With the economy in dire straits, the music business in disarray and the studio industry eroded by high-quality home recording, who would possibly want to build two state-of-the-art recording/mixing studios?
The Germanos, that's who.
“True to form for Hit Factory, we've always managed to build in the worst economic conditions,” says Troy Germano, VP of the sprawling New York/Miami complex, and son of Hit Factory founder and owner Ed Germano. “It just naturally happens that way.”
So, why build when the rest of the industry is retrenching?
“We believe in the recording studio business,” says Troy Germano. “We always have. Some people could look at it in terms of numbers and say, ‘Why would they do that?’ But we keep this place busy. Right now, a lot of studios in New York City are complaining. Yes, activity's a little bit lower, but we're keeping our seven rooms going. Are they going seven days a week? No. Maybe they're going six days a week, and they're certainly going five days a week. But we believe that when the business comes back, we won't have to sit there and build. This is the time to take advantage of a situation like the one we're in.”
The catalyst to adding two studios in an existing space within the Hit Factory's 54th Street headquarters was the closing of four rooms in the company's original location down the street on Broadway. “Since we bought the 54th Street space in 1991, we always wanted to be in one building,” says Germano. “It makes it much easier to run the business; it's much more efficient for the clients and for us.”
As one would expect from the Hit Factory, the new rooms — Studios 6 and 7 — offer the ultimate in equipment, acoustic design and general comfort. Both are based around 80-input Solid State Logic XL 9000 K Series SuperAnalogue consoles, the British manufacturer's top-of-the-line analog product. “These rooms are absolutely magnificent,” says SSL North America president Rick Plushner. “To have our latest consoles — the XL consoles — in both of these rooms is a tremendous showcase for us. We expect that the right people will experience the product here, understand what it's all about and spread the word that it's a fantastic piece of equipment.”
Prior to officially inaugurating the new rooms with a bash attended by the likes of Eddie Kramer, Niko Bolas and Pat Thrall, Plushner presented Germano with a plaque celebrating the mixers, engineers, musicians and producers who have worked on SSL J Series consoles at the Hit Factory. “The plaque represents the J Series generation, and we see that generation soon to become the XL generation,” says Plushner. “Everybody who has worked on a J already knows how to run the XL console. All it takes is a half-hour tutorial on the new feature sets, most of which have to do with the ability to manipulate surround sound, which is very unique in this console. But the users already know the automation, and they're very familiar with the channel strips. And, the word that I've gotten from people who've been using the console is that it sounds absolutely fantastic.”
Among the improvements the XL offers over the J are full 5.1 channel mix bus, master fader, mix compressor, monitoring and metering; a 6-channel monitor insert, plus support for three external 6-channel sources; LFE filtering for Dolby and DTS encoding; a new surround panning system called Ultipan; an automation computer similar in function to that of the J, but 100x faster; a remote mic preamp system; and a signal path optimized for ultra-high-resolution digital audio.
Plushner says that the XL is the “natural extension” of the J, which has been hugely successful since its introduction in 1994. “One thing the J Series did was bring together the different camps out there,” he observes. “The majority of SSL mixers loved that console, and people who were not SSL users moved over to the J because of its sound quality and the features that it offers. So now we have this huge base of very satisfied engineers who should graduate to this new product rather nicely.”
Although he could have picked from any number of analog consoles for his new rooms, Germano hardly had to look past the XL. “There were many choices we could have made,” says Germano, “but there really weren't, because at the end of the day, what SSL offers that nobody else does — and I hate to sound cliché and corny — is service. That's something we've always prided ourselves on, whether it's getting somebody a salad at three in the morning or finding a cable that we don't have in the studio. SSL has provided me with the ability to make a decision based on service. I can't emphasize that enough.”
Besides the XLs, each of the new rooms — which were designed by Dave Bell from UK-based White Mark Ltd., in conjunction with Germano — offers a 48-channel Pro Tools MIXplus system (with a roving HD rig in-house, as well), a Sony 3348 HR, two Studer A-827s and a rack of state-of-the-art processing gear tailored for surround mixing. For instance, instead of merely a pair of GML EQs, the Hit Factory provides three stereo units in each room, allowing engineers to process up to six channels for surround mixing. Other outboard gear includes Sony 777 Sampling Reverbs, Avalon 737s and 2055s, Lexicon 960Ls, and Empirical Labs Distressors and Fatsos. Additionally, each room is outfitted with five soffit-mounted, custom speakers designed by George Augspurger.
With the addition of the two new studios, Hit Factory now operates seven recording/mixing studios in New York and six in Miami, for a total of 13 rooms. Six of the seven New York rooms feature SSL analog boards: the two new XLs and four J Series boards. In addition, the all-digital Studio 5 houses a Euphonix System 5 24-bit, 96kHz console. Also in New York, the Hit Factory runs four mastering suites.
Surround-wise, every room at the Hit Factory can be easily configured for a multichannel mix, but the two new studios are purpose-built for 5.1 work, with large monitors, the XL board (which offers a wealth of surround panning options) and appropriate processing gear. Similarly, the Miami facility also has two rooms with wall-mounted surround speakers.
In New York, Studios 6 and 7 have seen plenty of activity, even before officially opening. In Studio 7 — a mix room with a vocal booth — the first eight weeks of the room's active life were spent mostly working on multichannel and stereo remixes of archival Elvis Presley tracks for a large-scale reissue compilation. Studio 6, which adjoins a large tracking area with additional iso booths, hosted a test tracking session by jazz artist Charlie Drayton, recorded by Bolas and Thrall direct to Pro Tools. Since completing the Drayton project, the studio added the Super Remote mic preamp option on the XL console, the first such installation in the U.S.
With Studios 6 and 7 fully onboard and the entire New York operation consolidated within the headquarters, Germano says both of Hit Factory's locations are maxed out. If the studio undertakes any additional building, he says, it will be in a different U.S. city or overseas. “I don't know how many more rooms we need,” he says. “I think seven here and six in Florida are enough. We have a healthy business, and we're going to try to keep it that way.”
Germano admits that the recording studio business is tougher than ever, with workstation-based home recording taking a large bite out of the pie, and labels with shrinking budgets lobbying commercial studios for lower rates. “People want to make records cheaper and cheaper, and you have to try to accommodate all those artists, because they could become the next John Lennon or Bruce Springsteen or Puffy,” says Germano.
At the same time, major artists with big budgets will always need a place to record, and the Hit Factory is likely to remain a top destination. “A Solid State Logic XL is something people are not going to put in their houses,” says Germano. “The advent of Pro Tools and workstation recording are very important. I'm happy to see that there's a format that's universally accepted. But you're just not going to find this kind of console in somebody's living room.”