New York Metro
Jan 1, 2006 12:00 PM, By David Weiss
As a recent feature article in Mix illustrated [“Artist Development 2005,” March 2005], artist development everywhere is on the rise. A logical extension of all types of music careers, artist development is worth a closer look here in New York City, where there are multiple approaches to this risky but potentially rewarding enterprise.
Developing Threshold Music (www.thresholdmusic.com) has been an adventure since James Walsh founded his diverse music practice in 1995, but he feels like he's in an interesting space. “Threshold could be considered a management company or a hundred different things we're just looking at it as a media resourcing company,” he says from his west Midtown location. “The last thing I want it to be is a label. That's the last thing the artist wants. The talent level coming through our studio is getting better and better, people are significantly more dedicated to their craft and they're looking for ways to be independent.”
Threshold, whose clients have included everyone from The Strokes, Eddie Kramer, HBO Productions and a wide range of indie artists, remain centered around its inviting hybrid analog/digital recording studio, complete with a fully floated control room featuring a terrific-sounding Trident 80B console and a spacious, warm live room. However, Walsh realized early on that he needed to be more than just a recording facility to survive. “We found that there wasn't going to be business just being in the recording business,” he says. “As an artist, there's just so much more that I enjoy doing. The key for me was watching hundreds of bands come through the studio and seeing where the process has been disjointed. A band with a tremendous amount of talent couldn't take that talent to the next level because they didn't have a coordinated team effort.”
The team comes via strategic alliances that Threshold forges with Web companies, video producers, writers and more whom Walsh chooses to occupy space in the complex. Dedicated rehearsal space is available to artists who want to work even more closely with Threshold, and who also appreciate having a prime recording studio down the hall. “We start with the artist and see what resources they can provide, then augment what they need to make a comprehensive package,” explains Walsh. “Everyone has their own particular needs and situation.
“The more we can provide for the artist, the more we can look forward to getting compensated on a back-end basis, whether it's CD sales, merchandising, publishing or whatever agreement we end up finding that's comfortable for us and the artist,” he continues. “The goal is to allow them to sustain their careers — we want as much money as possible to stay in the artists' pocket so they can get on the road.”
Although Walsh concedes that artist development can be a risk, he can now point to his busy recording facility as something that supplements revenue, instead of draining it. “Everything I have is done so I can have that room downstairs,” he says. “We're in New York City because it's the greatest city in the world, and the amount of talent here is unbelievable. Is it being nurtured? Not really. Is it disjointed? Yes. Do I have the ability to organize my little corner of the world? Yes. That's what gets me out of bed in the morning.”
Down on Manhattan's artistic Lower East Side, instead of hosting multiple businesses in multiple rooms, David Pattillo is multitasking in one room with Flow NY (www.flowny.com). A guitarist who did the label dance throughout the '90s with his psychedelic rock band Mer, Pattillo found artist development to be the perfect fit with where he is now as a musician, engineer and producer. “I had made a singer/songwriter record in my bedroom on a laptop,” he recalls. “Then I had a baby and it was time to move out of the bedroom! I had been sharing a couple of spaces, but in 2004, I took a leap of faith, opened Flow and I immersed myself in artist development.”
Working with a tight roster of young artists, including R&B singer Cilla, pop singer Reni J. and acoustic rocker Michael Schoen, Pattillo has evolved into a songwriting partner, producer, engineer and label hunter for his clients. “It started off for me to have a space in which to write songs and get them out to people,” says Pattillo. “As I started to befriend producers, they said, ‘It would be really great if you can also produce the music and write the songs.’ I thought, ‘Hey, I can do this myself.’”
The heart of Pattillo's launchpad is his small but inspiring studio, located in an New York City artists' building where fashion designers, photographers, jewelry-makers and more share the elevator. “The room is about 225 square feet, and my main thing, having a background in mastering at Sterling Sound, was I wanted good conversion,” he says, “so I got an Apogee Trak2. I also have a 12-channel Neve 54 Series broadcast console with four buses, which is amazing. There's a couple of Logic plug-ins that I like, especially the Bit Crusher. I've been experimenting with changing the bit depth to create more space in the mix.”
Pattillo admits that his chosen field has its hazards, but he's ready to keep taking them on. “It's the craziest thing to get into — my partners are Mastercard and Visa!” he says with a laugh. “This is a tough business, but on the rare occasion, you do find A&R people who will sign an artist based on great songs and a great vision. That's what I'm trying to do here: be a go-between, make it happen and bring the artist's vision to life.”
Dance music has always played by its own set of rules, so it's not surprising that artist development is a different animal in the hands of Kult Records' founders Dynamix (www.kult.com). Formed around the studio production team of Eddie Cumana and Beppe Savoni, and executive producer/A&R Lilla Vietri, Dynamix often finds fresh talent for club and underground music, and then works to ensure an explosive debut. “We wanted to create a production name that showcases the artist so that both parts get equal exposure,” says Vietri. “The idea was to build a strong production entity to make records and then the artists can branch off. A lot of times in dance music, producers think of themselves as an artist and just put their name on the record without the singer's name, but that creates tension. We said, ‘Let's have a format where everybody wins, everyone's exposed.’”
When Dynamix, which has also staked its claim with remixes for names such as Toni Braxton and Cyndi Lauper, sets out to break an artist, they'll start with a dance track, and then look for the perfect combination of vocal talent, character and stage presence to bring it home. When the record has been recorded, Dynamix releases song and singer to the clubs with a vengeance. “Every artist is seen as a part of Dynamix, so we take great pride in what they look like, how they sound and how they present themselves,” Vietri says. “We set the bar high: You don't just go onstage and sing, you do a better product. If you bang out a good record and a spectacular show, the sales will follow.”
Cumana relies on his great ears and a surprisingly basic setup to create his initial tracks, then gets the most for his money in the mix phase. “It starts off with Logic, Reason, Pro Tools and a bunch of plug-ins,” he notes. “I just get a groove out because I'm feeling something, and that will develop into a song or a vocal record. Budget-wise, we can't spend hours on an SSL and 2-inch machines, but you can get a really good sound out of a Pro Tools rig and gear like the Dangerous 2-Bus simulating what you would do with a big analog board.”
When it hits the sound system, the song is always “Dynamix Presents…”, and recent club hit artists such as Inda Matrix, Nina Eve and Tina Ann can attest that Dynamix' artist development is good for dance music. “A lot of these people are very colorful and very professional,” says Vietri. “Working with them is a way you can bring dance music out of its slump and bring it back on top.”
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