Is it time for A&R people to step aside? Some would say that music supervisors have become the gatekeepers of this industry, exerting tremendous influence over music's cultural impact, credibility and cash flow, as they pick and choose audio for media. Obtaining placements in TV shows, commercials, films and videogames is fast becoming the most direct route for audio professionals to be heard and stay solvent, so it's not surprising that the pursuit of licensing is at the heart of many a facility in media-savvy New York City.
Founded in 2000 in Brooklyn, N.Y., ishlab (www.ishlab.com) may have a fuzzy-sounding name, but founder Jamin Gilbert has always been sharply focused on making his extra-laid-back studio a business winner. Located in an industrial arts building in Brooklyn's boho DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) district, ishlab has quiet charisma and technical firepower, centered around a well-credentialed, vintage MCI console and goodies like John Hardy MPC 600 and Vintech mic pre's, plus a spacious (for Manhattan) live room complete with plants and $2 lamps.
Jamin Gilbert of ishlab
Gilbert may look like the DJ he is, but he thinks more like an M.B.A. “We maintain a competitive advantage because we are right in the middle between home studios and million-dollar studios,” he says. “Our equipment is much better than what people have in their home studios, and our rates are much more affordable than what the large studios charge. I think the equipment and size determine the market, but the most important things a studio owner in 2007 needs to think about are the same things all business people need to think about: market, organization, strategy, cohesiveness, pricing and expertise.”
One business sector that ishlab found worth focusing on was licensing, developing an in-house division geared specifically for building a catalog of music for direct marketing to film, TV and new-media music supervisors. Successful placements for ishlab include deals with such entities as ESPN, Cirque du Soleil and Vogue. “Music licensing entered into our business model in 2004,” explains Gilbert. “It appealed to me because of the fact that there was so much talent around me and nobody was making enough money. The studio could only generate so much money, so we needed to create more income. It felt like a natural and logical progression to expand into music licensing and management so we could help sell the art of our friends and provide the industry and public with authentic and unique music.”
According to Gilbert, the studio and licensing activities have proven to be a positive match on multiple levels. “These two things most definitely feed each other,” he points out. “We're very efficient because we can do the business and create the product under one roof. We're also constantly exposed to new artists, ideas and material to expand our music catalog and our team. The music we provide is the music the artists make because it's coming from them, not because it fits into a corporation's marketing campaign; it's our job to match the artist's or producer's music with the concept of a commercial, film or artist's album.”
For ishlab and other studios adept enough to learn the intricacies of music licensing, it's a business component offering equal parts fascination and earnings potential. “I've learned how important it is to understand an idea or concept and be able to find and create it sonically,” Gilbert says. “Producing, engineering, writing and mixing at ishlab studio with other artists, musicians and producers has helped me learn how to translate ideas into sound.”
A little north of New York City, in the bucolic Nyack area, you'll find that Brian Tarquin of Bohemian Productions (www.bohemianproductions.net) is optimized for music supervisor-driven projects. Lurking in a 750-square-foot area in the lower level of his country house is Jungle Room Studios, a digital/analog hybrid room that serves as the nerve center for his prolific output.
Chris Ingram (left) and Brian Tarquin of Bohemian Productions
Working alongside producer Chris Ingram, Tarquin made sure that the L-shaped Jungle Room would be the ideal home for the pair's Emmy Award-winning composing talents (multiple TV credits include All My Children, Grey's Anatomy and South Park), rock/electronica project Asphalt Jungle, artist-run BHP label and other diverse efforts such as the upcoming Guitar Masters Vol. 1 and Bob Marley Remixed. A man with a need for speed, Tarquin saw the design phase of Jungle Room, undertaken in 2003, as a chance to advance his efficiency.
“I really wanted to expand on having a nice studio where Chris and I could work, mixing the old analog world with digital media,” the upbeat Tarquin explains. “First off, I wanted a room accessible to everything: I had to be able to get to the keyboards and guitar amps without any breaking down or setting up. I also like a room to mix in that's pretty flat and dead, without a lot of reflections besides from the floor.”
The soul of the Jungle Room is pure analog and outboard: a Trident Trimix 32-channel 16-bus console, Universal Audio 2-610 preamp, UREI LA-4 compressor, Eventide 949 Harmonizer and GTR 4000 Ultra-Harmonizer, an array of classic analog synths, oft-used Ampex MM1200 analog 2-inch 24-track tape machine and a good ol' patchbay that keeps everything connected. “I was raised a little old school, and when I studied audio engineering, we had workstations but we had to learn outboard gear and mix certain things with it,” he says. “Everything is patched, so you can go anywhere on the desk, anywhere in the racks and combine them. An important part of the function, naturally, is to have a digital audio platform, which, in our case, is Pro Tools to edit and work really fast. But now is actually an excellent time to buy analog gear, stuff with real personality, because everyone is unloading their hardware to go inside their DAWs.”
“It's okay for the effect to be an important part of the sound,” Ingram adds. “With outboard gear and tape, you have to make some decisions and commit to them. Especially in the world of TV, the premium thing is time: They want it right away. As time goes on, this is a setup that is allowing us to deliver things quicker and quicker, but we also don't want to compromise anything along the way — fast, crummy music is just crummy music at the end of the day.”
One of Tarquin's silver bullets is his Ampeg System Selector, a now out-of-production router that allows him to instantly tap the power of his impressive collection of guitar heads and amps, the former of which are arrayed in orderly fashion on one wall and the latter of which lay in wait, fully miked, in a soundproof iso booth a few feet from the Trident. “I didn't want to have to go through a lengthy setup time to get the right guitar tone,” says Tarquin. “I can just plug and go.”
The most successful music-for-media element in the Jungle Room, of course, is the human one. “Brian and I have something that we need from each other, and we respect the other's skills,” Ingram notes. “It's as much about personality as it is creative. You can have your best friend in the world and not want to write a song with them, or you can just meet somebody and get along with them musically. So try it out and see if you benefit.”
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