Go west west, young man: At first glance, West West SideMusic seems to be a product of the workstation generation. Amom-and-pop mastering studio headed by owner/engineer Alan Douches, itfeatures a Pro Tools DAW, a predominantly indie clientele and ratesthat make it an affordable alternative to the big New York shops.
However, West West Side's success has less to do with Pro Tools thanwith Douches' talent and his determination to build a haven for hislongstanding customers. If Douches employs the same tools used bybedroom shops that have less of a right to claim the mastering mantle,then it's only coincidental. After all, Douches was running a thrivingstudio long before Pro Tools became the lingua franca of digitalediting.
Founded 11 years ago in the bedroom community of Tenafly, N.J.— a short drive west of Manhattan, hence its name — WestWest Side has been one of the industry's best-kept secrets, catering tohip indie artists like Jets to Brazil, The Slackers and Smoothe daHustler. At the same time, Douches has begun amassing his share ofmajor credits, including Fleetwood Mac, Hole, Ben Folds and Yes.
The studio's rising profile has convinced Douches that it's time toexpand the core business and venture into new areas. Accordingly, WestWest Side is about to break ground on a second mastering room, whichwill be staffed by up-and-coming engineers Jesse Cannon, Karl Erikssonand Maggie Perotta. In addition, West West Side has just entered into apartnership with the State Theater in nearby New Brunswick, N.J. toprovide recording and distribution services to artists who perform atthe venue.
“When recording in a studio, the artist is at a severedisadvantage,” says Douches. “The audience, often theprimary source of energy and excitement, is missing. The approach hereis to restore the magic of a live performance into a recording byproviding the venue, the recording studio and video production all atthe same time.”
For the State Theater venture, Douches formed an umbrella company— Deko Entertainment Group — with partner Eric Rachael, whois also chief engineer for Trax East Recording Studios in South River,N.J. Deko will fund the recording service and take a one-third split ofthe revenues from any broadcasts or releases, with the other two-thirdsgoing, respectively, to the artists and their labels.
“For artists and their management, this joint venture willoffer many of the traditional services provided by recordcompanies,” says Rachael. “However, they will now have morecontrol over the product and, ultimately, enjoy more of theprofits.”
Douches and Rachael will oversee the design and construction of acontrol room at the State Theater that will be capable of producingmaster-quality audio and video content for DVD release, Webcasting, TVbroadcasts and other media. Besides the 1,800-seat flagship venue, theState Theater complex comprises the George Street Playhouse and a300-seat theater-in-the-round. All three stages will be wired to thecontrol room for recording at a moment's notice, according toDouches.
Noting that the State Theater has a rich history as a live recordingdestination — a George Carlin HBO special, a Pat Metheny VH-1project and a New Jersey Symphony Orchestra date to its credit —venue VP of operations and COO Christopher Butler says, “What isnew is taking advantage of today's technology and passing that along toour performing artists. Having an all-in-one option available at almosta touch of a button is very appealing and is sure to attract newartists and audiences.”
With West West Side's busy mastering schedule, the day-to-daymanagement of the State Theater studio will fall to Rachael, whose ownfacility is geographically close to New Brunswick. Douches says,“It's mid-June, and I'm booked until the middle of September. Ifeel bad for all of the clients I have to put off untilthen.”
LetFridaring: The words “Oscar-winningfilm score” conjure up images of a symphony orchestra, a hugerecording space and a control room large enough to accommodate acommittee of creative and technical people: composers, producers,engineers, mixers, supervisors, etc. If there is a downsizing trend inthe music recording business — which few would dispute —then the film-scoring community seems immune to it.
However, not all Hollywood scores lend themselves to this grandiosetreatment. This year's Oscar-winner for best original soundtrack,Elliot Goldenthal's Frida, was recorded mostly in a living-roomenvironment and mixed with a mouse.
“The traditional scenario is what we do most of thetime,” says recordist/mixer Lawrence Manchester, who has workedwith Goldenthal since 1996. “In fact, we're working on a projectright now, S.W.A.T., where we're booking the Manhattan Center'sballroom space to record an orchestra. But Frida called for amuch more intimate score, with a lot of solo instruments and smallensemble pieces. It was also a low-budget film, so even if we wanted tohire an orchestra, it would have been difficult for us to doso.”
All of the pre-production for Frida took place atGoldenthal's home-based project studio, which is equipped with asmallish control room and a good-size living room with high ceilings.Manchester and longtime Goldenthal engineer, Joel Iwataki, shared therecording duties, while Goldenthal oversaw production.
After cutting tracks at Goldenthal's loft, he and his team tooktheir Pro Tools and Digital Performer rigs — which worked intandem — to Manhattan Center for additional recording and mixing.However, rather than use one of that studio's generously equippedcontrol rooms, Goldenthal and company set up in an empty room and didthe entire mix “in the box.”
“I was amazed to go to the dub studio and listen to music wemixed with a mouse,” says Manchester, who has also worked on suchGoldenthal scores as Titus, Final Fantasy, In Dreams, Sphere andA Time to Kill. “It sounded pretty darn good in thetheater.”
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