EAST HAMPTON, NY: Cynthia Daniels was surrounded by foam. But when the natural beauty of the famed Hamptons – and the surprisingly abundant audio needs of its equally famed residents – are beckoning, this is not a good thing.
What were the reasons for the acoustic insulation overload that was affecting Daniels, a GRAMMY-winning engineer/mixer/producer who has been recording sounds of every sort since 1984? Her condition stemmed from two causes:
1) Nonstop demand for her talents, which span recording and mixing for Broadway, film, TV, and music clients of every stripe, and
2) The almost total lack of an acceptable audio facility to work out of anywhere near her Hamptons home base
“I can’t tell you the amount of money I spent on foam, and trying to make records in a small space,” Daniels relates of her home studio days. “Sometimes I got good results. But there are many people who come here over the summer – or live here all year – who need a place to record. They’re used to a beautiful environment where they’re being taken care of, and they like finding it run by an engineer with the same years of experience in cities like Los Angeles and New York.”
That engineer would be Daniels, and the place they can now go to record anything from a quick VO to a full-on rock album is MonkMusic, a new 650-sq. ft. studio designed by the Walters-Storyk Design Group. As versatile as its owner, the three-room complex is built to welcome an East End jam band outfit one day, and an airtight ADR session for the likes of local residents like Sir Paul McCartney, Alec Baldwin, and Sarah Jessica Parker the next.
Like a lot of smart ventures, location location location was a massive part of the strategy for making MonkMusic – an aesthetically appealing wing attached to Daniels’ home – a reality.
“Having lived in the Hamptons for 15 years, and vaciatoned here for 15 years before that, I know there is nothing close to this – technically or sonically — for at least 70 miles,” Daniels explains, in her high-energy manner. “So I’m providing what I hope is a technical and aesthetic excellence that comes from my experience. Meanwhile, I try to keep my ears and mind open, because innovation and new means of expression are the name of the game.”
If anyone knows the game its Daniels, a Connecticut native attracted early on to the wonders of audio engineering, who then moved to NYC and managed to get her early training with no less than Phil Ramone at the landmark studio A&R Recording. Surrounded by the “Platinum Crew” of legends like Ramone, Elliot Scheiner, Ed Rak and Tom Jung, Daniels quietly became an A-list engineer in her own right, amassing a dizzyingly large list of clients since her first credited session in 1984.
Of her hundreds of credits — from Broadway to Carnegie Hall soloists and Lincoln Center opera, TV, film and spoken word — highlights include a 2002 GRAMMY Award for recording and mixing The Producers, a 2007 Emmy for composition and music supervision on the longest-running daytime series “Guiding Light“, and yet another GRAMMY in 2011 for her work on the Julie Andrews Collection CD.
Her music clients span the best of orchestral pop to big band jazz, including Chaka Khan, Judy Collins, Barbara Cook, Sandra Berhnard and Eartha Kitt. There’s literally far too much to list – a trip to her Website is highly recommended for the full picture.
Sporting a singularly spectacular place for her business, and 2.5 decades-plus of contacts to complement it, Daniels had a clear vision of what MonkMusic should be. Working closely with WSDG principal John Storyk and his team, she was able to map out a vision for a tailored facility where space – due to the Hamptons’ understandably specific zoning requirements – would be the only limitation.
Zen and the Art of Studio Design: “More Than a Mix Room”
For Daniels, the opportunity was not simply to have the best-sounding studio possible, but one molded exactly to her ears and workflow. “The goal was to get a room that I really understood,” she explains. “In terms of sound characteristics, predictable results and aesthetic appeal, it needed to deliver a consistent product in a place that had a great vibe.
“I never imagined I would have my own John Storyk-designed room, and that’s a selling point for the studio. I think people like to know that, from the ground up, you’ve chosen the best for a project, to create a room that’s well-made for recording. The result here is the best money could buy, in this amount of space. I don’t think we cut any corners – what we cut was real estate.”
Although 650 sq. feet may sound small for a three-room recording/mixing complex, MonkMusic in fact feels expansive, and fittingly zen. Daniels’ priorities in the design were to make it “more than a mix room”, specifying clear lanes for visual contact between the compact live room and iso booth that flank the invitingly spacious control room. High ceilings of 11’ 2” allow the sounds from vocalists, guitar amps, drums, horns, strings, and/or a piano to breathe without being overly live.
At all turns, of course, total sound isolation between the rooms and especially to the outside world — where a permanent “Do Not Disturb” sign hangs on the high-priced homes in all directions – is essential. “This is a commercial-grade studio in a residential town,” says Daniels. “The soundproof double doors here are one of the most expensive parts of the facility.”
With magic carpets clean out of stock, Daniels chose a hybrid Avid C-24 console to fly the room, currently running Pro Tools 9 (an upgrade to 10 is imminent) with HD 3. A set of 5.1 Genelec 8240DSP monitors w/subwoofer were tuned for the room by Genelec and Mike Chafee of Michael Chafee Enterprises.
Available preamps include choices from Avalon, NPNG, Pacifica, Sytek, Millenia, and Focusrite, connecting to a treasure chest of classic and custom mics including a pair of DPA 4006-TL’s, a vintage AKG C-12 with original 6072 tube, Tab Funkenwerk UM 25 and UM 17 handbuilt by Oliver Archut with NOS Telefunken tubes, Neumann U87 and U89, AKG 414, Sennheiser 421S, and Royer R-122 Tube mic. Allesandro amps and cabinets, vintage guitars, a Yahama upright piano, and much more for the noisemakers are all on site.
Ready for the Pressure
While WSDG project manager Matt Ballos nailed down the studio’s acoustics (working closely with the local contractor who had never built acoustically-focused rooms before), Daniels worked with WSDG associate Judy Elliot-Brown of Rocket Science, and Mike Donahower on the wiring program and systems integration/installation. All the better to best handle what she identifies as the single-most daunting task on Monk Music’s menu of offerings.
“An ADR session can be extremely complex,” she points out. “It often requires you to send time code down the line, as you deliver the video into a part of the country with a different time zone. You are checking the synch, while you have pages and pages of lines close to each other, setting up leads in beeps, keeping track of the takes, which are moving fast because the artist needs to move fast. The director and three other people are in L.A., and another producer is over here. That, to me, is incredibly challenging in terms of focus and flow. I’m more relaxed recording a 60-piece orchestra on any given day!”