TRIBECA/CHINATOWN, MANHATTAN: Two weeks ago we joined NYC freelance audio engineer Rich Lamb (firstname.lastname@example.org) on a tour of his favorite studios in and around the city. Well, he’s not finished yet – Lamb’s telling us about more go-to rooms for you to view, use and abuse (in a Geoff Emerick kind of way)…
New Calcutta Recording, 851 8th Ave., NYC, 212-704-4007
Rich Pagano — Fab Faux, Curt Smith, Freedy Johnston, etc… — is an old friend and also one of the greatest rock drummers I’ve ever heard, not to mention songwriter and producer, who just released a great solo album. Being more creative than technical, and being unable to produce while drumming and engineering, he calls me in for a lot of basic track sessions.
I know his studio better than he does, thanks in part to my audio schooling and flexibility from working in different places, so he gets to work on his drum kit or whatever while I patch things together.
Rich is a reminder of the solid work ethic that says you should fix the drum sound IN THE ROOM, not by grabbing the EQ. Nowhere else do I record a drum kit and almost always shun EQ while tracking! We will move mics an inch at a time until we find the sweet spot. It’s a modest room, not easy to mix in, plus you’re dealing with bands playing — it’s a music building, mostly for rehearsals — but I’ve always gotten good results there.
It started in 1998 with a Mackie, 1″ TASCAM, and DA-88s, then years later went to 2″ and Sound Workshop (both from Systems Two) and an expansion of the space. Rich knows his room and is the most important part of it… then again the engineer is ALWAYS more important than his/her equipment. Like at Mark Dann‘s, nobody works there more than I do, except for the owners.
Season Six Studios (not the official name), The Poconos
I know Jack Petruzzelli (Joan Osborne, Keren Ann, David Gray, Rufus Wainwright) mostly from Rich Pagano. He first hired me to do a string session for a Joan Osborne album he’s co-producing and co-writing, so we picked Systems Two. The next year we tracked Joan’s band in a house in The Poconos that belongs to Jack’s family. It’s far enough out of the city to be a real getaway, and not that close to restaurants or shops which is why we stock up on groceries before heading there. And it’s by a lake, which makes the experience that much more atypical and relaxing.
The vibe that comes from having no commute, camping out there with the band, and rolling out of bed into the kitchen to the smell of fresh coffee and breakfast is amazing. For all the work I do there the pattern is pretty much the same: eat some oatmeal — Jack could turn white toast into a gourmet dish — start recording, take a REAL LUNCH BREAK and not a sandwich or slice at the console while doing punch-ins!! Man do I hate that!! Resume work rejuvenated, have a delicious dinner, work a little more, break out the wine, call it a night before everyone’s exhausted, smoke up and listen to some 78s!
Jack makes this all happen by being a great host, producer, musician and cook, and always having interesting, talented and delightful musicians on the sessions, who don’t have to run off to some other gig. We have a good amount of gear between us and the house has nice acoustics, so the stuff is as well-recorded as anywhere else. It may sound really laid back but we are quite productive! I feel healthy and relaxed just thinking about the projects I’ve done there. TapeOp would be proud.
The Kostabi Show, 514 W. 24th St., NYC
This is a cable access game show that tapes every two or three Fridays. A friend half-seriously forwarded me a Craigslist ad for this gig, I interviewed and they hired me. Pretty bare bones: a little Mackie board and a few mics.
Here the challenge is in dealing with the sound of host and artist Mark Kostabi while he’s hosting in Rome, which is half the time. Feedback is another challenge.
It’s an amusing, short gig that puts a little cash in my pocket, yet I’m always sad when I have a conflict and can’t make it. I email-invite friends to attend as audience members whenever I know there’s a show, and invite whoever is reading this to attend as well.
Some Mighty Nice Advice
I must stress that all these gigs and contacts come from years and years of chugging away in this town! I have a friend who just moved here from Colorado, and I understand his frustration: no matter how long you’re at it, my experience is that maintaining a busy schedule is ALWAYS a challenge.
Being busy is like being healthy: you don’t think about the opposite when things are well. Being too busy means you can lose work, which is why I want to know more engineers with whom I can share work. Having too much downtime is stressful too, which is the other reason I want to expand my network of colleagues. Hats off to Steve Massey and SonicScoop (for networking events)!
But the most important thing for me is that feeling when you’re working on a song you love with good people and good sounds. That’s when work and play are synonymous. I’m also driven by pride in my various abilities — as a pianist with perfect pitch I usually have the fastest ears in the room, and love being the producer’s secret weapon — but also my own feelings of inadequacy, like when I revisit my old work and always hear things that aren’t right to my present-day, better-trained ears. So I keep at this because I’m still working hard to get it right. I’m still inspired and almost intimidated by the huge amount of great-sounding albums that are made today, and I want my next project to sound like THAT.
It’s a constant learning experience. And it’s miraculous, after 20 years of dealing with tape, every time I think of how much we can do now at home that we couldn’t even do even 15 years ago in a full-blown studio. The future came pretty suddenly, once razor blades went away, “undo” became a way of life, random-access editing changed everything, and generation loss became a thing of the past!
To think that we send masters by way of YouSendIt, and can make revisions on final mixes while checking email, instead of re-booking the studio, recalling all the gear and console settings, and FedExing another DAT is amazing. This January will be 10 years since my first multitrack session without tape. This way of working isn’t perfect — it wreaks havoc on my back — but it sure is exciting when it works and there’s no spinning beach ball.
Final random thought: looking to be a studio person but wanting to supplement your income with live work? Fine. Just protect your ears, and don’t think you’re going to get any studio gigs out of it. At least that was my experience!