The Changing Face of New York Studios

Oct 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By David Weiss



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Hillary Martell in audioEngine’s Studio E

Hillary Martell in audioEngine’s Studio E

Is New York City still a place to believe in? Whatever your specialty, the Big Apple remains a very solid draw for the ambitious. But that drive is easy when the big picture is all about hope and potential — how about when the hard realities set in?

Those realities revealed themselves to the New York City-based recording industry long before the globe started feeling the pinch of our current economic crisis. To review, the seeds for the world-money meltdown were sown in July 2007 when securitized mortgages began looking extra shaky to investors, prompting an injection of capital into financial markets that would eventually spike credit risk to extremely volatile levels.

As the house of cards was being built downtown on Wall Street that year, the last New York City AES show was taking place uptown on the West Side. Things have changed on both fronts: Like investment houses and the city's tax base, the local recording industry has taken some big hits in the past two years. The difference is that the people who lead New York City's facilities — flagship to personal studio — actually saw the crunch coming and braced themselves.

The result is that while some notable recording rooms have closed since the last AES — including Legacy Recording's Studio A509, Philip Glass' Looking Glass Studios, upstate's Allaire Studios and LoHo Studios in the Lower East Side — a great many others have hung in there, doing what's essential to remain in business. And new facilities and rooms continue to open.

How Are the Flagships?

At West 48th Street, the nonstop buzz of Times Square is just 50 yards from the front door of Legacy Recording Studios. A recent landmark change in the neighborhood's zoning has closed several blocks of the area to traffic, converting this Crossroads of the World into a surprisingly pleasant (if somewhat surreal) pedestrian mall.

Inside Legacy, the fluctuating traffic flow in and out of its studios — and everyone else's — has been a topic of consistent interest since the New York City AES show two years ago.

“What's different in New York City since AES 2007 is that there are fewer recording studios,” says Chris Bubacz, Legacy general manager. “What hasn't changed is that there are studios that have been able to hang in there and survive these storms that have come up. So you still have our studio, Legacy, as well as Avatar, Electric Lady, Chung King, Quad, Dubway and the smaller studios downtown; we've all figured out a way to keep it going.

“The record business, in the last two years, is about the same,” Bubacz continues. “When the record labels are ready to work, we're busy. When they're not, we have to fill our time with more independently funded projects like Broadway shows, film scores and the like.”

At Quad Recording Studios, which now looks out from its tenth-story perch at Times Square, adapting means shaping the studio — literally — around client needs. The facility has cut the live room of its SSL J 9064-equipped Studio A in half to make room for a new studio (currently in development) and lounge within that space. Meanwhile, a smaller Larry Swist-designed production room, Studio F, has also recently come online.

“One thing is obvious: Everyone is feeling the economic crunch,” explains Rick Hosn, president of Quad. “It's getting tougher and tougher to get decent rates. The label budgets are shrinking, and our ‘COD’ clients are looking for better deals. As a studio, we have to make sure we can accommodate everyone without sacrificing the quality of our service. Our clients don't want to spend the big bucks on the big rooms anymore. One way to deal with that challenge is to build the smaller rooms and offer the better deals. We were one of the first people to open a small-format Digidesign ICON room, and it's been a great success.”

Uptown, the relative quiet of West 53rd Street makes Avatar Studios feel more like a country getaway — Hell's Kitchen-style. For that facility, the convenience of a comprehensive services offering is key.

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