If you want to build a studio in New York City that won't turn around and bite you in the bottom, there are issues besides sonic integrity to consider. The real estate market here is quite volatile, which means that getting a read on your potential landlord is critical-will he or she understand that you've invested a small fortune in your space when it's time to negotiate your next lease? You'd also be wise to check out the kind of tenants that occupy the building and suss out what kind of industry is being attracted to the area; for example, you don't want to compete with a printing press on the next floor. The vibe of the neighborhood is also important. And then there are the acoustical questions.
Songwriters and producers Andy Marvel and Peter Zizzo have enjoyed considerable success over the past several years, penning songs for Celine Dion, Diana King, Jennifer Love Hewitt and other well-known acts. Sitting across from one another at dinner one night, they decided to become partners in a studio where they could write, develop acts, produce some records through the mix stage and prep tracks to be completed at outside facilities. Big Baby Studios is the result of their labors.
"Andy and I had known each other for years and had done some writing together, but mostly we were just good friends," Zizzo says. "He had been using his master bedroom as his writing space, but when his baby was about to be born, his gear had to go! I had a rented office on Fifth Avenue and 20th Street, but the space was limited."
Marvel picks up the thread: "I'm a native New Yorker. After spending a few years at Berklee up in Boston and gigging with some bands, I realized that I wasn't quite good enough to make it as a jazz player-this was back in '81. I started writing and got a publishing deal with Sony. One of my biggest hits was the Diana King track "Shy Guy." That tune went to Number 12 in the U.S. and was an enormous hit worldwide, going seven times Platinum in Japan, for example." Marvel's "Treat Her Like a Lady" is featured on Dion's current album, Let's Talk About Love.
Zizzo is no technical slouch, but he says that Marvel, who has a background in studio engineering, is more gear-savvy. So design plans for Big Baby Studios included individual rooms for the two writers, with Marvel's room doubling as the main mixing environment. Contractor Gary Neiheisel was brought in to build the room, and he recommended acoustical designer Richard Oliver. "Rich is really a genius," says Zizzo. "He has a very unique personality-he talks fast and speaks on a very high technical level, which is sometimes a bit hard for me to follow. When you're building space in New York-especially on a budget-you're constantly making concessions to go either for the most acoustically pure solution, or favor the aesthetics. Rich really understood the balance we were trying to achieve, and I think he did a great job of designing a space that sounds great and is a great hang."
Knowing that his room would be doubling as the mix room for both writers, Marvel considered a number of different consoles before deciding to purchase an Amek BIG. "I like this board a lot. It has a great analog sound, and its 104 inputs mean that all of my synths and 24 tracks of ADAT are wired in at all times. The fact that it has only 12 buses is something of a limitation in this environment, but we manage to work around it pretty well. The BIG is essentially a smaller Mozart; it has the same automation, which I love, although I have to manually reset the faders. When I see Peter working on his Mackie Digital 8*Bus, I long for instant fader resetting! All things considered, though, I really love this board. My engineer, Jim Caruso-you can call him Bonzai-recently mixed our first session here, and he loved the board and the sound of the room." Marvel owns a full-blown Pro Tools MIX Plus system and is still open to one day purchasing a Digidesign ProControl hardware interface and mixing completely within the computer.
"I love the Mackie D8B!" says Zizzo. "It's a very intuitive board. The layout in particular makes a lot of sense, and it's easy to learn. I was going to go the Pro Tools route, but in the end, having a board and Pro Tools didn't make a lot of sense, and I like to have a console to turn to. I checked out all of the units in its price range and felt that the D8B gave the most bang for the buck. I then decided to buy a MOTU 2408 interface and work with Digital Performer. Andy's room and mine are wired together-even our MIDI gear-and so I may change to another work method in the future, but right now I'm extremely pleased with the tracking and mixing system I've put together."
Bolstered by their writing and producing success, Marvel and Zizzo are fortunate in that they were able to build a space for themselves without having to worry about booking the rooms to outside clients. "Big Baby Studios is a real project place," says Zizzo. "Not a home project space, but a soup-to-nuts writing and recording environment designed to be a great hang for an artist! You want the talent you're working with to feel comfortable, creative and inspired, and Andy and I are excited because that's exactly what we feel we've got."