Montclair, NJ (December 19, 2017)—After 30 years of owning and operating various recording studios in Manhattan, David Amlen was driven out of the city last year by New York’s construction boom. First, his renowned A509 facility became a victim of Manhattan’s real estate market in 2008, then 2016 found him closing MSR Studios (formerly Right Track, later renamed Legacy) for a different—but related—reason.
“We had lots of business,” says Amlen, “but people couldn’t work,” due to construction on all sides of MSR’s Times Square facility. “We were able to work around it for two years, then the last year became untenable.”
Not one to sit still, he opened the doors to his new two-room Sound On Sound Recording complex in Montclair, NJ in mid-November. Moving to the suburbs, less than a half-hour train ride from the city, makes smart financial sense. Amlen initially scouted Manhattan locations, but the rents were exorbitant: “A space comparable to this one was three times what we’re paying.”
Despite New Jersey’s historic “bridge and tunnel” reputation, the new location, in a former Cadillac dealership, is in a decidedly tony locale. “I drive by Stephen Colbert’s house on the way to work every day,” he says. Indeed, the townships from Maplewood, to the south, north to Englewood are home to many of the region’s entertainment professionals, including Broadway musicians, jazzers such as Christian McBride, Billy Hart and Wallace Roney, and filmmakers and scoring composers.
Amlen hired industry veteran Tony Drootin as facility and booking manager. Drootin, who spent years as manager of numerous Manhattan commercial facilities, including Sony Music Studios, Unique Recording, Daddy's House and Platinum Sound, is already taking bookings.
“We have a film score slated, with a 40-piece ensemble,” Drootin reports. “We have a soprano opera singer with acoustic guitar coming. And our first session is a video shoot with DMC from Run DMC; he lives two towns away. There is a huge music community in Montclair, this county and Bergen County.”
The building, with its steel frame and concrete floors, now houses two studios designed by Amlen in consultation with acoustician George Augspurger. Studio A encompasses a large tracking space and four iso rooms, three accommodating a full drum kit, including two that can house a nine-foot grand piano. Up to 15 musicians can fit into the B room, which offers two iso booths. Both control rooms are outfitted with soffit-mounted Augspurger-designed main monitors plus a selection of nearfields.
The centerpiece of the A room is a 72-input Neve VR desk with Flying Faders acquired from the now defunct Blue Jay Studio near Boston, which, during 30-plus years in business, hosted sessions by the likes of Billy Joel, Carly Simon, Aerosmith, Yo-Yo Ma, Roy Orbison, k.d. lang, Lady Gaga, Amy Grant, Boston and Alice Cooper. The desk was refurbished, including a complete recapping, and has been modded by John Musgrave’s Mad Labs.
Amlen made the decision to sell the two SSL J Series consoles previously at MSR, bending to what he sees as an industry trend. “The J has an amazing-sounding mic pre, but there’s a bias for Neve,” he observes. “We have 72 wonderful mic pres in our large tracking room,” with 112 mic inputs from the floor available at the patchbay. Plus, he notes, Pro Tools can be mapped onto the 72 faders for mixing.
The Euphonix System 5 console from MSR has been rehoused in the B room. The desk’s EuCon protocol enables its use as a 72-channel Pro Tools controller.
The Euphonix desk has 48 mic preamps with 72 channels of analog I/O, and 80 mic inputs from its tracking spaces. “In a smaller tracking room, 48 pres plus whatever else we want to roll in gives you a lot of flexibility,” he says.
Rather than lose valuable floor space in the control rooms to tape machines and racks of outboard, Amlen has taken a more minimalist approach. “There’s basic stuff—a Lexicon 480, an Eventide DSP4000—so for someone who wants to do a quick, down-and-dirty vocal or band session, we have reverbs and cue sends. We have the Aviom system with two dedicated stereo cue feeds in B and up to four in A,” he says. The entire facility is wired with Cat 6 and dedicated hi-def video cabling, with tielines between all the rooms and iso booths.
Berklee has announced that its Power Station facility will be refurbished, and there are several Manhattan studios potentially in precarious positions when their leases come up for renewal over the next couple of years. That presents opportunities for Sound On Sound, Drootin believes.
In any case, he says, the facility already offers advantages over its competition in the city. “We could save people $400, $500 a day on a lockout because we’re not in Manhattan. And the commute is less than going to parts of Brooklyn.”
Plus, he says, “We can fit 30 people in the parking lot—and it’s free!”