New York Metro

Aug 1, 2003 12:00 PM, By Paul Verna

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Go west west, young man: At first glance, West West Side Music seems to be a product of the workstation generation. A mom-and-pop mastering studio headed by owner/engineer Alan Douches, it features a Pro Tools DAW, a predominantly indie clientele and rates that make it an affordable alternative to the big New York shops.

However, West West Side's success has less to do with Pro Tools than with Douches' talent and his determination to build a haven for his longstanding customers. If Douches employs the same tools used by bedroom shops that have less of a right to claim the mastering mantle, then it's only coincidental. After all, Douches was running a thriving studio long before Pro Tools became the lingua franca of digital editing.

Founded 11 years ago in the bedroom community of Tenafly, N.J. — a short drive west of Manhattan, hence its name — West West Side has been one of the industry's best-kept secrets, catering to hip indie artists like Jets to Brazil, The Slackers and Smoothe da Hustler. At the same time, Douches has begun amassing his share of major credits, including Fleetwood Mac, Hole, Ben Folds and Yes.

The studio's rising profile has convinced Douches that it's time to expand the core business and venture into new areas. Accordingly, West West Side is about to break ground on a second mastering room, which will be staffed by up-and-coming engineers Jesse Cannon, Karl Eriksson and Maggie Perotta. In addition, West West Side has just entered into a partnership with the State Theater in nearby New Brunswick, N.J. to provide recording and distribution services to artists who perform at the venue.

“When recording in a studio, the artist is at a severe disadvantage,” says Douches. “The audience, often the primary source of energy and excitement, is missing. The approach here is to restore the magic of a live performance into a recording by providing the venue, the recording studio and video production all at the same time.”

For the State Theater venture, Douches formed an umbrella company — Deko Entertainment Group — with partner Eric Rachael, who is also chief engineer for Trax East Recording Studios in South River, N.J. Deko will fund the recording service and take a one-third split of the revenues from any broadcasts or releases, with the other two-thirds going, respectively, to the artists and their labels.

“For artists and their management, this joint venture will offer many of the traditional services provided by record companies,” says Rachael. “However, they will now have more control over the product and, ultimately, enjoy more of the profits.”

Douches and Rachael will oversee the design and construction of a control room at the State Theater that will be capable of producing master-quality audio and video content for DVD release, Webcasting, TV broadcasts and other media. Besides the 1,800-seat flagship venue, the State Theater complex comprises the George Street Playhouse and a 300-seat theater-in-the-round. All three stages will be wired to the control room for recording at a moment's notice, according to Douches.

Noting that the State Theater has a rich history as a live recording destination — a George Carlin HBO special, a Pat Metheny VH-1 project and a New Jersey Symphony Orchestra date to its credit — venue VP of operations and COO Christopher Butler says, “What is new is taking advantage of today's technology and passing that along to our performing artists. Having an all-in-one option available at almost a touch of a button is very appealing and is sure to attract new artists and audiences.”

With West West Side's busy mastering schedule, the day-to-day management of the State Theater studio will fall to Rachael, whose own facility is geographically close to New Brunswick. Douches says, “It's mid-June, and I'm booked until the middle of September. I feel bad for all of the clients I have to put off until then.”

Let Frida ring: The words “Oscar-winning film score” conjure up images of a symphony orchestra, a huge recording space and a control room large enough to accommodate a committee of creative and technical people: composers, producers, engineers, mixers, supervisors, etc. If there is a downsizing trend in the music recording business — which few would dispute — then the film-scoring community seems immune to it.

However, not all Hollywood scores lend themselves to this grandiose treatment. This year's Oscar-winner for best original soundtrack, Elliot Goldenthal's Frida, was recorded mostly in a living-room environment and mixed with a mouse.

“The traditional scenario is what we do most of the time,” says recordist/mixer Lawrence Manchester, who has worked with Goldenthal since 1996. “In fact, we're working on a project right now, S.W.A.T., where we're booking the Manhattan Center's ballroom space to record an orchestra. But Frida called for a much more intimate score, with a lot of solo instruments and small ensemble pieces. It was also a low-budget film, so even if we wanted to hire an orchestra, it would have been difficult for us to do so.”

All of the pre-production for Frida took place at Goldenthal's home-based project studio, which is equipped with a smallish control room and a good-size living room with high ceilings. Manchester and longtime Goldenthal engineer, Joel Iwataki, shared the recording duties, while Goldenthal oversaw production.

After cutting tracks at Goldenthal's loft, he and his team took their Pro Tools and Digital Performer rigs — which worked in tandem — to Manhattan Center for additional recording and mixing. However, rather than use one of that studio's generously equipped control rooms, Goldenthal and company set up in an empty room and did the entire mix “in the box.”

“I was amazed to go to the dub studio and listen to music we mixed with a mouse,” says Manchester, who has also worked on such Goldenthal scores as Titus, Final Fantasy, In Dreams, Sphere and A Time to Kill. “It sounded pretty darn good in the theater.”


Send your Metro news to pverna@vernacularmusic.com.






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