Tommy Uzzo is the first to admit that times have been hard for recording studios. As the principal owner of Mirror Image Recorders — a four-room complex with three locations in the New York metro area — Uzzo wishes that he could turn back the clock to a time when artists did all of their recording in commercial facilities and labels were willing to pay studios' rates. However, Uzzo refuses to join the chorus of doomsayers who think the studio industry itself is on the verge of extinction.
“Ever since I've been doing this, there's always been some hot new product that you could have in your bedroom that's going to put every recording studio out of business,” says Uzzo. “Obviously, that hasn't happened, and I don't think it's going to happen. We offer things that you can't get at home, like great recording spaces, maintenance and the best equipment. Most of our clients are looking for that last five percent or 10 percent in the recording quality of their projects, which you can only get from an SSL console; you just can't do it with a little internal mixer in your computer. As great a tool as it is, a personal workstation has its limitations.”
Uzzo may walk and talk like a big-studio owner, but he hasn't forgotten his own humble roots. A bassist and recording engineer, he opened his first Mirror Image studio in 1978 in his garage in Huntington, N.Y., with a Teac 3340 4-track and a Tapco mixer. Guided by his ears and his mixing talent, Uzzo gravitated toward dance music and Latin freestyle in the early '80s, scoring hits with Monet and George Lamond. His success as both an engineer and studio owner allowed him to upgrade his facility, and by 1989, he had installed an SSL E Series console — among the first on Long Island — and other top-notch gear.
The next wave of success for Uzzo and his studio occurred in 1994, when a fledgling hip hop artist named Erick Sermon walked through the door. Uzzo recalls, “He came in, looked around, and said, ‘Are you guys free tomorrow?’ And he never really left. For a long time, he was booking a couple hundred days a year. Now, it's a little more diverse. He's got a home setup and he usually comes in to mix.” If Sermon delivered a motherlode of his own business to Mirror Image, his referrals were equally valuable to the studio. “Eric brought many of our biggest clients to us,” says Uzzo, citing Redman, Keith Murray and Rockwilder (of Moulin Rouge fame).
By 1996, Uzzo's Long Island neighbors began complaining. It seemed time to move on to bigger and better digs, and the city was the next logical place. Uzzo found space at the historic Film Center building, where he built Studio B, a Francis Manzella-designed space that features an SSL 4048 G+ console with Total Recall, Studer A827 recorders and Hot House monitors.
The move to Manhattan was so successful that Uzzo quickly needed to expand the facility. He lucked into the old Hit Factory Times Square space on 42nd Street and built Mirror Image Studios C and D.
In the control room, Studio C — which opened in January 1998 — features a similar setup to the Film Center room: an SSL 4056 G with Total Recall, Studer A820s and Hot House speakers. However, Studio C's biggest selling point is its huge tracking space, which can accommodate up to 60 musicians and has recently hosted film scoring and jingle dates. Mirror Image engineer/facility manager Mike Hogan jokes that, despite Studio C's enormous size, it is often booked by clients who amass all of their MIDI and computer gear in one of the iso booths and use the large tracking area as “common space.”
Recently, Mirror Image opened a second room at Times Square, Studio D, which is now its flagship mixing suite, equipped with an SSL 9080 J with Total Recall and Ultimation, Studer A800s and a museum-worthy collection of vintage instruments and guitar amps.
All three of Mirror Image's Manhattan rooms feature Ampex and Otari half-inch mastering decks and Power Macintoshes with Pro Tools MIXPlus, Mix3 and HD systems. Although Mirror Image's original location in Long Island, Studio A is no longer open to commercial clients, Uzzo still uses it for MIDI production work.
Despite a tough economic climate for commercial facilities, Mirror Image is holding its own, servicing its core clients and acquiring new ones on a steady basis. Recent sessions have featured engineers Ray Bardani and Josiah Gluck, as well as opera singer Denise Graves, who recorded vocals for a September 11 tribute project in Studio D.
It doesn't hurt that Uzzo himself is a frequent client of his own studio. An in-demand engineer and mixer, Uzzo has dozens of major credits, including Sermon, EPMD, Method Man, Redman, Coolio, Gloria Estefan, Funkmaster Flex & Big Kap, Celine Dion, LL Cool J, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Selena, George Michael and Tina Arena. Mirror Image's Gold- and Platinum-adorned walls are a testament not only to the studio's track record but also to Uzzo's discography.
“I work in these rooms, and I think that helps keep the maintenance up,” says Uzzo. “If you have outside clients coming in and you don't know the intricacies of your own equipment, you get into trouble. Here, when something's broken, we test it, see what's wrong and fix it right away.”
If Mirror Image is not the first name that comes to mind when one thinks of top-echelon studios, it's not because the studio does not deserve to be mentioned in the same company as, say, Right Track, Quad, Hit Factory or Sound on Sound. Mirror Image's low profile is probably a result of Uzzo and Hogan's dedication to the tasks of engineering records and running the facility, sometimes at the expense of self-promotion and publicity.
“We've always been one of the best-kept secrets in town,” says Hogan. Uzzo adds, “People would come to the studio and say, ‘We didn't know you were here.’ I thought that was a little funny because when you're sitting in a place you don't think that — especially having a large room, which there aren't too many of in Manhattan.”
Even if the masses have yet to catch on to them, Uzzo and Hogan take pride in their hands-on approach. “We do a lot of the work ourselves,” says Hogan. “We handle all of the contractors and put on the tool belts ourselves. But it's really Tommy's knowledge that allows the rooms to function in a pro environment.”
Uzzo's greatest gratification is seeing Mirror Image grow from a hobby to a professional endeavor. “This entire business was built on my 4-track,” he says. “I started out with a 3340 and a Tapco mixer. Everything we've bought since then was based on that. It's been a slow build, but I don't have investors and I don't have to report to a board of directors. It's just us. We figure out what to do, and we do it.”
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