Studio owners who think they can cater to all types of clientsusually end up narrowing their focus when they realize that, in themarketplace — as in the physical world — naturalselection favors those who specialize. New York, however, conformsto neither the natural order of the universe nor the laws of themarketplace — at least not always. A case in point isSoundtrack New York, a 10-room facility that thrives in the musicmixing, commercial post and film sound worlds.
The fact that all three of those areas not only co-exist butcarry equal weight at the downtown Manhattan complex is no smallfeat. On a recent visit, I found Andy Wallace mixing an album forElektra rock band Staind, while down the hall film producer KarenJeroneski was working on the final mix of her independent featureGipsy 83. In other rooms, spots were being cut for suchhigh-profile clients as NASCAR, Dunkin' Donuts, Bayer, Volkswagenand Honda.
At the same time, chief of production John Kiehl was testing thedigital links that connect Soundtrack to its sister studio inBoston and to the rest of the wired world. Commercial voice-overartists can now beam their parts from wherever they might findthemselves.
“We like the idea of trying to be a lot to mostclients,” says Soundtrack COO Christopher Rich, pointing to agrid of the studio's booking schedule. “This is a typical dayhere. You've got Andy Wallace mixing a major label record. Thenyou've got another music date for J Records and one for VirginRecords. Then, in Studio F, they're mixing a film, and in two otherrooms, we've got film edits happening. Of course, there's a ton ofcommercial work going on here and in Boston, as well. To somepeople, this may seem wacky, but we all think it'snormal.”
Rich admits that the “natural” thing would be forthe studio to concentrate on one or two types of work.“That's the way that you would expect it to be,” heobserves. “It's unusual that an owner of a company would wantto stretch out into all these different things. You can do itrecreationally, but when you're trying to get into the top ranks,it becomes tough, because the client won't forgive you if you'redistracted doing other forms of work. When a film mix comes in,they don't want to know that you've got anything going on butfilms. Somewhere in the lower right hand corner of their brainthey're kind of interested in the fact that Fred Durst just walkedin or Busta Rhymes is sitting in the hallway, but mainly they justwant to get their work done.”
The three-pronged approach — music, film, advertising— raises management challenges for Soundtrack, which is ownedby founder/president Rob Cavicchio. For one, it requires threeseparate departments, each with its own boss: Film is overseen byRich, advertising by Kiehl, and music by records manager KenThornhill. Other key staff includes operations manager Mike Korash,supervising sound editor Dave Ellinwood, re-recording mixer TonyVolante, and production engineers Bill Bookheim and ScottCannizzaro.
Although all three department heads work closely together— and report directly to Cavicchio, who maintains a hands-onrole in operations of the company — their staffs areseparate. “The assistants who do records are a completelydifferent group from the guys who assist on film and thepost-production sessions. It's like having three separategroups,” says Rich. One of the fringe benefits of having sucha broad client base is buffering the studio against businessdownturns, much as a diverse portfolio might protect an investorfrom losses.
“It's natural that every business is going to have itscycles, but oddly enough, they're hardly ever seeing peaks andvalleys at the same time,” continues Rich. “Forinstance, when the ad business is slow, it's very likely that therecord business is busy and the film business is busy. Conversely,when the record business was slow — as it was in New York inSeptember, October and part of November — the ad business wasstrong, because the [Screen Actors Guild] strike was ending, andthe film business was big because of the Sundance Festival inDecember.”
Soundtrack's rooms break down as follows: Studios A, B, E, G, Iand J all offer music recording, overdubbing and mixing services ona variety of consoles, including a Neve VR, two Solid State Logic9000 Js, various older SSL boards and an API Legacy with Uptownautomation; Studios D and H are dedicated radio/TV post-productionsuites that feature, respectively, an SSL ScreenSound and aEuphonix console with a Synclavier system; and Studio F isSoundtrack's theatrical mixing stage, boasting a 9-foot screen, anSSL Avant, nine Akai DD8 digital dubbers and an assortment of otherstate-of-the-art gear. Soundtrack also offers four Avid suites foraudio post.
Even though Soundtrack prides itself on maintaining a healthyseparation between its various departments, not all of its roomscan be pigeonholed into a single type of work. For example, StudioI — an API room with an Avid suite — is equally suitedto music, radio/TV post, ADR and Foley sessions.
If diversity became Soundtrack's creed, then the studio was notalways as multifaceted as it is today. Soundtrack New York beganlife in the early 1980s as an outpost for Soundtrack Boston, acommercial production studio that remains as one of Beantown'spremier venues for advertising. When the remixing craze hit themusic industry in the early to mid-’80s, Soundtrack wasnaturally suited to capture some of that business. Rich, who hadworked at music studios around town, helped the facility build aclientele in the record industry.
Soundtrack's entry into the film business came in 1993, also atthe hands of Rich (who, in between his two tenures at Soundtrack,helped Zomba build its Battery Studios in New York andChicago).
“In 1993, we looked at the film business for the firsttime,” recalls Rich. “We had a studio that had a largecontrol room and recording room, and you could make an argument forputting a big screen up and a projector in there and turning itinto a theatrical mixing stage.” That's exactly whatSoundtrack did in Studio F, and today that room is the centerpieceof the facility's film work. As Rich notes, Soundtrack went fromhaving “zero film presence” to being one of the topvenues in New York for independent film clients.
After all its success with Studio F, Soundtrack is planning torelocate its film division to a new, two-floor site around thecorner from its existing location. The move will further delineatefilm from the rest of Soundtrack's offerings and anchor thestudio's position as an all-inclusive theatrical shop, withstate-of-the-art Foley, ADR and mixing services. Rich expects themove to occur sometime in late 2001 or early 2002. The new filmdivision will feature two large mixing stages: one for Volante andone for other Soundtrack engineers and outside clients. Downstairs,a suite of seven or eight editorial production studios will supportthe upstairs control rooms, according to Rich. The current StudioF, meanwhile, will become a high-end production studio foradvertising and short-form video and film clients, therebystrengthening Soundtrack's original mainstay in TV and radioproduction.
Of course, all of that activity will only benefit the musicside. If the studio can now boast of having hosted such clients asLimp Bizkit, Soul Asylum, Janet Jackson and Jeff Buckley, thenwho's to say what other music stars will wander through its doorsin the future.
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