I recently took a stretch of road less traveled to see an old friend, Tony Drootin, as he oversaw construction on David Amlen’s latest studio, the newly reborn Sound on Sound now in Montclair, NJ.
Both Amlen and Drootin were key players in the NYC studio scene during its last great peak, with Amlen serving as president of SPARS and owner of the original Sound on Sound, MSR, and Legacy, and Drootin acting as a longtime manager for a handful of major Manhattan studios including Unique, Sony, Daddy’s House, and Platinum Sound.
The scene in Manhattan has both changed and shrunk since then, necessitating a change of venue for both. But some things never seem to change: The two still appeared to be considering every little detail you could think in building this new facility.
Construction was in full swing as I visited, and it quickly became obvious that great care was being taken to the ensure the kind of quality, functionality, and aesthetics a one would expect of a studio centered in one of the music capitals of the world—never mind that we were 30 minutes and a river away from their old stomping grounds.
A quick walkthrough reveals two studios, designed with recording foremost in mind.
Studio A was built to feature a 72-input Neve VR console with Musgrave modifications.
The main monitors there are Augspurger 3 ways. There are 96 channels of I/O to go along with a large studio surrounded by 4 isolation booths all with clear lines of sight.
“You could put a choir and backing band in here and track it live,” Drootin says as we enter the studio. Throw in the 9’ Yamaha concert grand and I’m immediately sold on the space.
Studio B features a 6-card Euphonix System 5 console with 128 channels of I/O. This room has two iso booths, and is a perfect size for small bands and overdubs.
Of course, along with these rooms comes a collection of microphones, signal processors, drums, vintage amps, and a Hammond C3 that one feels like they never left the golden age of Manhattan studios behind.
I asked the two a bit more about their goals for this new pair of studios, and what brought them to this point.
Dave, what have you been doing since you closed MSR Studios? What did you do following the studio’s closure, and how did that lead to initiating Sound on Sound Studios in New Jersey?
During the closure of MSR, I was in negotiations with several parties to both open a new facility in midtown New York City, and to [potentially] purchase Avatar studios with partners.
After months of negotiations that ultimately ended without signed deals, I started to seriously consider NJ.
I was in discussions with the former mayor of Montclair, who happens to be a friend I met through a non-profit. He introduced me to several developers in the area, and this ultimately led me to my current location. Sound on Sound in New Jersey has been in the design and build-out process since April of this year.
Tony, the last time we spoke with you, you were the manager for Platinum Sound. What was the sequence of events that led you to teaming up with Dave on this facility?
Dave and I have stayed in touch over the years. We spoke on a regular basis when the original Sound on Sound Studios was in operation on West 45th Street, and while I was the director of operations at Sony Music Studios on West 54th.
While I was managing Daddy’s House studios for Sean Combs, Dave and I were out to lunch one day and he asked if I’d be willing to come on board as manager of MSR Studios on 48th Street. Though honored, I declined as I was already committed to another client in New Jersey and Miami developing a recording and performance business.
We left off with the knowledge that someday we would work together. Fast forward a bit, and we spoke regarding his desire not to reopen in New York and the possibility of my coming on board to manage the place. I eventually left Platinum to pursue another opportunity. Less than a year after, the stars lined up, and I enthusiastically jumped on board.
Tony, describe the opportunity you see for a large-scale studio in New Jersey. What are the advantages you saw in opening in Montclair, specifically?
There were a number of reasons Dave decided on Montclair and I wholeheartedly agreed. First, it was close enough to the city to allow clients to access the facility. Secondly, Montclair is an amazing town. It is diverse, has a robust artist community, and has a great selection of restaurants, bars, and music venues. In addition, we are building relations with nearby William Patterson University and Montclair University.
Dave looked at many possible locations, but the footprint of the real estate was the clincher. It allowed for the building of two great live tracking spaces. We certainly can and want to attract pop, R&B, and urban clients as well. However, the tracking spaces we built allow for bands, large and small ensemble work, events, performances and much more.
We both feel there is a tremendous opportunity here in New Jersey. Both Dave and I have years of experience in operating large, high-profile, commercial studio operations. We are bringing what we feel will be the first of these types of facilities to New Jersey. There is a huge music community on this side of the Hudson River and Montclair is home to a great community of artists in itself.
The cost of going into the city and the hassle is making it very unattractive for many. Let’s face it—the New York scene has changed. The feedback we are getting is overwhelmingly positive and similar: New Jersey needed this. Clients are excited we will make it possible to no longer have to go into Manhattan, and will be saving them on tolls and parking.
The obvious advantage is the cost of real estate. More and more businesses are being pushed out of Midtown, which historically has been where most of the large format recording facilities have been located over the years. Plain and simple, it is becoming cost prohibitive to operate a commercial studio—and many others businesses as well—in midtown Manhattan. A number of other established businesses are about to come to the end of their lease terms and are going to feel the sting of drastic increases in their per-square-foot cost.
By starting this foothold in New Jersey, it afforded us the ability to create large tracking spaces that would be too expensive and difficult to find space for in the city. Our small tracking space, Studio B, has almost 600 square feet of live recording space with two isolation booths. This B-room alone is bigger than most A-rooms in the city. Our larger live tracking space, Studio A, is over 1,200 square feet with four isolation booths.
Not to mention free parking. We are three blocks from the New Jersey transit train and the commute is under 30 minutes, which is less than a trip to Brooklyn from midtown. Our choice of Montclair was purposeful. The town has over 100 restaurants, a college, and a robust music and film community. We are two blocks from the Wellmont Theater.