As one era for Avatar Studios comes to a close, the next one seems poised to begin.
Following an “End of an Era” party that was held for Avatar/Power Station alumni engineers and producers at the famed facility on Monday, August 28, Variety has reported the official sale of the studio. According to the article, the sale price for the 33,000-square foot studio complex at 441 West 53rd Street is in the $23-28 million range.
It has long been rumored in the studio world that this news was coming, and it is now expected that the transaction will be a done deal on Friday, September 1, with Berklee College of Music widely speculated to become the next occupant. While it remains a possibility that Avatar’s famed rooms, including their iconic 2,496 sq. ft. Studio A, will still be commercially available in some form following the changeover, this has yet to be confirmed. Requests for comment from Avatar Studios were not returned.
A Berklee spokeswoman said, “Speculation has been raised about plans by Berklee in New York City. Certainly, New York is an important hub for students and alumni of Berklee College of Music and Boston Conservatory at Berklee for interning, networking, and establishing careers in every facet of the industry. Increasing opportunities for our community is among our highest priorities, and the college is considering its options. However, at this time, there is nothing official to announce.”
Avatar Studios was originally launched by Tony Bongiovi as The Power Station in 1977. It became a hit epicenter, spawning classic recordings by Madonna, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen, and scores more. Countless TV and movie scores and Broadway cast albums were recorded and mixed there. The complex also served as a home for private producer, mixing, mastering and music business suites over the years, further supporting the NYC music economy in the process. It was purchased by Chieko and Kirk Imamura in 1996, and renamed Avatar Studios at that time. The studio’s availability for purchase was announced in September, 2015.
GRAMMY award winning engineer Jim Anderson, Professor at NYU-Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, was among the alumni who got together on Monday to bid the studio adieu, along with a prolific group of top audio pros. Contrary to expectations, spirits that evening were generally positive despite the gathering’s bittersweet impetus.
“Everyone there felt very proud to be associated with the place,” says Anderson, who estimates that he oversaw over 1,000 sessions in the building since 1989. “We were all celebrating the fact that we worked there.”
For Anderson, Avatar’s larger-then-life reputation was one well-earned. “That phrase ‘world-class studio,’ there are fewer and fewer of those places around,” he observes. “You have Abbey Road, Air Studios, and in NYC, and you have Power Station/Avatar. At all those places, it’s always been about quality – quality of service, quality of equipment. I always told clients if they were going to work with me, that they had to work at Avatar. They’d say, ‘It’s so expensive!’ and I’d respond, ‘It’s a little more up front, but you’ll get out of there faster. In the end it will cost you less because you’ll come out of there with exactly what you want.’ My clients and I were never disappointed.”
While the takeover of Avatar by Berklee had been speculated for some time, the reported cessation of sessions takes it one step closer to reality. Until the studio’s next owner — Berklee or otherwise — is confirmed, questions will abound concerning its potential ongoing availability to artists, and especially to Broadway cast recording albums, who have come to depend on the facility and its highly experienced roster of engineers.
- David Weiss