Clients are hard to attract in the competitive New York studio market. More facilities are trying to hold on to business by extending the services they offer, deeper into a project. One-stop shopping, where everything from writer's rooms to mastering capabilities and even artwork are presented to the potential client, is seen more often than ever before in this area. Battery Studios is a case in point. Last summer, the company launched Battery Mastering.
The facility opened doors in October 1989. At that time, Battery catered primarily to its parent company, Zomba Records. An international organization that has multiple divisions, Zomba operates Battery Studios in London and Chicago, as well as New York. (The Nashville facility is scheduled to close in April. See "Nashville Skyline" on page 195.) Zomba also owns Jive Records-the home to top teen and hip hop talent such as Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and KRS-One-and Silvertone Records, which cuts blues artists like John Mayall and Buddy Guy. But studio manager Matt Marino makes it clear that Battery is in the open market for independent artists as well.
"We're not just here for Jive!" Marino states emphatically. "We're part of Zomba, but we've got our own thing going on." In fact, Marino says that the majority of studio business comes from outside the company structure. "Roughly 15 to 20 percent of our work comes through various Zomba labels. That's it. We have a good mix of R&B, hip hop, rock and pop clients. Mutt Lange was here two weeks ago, producing a track for Britney Spears."
Naughty By Nature rapper Kaygee has been spending so much time at Battery that he's practically an artist in residence, producing NEXT, an R&B group signed to Arista. Kaygee begins his work out of a project studio in his native New Jersey, bringing tracks in on Pro Tools and dumping them to a pair of Studer A827 24-track machines and adding vocals and overdubs.
"We're finding that clients still like to get the analog sound into their recording," Marino says. "Many mixes wind up on Studer A820 half-inch 2-track tape. We also have Apogee converters in case a client wants to mix to DAT."
Battery has three main studios. Studio A, designed by Neil Grant, features an SSL 9000 J Series console with 80 inputs, Boxer T5 monitors and a 12x10 isolation booth. Studio B, also designed by Grant, centers around an SSL 4064 G Series desk, which has 32 channels of E Series EQ modules and another 32 channels of G Series equalization. The main monitors here are also Boxer T5s.
Studio C, which Battery touts as "the ultimate room in NYC for cost-effective quality," features a 56-input Euphonix CS3000 console.
Meanwhile, the new mastering room at Battery has been busy. Headed by staff engineer Chaz Harper and digital audio editor Chris Haggerty, Battery Mastering has already assembled an impressive client roster that includes the Backstreet Boys, Spears and producer Bob Power. Battery Mastering's most recent project is the recently released 'N Sync album, No Strings Attached.
"Chris Haggerty is our premastering and edit guy," says Marino. "He uses a Sonic Solutions workstation. Many of our clients use pretty rough language. If they also want to sell their product at Wal-Marts, they'll end up going to Chris to have him create a second version of the song by extracting and removing some of the crude language. What he'll do lots of times is take both an a cappella and instrumental version of the songs and put them on seperate Sonic Solutions channels. Removing the curse words is very simple if the process is handled this way.
"Chaz is the EQ guy," Marino continues. "He takes a project and applies equalization and compression and gets it ready for the mastering plant."
As they reel in mastering clients, Battery is also preparing for what they hope will be a wave of 5.1 business. "We're diving into 5.1 mixing and extraction as well. We just finished work on a Britney Spears DVD release, At Home With Britney Spears, which had interviews and music videos. All of this material had to be delivered in surround sound. Tim Donovan took the stereo mix and turned it into a 5.1 mix using the Martinsound MultiMax, monitoring through our Genelec Surround System, which includes 1031s and a 1092 subwoofer. We're confident that surround sound mixing will be a service that many of our clients will want to take advantage of."
As studios expand their services, they increasingly need freelance talent they can call on an as-needed basis. Tim Donovan was a staff engineer at Battery Studios who decided to branch out and go independent. Retaining good relations with his former employers, Donovan remains a valued resource for Battery while creating his own music. "I started working at Battery in 1994 as an assistant engineer," he recalls. "A few years later, I got moved up to a staff engineer position. Over the next three years, I worked on a variety of R&B, hip hop and teen pop projects and some blues work."
Donovan, who recorded and mixed several tracks for Angie Stone's recent CD, Black Diamond, tracked some Bob Power projects for Erykah Badu, D'Angelo and Lynden David Hall. While working at Battery, Donovan was also pursuing his own art, as part of a duo called 310, which writes and produces "ambient electronica" music. Donovan and his musical partner, Joseph Dierker, who lives in Seattle and collaborates mostly by mail, recently signed a deal with Leaf Records in London and will be touring Europe later in the year.
After gaining experience working on big-bucks consoles and projects, Donovan has had to use considerably less glitzy gear tracking and mixing work for his own demos. But he says an engineer's best gear, his ears, travel well. "We have a space on the west side of Manhattan where we work when Joseph's in town. We each have an Akai MPC2000, and we do most all of our creating on those boxes, hip hop-style. We create lots of beats but also emphasize ambient, atmospheric elements, a la Brian Eno."
Donovan takes the MPC2000 material and drops it into an Akai DPS-12 hard disk recorder, which he mixes on. "I lay all of the elements onto the DPS-12 individually using my ART tube mic pre, going digitally into the recorder, usually through a TC Electronic FireworX effects unit, which I use to create the effects I need," Donovan explains. "The DPS-12 gives you 12 faders and lots of virtual tracks, so I create stereo blends until I create the balance I want. It's an economy of means, since we don't have huge budgets for what we do, but it's been good going back and forth on different days between working that way and being an engineer doing gigs where I'm working with an SSL and a Sony 3348, or Pro Tools, Neves and Avalons. You take the different things you learn from each environment and apply them to each other."
So, how much does a good sound depend on the technology and how much comes down to the engineer?
"Definitely, the personal art of the mixer is the most important factor," offers Donovan. "You hire a mixer for his ears. I bust my ass to get a good sound on the DPS-12, then I work on SSLs. The real difference lies in the converters, but you can get a sound on the DPS-12 that's good enough to make great records on, if you use your ears properly."