GREENPOINT, BROOKLYN: There’s no substitute for experience, a fact that Anthony “Rocky” Gallo is taking firmly into account as he expands the buzzing Brooklyn studio scene by another degree. His addition to the Broken Land’s soundscape: Virtue and Vice, a just-right room that he’s growing in Greenpoint.
Gallo has set up shop as he exits his position of Chief Engineer at Manhattan’s Cutting Room Studios, his professional home since 2003 (he was also briefly partnered in Williamsburg’s 1.6 studios, before it changed ownership and became Three Egg). In the process of working with major names like John Legend, Carrie Underwood, Jon Bon Jovi, Yeasayer, The XX, and KRS1, along with scores of indie artists, Gallo became convinced that there was a need for a New York City tracking/mixing room that wasn’t too big, and wasn’t too small.
Instead of investing in a massive gear list, Gallo has stocked Virtue and Vice with a tight but superior inventory of the components he knows best, and wired them into a naturally light space that facilitates comfort and creative flow. Filling out 800 sq. ft. in a Greenpoint commercial loft building close to the L train, Rocky G believes V&V can excel and succeed in NYC.
What kind of space were you looking for to go into business?
The big thing to me was creating an accurate, great-sounding listening environment. I was looking for windows with good light, a very clean design and affordability. This building had all of those things — and I spent two or three years looking for a room before I settled on one.
My theory is that the old way of making records is completely dead: control rooms, live rooms, machine rooms…the way they did it for 40 years isn’t working any more. I wasn’t trying to create this super-isolated environment with a control room and a live room – instead there’s a large vocal booth with a large control/main space. I was talking to a colleague who said he thought that around $500 a day with engineer is the magic number, and that was my main goal.
In Brooklyn, that approach can work out well for my clients and for me – you can break even without having to be booked every day of the month. I also have two or three other guys that come in, and they can charge a little less if I’m working in Nashville. It’s a flexible thing.
What niche did you design Virtue and Vice to fill?
The reality is that artists spend a day or two doing drums — that’s what it’s been for most of the records I’ve done. So why spend money for a buildout and treatments for a room you’ll use one or two days a month? For the gear, it’s the same thing: I’m buying pres and compressors that will never go down in value. If you’re going to buy something, you should never have to say later on, “That was stupid.”
So really the idea is to get as clean of a signal as you can get for overdubs and guitar tracking. This is a place where you can set the amp up, run the speaker cable and actually hear what you’re doing — all the things you should be capable of that a lot of people ignore, as far as the indie market goes.
Good feng shui was obviously on the top of your mind when laying this studio out.
A mentor of mine told me once that a great couch can mean more than a $15,000 microphone. As sad as that is for me as a gear head, I’ll realize that that’s true, and I’ll stop myself from buying a new compressor all the time.
As soon as you can make a client feel that they’re not in a recording studio, and feel like they’re in a living room instead and completely relax, they can focus on doing work. The studio environment freaks people out. Back in the day, that was the office for studio musicians, but now it’s a rarity. Making records might happen more often, but a lot less time is spent in the process.
So I was going for a more comfortable environment, rather than saying I had three Telefunken microphones — it’s the reality that it doesn’t matter as much as the feel of the place. Not to say the equipment can’t be good, but I realized that where to put your energy was in a really clean, comfortable environment. Because 90% of the time the project will require one microphone – three tops – for overdubs.
You expect to be doing a lot of mixing here as well, right?
Mixing is most of the work that I do, as far as my clients go, but production, mixing, and overdubs are all my main personal workload. When it comes to mixing, for me the Dangerous 2-BUS has definitely added a huge dimension to the stereo image. I come out of Pro Tools HD3 into the Neve 1081 channels or compressors – which I use like a strip of the console — then back into the Dangerous again. The amount of clarity and overall fatness the combination creates was a huge, noticeable difference.
You’ve been steadily building up an impressive portfolio in NYC and beyond. What would you say is driving your evolution as an engineer/mixer?
The whole Manhattan music production scene has changed more in the last in the last year or two than in the previous twenty years. The way people are releasing and recording records is transforming: Now you can work in Pro Tools on your laptop without an interface. Five years ago that was never even thought of – you were carrying around an Mbox at least.
As far as my approach, I figured out how you can make a record for very little overhead, and still make it sound really great. You should be able to make a major release for $10-15K. Those live KEXP sessions at the Cutting Room really opened my eyes. Great bands like Yeasayer were coming in and saying, “This sounds better than the record,” and I was thinking, “I just spent 25 minutes on this, and you must have spent at least two months making your record. What’s wrong here?”
So you don’t need everything in the world — just experience and doing it time and time again. The theory is just you knowing what you want to hear in the end. I would love to work on a big console today, but I just started to realize you don’t need it. It’s really not important. And time after time I found myself using the desk less and less, based on the short amount of time I had with the client.
On that note, what type of clients are you appealing to with Virtue and Vice?
Pretty much any stage of their project. If someone’s looking to do a record and they hit us up, we’ll find a place to do the drums for the day. We take a strategic approach to production, rather than saying, “Show up for your first day, we’ll set mics up, and see what happens.”
As a staff engineer, for example, I was constantly seeing that people were coming in with problematic drums – they didn’t have their time signature noted, their tempos weren’t set, etc…. I’d rather go over that with my clients in advance, because it will make things challenging for me if I’m the one mixing it down the road. I think the best thing to do is spend some time before you come in, so you make the right decisions before you go in to work.