New York Metro

Jun 1, 2003 12:00 PM, by Paul Verna

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Along with her millions of newfound fans and supporters, one of the people cheering the loudest for Norah Jones, as she and songwriter Jesse Harris swept the 2003 Grammy Awards, was William Garrett. A musician, composer, engineer and studio manager at Sony/ATV Music Publishing's New York studios, Garrett recorded the demos on which Jones' debut, Come Away With Me, was based.

By now, it's a familiar story. Harris, an up-and-coming Sony/ATV songwriter, wanted a female singer to record demos of his songs. His A&R representative at Sony, Nate Krenkel, recommended his roommate, Jones. The demos attracted the attention of Blue Note Records' president Bruce Lundvall, who signed Jones as an artist and hired famed producer Arif Mardin to re-record the material. As a tribute to the quiet simplicity of the songs and the quality with which Garrett initially recorded them, the finished tracks bear a strong resemblance to those understated demos.

Ironically, the room at Sony/ATV is so small that one can hardly envision any kind of live band in it, even a small jazz combo like the one that Jones used. “We had Jesse, upright bass, drums, piano and Norah in what's essentially a vocal booth,” says Garrett. “It was the most people we've ever had in there.”

The studio is equipped with a Pro Tools MIXPlus system running Version 5.1.1, as well as Logic Audio Platinum 5.5 and Digital Performer 3.0. Consoles and control surfaces include a Yamaha 02R and 8-fader Motormix. Among Sony/ATV's microphones are a Neumann M147 tube, an AKG 414, two Sennheiser 421s and a Sony C-48; preamps and processors include two Millennia Media Origin STT-1s, a Summit TPA 200-B and a Neve 33609 stereo compressor/limiter.

In addition, the room is stocked with racks of MIDI gear, including an Akai MPC 2000XL, Nord Rack 2, Roland 2080 and JV 880, and Kurzweil K2000R. Speakers include Genelec 1031As, Yamaha NS-10s and JBL 4412s.

Despite its small size and modest equipment offerings, the room has served its purpose as a “creative environment where publishers could be involved right there, on the spot,” says Garrett. “Somebody'll write a hook and say, ‘Hold on a second while I grab the A&R person from the office down the hall,’ and they'll pull them out of a meeting and drag them into the studio. It creates a dynamic atmosphere within the publishing department.”

In the days when demos were demos and masters were masters, a publishing studio was a place where writers would sketch out songs in the hopes that a label or artist would later recut them in a “proper” facility. To an extent, publishing studios still serve that function. However, thanks to high-quality digital audio workstations, many of the tracks cut in these little recording rooms end up on finished masters.

In the case of Jones' material, it was re-recorded, but the vibe that Harris, his band and Jones achieved was replicated on the full-blown project. Other major artists who have worked at Sony/ATV with Garrett and engineer/Pro Tools guru Victor Mancusi, who helps keep the facility fine-tuned for its 'round-the-clock schedule, include Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans, Lauryn Hill, John Waite, Everything But the Girl, Cyndi Lauper, Curtis Stigers and Bryan Adams. In addition, tracks for Nas, Angie Stone, Jennifer Lopez and Toni Braxton were cut at the studio. Some of this material — notably Nas and Stone tunes — have ended up on the artists' releases.

For Garrett, the success of the Sony/ATV facility has been the culmination of more than two decades of studio work in many disciplines. A graduate of the University of North Carolina and Berklee College of Music in Boston, Garrett began his career at Beantown's Intermedia Sound in 1978, where he assisted on sessions by the likes of Burt Bacharach, Carly Simon, The Cars and Aerosmith. He went independent in 1980 and started his own label, Alpha-Media Records. The explosion of new wave and synth pop bands offered plenty of opportunity for Garrett to hone his engineering skills, which he did on projects by Til Tuesday, Aztec Camera, New Edition, The Stylistics and New Kids on the Block.

In 1987, Garrett moved to New York, where his streak of major credits continued with Slayer, Hanoi Rocks, the Golden Palominos, Treat Her Right, Cyndi Lauper and Mr. Crowe's Garden, which later became the Black Crowes.

Although his career was successful by any measure, Garrett was restless for a new challenge. He found it in 1991 at Sony/ATV Music Publishing. “The person who came up with the original concept for the publishing studio was Patty Devries, an A&R rep at Sony/ATV,” recalls Garrett. “She had signed four or five bands to publishing deals without record deals, so she needed fully produced demos. Instead of hiring me to produce these bands as an independent, she hired me as an in-house engineer/producer and asked me to put together a studio in the office area. The idea was to bring music back to this end of the publishing business.”

In its first incarnation at Sony/ATV's former premises on Fifth Avenue, the studio lived in a file room and was not equipped with the kind of gear that could yield professional results. However, when Sony Music moved its corporate headquarters to 550 Madison Ave. in 1993, the company was able to “design a real room,” as Garrett puts it.

Although Sony/ATV keeps him busy, Garrett still finds time to pursue his own projects outside the studio. Since 1993, when he scored his first film, Back in the Days, Garrett has worked on music for 17 films and a host of TV programs for Cinemax, Lifetime, American Movie Classics and the Travel Channel.

In 1999, Garrett began a professional association with John Cale, engineering and mixing several albums and film scores for him, including American Psycho. Other recent projects include engineering material by Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes, producing a cartoon show theme and score with The B-52's and producing new records for singer/songwriters Daniel Simonis and Bill Campbell.


Send your New York news to pverna@vernacularmusic.com.






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