Out of Hiding: Diamond City Studio Returns a Secret Facility to NYC

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“It’s been a crazy year,” says Ayad Al Adhamy.

It’s easy to understand why he feels that way. 2016 is when Al Adhamy took it all to the next level with the opening of Diamond City Studio in lower Manhattan, enacting a welcome rebirth for a prolific facility that has operated for years outside of the public view.

Once you get familiar with Al Adhamy’s unusual history, it becomes clear why taking over the former Gigantic Studios, which straddles the borders of Chinatown, TriBeCa and SoHo, seems like a natural next move for him. Formerly the synth player for sonic umami purveyors Passion Pit and frontman for Team Spirit, Al Adhamy knows firsthand what artists – not to mention engineers, producers and labels — want from a studio.

With Diamond City, he and partner and in-house engineer/writer Joel Witenberg (bassist for indie rockers Surf Rock is Dead) are ready to give it to them. The plan:

  • Make the place as multifaceted as possible in terms of revenue streams
  • Don’t take on every commercial recording project possible – if it doesn’t feel right, just say “no”
  • Enjoy the f*ck out of everything that they say yes to
Ayad Al Adhamy is helming the re-emergence of an under-the-radar room.

Ayad Al Adhamy is helming the re-emergence of an under-the-radar room. (All photos by Eddie Rivera)

A Studio in Hiding

The studio on 59 Franklin Street has lived out an interesting history, to say the least. It’s legacy dates back to 1980’s NYC, when producer Mark Bingham (Flat Duo Jets, Glenn Branca, REM) first occupied a good-sized facility with an unusual layout: a railroad design where the 350 square-foot control room looks out through a 250 square-foot lounge/live room, then on to a main live space more than double the first live room’s size at 550 square-feet.

While it’s different not to look directly into the main live room from control, the middle room – which can be opened out to the main room or kept cordoned off – gives the facility an extra level of flexibility for recording drums, guitar amps, or anything else. It’s a benefit that’s clearly appealed to some people who know how music should sound: Bingham eventually hightailed it for New Orleans, and then in the ‘90’s it served for a time as Philip Glass’ private studio before he opened the Looking Glass studios, before becoming the in-house studio for Gigantic Records.

Soon after Gigantic found its home there, Chris Zane did too. The highly prolific producer, mixer and engineer arrived at the facility in the year 2000, then reeled off a run of critical and commercial successes that anyone would envy. Zane first worked there exclusively for Gigantic, then operated the room in friends-and-family fashion over the course of 16 years, a span that saw him work with influential artists including The Walkmen, Passion Pit, Friendly Fires, St Lucia, Les Savy Fav, and Delorean.

But NYC isn’t for everybody all the time, and despite his long hot streak in the space, Zane up and moved to London earlier this year, where he’s already worked with Bat for Lashes, Temptress, Strong Asian Mothers, and RIVRS. But long before he announced he was pulling up stakes, he had this special facility’s future in mind. That’s why he texted Al Adhamy, who he’d befriended while Zane was recording Passion Pit’s 2008 breakthrough LP Manners, in late 2015 with a serendipitous invitation.

“Literally on my last day of a Mix With The Masters class with Steve Albini, I got a text from Chris that said, ‘Hey, when you’re back in New York, come hang out. I have something to show you.’ I’m not one to believe in destiny, but that was an interesting moment.”

Angle: Non Traditional

As it turned out, Al Adhamy was ready to expand beyond the boundaries of his old location, a small Greenpoint studio that started as the rehearsal space for Team Spirit before he began recording bands there while handling A&R for his record label Black Bell Records (signing bands such as The Joy Formidable, Guards and Stepdad). Despite Al Adhamy’s keen awareness of NYC studio business hazards he was immediately on board with helming Zane’s space, not to mention its notable console, an SSL 8080G+ with Ultimation.

“I don’t know if there was much of a sell,” he recalls. “It was just like, ‘Hey, you want to take it over?’ I was like, ‘Yup.’ I had just stopped touring with Team Spirit, and it was like, ‘I guess it’s time to figure out I just want to focus on writing and making records.’ So when Chris made the offer, it was just a pretty quick ‘yes.’”

Joel Witenberg is on the case with Al Adhamy

Joel Witenberg is on the case with Al Adhamy

With his international pedigree, Al Adhamy could actually have chosen to build out anywhere in the world. Born in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain to Iraqi parents, he was educated in England before attending Berklee College of Music, where he got his degree studying film scoring and music synthesis. Despite the uncertainty of the current NYC studio landscape, Al Adhamy chose to continue making the city his professional home.

“Five years ago it felt like New York was the epicenter,” he says. “Then, for some reason a lot of engineers and music makers have moved out West. There’s way fewer people making music here. Then property and real estate and prices started shooting so high so quickly. The Magic Shop closed, and that’s been around for 25 years. No one knows what’s happening with Avatar.

“That’s when it was like, ‘Oh, man, all these traditional — and that’s the key word, traditional — studios are closing down.’ They just can’t keep up with the Internet age. Being able to make a lot of your music at home, studios are just being less relied upon to make commercial products. That’s why when Chris gave me the call to take over this space it was a crazy question like, ‘Is this the right time to do something like this?’ The answer was ‘yes’ if we don’t try and follow that traditional studio path like doing the day rate kind of vibe. Joel comes from more of a studio background than I do, but Joel is a band guy.”

“We’ve both been on the other side of the glass,” Witenberg says. “We know what it’s like to be an independent band in this day and age where it’s so difficult. Just doing stuff on your own is easier and more cost effective. Catering to change Is definitely the approach.”

Artists First and Varied Revenue Streams

Al Adhamy and Witenberg are putting a top priority diversifying their offerings and revenue streams. “The first thing is to open the doors up to different avenues,” explains Adhamy. “Like podcasts — we’re doing more podcasts and editing and doing more commercial writing as songwriters for clients like Vice, which was the label for Team Spirit.

“This is also more of a home for projects that we choose to take on. We’ll do day rates for people who are friends of ours. We tend to be able to pick and choose projects. If it’s like, ‘Oh, this is something we really don’t want to be a part of,’ we might not take the project on. Instead of being like, ‘Okay they’re going to pay us a day rate. We’re going to do it. This is the day. This is the date.’

Fun is factored into the project process.

Fun is factored into the project process.

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