Riding Out The Storm…

May 1, 2003 12:00 PM, Maureen Droney

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More on the state of the studio scene

Due to a number of factors, including the growing Latin music market, the migration of many East Coast hip-hop artists to warmer climes, and the existence of a fabled lifestyle "scene," some Miami studios seem to be riding out the storm relatively unscathed. According to manager Trevor Fletcher, who’s worked at Criteria Studios, in one capacity or another, for 20 years, the upper echelon market in Miami remains strong. "There are more people than ever making records," he states. "It’s just a matter of where. In the ‘70s Criteria was booked six months in advance, at rates comparable to what we’re charging now. In 1980, everything took a tailspin. This is definitely the biggest downturn in the industry that I’ve seen since, but we continue to do well. I believe that’s because we have a good foundation, and because we have an intangible that’s self perpetuating: We make Platinum records. Our best advertisement is working on a record that sells 10 million units. People look at that and say ‘I want to go there.’"

Fletcher does acknowledge that what is now Hit Factory Criteria has been offering more [services], especially in the area of project coordination. "When people come here they expect to be taken care of. There are not a plethora of coordinators in Miami, so we’ve taken on some of that capacity. Part of the value we give is that, because we’ve been doing this a long time, we know how to deal with the whole spectrum of recording. If somebody says, ‘We’re mastering in Paraguay in 15 minutes, we need to get these AIFF 24-bit mixes there,’ we can do that." 

It’s no secret that the Latin market has been good to Criteria. "Proximity to your clientele—you can’t discount that," Fletcher says. "Because of where we are geographically, it’s been an extremely important marketplace for us. But you’ve also got to understand the kind of commitment that’s been made here. You can’t just start a facility like this these days; it’s not economically feasible. The basic structure was here, and when the Hit Factory purchased Criteria in 1999, they sunk an enormous amount of money into the facility. The legacy of the studio and the records made here, the personnel, the vintage and new gear— it takes all of it to keep us on top.

Another prime location—in musician-rich Marin County, California—has helped keep The Plant in Sausalito going for almost 30 years. But a great location, and even a star-studded clientele with chart topping albums, doesn’t guarantee that a studio will make money. "A lot of people have called me in the last year to ask if it’s true that The Plant is closing," admits owner Arne Frager. "I suppose the reason is that we’ve had three lousy years. It’s been very difficult, but we’ve just completed a new financial arrangement that allows us to strengthen and expand the business. So we’re very much alive."

What’s Old Is New Again…

Old recording gear is like real estate—it retains its value because there’s a limited supply. Many studios with classic consoles are holding their own. Of course, it also helps to be in an area where the cost of actual real estate, whether you’re renting or buying, is relatively reasonable. Just over the bridge from Manhattan, a burgeoning music scene has spawned some economical upstart studios. One of them is Brooklyn Recording, a one-room facility designed by John Storyk. Brooklyn boasts a 60-input console combined from two Neve 8058s, Pro Tools HD, and both 16- and 24-track 2-inch Studer analog machines.

Owner Andy Taub, originally from Brooklyn, had worked as an engineer in the Bay Area and New Orleans before landing in Austin, Texas, where he built a studio. In 2001, he moved his operation back home. He purchased 4,500 square feet of office space in an old carriage house, making him, as he says, "immune to the rent hike." The studio’s niche is live music; both Taub and outside engineers tend to work on long term projects for artists and producers who want what he laughingly calls a "borderline vintage" sound. "People have to keep recording, although not necessarily for major labels," he says. "Bands can’t sit at home, play together and have good mics for everybody."

Building the studio and rebuilding the console were lengthy, expensive processes. Except for those major endeavors, Taub has kept a tight eye on the bottom line. "The only thing that motivates me to buy gear is if I’m getting a great deal," he states.

Brooklyn’s jazz and rock music scene helps keep people coming in the door, and the studio’s proximity to Manhattan makes the studio convenient for clients who live there. "My business has always been based on personal relationships with producers and artists," says Taub, "some of them dating back to my days as a second engineer. If I have a philosophy, it’s to just worry about what you do, and not what everybody else is doing."






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