In the House of Loud, L-R: David Bendeth, Kato Khandwala, Dan Corniff, and John Bender
Photo: David Weiss
Don't call them, they'll call you. Well, maybe the owners of the studios in this month's column aren't that exclusive, but they're not exactly beating the bushes for billable hours, either. Instead, they're happier operating under the radar for the clients who have figured out how to find them: no Websites, no publicity. Just recording.
At House of Loud in Elmwood Park, N.J, just across the George Washington Bridge not far from Manhattan, there is no question about the focus of the tightly knit production team that features John Bender, David Bendeth, Dan Corniff and Kato Khandwala. “The business model is that we're four guys that make rock records,” says Khandwala. “If you want to make a rock record with us, this is where we do that.”
Their facility is already booked straight through the end of 2008, and the group has worked with major-label acts Silvertide, Your Vegas and Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, plus they notched a 2008 Grammy nomination for their work on Paramore's album RIOT! But owning a studio was never the dream for the HOL crew; rather, taking ownership of their own facility became a necessity borne out of the constraints of the elite studio recording scene.
“We work in big studios, and we needed real rooms at the top-caliber commercial facilities available for 90 to 120 days per record,” notes Corniff. “It was getting hard to book a room that long anywhere. Because these were long-term lockout projects, the scheduling became as much of a challenge as making the record.”
Finally fed up with this scattered lifestyle, the men of HOL decided to settle down and make a nice, rockin' nest they could call their own. After shopping around the area, they found a former R&B artist's studio that met their square-footage requirements. Situated in a small commercial park, the House is anything but flashy on the outside, but within the sizable one-story complex the HOL foursome has everything they and their clients need to be creative, efficient and, yes, loud.
In addition to multiple comfy lounges and truly classic videogames, they run two control rooms, the main one outfitted with an SSL 4056 G+ and the other with a 32×8 Allen & Heath board, while Steinberg Nuendo rules as the DAW of choice. “It was very simple: Every rock record that we like the sound of was mixed on the G,” says Corniff of their console. “We prefer Nuendo because when it first came out, it was the only 96kHz DAW. A lot of the editing has much more advanced features, with a layout that is much easier to grasp. All of our records are very editing-intensive, and we can really fly around that program.”
The centerpiece, however, is the 2,400-square-foot live room, where the checkerboard linoleum floor, foosball and dining table off to the side lend a relaxed informality. It's an instantly familiar atmosphere for rock musicians who have ever jammed in their parents' basement (so, approximately 99.99 percent).
“The band comes in and they do pre-production in the live room with a full P.A.,” Khandwala explains. “They get comfortable there, and then they can immediately track the songs. Once the drums are done and finalized, with solid scratch guitar and bass parts, we can split out into three rooms from that point. One room is doing guitar overdubs, another is doing bass and another is doing vocals. We're all such a tight team that we know what the other is doing.
“This way, instead of the guitar player sitting around waiting for the bassist to do 10 songs, the guitarist can get going as soon as two songs are done,” Khandwala continues. “So everybody gets a lot more up-time, and it allows for more time to experiment and pursue different directions.”
After the overdubs, the intensive editing and assembly begins, with producer/executive producer Bendeth making changes and directing the other team members. After that, it's mix time on the SSL, everything comes together and a rock record is born.
If you're in a position to hire the House of Loud (and you know who you are), odds are great that you'll have a satisfied band that may very well leave the studio with a hit record. “I think you do much better work when you're comfortable,” Khandwala observes. “One comment we hear is that usually, at the end of the day, you just want to get out of the studio as fast as possible. Our bands never want to leave.”
On the West Side, near the Port Authority, is one of Manhattan's music buildings, with floor after floor of compact rehearsal and recording studios. Some of these spaces are little more than dimly lit dungeons with a P.A., while others pull off creative environments with extremely good recording prospects. After years of experimentation and a dedication to mastering audio engineering, Peter Vassil's Gain Studios — with its focus on providing artists with an expert-yet-affordable pre-production studio — has evolved into a highly desirable facility.
“This is not a commercial studio,” says Vassil. “I've always been an underground type of person. So if you've heard one of my recordings and loved it, and you become a friend of mine, I'll let you into my personal haven and let you in on the way I record. But I only want to do projects I'm interested in, so I don't publicize it and I don't have a card — it's strictly a word-of-mouth thing.”
Dedicated early on to the art of hard-rock drumming, Vassil had zero interest in audio engineering for most of his life. Then one fateful day when he was working as a salesman at famed Manny's Music, Vassil happened to obtain a Tascam 4-track following a customer trade-in. Unexpectedly, he got nailed with the recording bug, kicking off an obsession with obtaining the best possible gear for capturing sounds in his music building room, first for his own band, Ruby Bullet (www.myspace.com/rubybullet), and now for a select clientele.
A decade later, he's outfitted the space with a pair of Neve 54 Series broadcast mixers, two tall racks of tasteful equipment that includes multiple Empirical Labs Distressors, Amek dual-compressor/limiter, CBS Laboratories limiters, vintage Langevin mic pre's and more. A host of Neumann microphones captures the action, and 1-inch tape machines are onhand, as well as Digidesign Pro Tools (piloted by mix engineer and co-conspirator Ben Arons), which was grudgingly added by Vassil, a self-admitted analog freak.
“Pre-production is so important,” says Vassil, “but it's not stressed or valued as much as it used to be. I'd much rather have a band come in and hear what they sound like before they go into a room and spend big money on the clock. When a band uses a 4-track for pre-production, it's not a sharp enough microscope to tell them what they'll really sound like on a record. This is built to be the ultimate pre-production studio — actually, most bands decide to stay here and record the final product.”
Vassil pays extra attention to the rhythm section when he works. “The bass track is just as important as the drums in the basic tracks, and I never record the drums without the bass together,” he notes. “There has to be that connection that you can only get by playing in the same room. I would love to get the whole band live ultimately, but if I can't, I'll settle for bass and drums. This is the spine of my recording process.”
Although offering consistently affordable rates might not make sense to economists, for Gain Studios, the creative independence everyone gains is, you know, priceless. “My loss is your gain,” Vassil says jokingly. “I'm not into becoming a millionaire. I'm into breaking all the rules. I just want to get a vibe, and it's a very loose thing. Because expenses are low, we have a lot of freedom and time to capture something. So if you don't get it tonight, come back tomorrow night.”
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