ELTINGVILLE, STATEN ISLAND: For recording artists, a stay at a destination studio has long stood as the ultimate arrival.
Designed to support creativity not just with gear and a tuned room, but via an immersive atmosphere where working, living and rejuvenation all converge in one location, destination studios are something to aspire to: Before you can hone your craft at one, you need to earn the privilege.
There are plenty of artists in the New York City area – and worldwide for that matter — who have very much won the right to get away for a few days and focus purely on the act of music creation. But circumstances keep on conspiring to keep them sweating it out in the heat of the city: already a relative scarcity, the ranks of destination studios have, not surprisingly, been thinned.
In the Northeast, Woodstock’s Bearsville is long gone. The stunning Allaire Studios, in Shokan, NY, left us all too soon with its closure in 2008. And while numerous other recording lodges beckon throughout the region — dotting the banks of the Hudson River, the shores of New York lakes, Long Island Sound, and Catskill mountaintops — they can take significant time and effort to reach.
What if there were a destination studio available to the region that magically erased the compromises – one that offered an isolated environment, great natural beauty, distinctive acoustic spaces, sharp engineering talent, affordability, and was somehow within a stone’s throw of midtown?
In fact, all of the above attributes describe Nova Studios in Eltingville, a quiet hamlet on Staten Island’s South Shore. Formerly a composing and audio post facility for the private use of an accomplished filmmaking family, Nova has transitioned to a commercial recording and mixing studio. For everyone in search of headroom and fresh space to create, this development seems to be a very good thing.
A Different Design
Situated within one of two spacious homes on the property, all it takes is one step inside Nova Studios to dispel any preconceived notions you may have about Staten Island. The view outside the expansive glass wall of windows in the living room – which has been transformed into the studio’s main live room – provides a breathtaking panorama of Raritan Bay. Step onto the huge, private back lawn, and a unique angle on northern Monmouth County, NJ, awaits across the wide waters.
If you’re staying overnight, or for a week or a month, your bags will head upstairs to one of several well-appointed rooms in the house. A live-in cook is available to prepare meals in the large kitchen, or band members are welcome to decompress there with some culinary prep time themselves (and many do).
Owned and operated by filmmaker and music enthusiast Frankie Nasso, helming a recording studio is nothing short of a dream come true – he’s created an environment where passions for both the visual and acoustic arts can flourish. On the all-important engineering side, the skills of Ryan Kelly or The Jerry Farley will be at your disposal (freelance engineers are welcome as well, and an assistant is provided) overseen by studio manager Stephen Hennig.
For Kelly, who began helping with Nova Studios’ transformation into a commercial facility in 2010, the facility now represents a rare one-stop shop for musicians and producers.
“I think it’s one of the few destination places where you can do it all,” he says. “You can come here, do the production, mixing, and Jerry’s even done mastering. It can be nice to do a record at a studio in the city – you walk outside and you’re in the middle of Times Square – but if you want to focus 100% on a record and still actually be in NYC, that’s one of the unique things about working here.”
A Seattle native, Kelly graduated from Full Sail, then moved to NYC six years ago and kicked off a globe-hopping engineering career (Beyoncé, Matisyahu, Nico Muhly, Opeth, Slash, Valgeir Sigurðsson, Tom Morello) that exposed him to best studio practices, worldwide. When Nova Studios’ owners reached out to Kelly to help out with the redesign, he was ready with ideas that would simultaneously emphasize flexibility, reliability, and 21st Century workflow.
“I think we get too caught up on trying to recreate great gear designs of the past,” Kelly says, “I love the Beatles as much as the next person, but I think they would have appreciated having Pro Tools and the capabilities we have now available to them. We should be trying to push forward to create new sounds, and trying to make records that people want to recreate in the next generation.”
A Uniquely Inspiring Live Room
While Nova Studios offers a number of fully networked spaces for tracking, the epicenter of the facility’s groundbreaking aspirations is undoubtedly the aforementioned living room. Not only does it sport highly inspirational views, but it also has a variety of reverberant surfaces and sectors within its 1,000 square feet — a combination that distinguishes it as one of the region’s standout recording spaces.
Whole bands, and up to a 10-piece orchestral recording ensemble, can comfortably track together in the living room, and clients including Harry Belafonte, Katherine McPhee, Winds of Plague, Ryann, The OCC Band (featuring Paul Teutul Sr. of the Discovery Channel’s “American Chopper”), Ashanti (voiceover work); Victor Ortiz with Bobby Cruz y Richie Ray, Gravesend, HUNG, IKILLYA, Up for Nothing, The Last Stand, and Brazilian singer/songwriter Julia Mallmann have done just that.
But its standout strength may be for capturing drums: By moving the kit or the microphones, anything from a Bonham-sized earthquake to airtight close-miked sounds are available.
“There are so many sweet spots,” Farley notes. “We can put a mic next to the stone fireplace, or next to the bar with its dark redwood and stained glass window. The open kitchen is adjacent to the living room, and that’s got tile and marble that’s reflective in such a good way with drums.
“And I’ve never had a complaint about the view. Watching storms roll in on the water is beautiful. If it’s early you can see the sky turn orange with the sunrise, or later on you can literally catch the moon coming up over the water. To feel inspired by that kind of view is an incredible experience for any musician.”
Modern Gear, Modern Sounds
Follow the living room’s microphone tie lines and they lead you to the small but acoustically accurate control room downstairs, where the honed workflow enables Kelly and Farley to work quickly and transparently as their clients create. A Digidesign C24 control surface runs Pro Tools 10, complemented by Adam S3A stereo monitors or a Genelec 5.1 8130 monitor system for composers, TV and film work.
Inside the box, an extremely comprehensive array of plugins and virtual instruments are onboard the Apple 8-core MacPro. Meanwhile, a solid mic locker – including a Bock Audio 251, a pair of Royer 122V’s, two DPA 4011’s, plus Neumann KM184’s and U87’s – are on hand to capture what happens on the outside. The owner’s personal collection of classic electric guitars is on hand for the six-stringers, and a Tama Birch-Bubinga drumkit are part of the available instrument selection.