Producer/engineer Britt Myers combines pro with comfort to attract his clientele.
Photo: Audrey Berger
With 8 million residents, five boroughs and one very large recording community, New York City is all about togetherness, right? But the shifting rules of audio are encouraging more and more producers here to create their own facility rather than depend only on other studios. For serious pros and their clients, simply sprucing up a spare bedroom doesn't cut it anymore, but there is more than one way to go solo in this town.
At 26, producer/engineer Britt Myers (www.brittmyers.com) is too young to have cut his teeth at a large studio but wise enough to know that getting his own small space in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood was worth the investment. A deep expertise with Digidesign's Pro Tools and some lucky breaks early on were just enough to get Myers a steady stream of indie record production and mixing gigs (Essex Green, Dressy Bessy, Palomar), but he knew he had to make a move to hit the next level while retaining his independence.
“I actually was working out of my apartment in 2003, and it was kind of miserable,” Myers admits. “I felt like it was a chicken-or-the-egg thing: When do you decide to set up your own space? I wanted better clients than I had, I needed better clients to get a studio, but I needed a studio to get better clients. I just felt I needed a pro environment to get clients into that was inviting, comfortable and people would enjoy working in.”
Myers used the always-handy Website craigslist.org to locate his approximately 300-square-foot space, which comprises a comfortable control room, complete with city views and a big leather couch, plus an isolated tracking room — space that was going unused by a New York City jingle company. “My budget wasn't high,” he says. “This place was out of my price range, but I made it work. I felt that it was important to have a space big enough to grow in.”
The gear list is small but carefully selected, starting with a ProControl surface for his HD4 rig. “Working in Pro Tools, speed is of the essence and the ProControl is crucial to all work,” he reports. “It's the simple stuff, like just being able to mute two tracks at once and controlling with the faders. I use the DSP editing area, which a lot of people don't use, and the channel matrix to select mutes and solos. I use every button on this thing every day.”
Lately, Myers usually finds himself in a traditional recording studio if he needs to record drums. “I'm always looking for a place to track drums for $500 a day,” Myers says. “There are six or seven studios where I can do that in Brooklyn and a couple in Manhattan. If I had the budget to go to a big studio to do basic tracks, I would. They're more comfortable, the equipment works better and there are more amenities, but it comes down to if I make more money or the studio in Manhattan makes their base rate. I'd rather slug it out in Brooklyn.”
It's all part of a professional style that gives Myers plenty of incentive to keep his clients moving through his growing private practice rather than larger recording studios. “My path doesn't cross with them that much these days,” he says of the larger facilities. “I do pretty much everything on my own. I think a lot of young engineers try to go to big studios to try to get work, but my philosophy has been to go to clubs to get work. That's where everything is going on.”
The more seasoned producer/engineer Patrick Dillett (www.patrickdillett.com), whose recent credits include David Byrne, They Might Be Giants and Arto Lindsay, found a decidedly different way to fly his plane. Rather than steer clear of an established recording studio, Dillett walks into one every day — Kampo Studios in Manhattan's NoHo district — and then goes straight to Studio B, which he's operated independently for two years.
Dillett's Kampo residence is just one example of a growing trend that sees New York City facilities leasing out their smaller rooms to high-traffic producers in hopes that visitors will also need their larger studios as projects proceed. “Many of the artists I work with now just can't afford to spend any reasonable amount of time in a major studio,” Dillett observes. “But so much of what is done to make records now can be done without a physically large space. I was surprised, myself, at what proportion of a record I could do here with just a vocal booth and a Pro Tools setup. Apart from large-scale live tracking, just about anything can be done here.”
The spacious and relaxed-feeling 500-square-foot room, featuring Dillett's mouse-driven Pro Tools rig and supplemented by an iso booth, has so far lived up to its promise, helping out Dillett, his clients and Kampo simultaneously. “The key about it here is the flexibility of the ownership,” he stresses. “Give me some time and I can attract more and more clients to this studio, and you'll make more money than if you were just waiting for bookings. They had this space empty for a while; it would have been extremely expensive for them to turn it into a traditionally designed room. But for a homey edit-mix-and-hang, it surprised me. It sounds completely good in here.”
With what he's saving on real estate, Dillett is sure to put back in with the right gear for the room. “The mic pre's and EQs are API, Avalon, SSL — all of that is important. If you're going to work in a space like this, there's no excuse not to have something to get sound into the machine in a quality fashion. If everything you're going to record in here will go through just four or five mic pre's, some of them should be good!”
Besides needing to go downstairs to Kampo's Studio A to record drums, Dillett also must leave his room for 5.1 mixing. “There's a surround room down the hall,” he says. “They have a technical acoustic advantage, and I'm more than willing to pay for a great room to do a surround mix. It's also good for having a critical-listening environment.”
By getting creative with a solo working situation, Dillett found that he's been able to get more creative with his work. “I feel like I'm more willing to experiment and try new things now,” reflects Dillett. “The ability to try something and not have to worry about wasting time and money has been pretty liberating — there are a lot fewer restrictions.”
Bryce Goggin at Trout Recording, a converted metal/wood shop in Brooklyn
Photo: Howard Sherman
Then again, you can always head to Brooklyn, get a nice big space and start from scratch, like producer/engineer Bryce Goggin (Phish, Pavement, Elliott Sharp). In addition to Pro Tools|HD, Goggin had a Neve 8028 console and a large collection of gear that needed a home. “I enjoyed working in my own space more than working in other recoding studios and, economically, I wasn't getting the major-label work that I had been early on,” Goggin says. “So here I could work with other artists, not be dependent on major labels and I could float the rate, depending on the funds for the project.”
Goggin's space (www.troutrecording.com), a former metal/wood shop, may not be aesthetically pretty, but unlike Myers or Dillett, he doesn't have to go out-of-house for anything. “I do the whole nine here,” he says. “I needed a minimum of about 1,200 square feet to take a band in. This is Brooklyn, so everything is driven by the width of a building. You need space to fit the console and also for no standing waves. I felt like any other parameter, besides square footage and ceiling height, I could manipulate afterward.”
Goggin maximizes the room's value by having it double as an instrument storage space for his associates. “People have an understanding that if their gear is here, it will get used and respected. The B3, the Moog are part of this collective space so that when clients come here, it's this fluid, creative environment instead of bending over backward to get or rent instruments. It's a great savings, but it's also a great thing to come to a recording studio and have a palette to draw from.”
In New York City, having your own studio doesn't necessarily make you a studio owner. For a gearhead like Goggin, it's just a means to keep your fingers on the faders. “To me, this is just a logical extension of a home studio for someone who wants to work on a grander scale,” he states. “I'm 39 years old with a wife and kids, and I still want to make music. This scales back the economics, so I can make as much f***ing noise as I need to and still move forward.”
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Congratulations are in order for a couple of New Yorkers in the Mix family, each of whom welcomed a wee audiophile into the world recently. Former New York editor Paul Verna and his family saw the birth of their second child, Alex, in May. Not to be outdone were current New York editor David Weiss and his wife, Linda, whose son, Broderick, was born on May 30. Way to go, gentlemen! — Eds.