Over the past few years, Miami has emerged as one of the top second-tier recording scenes in the country - a nexus for homegrown talent that's risen from its multiethnic neighborhoods, as well as for artists from Central and South America who flock to South Florida for its excellent studios and electric atmosphere. Venezuela-born Jose Blanco, owner of this month's cover studio, Master House, is emblematic of the new Miami. He came to the city 20 years ago and, through hard work and persistence, has become an integral part of the city's recording community.
He got his start in Miami recording by earning an internship at Studio Center. The internship evolved into a position as an assistant and then, in time, as an engineer. He left that gig to work as a freelance engineer for a period, but then came back to manage Studio Center for two years. The next stop on his career path was managing the ultrahot South Beach Studios for two years. But while he was immersed in the complex and detail-oriented, studio-management jobs, Blanco also found the time to use his ever-growing connections to work as a part-time rep for Sony Mastering Studios in New York, bringing them clients from Central and South America.
"That turned out to be a great thing for both of us," Blanco says, "and that put the idea in my head to do something on my own. I had wanted to get into mastering for a while. I like that it's a finesse thing, a refining thing. And from a business point of view, there was a lack of mastering rooms down here. Coming from an engineering background, and the fact that I've managed two studios, gave me the whole package to be able to start up my own studio and hopefully do it the right way."
Initially, Blanco tried to interest other partners in his venture, but when none of those unions panned out, he went at it alone, hiring the renowned Canadian studio design firm Pilchner Schoustal International to draw up plans for his studio, dubbed Master House, designing some of the furniture and work surfaces himself, and calling on Danny Diaz of Acoustical Components to build the room. "We started building in December of 1999, and we had it finished by June 2000 - pretty fast work," Blanco says. "Martin [Pilchner] and Rick [Schoustal] did a helluva job! You know, I chose them after seeing some of their work in Mix magazine. I had some ideas of how I wanted the room to look, and when I saw what they had done, I contacted them and it worked out great."
When it came to choosing equipment for the new room, "A lot of the credit has to go to Vlado Miller, who's a mastering engineer at Sony, who's been like my coach through the whole thing," Blanco says. "He's helped me a lot in part because I used to feed him work. We've developed a great relationship through the years. He gave me a lot of advice on what to try out for the gear."
At the heart of the room are a full-blown Sonic Solutions System and a Crookwood custom mastering console. Other equipment includes Apogee converters, Weiss digital EQ and digital compressor, Waves L2 Maximizer, the Alesis Master Link, Bryston 4B-ST amplifier, Sony and Tascam CD recorders, and Panasonic, Sony and Tascam DATs. Recently, Blanco has been auditioning some high-end analog EQs and compressors, as well.
As for the all-important monitors, Blanco chose Dunlavy SC-4s. "They are awesome," he comments. "The imaging on the speakers is really great. People sit down and listen to them and they say, `Wow, man, those are amazing.' I first heard them at Sony, and Vlado highly recommended them for the budget I was in. He came down once to do a Celine Dion album at South Beach where we rigged up our studio as a mastering studio and we rented some Dunlavys, and I was blown away by them."
So far, Blanco has managed to parlay his industry contacts into a brisk business, primarily with acts from Mexico and South America. He also has found time to do mastering work for the great Miami world music band Inner Circle and various smaller South Florida groups. Though Master House was built to accommodate 5.1 work, "I'm still waiting to see where that's going in the next couple of years," Blanco says. For now, Blanco's priority is getting the word out about the studio and doing the best mastering work he's capable of.
For more info and photos, check out www.masterhouse studios.com.