Serious musicians make seriously great music, but do they alsomake seriously great studio owners? There's nothing surprisingabout players setting up their own space to record, but it getsinteresting when they become as devoted to their facility as they areto their instrument.
More than a decade ago, when jazz legend Ornette Coleman startedrenting space on 125th Street on the East Side of Manhattan, theoriginal plan was simply to set up a rehearsal studio, but it evolvedinto something much more important. Today, his warm-feeling facility,Harmolodic Recording Studios (www.harmolodicstudios.com), may bethe only world-class recording studio in Harlem.
For Harmolodic and its clientele, which ranges from rock to hip hop,world music and, of course, jazz, the first of those needs was astandout Studio A console/monitors combination. Designed with chiefengineer Chris Agovino, Harmolodic's studios pair a 72-channel Mad Labs— modified Neve VR board with Flying Faders, and Westlake BBSM15monitors and subwoofers. “We knew we'd attract other musiciansand engineers like ourselves who are interested in what sound they'regetting, going to tape or Pro Tools,” Coleman says. “Hereon 125th Street, we know we'll be doing a lot of hip hop, so we havebanging subs and tuned the room so that the fidelity sounds great, butwhen you need that extra kick, it really hits hard.”
Adjacent to the control room is one of Harlem's jewels, a1,500-square-foot live room featuring two large iso booths for vocalsand drums, plus an extremely warm vibe. “As creative people, wetried to really approach the studio as an environment where a personcould get a good, creative feeling from it,” says Coleman.“Not only is it technically and acoustically right, but thefeeling is comfortable and professional.”
Studio B offers a full-service Pro Tools suite with a ProControlsurface, vocal booth and a very comfy couch. “This is a dedicatedproject room, and it gave us a nice balance,” Coleman notes.“You can do your basic tracking and pre-production in Studio B,then add vocals or strings and mix on the Neve.”
Coleman contends that being ready for anything, and having toppeople like Agovino, engineer Jeff Crews and studio manager RussRamoutar, makes the leap to a commercial studio doable. “Youexpect Murphy's Law, so you have to make sure that all your gear andpersonnel are working properly,” says Coleman. “My fatheris an icon, but at the same time, he's a very supportive person. He'salways been that way — encouraging people to follow their ownvoice, keep exploring and keep challenging boundaries. This studioreflects all of that.”
Go downtown and across a bridge to the Williamsburg section ofBrooklyn, and you'll find another master musician and his studiothriving. Just a step away from the entrance to the “G”subway line is the aptly named Studio G (www.studiogbrooklyn.com), the sonic space ofbassist Tony Maimone, whose extensive credits include Pere Ubu, TheyMight Be Giants, Bob Mould and probably half of the bands in New YorkCity.
“I remember the first time I was in a studio,” Maimonerecalls. “I was probably 23, and it was in Cleveland Recording.They had all these amazing objects. My first impressions of all thiswere just so powerful that they stayed with me, and I thought that ifthere was ever a time that I wasn't going to just be a player and be onthe road, I wanted to be involved with a studio.”
Maimone finally got the chance in 1999, nabbing approximately 1,500square feet of space in his adopted 'hood of Williamsburg. Thesmall-scaled Studio G has enjoyed a steadily larger following amongartists making indie rock, live drum 'n' bass and myriad experimentalstyles. Bookings for live tracking and mixing sessions have continuedto increase due to the intimate atmosphere, a luscious gear list andthe ears and engineering talents of Maimone and chief engineer JoelHamilton.
“This is a really left-of-center creative space,”Hamilton explains. “It's not set up to do a Celine Dion record,and it never will be, so everything is built with an interesting‘color’ in mind. That's why the gear choices are what theyare, and the layout is like the neatest clubhouse you ever wanted inyour life. We don't have a preconceived notion of what it means torecord an album. When it comes to recording techniques, we use the word‘wrong’ a lot as a positive adjective.”
In addition to the natural, unpretentious feel of the live room,which holds a Peavey drum set and the studio's solid collection ofamps, including a Gibson “Goldtone” 1×12 combo ampwith reverb, artists get even more comfort from what they hear in thecontrol room. That's where Hamilton takes command, manning aterrific-sounding 1971 Auditronics “Son of 36 Grand”26×16×2 console. “This is serial number 007, builtright after the one that Stax Records recorded on, which was number006,” says Hamilton. “The designer had looked at all theengineers in Memphis using Pultecs and APIs and said, ‘Let's makesomething with API mic pre's and Pultec EQs on every channel.’The key is its passive gain stage. It's a really wide-open, stupidlypunchy console, and it combines elements of all the huge-name consolesthat I've tried to love.” The sound can go either to ProTools|HD3 or a recently acquired Studer A827 2-inch, as well as anumber of other analog and digital formats.
Hamilton's keen eye and ear for distinctive equipment continues withoutboard, including a custom DaviSound TB2 compressor. “Theseguys do stellar work, and that thing sounds amazing,” he says.“We also have the Manley reference mic pre. Only 40 of these wereever sold to the public. It's got this massive amount — 70 dB— of gain, so with ribbons, it really sounds amazing.”
G's collection of rare and vintage microphones is extremelyimpressive and reflects the meticulous approach that Maimone andHamilton take to recording. “Everyone says that mics are thepaintbrushes and each one imparts its own character,” saysHamilton. “The RFT/Neumann 7151 bottle is really balanced and hasa grainy, upper-mid — type drive to it, which makes it presentwithout being annoying. The Placid Audio ‘Copperphone’ is alimited-bandwidth mic, but it's really nice, not a lo-fi honky-typething. It gives you the same feel as Billie Holiday, where you'retrying to make it sound beautiful, not filtery.”
While a laid-back environment and scientific gear choices areimportant, Maimone has the clearest handle on why musicians keep comingback. “One last reason — and this is the mostimportant,” he says. “When they leave here, their CD soundsreally, really, really good.”
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