Along with her millions of newfound fans and supporters, one of thepeople cheering the loudest for Norah Jones, as she and songwriterJesse Harris swept the 2003 Grammy Awards, was William Garrett. Amusician, composer, engineer and studio manager at Sony/ATV MusicPublishing's New York studios, Garrett recorded the demos on whichJones' debut, Come Away With Me, was based.
By now, it's a familiar story. Harris, an up-and-coming Sony/ATVsongwriter, wanted a female singer to record demos of his songs. HisA&R representative at Sony, Nate Krenkel, recommended his roommate,Jones. The demos attracted the attention of Blue Note Records'president Bruce Lundvall, who signed Jones as an artist and hired famedproducer Arif Mardin to re-record the material. As a tribute to thequiet simplicity of the songs and the quality with which Garrettinitially recorded them, the finished tracks bear a strong resemblanceto those understated demos.
Ironically, the room at Sony/ATV is so small that one can hardlyenvision any kind of live band in it, even a small jazz combo like theone that Jones used. “We had Jesse, upright bass, drums, pianoand Norah in what's essentially a vocal booth,” says Garrett.“It was the most people we've ever had in there.”
The studio is equipped with a Pro Tools MIXPlus system runningVersion 5.1.1, as well as Logic Audio Platinum 5.5 and DigitalPerformer 3.0. Consoles and control surfaces include a Yamaha 02R and8-fader Motormix. Among Sony/ATV's microphones are a Neumann M147 tube,an AKG 414, two Sennheiser 421s and a Sony C-48; preamps and processorsinclude two Millennia Media Origin STT-1s, a Summit TPA 200-B and aNeve 33609 stereo compressor/limiter.
In addition, the room is stocked with racks of MIDI gear, includingan Akai MPC 2000XL, Nord Rack 2, Roland 2080 and JV 880, and KurzweilK2000R. Speakers include Genelec 1031As, Yamaha NS-10s and JBL4412s.
Despite its small size and modest equipment offerings, the room hasserved its purpose as a “creative environment where publisherscould be involved right there, on the spot,” says Garrett.“Somebody'll write a hook and say, ‘Hold on a second whileI grab the A&R person from the office down the hall,’ andthey'll pull them out of a meeting and drag them into the studio. Itcreates a dynamic atmosphere within the publishingdepartment.”
In the days when demos were demos and masters were masters, apublishing studio was a place where writers would sketch out songs inthe hopes that a label or artist would later recut them in a“proper” facility. To an extent, publishing studios stillserve that function. However, thanks to high-quality digital audioworkstations, many of the tracks cut in these little recording roomsend up on finished masters.
In the case of Jones' material, it was re-recorded, but thevibe that Harris, his band and Jones achieved was replicated on thefull-blown project. Other major artists who have worked at Sony/ATVwith Garrett and engineer/Pro Tools guru Victor Mancusi, who helps keepthe facility fine-tuned for its 'round-the-clock schedule, include MaryJ. Blige, Faith Evans, Lauryn Hill, John Waite, Everything But theGirl, Cyndi Lauper, Curtis Stigers and Bryan Adams. In addition, tracksfor Nas, Angie Stone, Jennifer Lopez and Toni Braxton were cut at thestudio. Some of this material — notably Nas and Stone tunes— have ended up on the artists' releases.
For Garrett, the success of the Sony/ATV facility has been theculmination of more than two decades of studio work in manydisciplines. A graduate of the University of North Carolina and BerkleeCollege of Music in Boston, Garrett began his career at Beantown'sIntermedia Sound in 1978, where he assisted on sessions by the likes ofBurt Bacharach, Carly Simon, The Cars and Aerosmith. He wentindependent in 1980 and started his own label, Alpha-Media Records. Theexplosion of new wave and synth pop bands offered plenty of opportunityfor Garrett to hone his engineering skills, which he did on projects byTil Tuesday, Aztec Camera, New Edition, The Stylistics and New Kids onthe Block.
In 1987, Garrett moved to New York, where his streak of majorcredits continued with Slayer, Hanoi Rocks, the Golden Palominos, TreatHer Right, Cyndi Lauper and Mr. Crowe's Garden, which later became theBlack Crowes.
Although his career was successful by any measure, Garrett wasrestless for a new challenge. He found it in 1991 at Sony/ATV MusicPublishing. “The person who came up with the original concept forthe publishing studio was Patty Devries, an A&R rep atSony/ATV,” recalls Garrett. “She had signed four or fivebands to publishing deals without record deals, so she needed fullyproduced demos. Instead of hiring me to produce these bands as anindependent, she hired me as an in-house engineer/producer and asked meto put together a studio in the office area. The idea was to bringmusic back to this end of the publishing business.”
In its first incarnation at Sony/ATV's former premises on FifthAvenue, the studio lived in a file room and was not equipped with thekind of gear that could yield professional results. However, when SonyMusic moved its corporate headquarters to 550 Madison Ave. in 1993, thecompany was able to “design a real room,” as Garrett putsit.
Although Sony/ATV keeps him busy, Garrett still finds time to pursuehis own projects outside the studio. Since 1993, when he scored hisfirst film, Back in the Days, Garrett has worked on music for 17films and a host of TV programs for Cinemax, Lifetime, American MovieClassics and the Travel Channel.
In 1999, Garrett began a professional association with John Cale,engineering and mixing several albums and film scores for him,including American Psycho. Other recent projects includeengineering material by Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes, producing acartoon show theme and score with The B-52's and producing new recordsfor singer/songwriters Daniel Simonis and Bill Campbell.
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