Among its many effects on the recording industry, the home studio explosion has polarized the mastering side of the business. Nowadays, virtually all

Among its many effects on the recording industry, the homestudio explosion has polarized the mastering side of thebusiness.

Nowadays, virtually all mastering studios fall into one of twocategories: lavishly equipped, high-priced, multi-room facilitiesstaffed by world-famous engineers who do the bulk of the majorlabel business; or personal studios with modest digital audioworkstations and owner/operators who know how to work them.

Somewhere in the middle is the Lodge, a fast-rising New Yorkstudio owned and operated by young engineer Emily Lazar. The Lodgeis a far cry from your typical bedroom operation. It features aSonic Solutions SonicStudio workstation and state-of-the-artoutboard gear from Avalon, Apogee, Prism Sound, Pultec, TCElectronic, Tube-Tech, Weiss and Z-Systems, to name a few.

On the other hand, Lazar's studio does not purport to beSterling Sound, Masterdisk, Bernie Grundman, or any of the otherupper-echelon, multiplex studios. For starters, Lazar isessentially a one-woman shop (though she employs a small supportstaff). Also, hers is a personal, idiosyncratic approach that putsthe focus on the creative side of the mastering process.

“I was a creative writing and music major in college, so Iapproach mastering by seeing each project from the artist's pointof view,” says Lazar. “I can get as technical asnecessary, but that's not always my natural approach.”

In just a few years in business, Lazar — who assisted GregCalbi at Masterdisk before venturing out on her own — hasamassed an enviable list of clients whose stylistic range reflectsher own diverse tastes. Recent projects at the Lodge have includedalbums by Taj Mahal & Toumani Diabate, Health & HappinessShow, Dash Rip Rock and Sinéad O'Connor. Lazar also masteredthe Saturday Night Live 25th anniversary boxed set, theHedwig & the Angry Inch cast album, a Lenny Bruceretrospective, nearly two dozen titles in the Putumayo World MusicSeries, and a host of high-profile soundtracks, includingPokémon: The First Movie, American Psychoand Boys Don't Cry.

“We're doing great,” beams Lazar. “We areconstantly growing! We're expanding into new areas of the industry,and I'm like a kid in a candy store…I always want to try outall the new flavors!”

Lazar's credits are a huge reward for an arduous, dues-payingprocess, in which she worked as an assistant by day and a masteringengineer by night, accommodating a growing pool of (mostlyindependent) artists who, impressed with her technical grasp of thestudio machinery and her sensitive approach, would hire her to dotheir projects. At the same time, Lazar was teaching musictechnology at New York University, where she earned her master'sdegree and a graduate fellowship.

Torn between her academic career, a promising position atMasterdisk and the lure of opening her own shop, Lazar did what anysavvy entrepreneur might do: She got out her credit card and went achargin'.

“One insane day, I just bit the bullet and ordered somegear, and the rest is history,” says Lazar, breaking into ahearty laugh. “I had some ideas, but I never imagined that Iwould be this fortunate. I really love what I do, and I get to workwith so many truly gifted people.”

Located in a vast loft on Broadway in Lower Manhattan, the Lodgefeatures a spacious mastering suite, a vibey lounge set up with a5.1-channel monitoring system, and a programming/composition roomequipped with a Pro Tools system and other assorted goodies. (Thelatter studio is used mostly for Lazar's own music, which shecontinues to pursue despite her grinding schedule running thecreative and business sides of her operation.)

One of only a handful of female mastering engineers in anoverwhelmingly male-dominated field, Lazar is at a loss tospeculate on how — or if — her gender has affected hercareer. “There's no way for me to know what it would havebeen like for me if I had been a guy,” she says. “Maybeit would have been easier, or maybe it would have been harder. Whoknows? Every individual has their own set of challenges in life,and I don't consider being a woman an obstacle. I don't think ofmyself as a ‘female’ mastering engineer, and I don'tthink most of my clients see me that way either. I just do what Ido.”

Any time you can get Wendy Carlos, Phil Ramone, FrankFilipetti and the founders of Blue Man Group in the same room,you've got something going. If the room happens to be a studio atthe Hit Factory and the event a panel discussion and demo of5.1-channel projects, then all the better.

Co-sponsored by Dolby Laboratories and the New York Institution,the April 4 event brought together an eclectic roster of musiciansand studio professionals who are on the cutting edge of themultichannel revolution.

Dolby's John Kellogg, himself a 5.1 pioneer, played“Toccata” from Emerson Lake & Palmer's BrainSalad Surgery DVD-Audio, which he mixed. Blue Man Groupsampled their own DVD-A, titled Audio, and Filipettishowcased the James Taylor track “Line 'Em Up,” citingit as an example of what he calls “super stereo,” i.e.,a surround mix that does not dazzle with its effects as much as itrenders an enveloping acoustical landscape. Because of a fluke,Carlos was not able to play a selection of her own material.However, the Switched-On Bach and A ClockworkOrange composer praised the multichannel medium for itsability to deliver “more clarity for eachinstrument.”

Moderated by David Ranada, technical editor of Sound &Vision magazine, the panel included lively discussions amongthe participants and an invited audience of some 80 industry pros.One skeptic asked Filipetti whether 5.1 offered a real advantageover stereo. Filipetti replied: “I can remember when peoplewere asking why bother with stereo, since consumers at the timetypically put their two mono speakers in different rooms.”Kellogg reported that ELP members Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, onhearing the 5.1 mixes for Brain Salad Surgery, said,“This was how we envisioned our music being heard, but wedidn't have the format back then.”

With sales of DVD-Video players in the tens of millions of unitsand interest mounting in the nascent DVD-Audio and Super Audio CDmultichannel formats, it seemed as good a time as any for Dolby andthe Hit Factory to foster fresh dialog on this liveliest oftopics.

Send your NY Metro news to paul@vernacularmusic.com.