Everybody knows what Frankie said about making it in New York City; is it possible he was crooning to the audio engineer who captured those legendary lines? While New York City is a powerful magnet for all types of talent, constantly escalating rents and other cost-of-living expenses are the chief reasons why the city is a tough place to get a foothold. Making it work in audio is almost as tough as acting, but a look at a couple of sharp practitioners proves there are at least two solid approaches to surviving in the big bad city.
Mark Kondracki's Outloud Audio is booked pretty much until '07.
Photo: David Weiss
Outloud Audio (www.outloudaudio.com) represents the newest of the new breeds of highly functioning facilities. The brainchild of Mark Kondracki, Outloud was founded in early 2005 and is already booked pretty much solid until 2007, thanks to strategic planning and a serious understanding of best business practices.
“There are four main items that I focus on: quality, service, business expertise and diversity of services,” says Kondracki from his Pro Tools|HD3 — equipped Studio A. Outloud is located, ironically enough, on 54th Street, directly across from the former Hit Factory. “The way I look at it is that I'm in the audio business. I deliver audio products and I look at all the companies — corporate, pharmaceutical, entertainment — that require that type of product; it's not all CD music.”
Although only 33 years old, Kondracki has a deep resumé that makes him ideally suited to deliver a wide range of services — including composition, voice-over production, mixing, mastering, online sound and audio restoration — to an even wider range of clients, such as the Style Network, The Learning Channel and the popular online Flash movie The Meatrix 2: Revolting. A classically trained pianist who also toured the country as a rock guitarist, Kondracki spent eight years away from the professional music world to run JumpNYC, a successful Web and custom application development company. When the itch to return to music was quickly rewarded with a number of major corporate contracts, Kondracki realized that he had picked up important skills in the business world.
“In some cases, I was competing against 20 other houses,” he says, “but the documents I was able to write and the way I was able to break down how a massive audio project could be realized in terms of time and money were a very big factor in enlisting their trust and confidence. Written proposals are key, and the ability to be transparent with your costs and services is extremely valuable. I think when you're discussing anything like technology and audio that is not necessarily immediately familiar to somebody, putting it into a language they can understand is critical.”
Kondracki's attention to detail mirrors the criteria for his space, where the right location and lease were both top priorities. “I wanted to be involved with people whose business was complementary,” he explains. “We're located within a video company called Guggenheim Productions; my clients need their services, and their clients need my services. When it comes to the lease, a studio is an incredible investment. Ideally, you want to own a building, but that's not necessarily going to be the case in New York City. You want to make sure you're not tied to something that could kill you financially. You have to prepare for the business to grow or fail, and having a lease that protects you is critical.”
Studio 1, a 1,000-square-foot, Richard Oliver — designed room, combines a spacious control room with a small but highly versatile live room, effectively translating Kondracki's penchant for good planning into the audio realm. “I consulted with what clients need and want in their studio,” states Kondracki. “The control room is on the larger side, so clients can sit on the couch, watch the plasma and enjoy themselves. The live room is big enough to hold a drum kit, and I do a lot of single-person/single-instrument recording there. I also don't buy gear unless it's going to turn a profit within six months. I base that analysis on the types of projects that are coming in and what the clients are requesting, which keeps me from buying toys and keeps me focused. For example, the room is prewired for surround, but I haven't had a surround project yet, so I haven't bought my additional speakers.
“The other thing I focus on is keeping the business booked as much as possible,” he continues. “It sounds obvious, but there are many ways to do it, such as giving clients discounts based on volume bookings. It also comes back to my four principles: If you can be a full-service shop with a diverse range of options and deliver a great product every time, they come to you more and more as their one-stop audio shop. I love my work, and I'm very blessed to do what I do. I'm just constantly looking for new challenges.”
Although his site,
www.threatenedpro.com, may sound like a comment on the state of the industry, it's really just a play on the last name of Alex Theoret, who is discovering increased success with an unusual triple-threat combination of mixing, mastering and live sound expertise.
Theoret's varied capabilities didn't spring so much from a strategy as from a life philosophy. “Ever since I was young, I realized I didn't want to do the same thing all the time,” he explains. “So the survival aspect of my engineering is part of what I am anyway. I like mixing live shows, but I wouldn't want to do that five days a week. With studio mixing/producing, you better like the one thing you're working on, because if you don't, you could be stuck with it for a while. Something like mastering I could probably do every day, however, because it's different projects every time.”
The road to the 29-year-old Theoret's current balancing act has had its twists and turns. It started with an internship for the New Jersey native at New York City's Quad Studios, followed by a stint in Boston where gigs for his rock band led to live sound engineering experience, then a certificate from Full Sail and a return to Quad in 2001 that would eventually put him on a path toward serious mastering.
“I saw the big studio as an old dinosaur that was tapering off, and I really thought that mastering was something that wasn't people's focus,” Theoret reasons. “Musicians have a need for low-cost recording, but kids aren't at home thinking, ‘I really want to make this sound great in mastering.’ They think, ‘I want to record and overdub.’ A lot of things facilitate that in the recording industry. Labels are not going to put money into the mix or the record; just because one guy can do the whole thing out of his bedroom, the label expects it from anyone. So I didn't see being an engineer in a big studio as being the best business move. Mastering was the place that I thought would get hit last from stand-alone boxes.”
Alex Theoret at his mastering home base: TurtleTone Studios
Photo: David Weiss
With his mastering home base now established at TurtleTone Studios (www.turtletonestudio.com), where he works with studio owner Michael Fossenkemper in New York City's Cable Building for clients such as Fat Joe, Mobb Deep and Chosen Few, Theoret enjoys seeing how his different skills have converged. “I think one of the more interesting trades is from mastering to live,” he says. “With live, it's got to happen now so you're thinking technically, but also creatively with the sonics. Mastering is similar: You don't want to get so technical that you're thinking only of bits. There's a trade-off in being thorough, quick and knowing your tools. Live, you have to [know specific frequencies] because all systems are divided by subs, low mids and mid highs, and you've got to know what you're hearing. Also, being a producer and playing in my band, The Divide, helps me focus on different instruments.”
Theoret proves that there is life for truly free freelancers in New York City audio. “People should test the waters of where they want to be, then set a five-year goal,” he says. “Think ahead. Look at people who are doing it, people who have succeeded and people who have failed, and ask, ‘Why did this work? Why didn't this work? Is this what I want to do?’”
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