How different would producing music in New York City be if real estate were plentiful and inexpensive? Producers, mixers, mastering engineers and audio post pros could set up shop in their favorite neighborhood, expand at will, and change locations without missing a beat.
Well, as the Rev. Jesse Jackson famously said, the question is moot. Because if that’s the way things were in NYC…it wouldn’t be NYC. The premium on space and the subsequent battle for position – betwixt every trade you can name – is part of what defines the city and distinguishes the ones who actually manage to break through.
One solution to the overcrowding is shared workspaces, and its not just audio professionals who need them – and not just in New York City. Witness the rise of WeWork to a $16 billion company in just eight years, now standing as one of America’s fastest-growing leesees of new office space. In general, co-working spaces that can nail the convergence of community, amenities and professionalism remain on the rise.
With industrial buildings and studios in Brooklyn and Manhattan being routinely subjected to the wrecking ball to make way for condos, solo/small operators in audio have proven particularly vulnerable to NYC’s always-escalating real estate market forces. Such a changeover at 10 Jay Street in DUMBO that jettisoned Joe Lambert Mastering and numerous other operators into new locations is just one example of the uncertainty that can dampen the vertical in this region.
While music-centric safe harbors do exist for displaced pro audio practitioners, they can often prove less-than-ideal in the long run when it comes to high-spec critical listening environments. Midtown Manhattan’s famed The Music Building, for example, is home to a few fully-isolated pro recording studios, but its 12 stories are far more heavily populated by bands that are free to rock out and shake the walls at any hour, in keeping with the building’s core remit as a rehearsal space.
In other instances, audio-centric practices may be able to tuck into a WeWorks-type situation. Bond Collective in Gowanus turned out to be the perfect place for Kieran Kaye’s one-man shop Full English Post. With media production companies and a pre-existing VO booth onsite, Kaye had both a client base and key asset already baked in — a case of sharp instincts and good luck launching an audio business.
Laying the Foundation
A sweet spot that’s emerged for music creators in search of a stable home catering to their specific needs is NY Studio Factory. As the name suggests, music producers are the front-and-center clientele of this co-working concern, which has grown to encompass five locations across Brooklyn since its start in 2003.
Founded by visual artist and Crown Heights native Joseph Woolridge, NYSF has grown steadily to be a lifeline for audio pros in search of an environment that aspires to a WeWork level of amenities and attention to detail, while making each space’s acoustical properties and interactions a prime consideration. Tastemakers, startups, entreprenuers of all stripes — and even pop-up shops – can be found among its membership, but as the business’ name suggests studios are the stars.
NYSF’s origins in 2003 sprung from a time when private workspace solutions of any sort were difficult to come by. “I literally couldn’t find one,” Woolridge says. “That’s how I got started, out of my own necessity for workspace. Landlords back then weren’t motivated at all to service the creative community with workspace.
“There was then — and still is — a stigma around providing creatives with workspace,” he continues. “Most people when they hear the word artist, they think ‘starving artist,’ which couldn’t be farther from the truth. The creatives I knew then were hard-working, and had multiple side hustles to make sure they had a space to create. Back then, the average commercial property owner viewed providing a building full of startups and solopreneurs with workspace as a huge risk.
“They didn’t want 100 tenants, just one. As a result, what you did see were a handful of artists like myself taking large floor plates of space, signing big leases with landlords and real estate developers, which greatly lowered their risk. I would then re-imagine, bootstrap, and build the space so dozens of creatives and startups could work.”
In NYSF’s early years Woolridge saw how his concept could offer something different to an artistic subset, one that took their business as seriously as their craft. “When I started I only knew of a handful, and most of them don’t exist anymore, like 3rd Ward for instance,” he recalls. “They were here and strong in 2007 and now they’re not. Like many 10 years ago, I was a fan of theirs because from the outside looking in, they seemed authentic, and I was really rooting for them to win. But they’re not around anymore, and that’s unfortunate for their members and the people who relied on the services they provided.
“What I don’t see today are other organizations that, at their core, desire to genuinely be a catalyst for creatives to grow, and evolve. What I do see are a lot of speculative investors that read about national co-working trends or WeWork’s growing success and decide it’s a great opportunity to jump into face first: out-of-towners flush with cash, and overseas hedge funds that have no interest in building community through culture. They’re interested in seeing just how much they can mine out of the rising brand of Brooklyn and NYC, through real estate as a vehicle.
“I think people see the difference and choose us. For me the difference is as clear as choosing grass-fed organic or McDonald’s. There is certainly a market for the McDonald’s type of workspace, but that’s just not what we do.”
Updating the Offering
NYSF’s five locations now include 153 Roebling Street, 220 Ingraham Street, 44 Stewart Ave, 88 North 1st St. and the flagship location at 2 St. Nicholas Ave, just off the Jefferson stop in booming Bushwick.
“We’re small but our eyes are on perfecting our offering, member experience, and actively looking for suitable new locations in NYC,” notes Woolridge. “Our members have always needed private reliable workspace in close proximity to where they live and spend time. Over the years the range of industries we service has evolved. Initially, we served creatives, solely. Since 2003, we’ve grown that out to include startups, designers, music producers, and more.”
For Woolridge and his team, honing NYSF calls for as much collaboration as possible with its members. “Our aim is to perfect our offering,” he confirms. “We ask our members, ‘What can we do to help them get to the next level in their craft or business?’ And we listen, then we upgrade accordingly.
“We’re in it for the long haul, and we charge ourselves with the responsibility to make sure we’re forward-thinking and flexible enough to ensure our members have a space that allows them to painlessly move in fast; get to work on that new app, finishing that album, or get to completing that masterpiece art work or clothing line.”
According to Woolridge, the profile of an NYSF member is one of a professional who hits the studio to work, not to party. “Our artists, producers and engineers have all gained success and notoriety for their work,” he states. “Nearly all have worked on hit records, with platinum or gold albums to show for it, although you wouldn’t know it until they’ve opened their private audio production suite doors. Or they’ve been directly a part of the creative team responsible for the hit record.