Return of the Nomad Engineer II: The Top NYC Studios of Freelancer Ari Raskin, Part II

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CHELSEA, MANHATTAN: Last week, in-demand NYC freelance engineer Ari Raskin (Whitney Houston, Wyclef Jean, Meshell N’Degeocello, Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, J.Dilla and Illa J – Yancey Boys, and Justin Timberlake) let us in on five of his top studios in the city. Now, he clues us in to four more local options for capturing supreme sound.

Rough Magic Studios; Greenpoint, BKLYN


Raskin digs on the nice vibe at Rough Magic.

Every once in a while someone convinces me to step outside my usual 1-mile radius and travel into Brooklyn to do a session here.  It’s a couple of nice rehearsal spaces/live rooms combined with a couple of real chill control rooms.  It’s run by the musicians who rent the space, and it has a much different vibe than a typical studio.

They don’t seem to be interested in making big profits; it’s more just a spot to get some vocals tracked, or jam and record your band for not a ton of money and without having to leave Brooklyn. Fun vibe there.

Recently I did sessions there for Chapter 2, The Fyre Dept, and  Pharoahe Monch featuring Jean Grae. It’s good for writing, overdubs, small bands and Greenpoint/Williamsburg-based artists.

Avatar Studios A, B, C; Hell’s Kitchen
I would assume most readers already know about this place (and most of these places I’ve mentioned).  It’s one of only a few studios actually still capable of everything that would have been normal 10 or 20 years ago.  If you want to use 2″, it won’t be a disaster (it will be almost everywhere else in the city).  Big board mixes with lots of gear – not an issue.  Huge tracking sessions with 15 tube mics and 10 private cues – happens regularly.

“A” is for aaamaaazing at Avatar’s Studio A.

The assistants are probably better engineers technically than 95% of the music engineers working in NYC.  They own almost every classic piece of gear, multiples of most, AND working properly.  They have a large VR in Studio C, not easy to come by lately — no one cares anymore but me! I like Neve VR’s, they have balls. Back in the 90’s, when albums sounded good, a lot of stuff was mixed on VR’s.  Their vintage Neve in Studio A works quite well for its age. And the main plus — the live rooms in A, B, and C are all incredible-sounding.

My recent sessions there include Erin Barra, Rich Hil. I recommend it for rock bands, jazz bands, scoring and orchestral sessions, overdubs of instruments or vocals — anything you’d want tube mics, Neve pres, and a serious live room for. In other words, for when making an enjoyable-sounding record is the goal.

MSR Studios, Studio A; Times Square
This is another real well-known room. MSR is the only studio I can think of left in NYC that’s actually capable of EVERYTHING. Remember when it was a standard for every major studio to have 2 Blackface 1176’s, 2 LA-2A’s, a DMX, an RMX, a plate, a 165, a pair of 160vu’s, a 480L, an SPX 90…? This is the only place I know of that still has these tools as well also having top notch monitoring and comfortable control rooms.

Another A room that Ari likes to inhabit: MSR Studios

Some studios have gear but don’t have comfort, or good room tuning. Other studios have comfort but the gear is minimal. MSR actually has everything, and a good staff to set it up properly.  The mic collection is huge too. They have A827’s. Studio A’s live room is huge with lots of isos and nice high ceilings, and the piano is no joke either.  The control room sounds great too. Studio C’s control room mains are BANGIN’, and the lounge in Studio C is probably the nicest lounge in NYC — not the first consideration, but it reminds me of the level of service you’d get at Hit Factory or Sony back before they closed.

My recent sessions there include Claude Kelly, Wyclef Jean, Dayme. Recommended for pretty much anyone and everyone, from rock or jazz bands to songwriters to mixers, to film crews. Though for those who don’t want to, or can’t, spend the money to make a record “the right way” or just don’t need anything so extravagant – MSR might not be the first choice.

Robin Thicke‘s temporary home studio; SoHo

Last fall Robin’s manager called me saying Robin was going to be in New York for a few weeks and wanted me to track instruments and vocals at a loft apartment he was renting at the time.  Between Robin, his producer ProJay and myself, we put together a list of stuff we needed and gave it to Jim Flynn (they also were wise enough to throw in some forgotten necessities).

Robin Thicke preferred to sleep/record/repeat at his temporary SoHo studio.

Robin wanted to write and get ideas, but of course a bunch of what we’d record would end up being final, and Robin likes to do things right (as long as it’s quick). He understands the importance of good gear, so we rented four 1073’s, a CL 1B, an ELAM, an HD-3 rig, a Big Knob, another headphone amp, a few pairs of 7506’s, a Motif xs8, some DI’s, and me and ProJay brought in some of our own mics and other gear.

The apartment was one of those huge SoHo lofts with high ceilings, so it was quite ambient, which Robin was cool with and wanted all over the recording.  This idea of putting a temporary but pro studio together worked out well, saved money in comparison to booking an equivalent studio, and it allowed the artist to literally roll out of bed, tell me to hit record, and kick me out 16 hours later when he was ready to go to sleep.

The vibe of the sessions was good too; we recorded all types of songs, all types of instruments, and never touched AutoTune.  It was a great idea looking back on it, and I figured I should bring it up for this article as it’s just another example of being a traveling freelance engineer.

You can find Ari Raskin at and

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