Studio Survival: How A.L.L. Digital Mastering Came All the Way Back from Disaster

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Next month, on January 1st, 2013, my mastering studio A.L.L. Digital will turn 20 years old. I had envisioned a party, perhaps a night out with my clients, or at least some sort of commemoration of the event. I mean who expects when they take a risk and start a business at 23 that it will one day turn into their life-long career?

If you had asked me when I started what I thought I’d be doing 20 years on, the last thing I could have ever imagined saying would be “rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy”, but that is exactly what has happened.

While I am very excited to let the music community know that my studio has been rebuilt and I am back to work mastering, my mission of greater urgency is to shine a light on the experience of it all, and how much work there is still to be done in restoring the lives of so many who have lost literally everything.

Before: A September scene in front of the Breezy Point home of A.L.L. Digital Mastering. (Photo by Drew Lavyne)

A MASTERING STUDIO, IN BREEZY POINT?

I had moved the studio to its temporary home in Breezy Point, Queens, NY in September after my wife and I decided it was time to search for a new house with more space to accommodate our expanding family, her new P.R. Agency and of course my mastering studio.

We were located in what the Breezy Point community refers to as “The Wedge” where hundreds of homes have been built within 15 feet of each other, everybody knows everybody, nobody locks their doors and you fall asleep to the sound of the ocean through open windows every night. There really aren’t enough words here to convey the incredible sense of community that generations of families living in Breezy Point share, but suffice it to say it is one of the most incredible slices of life I have ever experienced and I feel honored to call Breezy Point my home.

Hurricanes are nothing new to the residents of Breezy Point, so when I started hearing about “Frankenkstorm” I chuckled at the name a bit like everyone else and assumed we’d get a couple of inches of water in the basement just as storms past had delivered.

However as the storm drew closer, the energy in the community began to change and everyone knew this one was going to be different. It was at that moment when I realized it was time to dismantle the studio and move the gear to higher ground in the house. We all heeded the warning to evacuate, jumped in our cars, and headed out to weather the storm with friends outside of the evacuation zone.

As the evening wore on and threat of the high tide approached, residents stayed in touch as best they could, but up-to-date information was hard to come by. I turned to Twitter (where many FDNY were giving updates) and began to get a much clearer picture of what was happening: the thin strip of land which Breezy Point is built upon was entirely underwater as the bay side waters rose along with the ocean side waters to breach Breezy Point in all directions.

At this moment I assumed the worst knowing that a 12-foot storm surge had barreled across Breezy Point and would easily send water into the first floor of even the elevated homes.

Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come.

As the hours ticked by towards midnight, my Twitter feed began to show a new and deeply disturbing trend: Fire. Somehow a fire had broken out in one of the houses and was spreading rapidly thanks to Sandy’s 85mph winds. As I stayed glued to my iPhone the Twitter feed became more ominous: 20 homes. 40 homes. 60 homes. Entire streets. Multiple streets. The Wedge.

That’s when I knew we were in serious trouble. Breezy Point was literally burning to the ground and the chest high water in the street wouldn’t allow for a single fire truck to reach it.

As the sun came up the unthinkable had occurred. 120 homes in Breezy Point, the entire Wedge section, had burned to the ground…and along with it the memories and possessions of generations of Breezy Point residents.

I was not spared in this horror and our home, along with the studio and nearly everything we owned was destroyed. We had all prepared for a flood, but never expected the one-two-punch in the gut of a flood and a fire. It was devastating.

…and after: an elevated view of the same block. Can you see the mastering facility in this picture? (Photo by Drew Lavyne)

WE’RE ALL IN IT TOGETHER

Since that day at the end of October there have been countless stories of loss and hardship for those affected by the Hurricane. It will take years for many to fully recover and for some there will be no recovery.

But regardless of the level of hardship, everyone affected by the storm has had to shoulder, the overwhelming feeling is one of going forward. Breezy Point, like so many towns in New York and New Jersey affected by Sandy, will be rebuilt and the community will return bigger and stronger than ever.

For family and I the last five weeks has been a struggle living in five different locations (with an almost two-year-old son in tow) but we have quickly been able to return to normal with a new home in Brooklyn. And I am proud to announce that A.L.L. Digital is open again and will celebrate it’s 20th Anniversary in its new location in Bay Ridge.

WHERE’S THE LESSON?

If there is any advice I can offer you as musicians, engineers, producers and studio owners is to always prepare for the worst.

Drew’s been through it — take his tips seriously.

While every single piece of gear I owned was destroyed, I had every single session and file backed up to a cloud server so when I was able to procure my new rig it was just a matter of having the backup drive sent and restoring it all to my new system.

I am 100% up and running (with even better monitoring now!) thanks to cloud backup. Take this advice seriously, even if it’s just for your home computers. If your backup is destroyed, where’s the backup of the backup?

Local backup drives are handy if your main drive fails, but in a real emergency you’d be completely lost without cloud backup. I used CrashPlan and they saved my musical and professional life. (And no, I was not paid to say that).

But cloud backup was only part of the equation. Getting the physical hardware posed a completely different set of challenges. In the days and weeks after Sandy hit New York, many businesses which supply music gear in the city were without power and remained closed. To make matters worse, Fedex and UPS deliveries were unreliable at best with many of their hubs closed and damaged by storm waters.

The solution for me, seeing as I knew exactly what I wanted, was to order all of my gear online and simply hope for the best. Nearly everything came from a handful of trusted online retailers with whom I have great relationships and trust explicitly (go get yourself a professional account with Apple if you haven’t already!) and fortunately for me everything showed up in a reasonable amount of time and in perfect condition. Knowing your gear is essential, so in my case I wanted to maintain consistency with the gear I was used to working on which made procuring all a bit easier.

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  • LChristie

    Amazing. I am posting this on my wall. Happy Holidays love you guys. You are the most talented, not to mention strongest man I know and that is coming from first hand experience! 🙂