The New York mastering community, which has been quiet following the major reshuffling that occurred in the late '90s, is again showing signs of movement. New studios have opened, veteran engineers have changed affiliations and a relatively young studio has taken a prominent place among older, more established facilities.
The most far-reaching realignment of the stars occurred at the Hit Factory, which hired former Classic Sound and Masterdisk veteran Scott Hull and re-hired hip hop/R&B icon Herb Powers, who had left to open his own shop. The Hit Factory also hired Joe Yannece, formerly of Trutone Mastering in Hackensack, N.J.
In other staffing shifts, Phil Klum and Dennis Ferrante left longtime positions at Master Cutting Room and BMG, respectively, to join the startup Jigsaw Sound. Another new studio, Engine Room, opened its doors this year, led by engineer Mark Christensen. Amid this entrepreneurial activity, the Lodge — owned and operated by young engineer Emily Lazar — reinforced its position as a vital player on the scene with such high-profile album projects as David Bowie's Heathen and Khia's Thug Misses.
HIT FACTORY REVAMPS MASTERING OPERATION
At the Hit Factory, Hull says that he is delighted to join a studio with a commitment to excellence, a longstanding reputation in the industry and a staff of brilliant engineers. “This is really about the future,” says Hull. “The association with the Hit Factory looks like it's going to be great for my clients and for me, in terms of surround and other future formats. There's a lot of excitement here about the improvements that are coming to mastering that are simultaneous with my arrival. We're making some pretty substantial upgrades.”
While Hull is awaiting the completion of his mastering suite, he is researching the most sensible workstation platform for himself and the other Hit Factory engineers. “We're looking to improve workflow and productivity,” he says.
For the studio, Hull's arrival is a key component in an upgrade strategy that includes not only the mastering division but also the recording and mixing rooms. The facility recently closed its Broadway studios to consolidate its holdings in its flagship space at 421 West 54th Street where it added two new rooms — Studios 6 and 7, both equipped with Solid State Logic's top-of-the-line XL analog consoles.
Hit Factory VP Troy Germano says, “We're making a large commitment to mastering, which has worked very well for us since 1988. We're very excited about Scott. I've had great respect for him over the years; he's a fantastic addition to this place. We now have a stable here of very talented, high-powered mastering engineers that rival any place in New York, including my friends at Sterling Sound, whom I look to for competition.”
In addition to Hull, Powers and Yannece, the Hit Factory mastering team also includes Tony Gillis and Tony “Tippy” Tarochione.
A PIECE OF THE PUZZLE
As the Hit Factory solidifies its already powerful mastering unit, the new kids on the block — Jigsaw Sound and Engine Room — are vying to compete in a market crowded with both world-class facilities and bedroom operations. Finding a middle ground has proven to be a hefty challenge, but these companies seem to have the ingredients to make it work.
Jigsaw Sound is a gorgeous-looking, Francis Manzella-designed studio that features state-of-the-art equipment and the talents of veterans Klum and Ferrante; Jigsaw co-owner Michael Iurato is also on the engineering staff. Collectively, their clients include the Alan Lomax Project, Sony Music, TVT, BMG, RCA, Capitol/EMI, Def Jam/Island, Windham Hill, Bar None and Beggars Banquet. Among the artists whose projects have been mastered by Jigsaw engineers are Jay-Z, Nine Inch Nails, Henry Rollins, Norah Jones, Dave Stewart, Elvis Presley, Bo Diddley and Esquivel. The TVT soundtrack to Swimfan was handled by Jigsaw's Klum.
Iurato says, “We believe in our business, and we're taking a long-term approach. In 10 to 15 years, we want to be considered the future of mastering in New York City. At some point, there's going to be a changing of the guard, and we want to be around for that.”
Jigsaw features a wealth of world-class gear, including a Manley analog console, an Ampex ATR-102 deck equipped with Flux Magnetic heads, a Sonic Solutions HD workstation, Duntech Sovereign 2001 monitors and processors by Sontec, Prism, Manley, Avalon and others.
DOWN IN THE ENGINE ROOM
At the Engine Room, the mastering division is an outgrowth of the facility's thriving recording, post-production and duplication businesses, which consist of six editing suites, two live rooms and a replication outfit. The studio, which underwent a huge upgrade last year, was designed by Chris Bowman and John Storyk, who handled original construction consultation and acoustical design and installation, respectively.
“When we entered the final stage of the build, our budget was stretched pretty thin,” says owner/engineer Mark Christensen. “We weren't planning to build a room of this caliber, but Chris convinced me that with John's help, this could become an A-list room.”
Among Christensen's recent credits are an album by Tony Jarvis, produced by J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. fame; several classical albums for Museovitch Productions; a new project by Nashville-based singer/songwriter Ned Massey; albums for Hong Kong-based alternative dance label Respect Music; and a trio of CDs for Broadway producer Joe Baker's Bakerboys Music label.
Christensen's room features a mix of digital and analog gear, including a SADiE 24/96 digital audio workstation and Tube-Tech, Manley, Universal Audio, Avalon and Crane Song outboard gear.
LAZAR STEPS UP
Back at the Lodge, Lazar has been as busy as ever and raising her profile to the level of top facilities in the city. She recently mastered Bowie's Heathen (ISO/Columbia), produced by Bowie's longtime collaborator, Tony Visconti. Lazar also mastered Khia's breakthrough album, Thug Misses (Artemis), propelled by the hit single “My Neck, My Back (Lick It).”
Previously, Lazar had worked on projects by Sinéad O'Connor, the Saturday Night Live 25th Anniversary boxed set, the Hedwig & The Angry Inch cast album, several titles in the Putumayo World Music series and soundtracks including Pokemon: The First Movie and American Psycho.
NEW YORK ON THE MOVE
The latest developments in New York represent the most significant shifts in the local mastering scene since the late '90s, when the industry was jolted by a flurry of major staff changes and business activity. The trigger event at that time was the management buyout of Sterling Sound by longtime engineers Ted Jensen, Tom Coyne and Greg Calbi, in conjunction with London's Metropolis. Calbi's role in that transaction was especially significant because he had left the facility several years earlier to work at cross-town rival Masterdisk. His return to Sterling left a void at Masterdisk, which was exacerbated the following year when chief engineer Hull left Masterdisk to join Classic Sound. The studio responded by hiring Leon Zervos — who had built his career at Absolute Audio — and creating a state-of-the-art surround room for him.
While New York was undergoing its upheaval, L.A. was buzzing with the departure of Stephen Marcussen from his longtime perch at Precision Mastering. Marcussen worked for a while at the former A&M Studios' mastering division and eventually opened his own shop, taking one-time A&M engineer Dave Collins with him. Tom Baker, a veteran of Oasis and Future Disc Systems, stepped in at Precision.
Since then, things have been quiet on the mastering front on both coasts. However, the latest round of staffing changes and entrepreneurial moves in New York suggests that there may be more surprises in the near future. Stay tuned.
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