WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN: There’s a trend afoot in Brooklyn, and it’s one of upward mobility. Where the borough was once a haven for DIYers, analog workshops and quirky private studios, some of the major players on the scene are raising the bar for their studio businesses and, consequently, for local music.
When the dust settles, a cluster of next-level recording studios will have opened in Williamsburg, including the new version of The Bunker – just launched this past weekend.
Located in a 3,000-sq. ft. industrial space in South Williamsburg, The Bunker’s new-and-improved recording studios mark a new era in NYC music in which indie artists have access to affordable multi-room tracking.
Studio A at the new Bunker features an impressive “classic studio”-style main tracking space with 25’ vaulted ceiling, two smaller isolated recording rooms and an iso booth. Wide glass windows and doors provide great sightlines throughout the space, and moveable walls make for a uniquely modular floorplan.
For even just this one aspect of The Bunker, the room is a huge addition to the recording studio spread in New York City, and most definitely in Brooklyn where facilities for large ensemble acoustic and live rock recording are few and far between. In an even more meaningful sense, however, the new Bunker opens the door to a next-level recording experience for much of its clientele.
“There are a lot of people playing really great acoustic music who can’t afford to make an acoustic record,” says The Bunker co-owner and producer/engineer John Davis. “There are just no spaces to properly record that kind of music that they can afford.”
For the most part, the rooms that are outfitted with multiple acoustic recording spaces would have been built many years ago, when that’s what making an album required. The Bunker is bringing that classic layout to a new business of mostly self-funded projects.
“Being able to build this place from scratch meant that we could offer something like the great studios built in the 70s and 80s,” says Aaron Nevezie, producer/engineer and co-owner of The Bunker, “A big, acoustically-designed room purpose-built for live tracking. And we’d also be able to offer that with a more contemporary business model so that we can still be indie-friendly.”
In the time elapsed since a ground-up room like this was built, a huge portion of the acoustic, neo-classical and jazz community has settled in Brooklyn – not to mention the well-documented population of indie rockers who also appreciate a great tracking room. The Bunker provides a convenient, neighborhood option to this new generation of artists.
“There are so many great musicians who live in the neighborhood,” says Davis. “When our friends need to do string sessions, they have to call their musicians who all live in Williamsburg to get on the train and go to Midtown, just to cut a string quartet for three times the cost it will be here.”
Cost, again, is a big factor for Davis and Nevezie, both of whom play in bands, and understand the independent artist’s business. That in mind, they carved out two studios in the new location – the main Studio A tracking rooms with large control room, priced at $750-a-day, and a nice-sized Studio B with its own tracking room, bookable for $450-a-day.
“The price-point was really important for us because we know people cannot afford much more than that,” says Davis. “It’s fun to do big records. It’s fun when there’s a budget. But most of the time, there isn’t. So we can split time between Studio A and Studio B accordingly…do a couple days in A and then a week in B, for example.”
Meanwhile clients that have been booking a day or two at one of the higher-priced rooms in Manhattan might opt to book a longer session at The Bunker. Either way, Davis and Nevezie see a demand.
“I think there’s a renaissance going on of people wanting to track live, and track to tape,” Nevezie asserts. “Bands that want to make it ‘real.’ So we can accommodate that. But also John and I both come from a jazz background as players. We got to do some cool jazz records in our previous space, but the new studio is the sort of place we can invite anybody we know of, at every level, and they’ll be super psyched to play in here.”
A Classic Room That Functions Like A Modern Room
While the Bunker’s build-out and migration has been about a year in the making, the decision to move and expand operations was apparently quite spontaneous, inspired by another exciting studio expansion across town at Studio G.
“We’d been wanting to move out of our previous space for awhile – we were just outgrowing it,” says Davis. “And talking to Joel [Hamilton] about what he was doing put the idea in our head to look around for our own new space.”
They found the new location faster than they could have imagined.
“We walked in here and couldn’t believe our eyes,” Nevezie recalls. “You just do not find this kind of space in New York… at least not two blocks from Grand Street in Williamsburg. We knew we had to jump on it. And then, we needed to find someone to help us build it.”
They consulted with Norwich, CT-based studio designer Rod Gervais on the acoustic designs, and hired a good lead carpenter for the framing, but ultimately did about 80% of the building themselves.
“We wanted it done right – high-end and pro – but we didn’t want to lose that community DIY-ness of it,” says Davis. “We wanted this to be ours, built by us.”
They based the design on rooms they’ve both loved working in, referencing Avatar Studios A and C, which also feature multiple acoustic spaces for a range of sounds.
“Another thing we were really set on was having a look that wasn’t too modern,” notes Davis. “You want it to feel like a classic room but function like a modern room.”
In Gervais, the guys found someone with a strong vision of how to best utilize the space.
“There are certain things that a studio designer, who is both an architect from a structural perspective and studio designer from an acoustics perspective, thinks about differently than we do as producers and engineers,” says Davis, “For example, originally we had envisioned the live room being even bigger and making the isolated rooms off the main room smaller, more like booths.
“As a result of Rod’s design, instead of having one live room with three booths, we have a live room with high ceilings, a live room that’s somewhat dead with medium ceilings, and another live room that’s bright with vaulted ceilings, and we have an iso booth. His thought was let’s get three unique sounding spaces and one booth so that you can really tailor the sounds. That way you’ll also have rooms that will work better for certain things, i.e. the drier 70s-like drum room, the brighter room that’s good for piano or strings, etc.”
In October, the guys moved all their gear over from the previous space, and worked long days getting the rooms into working order. Initial tracking sessions in the new room began in November and sessions have been running ever since, so far most notably with the funk band Lettuce, and jazz-pop singer Sonya Kitchell.