Randy Lee, limeBeat’s founder
The sound of music has always been loud and clear in New York City, but the liveliest source of those sounds is constantly changing. One of the most consistent growth areas in town is small music houses: diversely talented operations equipped to handle the often voracious needs of advertising agencies, TV shows, indie and major films and more.
While the three music houses that Mix talked to, Ant Music (www.antmusicny.com), limeBeat (www.limebeat.com) and MetaTechnik (www.metatechnik.com) take very different creative approaches, one thing they agree on is that competiton in their field is increasing. “It's just insane how many music houses have started up,” says Ant Music founder Anthony Vanger, whose clients include MasterCard, Rolex, BMW and multiple TV and film scores. “There was a lot of big music houses out there — JSM, tomandandy, Sacred Noise — that had a monopoly on the work. Then all of a sudden, [some of] the organizations went bust or their people went away and started their own company. So there's been a proliferation of music houses. The advertising houses have a lot to choose from, and I think that's great. Sometimes I wish they'd all vanish and disappear, but the reality is that the entry level to music houses is very low now: You just need a G5 and a couple of mics and plug-ins and you're a music house.”
“There are so many people in this sector, but I haven't felt the sting of, ‘Oh, any kid with a Pro Tools rig in his room can do it,’” adds Randy Lee, founder of limeBeat, whose customers have included ESPN, the NHL, TLC, Burton Snowboards and more. “Our competition on the higher end licenses a lot of songs, and on the lower end they go for a lot of stock, but still the music production houses like us are not going away soon — there's a ton of spots that need original music. Because the picture is not right with existing music or a stock song, you need that custom element.”
The difference today is how to win the business. The time when a client would be wowed by a massive console is officially over, replaced by more streamlined operations that sell themselves stylistically, with anything from seamless diversity to indie street cred. “You need to position yourself in a way that allows you to operate on smaller budgets — it's a new business model,” comments Georg Bissen, who co-founded MetaTechnik in 2001, along with Shahin Motia and Victoria Gross, servicing clients ranging from MTV, Jello and the Discover Card, to the New York Knicks and Madison Square Garden. “It used to be, ‘Let's write music and we can make money with it.’ Now you have to look at it as running a business: It's about a product and making the client happy. Then, of course, you have to stand out from the competition. I DJ, Vicky gets out and we're both in Balm, an electronic pop duo, and Shahin knows what's on the indie scene from his band, Ex Models. We all come from such different musical backgrounds that it helps us to fine-tune for the particular branding that we try to do, and we feel it's extremely important that the music enhances the picture and helps the product.”
From left: MetaTechnik’s Shahin Motia, Victoria Gross and Georg Bissen
“What's different about Ant Music is just me — how I see things and hear things is different than anyone else,” Vanger says. “It's like comparing different film composers: Give them each a scene and they'll approach it differently. Ant Music has a style and the style is mine — it tends to be more melodic and emotional. We are quite good at telling the emotional story behind the visual.”
Designed by Joe Salvatto, limeBeat's spacious home across from the famed Flatiron Building accommodates a room for Lee and composer/studio manager Tony Gracci, a live room and a mixing/post room for Mattias Murhagen. “In New York City, the rents are astronomical,” notes Lee, “but I got a phenomenal deal on a great space due to the soft market after 9/11. Now you can get really fantastic gear and keep on the cutting edge for a fraction of the cost, so I put my money into a beautiful space with good acoustics where clients feel comfortable and everyone feels creative.”
MetaTechnik employs a relatively minimalist setup that reflects the company's often minimalist sound design, with a philosophy of using its considerable talents to squeeze the maximum amount out of the devices. “If you do know your gear inside out,” Bissen says, “exactly what it does and how it behaves, you can really get a lot of mileage out of it and make something sound like it was produced on a $700,000 SSL. We've got a Mackie 32x8 console. For outboard, we have a Bellari RPR83 compressor/limiter, HHB Radius 50 mic pre's and the Neumann TLM 103s. That's how we record our trumpets, accordions, vocals — it's about mic placement and the right compression setting. That's knowing your gear, getting your TLM to sound like a U87.”
“We need a really good live room because we like to use live musicians,” says Ant Music's Vanger of his tastefully appointed facility (which comes complete with a full-blown English tea service). “We also have a lot of nice outboard gear, including Manley preamps and LA-2A compressors. Besides that, we have a powerful computer network, which is very important to move information and sessions back and forth.”
If you want to run a successful New York City music house, composing for commercials needs to be just one part of the puzzle. Ant Music also counts music supervision, film scoring, publishing and record production among its strengths. MetaTechnik is also expert with music and sound design for indie films and the Internet, while limeBeat handles its fair share of music supervision, songwriting and indie film score work.
Numerous other music houses in the city are also branching out. Bionic Media (www.bionic.tv) has equipped its three audio suites with the Digidesign ICON. Formerly known as Hingesonic, Hudson Soundlab (www.hudsonsoundlab.com) has a sharp new downtown studio. Meanwhile, No Wonder Music (www.wonderlandnyc.com) is expanding its client base, thanks to the company's diverse skills in filmmaking and editing.
In a town where everyone has talent and can afford the necessary gear, everything comes back to business sense and a firm grasp of reality. “It's not easy to break into this industry,” MetaTechnik's Bissen warns. “We think we have an edge — that's why we're in it. But if you don't think you can compete or your product isn't the best it can be, then wait a year or two and hone your skills.”
Vanger has his own way of carrying out smart business in and around the island of Manhattan. “I like to compare the studio's business to a ship,” he says. “When the ship is in port, that's when all the work happens: We have to back stuff up, look at new gear and plug-ins, find new composers. You get your ship in order, then — boom! — the storm happens. When the projects come, that's when the fun begins. I mean, making the music — how hard is that?”
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