The designer makes the studio – literally.
While each recording, mixing, mastering, and audio post facility starts with the founder’s vision, their napkin sketch usually gets passed to a studio architect to make it a reality. These sonic-minded structuralists are thriving worldwide, and their prolific portfolios can contain hundreds and even thousands of rooms.
Our new “Studio Makers” series zooms in on these essential professionals, starting with Brooklyn-based Ellis Island Design. Led by Dave Ellis, this design/build company excels not just at recording and mastering studios, but restaurants, bars, nightclubs and high-end residences. Their credits on the project can range from design to finish work to new floors and furniture to general contracting.
A savant at soundproofing, he seems to hear a design before he sees it. Here’s how this focused firm goes about its business, in Dave Ellis’ words.
Firm Name: Ellis Island Design
Location: Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Cornerstone: I dunno, about 14 years ago…
Founding Father: A bunch of years ago, my band was recording at the original Loho Studio at 212 Lafayette St., and the place was falling apart. I had a talent to fix things, build things. I’d repair the toilet, they’d give me an extra hour to cut vocals. I’d repair a door that was coming off its hinges, they’d give me a few extra hours to mix.
When they moved to a bigger, fancier building, I was called in to do some finish work. Although the place had been constructed by Build to Suit (Brian Early and Matt Vis, the contractors, actually wore three piece suits and tool belts during all of their buildouts), I was the only one left in town after it was done. John Mayer’s first record was done at Loho. It went through the roof, and my phone started to ring.
Specializing In: For the most part, I do recording studios, like old school recording studios with good sightlines, warm tones and an easy, laid back vibe. I like to build and install my own custom treatments, making them all permanently adjustable. I quite enjoy the final touch of tuning the rooms, making sure they sound incredible.
Right now we’re making a sound mix studio for motion pictures, complete with a Foley stage/pit. It’s a lot of fun, but I’ve gotta admit my favorite part is designing the lounge. It’s where I get to throw out all the rules and simply create a functional but cozy area to hang out.
Design Philosophy: I think that every client is unique and so every studio should be too.
Since we’re usually working within an existing New York structure, we generally have to design and build around unique existing conditions, shapes, beams, etc… It’s challenging and fun to come up with the best possible layout given these constraints.
While building Degraw Sound in 2011, we were going around beams and rafters to maximize the height of the live room. So I created a V-shaped soffit where all the walls and ceilings came together. It wound up being the perfect spot for an overhead mike, and as a result, huge John Bonham sounds have since been captured. We named it “The Big V.”
Engine Room Audio
The Lodge Mastering
Blue Man Group Lab
School of Audio Engineering
Love Boat Studio
The Honey Jar
Burgs & Dogs Audio
Steve Schiltz Sound
Facility Focus: A standout project as of late would definitely be a recording studio we’ve been working on for a hip-hop/R&B producer. There’s a stripper pole going in behind the client couch…
The Team: My wiring guy is Jeff D’Bello of DB Sound Design. I’ve known him for twenty years. He and I used to kick around studios in the middle of the night, tinkering with broken shit, coming up with weird sounds.
Feedback: People love the warm, cozy vibe, subtle angles, and exposed wood. My strategically placed sightlines bring an ease and comfort to the recording process. I like to create a look and feel that’s reminiscent of an old RCA studio that Elvis would’ve recorded in.
Biggest Beef: I wish everyone understood the tremendous cost of sound control – there’s a lot going on inside those walls!
Dream Project: I would love to travel back in time and create a temporary studio out of a summer home/vacation house: improvise on the spot – use couches and mattresses as go-bos, a bathroom could become an iso booth… Use the Rolling Stones mobile truck with the Pink Helios board to capture the sounds. We would record all my favorite singing bands, like Badfinger and Three Dog Night. There would be no Auto Tune…
– Dave Ellis, Founder, Ellis Island Design