You walk into a large control room and all around you is nothingbut vintage analog equipment: Studer A827 and A80 24-trackrecorders, an Ampex ATR-102 half-inch mastering deck, Pultec EQs,1176 and LA-2A compressors/limiters, a stereo tube EMT plate, tonsof mics, tons of amps, tons of instruments and the centerpiece ofit all — a 56-input Neve 80 Series wraparound console withFlying Faders (and a 24-input Trident sidecar to boot).
Without knowing it, you've entered one of New York's mostadvanced digital production facilities.
Magic? Sort of. It's actually the Magic Shop, a downtown hauntwhere scores of artists have made some of their best records in thepast 12 years, from Lou Reed to Sonic Youth to Sheryl Crow toMitchell Froom and Tchad Blake.
Even though the Magic Shop was built as — and remains— a state-of-the-art analog room, it leads a double life as aPro Tools laboratory, with a nifty work-station that resides in acabinet operated by a hydraulic lift. If you don't want to use it,then the computer stays neatly tucked away. But the minute a clientrequests it, the rig rises from its sconce like a lion waking froma long sleep.
Once a staple of the U.S. alternative rock scene, the Magic Shophas recently broadened its clientele to include acts from aroundthe globe — which includes, of course, the studio's ownneighborhood in the Soho section of Manhattan. “In the lastsix months, we've had a combination of very international recordsand very local records,” says owner Steve Rosenthal.“It's not your typical major label bands from all overAmerica.”
To illustrate his point, Rosenthal rattles off a list of thestudio's recent clients: Icelandic alt-rock star Bjork; Mauro, aBelgian rock act produced by Dave Sardy of Marilyn Manson fame;Bonnie Pink, a Japanese artist signed to Warner Japan; New Yorkcult guitarist Marc Ribot, who was in producing Sony Japan actSion; Andres Levin, an American/Venezuelan producer who broughtChilean rock act Panico to the Magic Shop; American/Brazilianmusician Arto Lindsay, working on a new Brazilian music project ofhis; and Brazilian death metal stars Sepultura, who spent a coupleof days at the Magic Shop.
On the local side, the one-studio facility has been buzzing withhometown favorite Reed, who worked with bassist Rob Wasserman onWasserman's upcoming project; also with Latham at the boards.(Reed's wife, Laurie Anderson, logged in time at the Magic Shopherself last summer). In addition, the studio hostedsinger/songwriter Freedy Johnston, who worked on his latest Elektraproject; one-time Dream Syndicate front man Steve Wynn cut a soloproject with producer/engineer John Agnello; and critic's favoriteIda made a self-produced record at the Magic Shop.
A studio owner who manages to find time to actually work in hisfacility, Rosenthal has recently produced independent albums bylocal singer/songwriter Pal Shazar, featuring Sara Lee on bass andJules Shear on background vocals; Rounder folk/blues artist StephanSmith and Von Em, a band referred to Rosenthal by Bottom LineCabaret owner Allan Pepper. Rosenthal also engineered theforthcoming release by anti-folk artist Lach, which was produced byfrequent Magic Shop client Richard Barone of Bongos fame.
The only recent project at the Magic Shop that does not fit intothe international or local categories was the mixing of The Go-Go'supcoming Beyond Records project, which was done by the productionteam of Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade — Magic Shop regularswho appreciate the studio's Neve console, its generous assortmentof outboard gear and its homey vibe.
Despite the Magic Shop's analog history, 80% of its projects nowinvolve Pro Tools, according to Rosenthal. Most sessions are nowdone exclusively in the digital workstation, but employ a hybrid ofPro Tools and analog tape — an M.O. that Rosenthal can easilyaccommodate thanks to a patchbay that allows him to route his 24channels of Pro Tools to any input or output on the Neve orTrident.
While the studio's graceful conversion from analog to digitalhas enabled it to keep pace with its clients' demands, the realsecret to the Magic Shop's success has been Rosenthal's immersionin the local music scene. Besides owning and operating the MagicShop since its inception in 1989, Rosenthal is the co-owner of theLiving Room, a haven for singers/songwriters that grew out of theSiné scene — best known for spawning the career of thelate Jeff Buckley. “The Living Room keeps me in touch withthe community of musicians that work and live in New York,”says Rosenthal. “If your business is not based on MariahCarey calling up, it's really important to be involved in thecommunity you work in, and a lot of studio owners miss that in abig way. I've been really involved in it, to the point of givingaway studio time.”
If Rosenthal can afford to occasionally donate hours tocash-starved local artists, then it is because he gets enoughreferrals through his extensive network of contacts to keep thestudio humming with commercially viable projects. A few years ago,however, he had his doubts as to whether or not the Magic Shopwould survive the cutbacks in label budgets. “For me, theworst time was about three years ago, when the majors pulled theplug on alternative music, which was what my business was basedon,” says Rosenthal. “It was like they woke up onemorning and said, ‘That's the end of it.’ So I had togo through a transition, which meant being open to new technologyand to projects that don't necessarily come from an A&Rrepresentative at an American label.”
Now, with a stylistically and geographically diverse clientele— and his roots firmly planted in the local scene —Rosenthal is doing better than ever, both creatively andcommercially.
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