NY METRO REPORT

Jun 1, 2001 12:00 PM, by Paul Verna

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Among its many effects on the recording industry, the home studio explosion has polarized the mastering side of the business.

Nowadays, virtually all mastering studios fall into one of two categories: lavishly equipped, high-priced, multi-room facilities staffed by world-famous engineers who do the bulk of the major label business; or personal studios with modest digital audio workstations and owner/operators who know how to work them.

Somewhere in the middle is the Lodge, a fast-rising New York studio owned and operated by young engineer Emily Lazar. The Lodge is a far cry from your typical bedroom operation. It features a Sonic Solutions SonicStudio workstation and state-of-the-art outboard gear from Avalon, Apogee, Prism Sound, Pultec, TC Electronic, Tube-Tech, Weiss and Z-Systems, to name a few.

On the other hand, Lazar's studio does not purport to be Sterling Sound, Masterdisk, Bernie Grundman, or any of the other upper-echelon, multiplex studios. For starters, Lazar is essentially a one-woman shop (though she employs a small support staff). Also, hers is a personal, idiosyncratic approach that puts the focus on the creative side of the mastering process.

“I was a creative writing and music major in college, so I approach mastering by seeing each project from the artist's point of view,” says Lazar. “I can get as technical as necessary, but that's not always my natural approach.”

In just a few years in business, Lazar — who assisted Greg Calbi at Masterdisk before venturing out on her own — has amassed an enviable list of clients whose stylistic range reflects her own diverse tastes. Recent projects at the Lodge have included albums by Taj Mahal & Toumani Diabate, Health & Happiness Show, Dash Rip Rock and Sinéad O'Connor. Lazar also mastered the Saturday Night Live 25th anniversary boxed set, the Hedwig & the Angry Inch cast album, a Lenny Bruce retrospective, nearly two dozen titles in the Putumayo World Music Series, and a host of high-profile soundtracks, including Pokémon: The First Movie, American Psycho and Boys Don't Cry.

“We're doing great,” beams Lazar. “We are constantly growing! We're expanding into new areas of the industry, and I'm like a kid in a candy store…I always want to try out all the new flavors!”

Lazar's credits are a huge reward for an arduous, dues-paying process, in which she worked as an assistant by day and a mastering engineer by night, accommodating a growing pool of (mostly independent) artists who, impressed with her technical grasp of the studio machinery and her sensitive approach, would hire her to do their projects. At the same time, Lazar was teaching music technology at New York University, where she earned her master's degree and a graduate fellowship.

Torn between her academic career, a promising position at Masterdisk and the lure of opening her own shop, Lazar did what any savvy entrepreneur might do: She got out her credit card and went a chargin'.

“One insane day, I just bit the bullet and ordered some gear, and the rest is history,” says Lazar, breaking into a hearty laugh. “I had some ideas, but I never imagined that I would be this fortunate. I really love what I do, and I get to work with so many truly gifted people.”

Located in a vast loft on Broadway in Lower Manhattan, the Lodge features a spacious mastering suite, a vibey lounge set up with a 5.1-channel monitoring system, and a programming/composition room equipped with a Pro Tools system and other assorted goodies. (The latter studio is used mostly for Lazar's own music, which she continues to pursue despite her grinding schedule running the creative and business sides of her operation.)

One of only a handful of female mastering engineers in an overwhelmingly male-dominated field, Lazar is at a loss to speculate on how — or if — her gender has affected her career. “There's no way for me to know what it would have been like for me if I had been a guy,” she says. “Maybe it would have been easier, or maybe it would have been harder. Who knows? Every individual has their own set of challenges in life, and I don't consider being a woman an obstacle. I don't think of myself as a ‘female’ mastering engineer, and I don't think most of my clients see me that way either. I just do what I do.”

Any time you can get Wendy Carlos, Phil Ramone, Frank Filipetti and the founders of Blue Man Group in the same room, you've got something going. If the room happens to be a studio at the Hit Factory and the event a panel discussion and demo of 5.1-channel projects, then all the better.

Co-sponsored by Dolby Laboratories and the New York Institution, the April 4 event brought together an eclectic roster of musicians and studio professionals who are on the cutting edge of the multichannel revolution.

Dolby's John Kellogg, himself a 5.1 pioneer, played “Toccata” from Emerson Lake & Palmer's Brain Salad Surgery DVD-Audio, which he mixed. Blue Man Group sampled their own DVD-A, titled Audio, and Filipetti showcased the James Taylor track “Line 'Em Up,” citing it as an example of what he calls “super stereo,” i.e., a surround mix that does not dazzle with its effects as much as it renders an enveloping acoustical landscape. Because of a fluke, Carlos was not able to play a selection of her own material. However, the Switched-On Bach and A Clockwork Orange composer praised the multichannel medium for its ability to deliver “more clarity for each instrument.”

Moderated by David Ranada, technical editor of Sound & Vision magazine, the panel included lively discussions among the participants and an invited audience of some 80 industry pros. One skeptic asked Filipetti whether 5.1 offered a real advantage over stereo. Filipetti replied: “I can remember when people were asking why bother with stereo, since consumers at the time typically put their two mono speakers in different rooms.” Kellogg reported that ELP members Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, on hearing the 5.1 mixes for Brain Salad Surgery, said, “This was how we envisioned our music being heard, but we didn't have the format back then.”

With sales of DVD-Video players in the tens of millions of units and interest mounting in the nascent DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD multichannel formats, it seemed as good a time as any for Dolby and the Hit Factory to foster fresh dialog on this liveliest of topics.


Send your NY Metro news to paul@vernacularmusic.com.






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