Recording Sweet Spot: New Warsaw Studio – Bushwick, Brooklyn

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Small studios with a big heart are everywhere in Brooklyn. But you may not find an audio aorta beating with more bravado than New Warsaw Studio.

The facility was founded by producer/engineer/composer/multi-instrumentalist Riley McMahon in 2008, years before Bushwick began to bask in its current resurgence. Moving on up from an apartment studio in Greenpoint, the 300 sq. ft. space provided plenty of room for McMahon to stretch out, get maximum results for his clients, and indulge his many sonic passions all at once.

Indie bands book plenty of hours here, but he’s got GRAMMY-winning artists coming through as well, and Emmy-nominated series and top ad agencies.

What’s the appeal? Well, maybe it’s that McMahon loves songs – like really for REAL. You’ll see why being hands-on in the art of songcraft is the highest high he’s hit on. On top of that, tone tops all priorities for this discerning engineer, who explains below how he’s nailing the sound of tape without a reel-to-reel to be seen – the best of both worlds as he flies his sessions quickly on Pro Tools.

Just as intriguing is the one-man workflow he’s developed, more than happy to operate each session by himself. What are the advantages of eschewing engineering assistants, and being his own recording crew? Find out how he overcame the obstacles of working solo – and how tracking that way leads not just to better sounds, but better performances.

300 square feet goes a very long way at New Warsaw Studio.

300 square feet goes a very long way at New Warsaw Studio.

Facility Name:  New Warsaw Studio (NWS)

Website:  http://www.newwarsawstudio.com

Location: Bushwick, Brooklyn

Neighborhood Advantages:  I moved here eight years ago when it didn’t have the same cache that it does today.  At that time, it met the important criteria of accessibility (off the L Train) and affordability (reasonable rent by NYC standards).

I would tell people “East Williamsburg” so they wouldn’t be put off.  Today I proudly declare Bushwick with its wealth of bars, restaurants and artistic goings-ons.   And still just two blocks from the Morgan Stop on the L.

Date of Birth:  December 2008 in the current commercial location and about 2003 for “New Warsaw Studio” itself.

I was making records in my railroad apartment in Greenpoint, BK and was asked what I called my studio for inclusion in some liner notes.  I didn’t have an answer until I was out walking in my very Polish neighborhood and came across the New Warsaw Bakery.  NWS was born and I stuck with it when I moved.

Facility Focus: Most hours are spent tracking and mixing songwriters and bands. I usually act as producer, engineer and musician on most projects that come through.  I also compose and produce music for film and television.

Mission Statement: I work quite a bit with songwriters and bands and they often come here by way of referral from other songwriters and bands.  I think this is because I have some facility with songs — and this is probably because I’ve always had an obsession with them.

Songs above all -- for New Warsaw sole proprietor Riley McMahon.

Songs above all — for New Warsaw sole proprietor Riley McMahon.

A sound, a lyric, a riff, whatever that thing is that resonates with a listener.  I know I get a rush when I hear it and feel it and it transcends everything.

So when I’m working with a songwriter or band, I try to focus on what’s needed in every aspect of the composition, the arrangement and the recording so that the special thing that they have translates.

Along these lines, I also like to embellish that magic thing.  Not just document it but further enhance it by way of instrumentation or production.  Reality plus.  I had a client come in because she wanted her songs to sound “epic” like another artist I’d produced.

Clients/Credits: A couple records I really enjoyed working on and am quite proud of were nominated for awards last year…

Trio Feral – “Don’t Feed” features members of Grammy-nominated band Groove Collective with guest appearance by Mike Doughty (Soul Coughing); 2015 Australian Jazz Bell Award Nominee for “Contemporary ‘Avant-garde’ Jazz Album”; Co-producer and mixer

Spottiswoode & His Enemies – “English Dream” 2015 Independent Music Awards; Nominee for “Best Adult Contemporary Album”; Producer, Mixer and Multi-Instrumentalist

A few other things I’ve done that look good on the resume would be…

* composing/producing/performing music for an Emmy winning HBO documentary “The Art of Failure
* co-composing/producing/performing a track for young artist Engines that was used as closing credits music for PBS documentary series “The Road to Teach”
* composing/producing/performing a national TV commercial for McCann Erickson
* producing/performing song featured in DirecTV show “Kingdom”

Current projects I’m enjoying are…

* Guitarist Bob Lanzetti’s (Snarky Puppy – 2014-15 Grammy winners) instrumental album
*  new record from Spottiswoode & His Enemies – band which I’ve been a full-time member for 18 years

Overall though I feel incredibly lucky that I have a steady stream of talented but often unsigned or small label artists come to work with me – and then come back again.

Recorded Here:

Trio Feral – “Don’t Feed”

Trio Feral in the Studio from 30FiveMM on Vimeo.

Spottiswoode & His Enemies – “No Time for Love” from album English Dream

Todd Baker Live from New Warsaw Studio — band rehearsal at NWS captured on video and multi-track. Playing and recording at the same time on this one. Played Electric guitar, lap steel and mandolin live while tracking. Mix down in post.

Meghann Wright – from album Nothin’ Left to Lose. Producer, Mixer, Bass, Electric Guitar, Lap Steel and Percussion

In Pursuit of Tone: I grew up listening and learning to play guitar to my older brother’s vinyl collection – Chuck Berry, BB King, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, etc..

I believe the sound of these albums is a significant aspect of how we relate to it and why it still moves us.  Not just what was played but how it was recorded – tracked and mixed to tape as that was the go-to medium for the second half of the 20th century.

Since most of the clients I work with reference these artists and others from the same time period, I think a vital component to delivering a similar impact is not only referencing the compositions and performances but also the production.   Before an engineer even touched a fader or knob, tracking to tape was imparting EQ and compression that would affect the tones they captured.

Even though I record to a digital format (Pro Tools) due to the ease of editing and storage, I strive to create sounds that recall these great records made on tape.  In broad terms, achieve an “analog” sound that suggests these recordings and avoids the negative aspects of “digital” i.e. bright, brittle, thin.

Often this means live musicians playing organic instruments captured by tube or ribbon mics feeding outboard gear like solid state mic pres and FET compressors.  A/D convertors that provide something “tapey” on the way to the DAW where they will eventually be mixed via an analog console, with a combination of outboard and digital processing that further conveys the analog vibe that clients, and me, are looking for.

System Highlights: In pursuit of the aforementioned tone, I’ve found some pieces that really help achieve those sounds — often without the possible of vintage gear failure.

On the hardware side…

Amek BCII Mixer – 80’s broadcast mixer made by the fine folks at Amek.  I have two 12×2 chained together and use for monitoring and mixing.  Only a three-band EQ but it’s very musical, and adding some 12k up top or 80Hz down low does something nice and musical.  I immediately heard the difference when I started mixing out of the box through the Amek – especially how the stereo field widened and deepened.  Haven’t mixed ITB since.

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