Recording studios are uniquely mythologized businesses, and the myths run the gamut from the Spartan to the Caligulan. On one hand, one thinks of the top-selling acts camping out in studios for months at a time in label-footed boondoggles and Bacchanalias of legendary excess (on some occasions detained there at gunpoint by Phil Spector), and coming out the other side with something like Exile on Main Street, or perhaps a total bust. On the other hand, we read of Chess Records or Stax cutting hit after solid-gold classic hit in pretty much the time that it takes to play them back: no overdubs, no coddled “creative process.” We hear the accomplished and famously opinionated producer Steve Albini mocking the very idea that studios need to be conducive to mood and creativity, wondering publicly, “What’s with all the candles?”
A scientist’s lab or an artist’s sacred haven? Both, of course. When bands and musicians are selecting a studio, they look for a well-equipped and efficiently run, cost-effective facility as well as place with at least a modicum of mojo.
The professional studio scene these days is in a particularly fragmented state for several reasons. First, we are in the post-sales era of recorded music. No one buys records. Hootie and the Blowfish got booted from their label because their second LP sold “only” three million copies. It is quite possible that no record will ever sell three million copies again. Things have changed. Big studios that depended on major-label bands feel this pinch the hardest. For the smaller studios, this has represented an opportunity to lure in a higher grade of client than they might have been accustomed to.
But the mid-size and small-project studios feel their own pinch as well. Computer-based recording and cheap Asian manufacturing have put credible recording equipment within the range of the Everyman. The Everyman typically does his records on a shoestring budget that allows for a couple days of tracking and a couple days of mixing, at best. Putting together your own studio buys you creative time and saves you money. What the Everyman can’t buy, of course, are ears, expertise and experience. But he can acquire all that the hard way.
When bands and musicians seek a place to record, they’ll typically look at few critical factors:
The gear list. Here, we like to see magic words like “Neve” and “Telefunken” and “Studer”: words that don’t mean much outside of our particular community of interest. Studios offer not only recording gear but also “backline”: instruments and amplifiers that can be a make-or-break part of the deal for potential clients. Everyone loves a good Steinway and a few vintage Fenders at the very least.
The client list. Here, on the other hand, we like to see words that everyone knows, like “Bowie” or “Petty.”
The fee schedule. You know, for scheduling your fees. Most studios post an hourly rate, but most also cut whole-project deals as well, and many offer an à la carte list of services to cater to all budgets.
Finally, the physical environment: those candles, mandala rugs, wood paneling and lush isolation booths. We all want to feel like pros when we are dropping a hard-earned couple of grand on these places.
Our area is and always has been served by a tremendous variety of studios, from genuine “big boys” to all manner of agile, versatile regional facilities. Sometimes studios are associated with a particular sound or genre. Sometimes, studios are engaged for the credentials and skills of the engineer him- or herself, rather than for the facility. Studios are too numerous in the Hudson Valley for this story to cover even the tip of the iceberg, so apologies in advance to all the deserving names left off this list. Enjoy this “walking tour” of only a handful of the area’s reputable recording studios:
Salvation Recording, New Paltz
Salvation Recording – a combined studio and indie record label – somehow manages to be inconspicuous in a house right in the middle of the Village of New Paltz, a stone’s throw from the bars. Salvation specializes not in evangelical modern Christian, but in music that is in some ways a close cousin: the evangelism of emo, art rock, noise rock, ecstatic roots and the many forms of electric venting and catharsis. Widely known locals such as the Nelsonvillans, Fairweather Friends and Porches have worked with both the production and distribution arms of Salvation, which is owned by Samantha Gloffke. Producer/engineer Christopher Daly twiddles the knobs in this surprisingly well-outfitted living room studio.
Salvation Recording, Inc., (845) 216-0238, http://salvationrecordingco.com
Marcata Recording, New Paltz
Even though it is housed in an idyllic barn and silo outside of New Paltz, Kevin McMahon’s Marcata Recording tends to produce music that is anything but Ulster County barn rock in the hallowed school of Levon. Marcata is a hopping joint, gaining in national recognition and prestige due to McMahon’s high-profile production work with bands like Swans, Titus Andronicus, the Walkmen and (brace yourself) the popular-against-all-odds Diarrhea Planet. Studios take all comers, though, and while McMahon specializes in combative, arresting and avant-garde sound-wrangling, more rustic national/local acts such as Rhett Miller and the Felice Brothers have worked at Marcata as well – perhaps because McMahon is a committed analog freak who records to 24-track tape.
Marcata Recording, www.marcata.net