by Christopher Walsh
New York, NY (September 14, 2007)–Scores of audio professionals, studio owners and onlookers descended upon the recently closed Sony Music Studios at 460 W. 54th St. on September 10 and 11 for an auction of the vast audio/video production complex’s equipment. As previously reported in Pro Sound News, Sony Music Studios signed a purchase and sale agreement for the property with New York developer HSAC Corp. earlier this year. Virtually all studios operations had ceased by August 31.
The facility’s main stage, once the site of popular music programs like Sessions at West 54th (PBS), MTV Unplugged and Hard Rock Live (VH-1), was filled with row upon row of consoles, tape machines, microphone stands, lighting equipment, loudspeakers and dozens of racks filled with outboard equipment. The auction was conducted by Newton, MA-based Joseph Finn Co., Inc.
Also available and still in a control room was a Solid State Logic 9000 J Series console, though Sony’s Neve 88R was withdrawn from the auction. Most of the equipment still housed in many of the facility’s numerous other recording and television control rooms had been assigned a lot number and affixed with an identifying tag.
Although the fiscal realities of a contracting music industry, the high fixed costs of a multi-room commercial facility, and inexpensive but high-quality personal studios have long been blamed for the multitude of studio bankruptcies and closings over the past several years, the still-sizzling local real estate market is a significant factor in the New York recording dynamic.
“I really don’t know why they’re closing the building,” said Nashville-based engineer Julian King, who traveled to New York to attend the auction, “but I have to assume it has to do with the real estate being so valuable at this point that it made more sense to sell it and tear it down than to keep it the way it was. If they can put condos on that lot, at whatever price per square foot it is, it’s kind of tough to ignore that number.”
An official at Sony BMG Music Entertainment in New York would not comment on the label’s motivation for closing the studio it had operated since 1993, long predating the merger of Sony and BMG. But, as King mused, the stratospheric levels Manhattan real estate has reached likely made the sale of the sizable parcel—a corner lot at 54th Street and Tenth Avenue—attractive to a company operating in a time marked by change. Sony Music Studios was just steps away from the Hit Factory, now known as the Hit Factory Condominium.
In another sign of the fast pace of change, King notes that a Sony 3348HR digital multitrack tape machine, one of several offered, was auctioned for $500. “They were basically giving it away,” he says. “Those machines were north of $180,000 when they first came out. We’ve seen them steadily decline, but gracious, they had three or four of them there. It was ugly to see that. Some of the more tried-and-true gear was holding its value—some of the mic preamps and compressors had relatively the same price as one would expect.”
Despite the high-profile closings of recent years, says Avatar Studios president Kirk Imamura, who also attended the auction, artists and audio professionals should not make negative assumptions about the state of the New York recording industry. “I want to make sure that people from other parts of the country and internationally know that there is still enough activity in New York,” he comments. “There’s a lot going on, and there’s a very rich music scene. There are tons of indie bands here, and it’s still vibrant, so people shouldn’t write off New York.”
Don Wershba, senior vice president of Solid State Logic, also attended the auction. “I will miss Sony Studios as a physical entity,” he says, “but more than that, I will miss the community of professionals that made it the great environment that it was. I can continue to keep in touch with many of my Sony Studios friends, some of whom I have known since the 1970s. Others, I will have to keep alive in my thoughts, notably David Smith, Mark Betts, Billy Rothchild and John Alberts.”