Control A features a mastering-style console housing Pro Tools HD 7.4.
If you can find your footing, despite the economic earthquake that’s making the streets of New York City so hazardous, you just might make it safe and sound to your studio downtown. Downtown Music (www.downtownmusic
.com), that is, where an advanced business model may point at one way to survive in the recording sector.
While Downtown sports a sharp new recording facility in the heart of Manhattan’s hip SoHo (South of Houston) district, it’s important to note that there’s a lot more going on there than cutting and mixing tracks. Founded in 2006 by three former high school classmates — Josh Deutsch, John Josephson and Terence Lam — Downtown was conceived to combine a record label, music publishing, licensing group and studio into one 10,000-square-foot facility — and to get it right.
“We believe in putting both sides of the copyright back together,” says Deutsch, a former VP of A&R for Elektra. “One of the problems plaguing the music business is that it’s so reliant on one revenue stream — the sale of recorded music, which is in relative decline — whereas the publishing and licensing business is growing by about 20 percent a year. We also have an online business, www.rcrdlbl.com, which is an online advertising-supported label in a blog format where people can download music for free.
“And finally we have the studio, which is really an extension of the company’s culture. We publish most of the artists and producers that work on a record, so there’s a real flow of energy in the building — it’s a throwback to the way that record companies used to be.”
While artists will no doubt find the well-oiled combination of music revenue-generating services attractive, they — along with producers and engineers — will probably be happy just to find themselves working at the studio, which is available for commercial use. The 3,500-square-foot complex sports two control rooms and a generous live room accompanied by two large iso booths. Designed by Martin Pilchner of Toronto-based Pilchner Schoustal International, the facility was shaped under the guidance of Grammy-winning engineer Vaughan Merrick (Amy Winehouse, Mark Ronson, Jason Mraz).
The natural sunlight-kissed A room is striking for what it doesn’t have — a large-format console or producer’s desk — as well as for what it does have: an intriguing mastering-style console that houses the Pro Tools HD 7.4 system and is flanked by a tight grouping of high-character outboard gear, including Chandler TG1 and LTD2, Pendulum Audio ES-8 and Dramastic Audio Obsidian. “My thinking was to not be weighed down with a giant desk,” Merrick explains. “This design frees up the whole front area between the engineer and the speaker. I always found it frustrating that, working with outboard gear, you’re nowhere near the sweet spot for listening. My theory was that if I’m not going to have a big desk, then take all the outboard gear and make that my desk, make it easily accessible and maintain the benefit of working in a DAW.”
Merrick, often working alongside with Downtown’s in-house engineer Zach Hancock, saw to it that clients would have a completely opposite option available in Studio B. In stark contrast to the light and airy feel of Studio A, the smaller B room has a dark, mysterious vibe, in addition to its Pro Tools HD 7.4 setup and gear ranging from the Shadow Hills Quad Gama to the Neve 33609. The tone is set by interior designer Jackie Faust’s Indonesian touches, such as porous Balinese door panels, which just happen to make great diffusors.
Clients who have been through Downtown speak to the concept’s success up to this point, including Gnarls Barkley, Mos Def, Cold War Kids, Tony Maserati and John Alagia. With the combination of hard-won business experience, technical prowess and innovative spirit represented at Downtown, it will be extremely interesting to see how the plan plays out. “Josh is in a rare position, having worked for a number of major labels and a publishing company,” Merrick states. “He understands all the parts of the business, and there aren’t that many talented people out there these days that could pull together an efficient organization like this.
“The only thing to add to that is that the SoHo location is ideal. Most of us don’t want to work in touristy areas, we want to work in a place that feels like New York City. You’re looking for the Manhattan experience — not the Disneyland experience!”
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