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BerkleeNYC Turns Legendary Power Station Back On

The legendary facility is “on a mission to reinvent the large-format studio business,” says BerkleeNYC executive director, Stephen Webber.

Stephen Webber, executive director of Power Station at BerkleeNYC, at the classic, custom-built 40-input Neve 8088 console in Studio A.
Stephen Webber, executive director of Power Station at BerkleeNYC, at the classic, custom-built 40-input Neve 8088 console in Studio A.

New York, NY (March 11, 2022)—Since founder Tony Bongiovi first opened its doors in 1977, the studio facility on West 53rd Street in New York City has been known as Power Station and then later Avatar, but mainly it’s been known as a place to make great music. Bruce Springsteen, Tony Bennett, Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, Muse, David Bowie, Madonna, Herbie Hancock, Esperanza Spalding, Bob Dylan and others have recorded countless classic albums within its walls. However, when Avatar was suddenly put on the market in the mid-2010s, many expected it to be turned into condos like The Hit Factory and other illustrious New York studios that had shuttered. Instead, the facility is now busier than it’s been in decades, having emerged from years of renovation to officially reopen this past fall as Power Station at BerkleeNYC.

Purchased in 2017 by a unique public-private-non-profit partnership between Berklee College of Music, the City of New York, musician/ investor Pete Muller and members of the Founder’s Advisory Board, Power Station at BerkleeNYC is still a working commercial studio facility, but that only scratches the surface.

“We’re on a mission to reinvent the large-format studio business,” said Stephen Webber, executive director of BerkleeNYC and dean of Strategic Initiatives for Berklee. “Even though we raised a lot of money, our business model is that we’re still amortizing everything as if we paid for it. We’re trying to prove that if you include video, if you keep your eye on technology, you can make it work. In 1977, this was the highest tech place in town, but when we took it over in 2018, it was a museum piece. Our philosophy is, ‘Let’s be the cutting-edge place again,’ adopting immersive audio, video and more. If you really want to do the high-end thing, you come here.”

Power Station may be looking forward, but its revered acoustics and legacy equipment haven’t gone away. Studio A still has its classic, custom-built 40-input Neve 8088 console and unique orchestra-sized live room, while Studio B retains its Solid State Logic 9000J 72-input desk. Studio C, with its Neve VRP 72 console with Flying Fader automation, is also the same, with the exception that identical dead-stock 50-year-old linoleum and tectum tiles were sourced to slavishly restore a corner of the live room meant to emulate the sound and vibe of Detroit’s Motown Studio.

Classic Tracks: Katrina & The Waves, “Walking On Sunshine”

While the studios have been meticulously maintained, their surroundings inside the 33,000-square-foot building have been radically altered to add classrooms, a black box theater, VR and DJ labs, a video control room, dressing rooms, dedicated studio lounges, writing rooms, storage, performance spaces and larger hallways. All spaces were designed with flexibility in mind, so classrooms and tech labs are modular, with gear from laptop stations to DJ rigs set up on wheels to accommodate everything from close collaboration to social distancing.

Video production is a key element as well; while Power Station at BerkleeNYC has a number of RED cameras on hand, there’s also 26 PTZ cameras installed throughout the facility, linked to the video control room through a site-wide Dante network. “In Studio A, we can do a 10-camera shoot without setting up a single camera, all in 4K,” said Webber. “In 1977, if you came to the studio to record, it was going to a vinyl record. Now if you can’t see it, it didn’t happen, so if you’re capturing a live musical performance, it’s got to include video. Our in-house video services pros work here every day and know how to shoot the place, so it makes sense. And it became a lifesaver during the pandemic—almost every session had people beaming in remotely, so instead of a webcam of the session, we could send a live multi-view of eight cameras in Studio A to a client in L.A.”

VR and immersive audio work is also on the agenda, as the facility has a trio of Jaunt cameras for making 360-degree immersive VR videos. Each Jaunt sports 24 8K cameras that save to a 64GB SD card. Nearly a dozen music clips have been produced so far with artists like Victor Wooten, saxophonist Grace Kelly and Berklee’s own Indian Ensemble.

With all this plus multiple community outreach programs going on at once, Power Station never really powers down. The facility has been hosting engineers like Bob Clearmountain and Elliot Scheiner, the explosion of streaming services has led to a rise in orchestral sessions onsite, and the return of Broadway has likewise revived the studio’s cast album work as well.

The facility is still in demand by household names, too, and while they don’t typically interact with students, their subtle presence still quietly underlines Power Station’s continued relevancy. “We’ve had Paul Simon, John Legend, Coldplay, the artist HER and more,” said Webber. “One of our students from the UAE is a total firecracker, and she hurt her foot so she had a cast on. She came up to me the other day and said, ‘So when we were in the elevator last week, and that guy asked me what I did to my foot—that was Sting, right?’ ‘Yeah. Yeah, that was Sting.’”