Checked in with two major New York studios recently, and the view from the top looks very promising as we motor out of the 20th century. Zoe Thrall, general manager of Avatar Recording Studios, says that "business is booming." I asked Zoe for an in-depth analysis of why the recording market is on the upswing, and she answered, with her typical forthrightness, "Why? I have no idea. But we're not complaining!"
Recent Avatar clients include The Black Crowes, who worked extensively on their last record, By Your Side, at the studio, and a host of jazz artists, including John Scofield, Diana Krall and McCoy Tyner. Feeling the strength of a fully booked schedule, Avatar recently purchased an SSL Axiom-MT console and rewired Studio B to accommodate the board. We spoke on the day the studio was scheduled to take delivery of the MT. "We feel very strongly that digital consoles are the next wave," she says. "SSL has plenty of talented competitors, and we gave serious consideration to several other boards. However, we have a strong relationship with SSL, and we like the fact that they manufacture nothing else but consoles. They're concentrating on making this board the best it can be, and we found that attractive."
Thrall believes, as many do, that most engineers who have logged time on SSL's 9000 Series find the transition to the Axiom-MT relatively painless. "We've scheduled group training sessions with SSL-up to five engineers on the first day, individual four-hour sessions after that, and then our engineers will go in on their own and do some remixing," she explains. "SSL designed a surface that's similar to the 9000; the automation requires a bit of learning, but engineers in New York are programmed to expect to have to deal with new technology on a yearly basis, so they're used to it. We feel very strongly that the more engineers mix on powerful digital consoles like the MT, the less likely they'll be to ever want to return to analog mixing."
Intelligent interfacing with project studios is critical to the success of a major room in the metropolitan area-a fact not lost on Thrall. "Clients can drop all of their synth and drum programming parts to any format in their studios-analog or digital tape, hard disk recorders-and transfer to any format here effortlessly. Many of our clients these days like to drop to 2-inch to get the tape saturation and immediately transfer to digital tape or hard drive to mix," she says. "We book solidly because our rooms sound so good. Generally that translates into a situation where a producer or artist will transfer tracks cut in the project studio, add guitars and vocals at our place, and mix here."
The former Studio B, now Studio D, is also being equipped with new outboard gear, including an Eventide Orville, TC M5000, and Lexicon PCM91 and 480L. "Most of these are digitally normaled to our board, so the signal path is exceptionally clean," she says. "Studio B was originally a surround room where we executed a lot of film mixes. It's being upgraded to handle 7.1 mixing-we've still got to make a decision on the integrated speaker line we'll be using, but we know that a pair of custom Kinoshita monitors will be our mains. We really like the Kinoshitas that we currently have."
Over on West 54th, Sony Studios has essentially turned itself into a mega-boutique operation-an oxymoron if there ever was one. Catering to its own elite clientele while opening its doors in a more publicized manner than ever before to outside bookings, Sony is now a place where artists can conceive of their work, record it and master their final product without ever leaving the building-time off to walk around Central Park is permitted. I spoke with Ian Huckabee, vice president of audio operations and marketing.
"Here in New York the production process is becoming more seamless as a project moves through its various stages," he says. "Many projects start off as writing sessions in a home studio-on either Pro Tools, ADATs or DA-88s or even an MPC 3000-and move into a more professional environment when it's time to record vocals and live tracks. By the time mixing begins, it's not uncommon for a project to consolidate everything down to a 3348 or Pro Tools-we're even mastering off of Pro Tools in some cases.
"In order to stay competitive in this business you must give the recording community the tools to push the envelope of recording, engineering and mastering beyond its current limits," he continues. "Sony Music Studios has six Pro Tools systems in-house and 15 Sonic Solutions, and we stay on top of all upgrades. We can interface with any technology our clients come up with-and we come up with a few of our own."
Sony is a prime example of a major facility that has integrated a variety of services under one roof, and I asked Huckabee what benefits this consolidation brings to clients. "It creates a unity that makes for fluid transitions of talent and technology, and ultimately this translates into a better product," he says. "Whether it's audio, video, mastering or graphics, Sony Music Studios is committed to giving its customers the services they want."
Recent projects at SMS include mastering albums from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Savage Garden, Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand, plus tracking and mixing on the new Walt Disney Pictures film directed by Martin Scorsese, Bringing Out the Dead. Marc Anthony, Hall & Oates, Eve, The Outsiderz and Natalie Merchant have also mixed at SMS recently, and the studio handles audio post work on the TV series Hard Rock Live and Sessions at West 54th.