New York Metro

Apr 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By David Weiss


Education Guide

Mix is gearing up to present its longstanding annual Audio Education Guide in its November 2014 issue. Want to have your school listed in the directory, or do you need to update your current directory listing? Add an image, program description, or a logo to your listing! Get your school in the Mix Education Guide 2014.

Serious musicians make seriously great music, but do they also make seriously great studio owners? There's nothing surprising about players setting up their own space to record, but it gets interesting when they become as devoted to their facility as they are to their instrument.

More than a decade ago, when jazz legend Ornette Coleman started renting space on 125th Street on the East Side of Manhattan, the original plan was simply to set up a rehearsal studio, but it evolved into something much more important. Today, his warm-feeling facility, Harmolodic Recording Studios (, may be the only world-class recording studio in Harlem.

For Harmolodic and its clientele, which ranges from rock to hip hop, world music and, of course, jazz, the first of those needs was a standout Studio A console/monitors combination. Designed with chief engineer Chris Agovino, Harmolodic's studios pair a 72-channel Mad Labs — modified Neve VR board with Flying Faders, and Westlake BBSM15 monitors and subwoofers. “We knew we'd attract other musicians and engineers like ourselves who are interested in what sound they're getting, going to tape or Pro Tools,” Coleman says. “Here on 125th Street, we know we'll be doing a lot of hip hop, so we have banging subs and tuned the room so that the fidelity sounds great, but when you need that extra kick, it really hits hard.”

Adjacent to the control room is one of Harlem's jewels, a 1,500-square-foot live room featuring two large iso booths for vocals and drums, plus an extremely warm vibe. “As creative people, we tried to really approach the studio as an environment where a person could get a good, creative feeling from it,” says Coleman. “Not only is it technically and acoustically right, but the feeling is comfortable and professional.”

Studio B offers a full-service Pro Tools suite with a ProControl surface, vocal booth and a very comfy couch. “This is a dedicated project room, and it gave us a nice balance,” Coleman notes. “You can do your basic tracking and pre-production in Studio B, then add vocals or strings and mix on the Neve.”

Coleman contends that being ready for anything, and having top people like Agovino, engineer Jeff Crews and studio manager Russ Ramoutar, makes the leap to a commercial studio doable. “You expect Murphy's Law, so you have to make sure that all your gear and personnel are working properly,” says Coleman. “My father is an icon, but at the same time, he's a very supportive person. He's always been that way — encouraging people to follow their own voice, keep exploring and keep challenging boundaries. This studio reflects all of that.”

Go downtown and across a bridge to the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, and you'll find another master musician and his studio thriving. Just a step away from the entrance to the “G” subway line is the aptly named Studio G (, the sonic space of bassist Tony Maimone, whose extensive credits include Pere Ubu, They Might Be Giants, Bob Mould and probably half of the bands in New York City.

“I remember the first time I was in a studio,” Maimone recalls. “I was probably 23, and it was in Cleveland Recording. They had all these amazing objects. My first impressions of all this were just so powerful that they stayed with me, and I thought that if there was ever a time that I wasn't going to just be a player and be on the road, I wanted to be involved with a studio.”

Maimone finally got the chance in 1999, nabbing approximately 1,500 square feet of space in his adopted 'hood of Williamsburg. The small-scaled Studio G has enjoyed a steadily larger following among artists making indie rock, live drum 'n' bass and myriad experimental styles. Bookings for live tracking and mixing sessions have continued to increase due to the intimate atmosphere, a luscious gear list and the ears and engineering talents of Maimone and chief engineer Joel Hamilton.

“This is a really left-of-center creative space,” Hamilton explains. “It's not set up to do a Celine Dion record, and it never will be, so everything is built with an interesting ‘color’ in mind. That's why the gear choices are what they are, and the layout is like the neatest clubhouse you ever wanted in your life. We don't have a preconceived notion of what it means to record an album. When it comes to recording techniques, we use the word ‘wrong’ a lot as a positive adjective.”

In addition to the natural, unpretentious feel of the live room, which holds a Peavey drum set and the studio's solid collection of amps, including a Gibson “Goldtone” 1×12 combo amp with reverb, artists get even more comfort from what they hear in the control room. That's where Hamilton takes command, manning a terrific-sounding 1971 Auditronics “Son of 36 Grand” 26×16×2 console. “This is serial number 007, built right after the one that Stax Records recorded on, which was number 006,” says Hamilton. “The designer had looked at all the engineers in Memphis using Pultecs and APIs and said, ‘Let's make something with API mic pre's and Pultec EQs on every channel.’ The key is its passive gain stage. It's a really wide-open, stupidly punchy console, and it combines elements of all the huge-name consoles that I've tried to love.” The sound can go either to Pro Tools|HD3 or a recently acquired Studer A827 2-inch, as well as a number of other analog and digital formats.

Hamilton's keen eye and ear for distinctive equipment continues with outboard, including a custom DaviSound TB2 compressor. “These guys do stellar work, and that thing sounds amazing,” he says. “We also have the Manley reference mic pre. Only 40 of these were ever sold to the public. It's got this massive amount — 70 dB — of gain, so with ribbons, it really sounds amazing.”

G's collection of rare and vintage microphones is extremely impressive and reflects the meticulous approach that Maimone and Hamilton take to recording. “Everyone says that mics are the paintbrushes and each one imparts its own character,” says Hamilton. “The RFT/Neumann 7151 bottle is really balanced and has a grainy, upper-mid — type drive to it, which makes it present without being annoying. The Placid Audio ‘Copperphone’ is a limited-bandwidth mic, but it's really nice, not a lo-fi honky-type thing. It gives you the same feel as Billie Holiday, where you're trying to make it sound beautiful, not filtery.”

While a laid-back environment and scientific gear choices are important, Maimone has the clearest handle on why musicians keep coming back. “One last reason — and this is the most important,” he says. “When they leave here, their CD sounds really, really, really good.”

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