May 1, 2001 12:00 PM, Paul Verna


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.

Let's face it. These aren't the easiest of times for owners of recording studios. With costs escalating, label budgets shrinking, and more and more work being lost to home and project studios, proprietors of top-flight commercial facilities are having to work harder than ever to keep their rooms booked and draw ancillary revenues from studio-related activities like management and sound design.

In New York, the rigors of the recording studio business are exacerbated by skyrocketing overhead. However, in true New York style, studios here are toughing it out, determined not to let a little thing like an economic slowdown or an inhospitable business climate break their stride.

At Sound on Sound Recording — a four-room, midtown Manhattan facility that has weathered numerous financial storms since opening in 1987, starting with that year's stock market crash — staying afloat means simply doing what the studio has always done: giving clients their money's worth, plus a little more.

Sound on Sound founder/owner Dave Amlen says, “It has become more and more of a creative gambit of, ‘How do you pay for the million-dollar room — which is more than a million, by the way — charge a rate that people think is fair, pay your staff, pay your vendors and still make money at the end of the year?’ The answer is, you've gotta be really careful. You've gotta watch what you're doing and treat your clients well so that you don't have too much down time.”

Giving customers want they want involves providing them with the equipment they need. In the not-so-distant past, that meant a large, state-of-the-art console, 48-track digital recorders, 24-track analog recorders, an ample supply of outboard gear, top-notch microphones and preamps and a crack maintenance team that could keep the gear running fault-free.

Today, ensuring client satisfaction involves all of the above, plus Pro Tools. Lots of Pro Tools.

“One of the things we noticed about Pro Tools is how it became integrated into the professional environment,” says Amlen. “When we picked up on that, we decided to make a serious investment in the technology. We now have three systems for four rooms. One is a Pro Tools edit room that you could mix in, with a Pro Control and up to 48 channels of I/O. Then we have one in our AMS Neve Capricorn digital room, and another system that goes back and forth between our two analog rooms, which have Neve VR and Solid State Logic 9000 J consoles.”

Sound on Sound COO Christopher Bubacz notes that Pro Tools has infiltrated areas that used to be dominated by analog recording, such as jazz — traditionally one of Sound on Sound's fortes.

“There are more and more jazz sessions being done in Pro Tools,” says Bubacz. “Even some of the diehard analog fans are, if not recording to Pro Tools, at least editing and sequencing in the format before they go to mastering.”

Even though Sound on Sound is committed to Pro Tools, it has by no means de-emphasized the many other formats it offers.

“For most home studios, Pro Tools is their console, their multitrack, their outboard — everything other than, maybe, what they burn their CDs on,” observes Amlen. “On the other hand, we have Sony 3348s, Studer A827s and A820s, racks of DA-88s and Sony PCM-9000s. There really isn't anything you could walk in with that we wouldn't be prepared to handle.”

The Sound on Sound staff's approach toward Pro Tools mirrors their attitude toward the MDM movement of the early ’90s. Rather than fight the trend, as some professional studios did (and continue to do), Sound on Sound embraced the new technology without abandoning core products.

“Years ago, when ADATs and DA-88s were such the rage, we were sitting here with our A827s and 3348s, trying to figure out what to do,” recalls Amlen. “We decided to buy DA-88s and make them available to our clients. We told them, ‘Here they are. The rate's the same whether you use an A827 or a rack of three DA-88s or ADATs.’ We thought to ourselves, so many people are using this technology, and they're not going to pay extra to rent it from outside or inside. But we, being a state-of-the-art studio, can afford to embrace a technology that a home studio is totally based upon and can't build upon. To us, it's an add-on — a value-added item that our clients can use and integrate into the larger picture, as opposed to it just being the beginning and end unto itself.”

The technology mix at Sound on Sound includes a healthy assortment of outboard gear — and a punctilious approach toward how that gear is positioned in each control room. Amlen explains: “My former employee [engineer] John Siket used to call this the Noah's Ark of studios, because we have two of everything,” says Amlen, laughing. “He always teased me about it, because we even reached the point where the gear is in the same position in the respective racks.”

Bubacz adds, “It allows our clients to move from room to room and not have to think, ‘This room doesn't have a Lexicon 480L, but the other one does.’”

On a recent visit to Sound on Sound, Amlen and Bubacz were gathered in Amlen's office while the studios hummed with activity. Contemporary jazz guitar icon Mike Stern was doing overdubs in the Capricorn suite, while rock act the Verve Pipe had the two analog rooms locked out. The band was mixing with Chris Shaw on the Neve VR in Studio A and with John Holbrooke on the SSL 9000 J in Studio B. Producers Brian Malouf and Adam Schlesinger (of Fountains of Wayne and Ivy fame) were overseeing the project.

Among the topics on Amlen's and Bubacz's agenda were the ancillary businesses that Sound on Sound is exploring in an effort to supplement the revenue from its rooms. Like many facilities with experienced, well-connected owners and dedicated staffs, Sound on Sound has ventured into management, with clients including mixing engineers Matt Hathaway, Mark Partis, Jason Standard, Joe Pirrera and musician/producer Ted Cruz.

“We're trying to diversify from the main core of just being a recording studio,” says Bubacz, who joined Sound on Sound after managing Bear Tracks Studios in Suffern, N.Y., for nearly a decade. “We're trying to put together a situation where the main members of the company are actively involved in these new revenue streams.”

Besides the management wing — which goes under the name SOS Management — the company has launched a mastering division aimed at servicing indie clients who are looking for a more affordable alternative than New York's world-class mastering studios.

“We're not trying to compete with Sterling or Masterdisk,” says Bubacz. “It's an entry-level mastering operation for regional and local acts.”

In addition, Sound on Sound has entered into an alliance with sound designer/composer Fred Samalin, who runs New York-based Eagle Peak Music. Operating mostly out of the Capricorn room — which is equipped for 5.1 channel mixing — Samalin brings to the table a long trackrecord of writing original music for film and TV hits (including The Sopranos and Dharma & Greg), as well as extensive production music and sound effects libraries.

“The goal,” says Amlen, “is to not be at the bottom of the food chain where you get told what you're going to be able to charge, but to be more high up and have more discretion as to how things are going to be done.”

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

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