Control room? Check. Live room? Check. Pro Tools HD? Check. Killer mic collection? Check.
Soooo, who's gonna fly this thing? Almost all New York City studios have a vision, and most of them definitely have the gear, but in a busy facility, selecting the right chief engineer can be what makes or breaks a business.
Dubway’s Jason Marcucci (left), Steven Alvarado.
Photo: David Weiss
At Dubway Studios, a New York City recording fixture since the 1980s, one explanation for consistent success dating from 1999 is the presence of their now-chief engineer Jason Marcucci, who brings the studio stability, technical expertise, great morale and solid business leads, along with his full-time status.
“I went into Dubway to engineer some overdubs for a band called Paleface and never left!” says the energetic Marcucci, whose deep passion for his craft is immediately evident. “I was attracted to entering a staff situation as opposed to remaining a freelancer because I really like the process of recording. Working for the studio, it's a completely different situation each day.
“In just the last three days, I've done three different things: Yesterday I worked with [mandolin/banjo/bouzouki player] Chris Thile of Nickel Creek, today I'm working on an Unplugged project for VH1 and tomorrow I'm working with an electronic DJ/remixer. But I don't care if the session is just a voice-over! I like recording so much, and having a studio relationship means you can work on everything.”
At Dubway, Marcucci, whose recent credits also include work with Joss Stone and Moby, found more than just a room with an analog desk (Amek Angela 28×24) and some killer outboard — he found a culture that embraced the team-oriented ethic he brings to the often unnecessarily secretive art of engineering. “The reason we clicked is because we try to share information and teach each other a lot, like miking techniques and how to manage your data,” he explains. “I didn't stick around long at other studios before Dubway because I wasn't learning anything new there and people wouldn't talk about stuff! I'd seen competitive mixers in the same building, and I thought that was ridiculous. Here, I really try to motivate everybody and keep the whole staff excited. I've really taught a lot to the interns, and I've learned a lot from them and the owners. It's a pretty open dialog at Dubway, and that's mainly because they want the studio to run well.”
Technically, Marcucci has been one of the driving forces behind Dubway's move toward complementing its large John Storyk-designed Yellow Room with three smaller, 5.1-ready suites optimized for mixing the studio's increasing sound-for-picture workload. “We have more of those rooms because they're cost-efficient to build, and with all the work we're doing for TV, it's great to be able to recall quickly on the Pro Tools HD2 systems,” says Marcucci. “For stereo, I don't mix in the box — I'm summing mixes right now with the Dangerous 2-Bus. I'm certainly hoping that surround mixing continues to grow, because once you mix in 5.1, you never want to go back.”
From management's perspective, making Marcucci a full-time staffer was worth the additional capital commitment. “Jason takes on more responsibilities as the on-staff chief engineer,” says Steven Alvarado, studio head at Dubway. “He's more invested in what we're doing. If he were completely freelance, he'd be more apt to do other stuff and make what we do not as important. Jason's an excellent engineer, he's got the qualities that you want from someone that you'll be sitting in the same room with for several hours, and he invests himself completely in every project that he works on. His personality traits and quality of his work are an extension of what we do.”
“Being on staff, it's nice to be able to concentrate on having Dubway's staff grow, and not just be looking out for myself,” Marcucci observes. “In New York City, being chief engineer brings even more of a feeling of responsibility. There are a lot of audio pros capable of doing good work in this city, but we want people to come back and spread the word that everyone here — from the owners to the interns — can make things work.”
Way down in the southernmost tip of New York state — Tottenville, Staten Island — word is spreading about one of that borough's best-equipped commercial facilities, Fenix Studios (www.fenixstudios.com), and its chief engineer. “We're in a nice, tucked-away area where you don't have to worry about people walking in on your session,” says Kevin Odom, officially “head audio guru” at Fenix since 2001. “You can park here! It's a different environment from what you have in Manhattan, and it's very convenient for people in Staten Island and New Jersey.”
Odom's fierce computer and engineering capabilities led him to begin overseeing recording and mixing in Fenix's spacious, Neve VSP 60-equipped control room around the turn of the millennium. A freelance consultant specializing in optimizing studio systems for Cubase and Nuendo, Odom went into Fenix to perform a quick install six years ago and wound up with a permanent assignment.
Ironically, staying put has helped enormously in satisfying Odom's thirst for adventure — audio adventure, that is. “Being in one place allows you to really experiment with different things,” he points out. “The thing about engineering is you never do the same thing twice. Situations constantly arise when you have different singers, for example, and one mic doesn't work for everybody. The more gear you have, the more choices you have for your signal path.”
Taking on the responsibility of chief engineer in a major facility can eventually prove to have its drawbacks. For Odom, whose credits include LL Cool J and Vernon Reid, among others, the pressure meant learning how to let go and oversee a trustworthy staff. “I got to record all the sessions — rock, gospel, heavy metal, you name it,” he says. “But you get burned out after a while. It's nice making the music, but you notice, ‘I'm not smelling the roses, not spending the time with my daughter. I have to have balance.’ Once you know where things go in the studio, you can relay the information on to engineers as to how we'll work a particular session, and what mics, preamps, et cetera, were used if I can't be there myself.”
“The chief engineer sets the precedent for any other engineer coming in,” confirms Tony Hanson, manager of Fenix Studios. “He's like the commander of the platoon: He's a pacesetter who determines the way things are done, the proper routine. Before you look at skills, you have to mesh with somebody and be comfortable with them, and Kevin is always relaxed and in control during a session. Skills-wise, Kevin's computer knowledge is through the roof. He's an expert in Pro Tools and Windows applications. That's half our studio right there, and if anything goes down but can be fixed, he'll fix it.”
Odom feeds off the respect and reflects it back to Fenix. “I don't like to tell potential clients who I've worked with,” he says. I'd rather play a CD I've engineered on, and if you like it, then let's see what we can do together. Keep building on the information you've gathered that qualifies you to say, ‘I can do this.’”
Send news for Metro to