BerkleeNYC’s Redesign Of Famed Power Station To Breathe Life Into The Studio Business & Education

What I loved most about visiting the famed Power Station recording studio in Manhattan recently is that, the philosophy of its new owner, BerkleeNYC, is like mine. “Un-Block The Music”! Stephen Webber, executive director, walked me around the famed recording space and spoke about BerkleeNYC’s plans for the future. “New York is the place of Hip Hop as well as Broadway, Tin Pan Alley, Pop/Rock music; we want to represent all that goes on here!,” he said.

BerkleeNYC took possession of the space almost a year ago, and they plan to close down this winter to renovate and upgrade. When it reopens, it will not only continue as a commercial studio but also as an education space. However, when I say recording studio, I need to define that. It will be not like any studio the music industry has seen in the past. It’s a new modern experience.

Power Station Studios was founded and designed by Tony Bongiovi in 1977. Tony designed its rooms specifically for multitrack recording to achieve a live sound. Power Station Studios was one of the most awarded and decorated recording studios in the world, with hundreds of gold and platinum records from artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, David Bowie, Madonna, Bob Dylan, the Clash, John Lennon, Pat Metheny, Sting, Joan Jett, Chic, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Aerosmith, George Michael, Duran Duran, Bon Jovi, the Kinks and Billy Joel.

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In 1996, Chieko and Kirk Imamura purchased and operated the facility as Avatar Studios. During that time, they built additional studios, integrated modern digital audio capabilities, and hosted clients including Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, Herbie Hancock, Sheryl Crow, Muse, Norah Jones, Bruno Mars, and Berklee alumni John Mayer, Diana Krall, and Esperanza Spalding.

BerkleeNYC took over the building in September 2017, and according to Stephen it has been super busy, “way more than we ever expected.” When I was there, Chris Martin from Coldplay was recording! How cool.

Anyway, BerkleeNYC immediately upgraded equipment, including all of the Pro Tools systems, featuring the new Matrix Systems and the modern, “trash can-style” Mac Pros. The first gig BerkleeNYC handled after they took over was a Morrissey mix by Bob Clearmountain. If you don’t know that name, you certainly know the albums he has mixed from Rolling Stones to Bryan Adams to Paul McCartney! (Check out his website: http://www.mixthis.com/)

Immediately after that project, BerkleeNYC introduced its new gear to the METAlliance which is a collaborative community that promotes producers, engineers and audio technology manufacturers to work together. Stephen said, “We hosted the six most demanding engineers in the country (Al Schmitt, Chuck Ainlay, Ed Cherney, Elliot Scheiner, Frank Filipetti, and George Massenburg), and it went great!”

“The studio upgrades have helped business a lot because we have been asked to do things that are pushing the boundaries. We are doing almost all of the bigger Broadway cast albums. In fact, Elliot (Scheiner) recorded, mixed and co-produced the soundtrack for the Tony winning revival of ‘Once On This Island’ here.”

The cast album for Disney’s “Frozen: The Broadway Musical” was recorded here as well. Stephen said, “it was the first cast album where we tied together studios A, B and C.  There were 27 singers in studio C all with individual mics. We also had close to 20 video feeds!”

Bringing it all full circle, Bryan Adams was in the studio as well recently with the cast of the Broadway musical “Pretty Woman.” He wrote the music.

BerkleeNYC’s idea for the future is to try and reinvent the studio business in a way that is economically sustainable. “We see video as being part of that. Right now, so many of our clients will come in and they will pay us $3500 for studio A and turn around and spend three times that to set up video from scratch!”

BerkleeNYC is making a major investment in video and the City of New York. Mayor de Blasio’s Office for Media and Entertainment and the Economic Development Council have stepped up to help. “To push the boundaries, we are installing 4K PTZ cameras in all of the studios, and RED cinematic cameras as floaters,” Stephen explained. All lighting is going to be transformed as well. The new lighting will be able to do any shade of any color including all of the different temperatures of white…there are warmer whites, cooler whites, etc. ,” Stephen said.

The idea is to be a one stop shop; to be the destination in the world to record and do a music video simultaneously. Stephen said BerkleeNYC is hoping to create a business model that can be copied by others in order to get the studio ecosystem back in sync again.

Capturing live musical performance is another aspect of BerkleeNYC’s upgrades. “We want to redefine what it means to capture live musical performance, so we’re also diving into 360 cinematic video capture in a partnership with Jaunt VR. They are making available two of their Jaunt One spherical cameras which are made up of twenty-four 8K resolution cameras,” Stephen explained.

He showed me a “proof of concept” piece on an Oculus Go VR headset featuring Magos Herrera and the Brooklyn Rider string quartet.

The idea is to be totally immersive, Stephen says. “Let’s put the audience in the middle of the musicians. The audience can sit there and spin around and look and listen all around them. It’s like being right there. This ‘ambisonic’ audio is immersive in that the audio event is connected to an instrument or a person in the spectrum. So, you hear things behind you and hear things in front of you. You feel like you are in the environment.”

When the studio reopens, it will have educational enhancements as well. BerkleeNYC is adding a classroom and ensemble room to the second floor as well as a virtual reality lab.  It will have a DJ lab too. A black box theater will also be added as a multi-use space.

“We are thinking of educational programming that will include production and songwriting as well as writing for musical theater. Also, we a program called LED which stands for Live Experience Design. That will include all the visual things going on live such as projection mapping, LED screens, Sound Design and live multichannel audio. The studio is adding a Dolby Atmos System as well,” Stephen adds. While the studio will be entirely run by professionals, not students, there will probably be internship possibilities.

The plan is to launch the major educational programming in the Fall of 2020 although BerkleeNYC hopes to get the studio up and running before that.

Another aspect of the relaunch is artist development. “We are very interested in working with the record labels to have an incubator program. If an artist is part of this, it will come with studio time, rehearsal time and mentorship. We are hoping this will help, not only Berklee students but anyone who applies. We want to help launch their careers,” Stephen says.

Whew…that is a lot to take in, but as someone who has covered pro-audio for years and has interviewed many of the amazing people I mentioned above, I am excited to see the reinvention of this business. Home studios are amazing, but there is nothing like the give and take of all these professionals in one room at one time in a top-quality audio video studio. Stay tuned! (Pun intended.)

 

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