Apr 1, 2001 12:00 PM, Paul Verna


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Studio owners who think they can cater to all types of clients usually end up narrowing their focus when they realize that, in the marketplace — as in the physical world — natural selection favors those who specialize. New York, however, conforms to neither the natural order of the universe nor the laws of the marketplace — at least not always. A case in point is Soundtrack New York, a 10-room facility that thrives in the music mixing, commercial post and film sound worlds.

The fact that all three of those areas not only co-exist but carry equal weight at the downtown Manhattan complex is no small feat. On a recent visit, I found Andy Wallace mixing an album for Elektra rock band Staind, while down the hall film producer Karen Jeroneski was working on the final mix of her independent feature Gipsy 83. In other rooms, spots were being cut for such high-profile clients as NASCAR, Dunkin' Donuts, Bayer, Volkswagen and Honda.

At the same time, chief of production John Kiehl was testing the digital links that connect Soundtrack to its sister studio in Boston and to the rest of the wired world. Commercial voice-over artists can now beam their parts from wherever they might find themselves.

“We like the idea of trying to be a lot to most clients,” says Soundtrack COO Christopher Rich, pointing to a grid of the studio's booking schedule. “This is a typical day here. You've got Andy Wallace mixing a major label record. Then you've got another music date for J Records and one for Virgin Records. Then, in Studio F, they're mixing a film, and in two other rooms, we've got film edits happening. Of course, there's a ton of commercial work going on here and in Boston, as well. To some people, this may seem wacky, but we all think it's normal.”

Rich admits that the “natural” thing would be for the studio to concentrate on one or two types of work. “That's the way that you would expect it to be,” he observes. “It's unusual that an owner of a company would want to stretch out into all these different things. You can do it recreationally, but when you're trying to get into the top ranks, it becomes tough, because the client won't forgive you if you're distracted doing other forms of work. When a film mix comes in, they don't want to know that you've got anything going on but films. Somewhere in the lower right hand corner of their brain they're kind of interested in the fact that Fred Durst just walked in or Busta Rhymes is sitting in the hallway, but mainly they just want to get their work done.”

The three-pronged approach — music, film, advertising — raises management challenges for Soundtrack, which is owned by founder/president Rob Cavicchio. For one, it requires three separate departments, each with its own boss: Film is overseen by Rich, advertising by Kiehl, and music by records manager Ken Thornhill. Other key staff includes operations manager Mike Korash, supervising sound editor Dave Ellinwood, re-recording mixer Tony Volante, and production engineers Bill Bookheim and Scott Cannizzaro.

Although all three department heads work closely together — and report directly to Cavicchio, who maintains a hands-on role in operations of the company — their staffs are separate. “The assistants who do records are a completely different group from the guys who assist on film and the post-production sessions. It's like having three separate groups,” says Rich. One of the fringe benefits of having such a broad client base is buffering the studio against business downturns, much as a diverse portfolio might protect an investor from losses.

“It's natural that every business is going to have its cycles, but oddly enough, they're hardly ever seeing peaks and valleys at the same time,” continues Rich. “For instance, when the ad business is slow, it's very likely that the record business is busy and the film business is busy. Conversely, when the record business was slow — as it was in New York in September, October and part of November — the ad business was strong, because the [Screen Actors Guild] strike was ending, and the film business was big because of the Sundance Festival in December.”

Soundtrack's rooms break down as follows: Studios A, B, E, G, I and J all offer music recording, overdubbing and mixing services on a variety of consoles, including a Neve VR, two Solid State Logic 9000 Js, various older SSL boards and an API Legacy with Uptown automation; Studios D and H are dedicated radio/TV post-production suites that feature, respectively, an SSL ScreenSound and a Euphonix console with a Synclavier system; and Studio F is Soundtrack's theatrical mixing stage, boasting a 9-foot screen, an SSL Avant, nine Akai DD8 digital dubbers and an assortment of other state-of-the-art gear. Soundtrack also offers four Avid suites for audio post.

Even though Soundtrack prides itself on maintaining a healthy separation between its various departments, not all of its rooms can be pigeonholed into a single type of work. For example, Studio I — an API room with an Avid suite — is equally suited to music, radio/TV post, ADR and Foley sessions.

If diversity became Soundtrack's creed, then the studio was not always as multifaceted as it is today. Soundtrack New York began life in the early 1980s as an outpost for Soundtrack Boston, a commercial production studio that remains as one of Beantown's premier venues for advertising. When the remixing craze hit the music industry in the early to mid-’80s, Soundtrack was naturally suited to capture some of that business. Rich, who had worked at music studios around town, helped the facility build a clientele in the record industry.

Soundtrack's entry into the film business came in 1993, also at the hands of Rich (who, in between his two tenures at Soundtrack, helped Zomba build its Battery Studios in New York and Chicago).

“In 1993, we looked at the film business for the first time,” recalls Rich. “We had a studio that had a large control room and recording room, and you could make an argument for putting a big screen up and a projector in there and turning it into a theatrical mixing stage.” That's exactly what Soundtrack did in Studio F, and today that room is the centerpiece of the facility's film work. As Rich notes, Soundtrack went from having “zero film presence” to being one of the top venues in New York for independent film clients.

After all its success with Studio F, Soundtrack is planning to relocate its film division to a new, two-floor site around the corner from its existing location. The move will further delineate film from the rest of Soundtrack's offerings and anchor the studio's position as an all-inclusive theatrical shop, with state-of-the-art Foley, ADR and mixing services. Rich expects the move to occur sometime in late 2001 or early 2002. The new film division will feature two large mixing stages: one for Volante and one for other Soundtrack engineers and outside clients. Downstairs, a suite of seven or eight editorial production studios will support the upstairs control rooms, according to Rich. The current Studio F, meanwhile, will become a high-end production studio for advertising and short-form video and film clients, thereby strengthening Soundtrack's original mainstay in TV and radio production.

Of course, all of that activity will only benefit the music side. If the studio can now boast of having hosted such clients as Limp Bizkit, Soul Asylum, Janet Jackson and Jeff Buckley, then who's to say what other music stars will wander through its doors in the future.

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

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