The Opportunities & Perils of Big Studio Business: Q&A with Tony Drootin of Platinum Sound, NYC

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How does a serious recording studio succeed? You can ask the Young Guns how they’re tackling this tricky business, but sometimes it’s best to hear it from a veteran like Tony Drootin.

Recently, Drootin took on a new challenge as Studio Manager of one of New York City’s top facilities, Platinum Sound Recording Studios in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen. Founded by The Fugees’ Wyclef Jean and the multi-platinum producer Jerry Wonda in 2000, Platinum is a place where you can find plenty of faders in the form of its 80-channel SSL XL9080K and equally expansive SSL 9080J. Augspurger monitoring, live room to move, and generous client lounges – plenty of the amenities and necessities you can ask of a recording studio — are all onsite.

Tony Drootin oversees two SSL rooms as Studio Manager for Platinum Sound in NYC.

Tony Drootin oversees two SSL rooms as Studio Manager for Platinum Sound in NYC.

It’s not a path that most new NYC studios are taking, but Drootin can tell you exactly how and why a big facility like Platinum is staying in the game. In his 3+ decades navigating New York City’s audio industry, Drootin has been a part of studios giant and small, starting as a receptionist then moving all the way up to manager at Unique Recording Studios. He’s taken on diverse roles from there, from managing the massive Sony Music Studios complex on 54th Street, to the stillborn 17,500 sq. ft. SevenSeas Entertainment studios. He simultaneously co-founded Area 51 Recording in 2010 while becoming director of Sean Combs’ Daddy’s House Recording Studios on 44th Street. Big Daddy’s shut down in 2015, and after an experimental recording and performance venture in Jersey City was nipped in the bud, Drootin got the call from Jerry Wonda.

In this frank and informative interview with SonicScoop, Drootin shares the considerable wisdom he’s gleaned from 31 years in the game. Why is a studio the size of Platinum still essential to recording artists? What are the biggest obstacles for a startup studio? The single biggest evolution in music production that’s made life difficult for big studios? And why does diversity matter in the business plan for studios big and small? Find out forthwith.

How did those various experiences prepare you to be the studio manager for a world-class NYC tracking and mixing facility?

There are many hats you wear running a large commercial operation, many of those similar to a smaller production facility only on a larger scale.

To run a studio you need to not only have a great phone book and relationships, you must also understand the operations as well as the facility itself. Then you can concentrate on creating a comfortable environment for artists to work in. I started working at Unique Recording when the recording studio scene in Manhattan was exploding. Unique had an incredible staff — Chris Lord-Alge, Tom Lord-Alge, Bob Rosa, Steve Peck, Roey Shamir and so many others. So many great artists, producers, and projects were there.

Unique was different than many of the other studios. We were really at the forefront of embracing MIDI and new technologies. While I was there we went from 24/48 track analog, to 48 track digital, to the advent of Pro Tools. Many manufacturers looked to us to test and review their new equipment. At Unique I “cut my chops”. I learned the whole recording process, how to manage a large staff of incredible people, how to juggle a never-ending flow of projects, and every inch of the facility and piece of gear in use.

Chris Lord-Alge said something to me the first month I was at Unique that’s resonated with me until this day: He said, “Every studio has a console, speakers, and a tape machine…it’s the one with the best coffee that wins.”

Amenities matter -- Platinum's luxurious new lobby.

Amenities matter — Platinum’s luxurious new lobby.

This was probably the most important thing I left with from Unique. Realizing it’s all about taking care of the client. With that mantra I have developed some great relationships that have lasted till this day.

Moving on to Sony Music Studios was just an incredible opportunity. Sony presented a whole set of new challenges and learning opportunities. First it was a much larger operation with numerous departments such as mastering, restoration, video, audio post, and stages. We serviced many of our parent companies’ label needs, but also had quite a large percentage of outside work.

Being such a large facility offered more resources, but also meant more staff to manage. The facility was a union shop as well, which presented its own advantages and hurdles. Being a corporately-owned facility also meant managing up: The reporting processes and accounting were at a whole different level than the “mom and pop”-owned that Unique Recording was. It wasn’t unusual for us to be averaging a million dollars or more per room in a given year.

In addition the level of clientele was different. Sony Studios had large live orchestral and cast album work. My department gave support to the stage department for numerous live and recorded television broadcasts.  The engineering, technical, and operational staff at Sony was unmatched. I gained vast knowledge and experience there, as well as again developed many relationships.

From there, running Daddy’s House and Area 51 were much the same, only different in scale. All of the studios I have worked at I was managing for others until SevenSeas and Area 51. Starting those companies exposed me to all the challenges that go into planning, funding, owning, and running my own business.

That’s a very wide range of experiences. When did you join up with Platinum, and what made this an appealing opportunity for you in terms of the people here and the studios themselves?

I have known Jerry Wonda the owner, Serge Tsai the chief engineer, and many current and previous staff and clients of Platinum’s for years. Jerry and I have been talking for some time and when my commitments in New Jersey ended earlier this year, the timing was right and I happily accepted his offer to manage.

I have always had a very high respect for Platinum Studios. The clientele was familiar to me, and I also believed the facility itself was world class. The studio has a fantastic collection of equipment and musical instruments, and old and new technology. Platinum also is a community of loyal clients and an incredible creative environment.

I liked that a good percentage of the work being done there was live music, and that the owner was a working musician/producer with the knowledge and respect of that as well. Not that I don’t like good ole line level production, and we do have our share of that, but I do have a great respect for musicians and the whole performance and recording process.

Platinum's Studio J, with its expansive 80-channel SSL 9000J.

Platinum’s Studio J, with its expansive 80-channel SSL 9000J.

What are the aspects of recording today that make a place like Platinum get booked – why is a studio like this still an essential resource for music? What are the different types of clients and sectors that Platinum serves?

Stating the obvious: The business, as we know it, has changed.

Studios used to enjoy much more robust artist rosters, and more importantly budgets, at the record labels. The majority of projects are now independent and “in the box” as we refer to the use of Pro Tools. Studios need to be flexible in their abilities to accommodate clients.

As I mentioned Platinum has a great collection of equipment allowing me to be able to work with more diverse project requirements. If you need to track on a large format console we can do it. If you need to set up numerous sequencers and sound modules we can do it. If you need to record a 17-person choir…bring it on!

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  • Mor Mezrich

    It’s always so great to read about more facilities, managers and staff in the NYC recording scene!

  • Danwriter

    “…in my opinion the trend of engineers mixing projects unattended at home will ultimately affect the music.”

    Sadly, it already has.