Unique Recording got its start back in 1978 as the brainchild of Joanne and Bobby Nathan. The facility began as a one-room, 8-track recording and rehearsal facility for the then emerging new wave and hip hop scenes in New York. When early recordings of Polyrock, The Dance and Bill Laswell began to generate a buzz within the industry, other artists began making their way toward Unique, leaving the Nathans with no choice but to expand. “We grew quite rapidly,” remembers Bobby. “Within one year we grew from a Tascam 8-track to a Tascam 16-track, and then we purchased the first made otari MTR-90 24-track. The first year was like a big explosion. During that time, we changed consoles three times, Sound Workshop 1280B to a Sound Workshop Series 30 and then to an automated MCI 636.”
By early ’82, as hip hop was beginning to make some serious waves in the music industry, the one-room Unique facility simply couldn’t handle the increased volume of clients. Artists such as Planet Patrol, featuring seminal hip hop pioneers Arthur Baker and John Robbie, and a number of other artists on the Tommy Boy imprint, were beginning to monopolize the limited studio space. “After the few independent label things we did for the new wave stuff, the other thing we were doing was hip hop,” says Bobby. “And I have to give credit to Arthur Baker and Tom Silverman because that’s what they started. And, of course, Arthur exploded as a producer at that time, so we really built another room so Arthur would have two rooms to work out of. We then did the first New Edition album with Bobby Brown, with Arthur and Maurice Starr producing.”
Unique was also well-known for its extensive collection of now-vintage synths, drum machines and some of the first MIDI-equipped keyboards and sequencers-all of which were important to the sound of both the early new wave and hip hop records. “Everybody was searching for new sounds,” Bobby continues. “We always had a lot of keyboards-that was our biggest thing. When we were on the road, we had a massive amount of keyboards, and when we opened the studio, we had keyboards that no one had. We were pioneers with the Moog. We were one of the first people to have the Polymoog; of course, we had the Minimoog and the 2600 and the oB-X, which at the time was the hottest synth, and the oberheim Eight Voice Modular. Later came the oB-8 and the Prophet 5. “
Today, Unique Recording occupies the top three floors of the Cecil B. DeMille building in New York’s Time Square-just around the corner from Manny’s Music and Sam Ash. The five-room facility, besides boasting the world’s largest collection of outboard gear, has now booked sessions with everyone from Eric Clapton and George Clinton to Jay-Z, DMX, Rough Riders, Mary J. Blige, Eve, Nelly, Brian McKnight, Big Pun, Lil’ Kim, Krs-one, Lord Tariq, Sporty Theivz, Mobb Deep, ol’ Dirty Bastard, Zhane, Destiny’s Child, Aaliyah, Juvenile, Joe, Enrique Inglesias, Limp Bizkit, Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Hanson and Korn.
The five Pro Tools|24-equipped rooms break down as follows: Studio A is centered around a 64-input SSL G+ console with Ultimation and Total Recall; Studio B offers an identically equipped 72-input SSL G+; Studio C houses a 64-input SSL 9000 J with Ultimation and Total Recall; Studio D has a 68-input vintage Neve 8068 MkII with Flying Faders; and Studio E boasts a Mackie Digital 8-Bus console. The four larger rooms all offer 48 tracks of Studer A800 analog recording; the smaller studio E has 24 tracks of analog recording. All three rooms have the option for 24 tracks of ADAT or DA-88.
Unique’s stock of floating outboard gear includes a Burwen Noise Filter, Cyclo-Sonic Panner, Technics SL-1200 MkIII Turntable and a Gemini Mixer. Some of the samplers, drum machines and synths include E-mu SP-1200, Akai S-3000, Roland JV-1080 with Vintage, Dance orchestra, ’60s and ’70s keys. A tour of the microphone locker also reveals an impressive collection: Audio-Technica 4050, Neumann U87 and U47, Sennheiser MD-421 and MD-441, and Shure Beta 56.
Asked to describe one of the more memorable recording experiences at Unique, Bobby Nathan immediately mentions Steve Winwood: “He truly just couldn’t get enough of the studio; he’d be working in the studio all day and then he’d book out our programming room, and he’d go in there and he’d just be playing with synths all night long. And if anybody was there to jam, he’d be there to jam. It was really a good experience.”