New York City may not be a perfect place, but it's certainly got the perfect name. The first word in its name is all about the spirit of discovery and optimism that constantly fills the people and the streets; the second word is a throwback to an Olde World location and state of mind; and the third word — well, it's a city and then some. The lifecycle that New York City's name suggests apply to almost everything; lately, that goes double for recording studios.
Patrick Shaw and Andrew Koss (center) of Tainted Blue, with studio designer Larry Swist (right)
photo: David Weiss
Rebirth is fully in effect at one of Manhattan's largest and most storied facilities, Quad Studios (www.quadstudios.com), which has been home to some of the biggest names in music since opening in 1977, including Aretha Franklin, John Lennon, Madonna, Bob Marley, Paul McCartney, Diana Ross, U2 and a ton more. Although it grew from one original room at its heart-of-Times Square location to a five-story SSL powerhouse, the same tough economics that have bedeviled many of New York City's biggest recording facilities finally convinced Quad founder Lou Gonzales that it was time to part ways with his Manhattan landmark. Now, a deal brokered by David Malekpour of Professional Audio Design has given new life to at least one new audio concern in the tower at 7th Avenue, with another one possibly completed by the time this column goes to print.
For signs of immediate change, look to Quad's former top floor, the famed 3,000-square-foot penthouse where untold sessions took place. While the incumbent SSL 9080J console remains, the facility has a new name: Tainted Blue Productions (www.taintedblue.com). Founded by the young, formerly Boston-based production team of Andrew Koss and Patrick Shaw, Tainted Blue is a sharp synthesis of analog and digital production approaches. “A lot of people in the industry veer one way or another. There are analog guys that say, ‘I don't like MIDI,’ and MBox guys that wouldn't know how to touch a real compressor,” Koss says. “It's always a fear of the other, but the coolest things happen when you put them together.”
“I'd reached the point where I couldn't do anything more in the digital world,” adds Shaw. “We realized that if we wanted that great live sound, we needed a great live room.” Tainted Blue now has that, thanks to what is being termed an “environmental redesign” — as opposed to a total acoustic overhaul — of the well-known space. Designed by Lawrence P. Swist Designs and Evenfall Acoustics, the warm wood appointments and polycylindrical clouds help extend the reverb time to nearly a second.
The real excitement manifests itself in the control room, where Koss, Shaw and Swist collaborated to create a highly advanced production environment featuring a remarkably transparent workflow between the SSL 9080J, Apogee/Pro Tools|HD3 system and full-power hard/soft synth pod located behind the producer's desk. Smart ergonomic touches include dual Pro Tools KVM setups for the console engineer and synth pod operator, and a sliding MIDI control section from the pod that extends out to the SSL, making the room ideal for a wide variety of modern production scenarios: A producer working alone can run much of the room without having to leave their seat or enjoy easy communication and task-sharing with an engineer when one is present.
“A lot of the design philosophy came from the benefit of working in my home studio,” Koss explains. “There, I had my Pro Tools rig on one side, MIDI keyboard on another, I could plug my guitar in and everything was within easy reach. But I had also been going to major studios and they wouldn't have the stuff that was really obvious to me, like a nice keyboard array or all the virtual instruments like Reason and the Spectrasonics plug-ins — stuff more on the creative side. There were so many times that I had been in the studio with a great idea and they couldn't accommodate it.”
“One of the challenges of designing the new room was integrating the new world into the control room without making it look like a lot of racks have been rolled in,” Swist adds. “You walk in and this doesn't feel like a foreign environment to someone who's comfortable in the analog world. But as soon as you walk back there, you're in that digital world and the analog world disappears. From an ergonomic standpoint, [the producer] can sit in front of the control room and the furniture still conforms to them — they can be in the MIDI world and still be in the analog SSL space. So if they get an idea — bang! — they can do it.”
Ron Allaire (left) and Jonathan Mover of Skyline Studios
photo: David Weiss
With hardware such as a TC Electronic System 6000 reverb; 32 channels of outboard preamps, including Manley, Vintech and Grace; Studer A827 24-track; and enveloping Dynaudio M4 monitors, Tainted Blue unquestionably has the necessary tools. It will be interesting to see how things unfold for Koss and Shaw, as the largely unproven duo seek to hone their distinctive sound and provide a full-service experience for a strictly select clientele. “We don't want to be studio owners who just book it 30 days a month,” Koss concludes about the newly rejuvenated landmark space. “We want to book it with people who have the same philosophy: Use it right.”
Meanwhile, the four floors below the penthouse are also on the verge of undergoing their own change. As this column went to press, Gonzales was close to completing the sale of the rest of Quad Studios. If the transaction is completed, the studio will continue to operate under the Quad name and retain many key members of the staff, including operations manager Robbie Norris and studio manager David “Ros” Rosner. Gonzales will also be involved and continue to own and operate Quad Nashville.
About 10 blocks down and a few avenues over, another great space is in the process of remaking a name for itself. In its first incarnation from approximately 1974 to 1994, Skyline Studios (www.skystudnyc.com) used its acoustically and aesthetically beautiful 1,000-square-foot cedar and oak main room to record the likes of Blondie, Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, David Bowie and Mariah Carey, along with super-producer Nile Rodgers. Sold in 1995 to international session drummer Jonathan Mover and a group of Russian investors, the studio struggled with a business model based largely on luring Russia-based artists to New York City to record. In 2000, Mover replaced his Russian friends with a new partner, engineer Ron Allaire, and Skyline was Skyline again.
Five years later, with a clientele that has included Steely Dan, Avril Lavigne, David Byrne and Fuel, to name a few, Mover and Allaire are finding that although the rebirth of a New York City studio can take time, their patience is now being rewarded. “We're able to cover a lot of string, piano and acoustic drum sessions that went to the Hit Factory and now need a big room to handle them,” Mover says. “Having a large room and being able to cover a lot of those situations is a big thing for us. We also just added the Yamaha grand piano that formerly resided at the Hit Factory.”
Adding to the equation are Allaire's outstanding engineering abilities and the upgraded Musgrave Neve VR 60, Pro Tools|HD3 and killer gear collection that he commands from the spacious control room. With Mover and Allaire bringing serious playing/arranging/production skills to the table, the pair believes they've honed the right balance between the full service and sound of a big facility with the boutique feel of a personal studio — perfect for a New York City market that's passionate about music but currently undecided as to what constitutes the ideal recording environment.
“We're still in a big transition period where we're building up a client base with the new people in the business,” Allaire says. “The perception is that you can do records at home — and you can! But finding people that want to work at a high level, understand that they can't do everything in their bedroom and that they do need people that do their utmost to get their vision accomplished — those are the people we're looking for.”
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