportunity. In college, in Boston, I would do live sound at night, and there I met people recording concerts in mobile rigs, and I worked on that end for a while. When I got back to New York, I was lucky enough to start at A&R Recording and get trained in the Phil Ramone Way, where you start from the bottom and learn every aspect of studio life. I got to start off by observing everything, from jingles and film scores to records made at the highest level of artistry and engineering.”

She learned the art of preparation, and she learned to work fast. She left A&R eventually and landed at a smaller studio, both managing and engineering. She fell into more jingles, Broadway cast albums, television and film scoring, live concert recording, more records. Then she went freelance in the early 1990s and has been ever since.

Today, she is still technically freelance as she sits in her new WSDG-designed studio in the Hamptons, a recording wing attached to the home she purchased in 1998 as a getaway (and rebuilt and enlarged in 2011); as a self-described workaholic, she began moving gear in on day one.

The Drum Room

The Drum Room

“I never planned to build this much,” she laughs. “But I began getting work out here, and I had to have a space that matched my clients’ needs. I had been living in Auralex foam, making the house work so I could mix. But I live in a residential area, with lawnmowers and birds and airplanes overhead, and I hate noise! Except the noise I’m making, of course.”

While she considers herself first and foremost a mixer and record producer, she found that there was a need for ADR in the Hamptons, where many of her A-list clients—Alec Baldwin, Sarah Jessica Parker, Liev Schreiber and others—spend their summers. She needed a professional, versatile space, with a predictable mix room. She called John Storyk and WSDG project manager Matt Ballos, and the team went to work. Nine months later, she had her 650-square-foot control room/studio/vocal booth. And it is dead quiet, with lots of glass and light.

“It’s remarkable for a studio to have so many windows, but the sylvan view was so lovely that walling it out was unthinkable,” says Beth Walters of Walters-Storyk Design Group. “We had access to outstanding isolation options that enabled us to maximize the surroundings. This became doubly important when we learned that Cynthia does many of her sessions during the day. Because we incorporated a distinctive, acoustically accurate ceiling shape and interior room geometry, there was little need to come up with additional aesthetic treatments.”

The two-time Grammy winner (one for the Broadway cast album of The Producers) has recently hosted sessions for Beyoncé and Sir Paul McCartney, and has a project with Nile Rodgers on the books for this month. In March, she launched MonkMusic Records.

“I’ve always had this passion to capture the raw intensity of high-energy rock, and introduce interesting sonic landscapes and textures to that vibe,” Daniels says. “For so many years I would help an artist craft their vision, then I would tell them that the easy part is over. Now they have to go sell it. I’m excited about what’s going on in the world musically, and there is so much opportunity for records to be heard if you have a fan base. I want to help the artist find their audience.”

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