By BOB CANNON
For Montclair Local
Montclair has certainly seen its share of big-time musicians. But recently the town’s artistic pedigree has been raised even further with the opening of Sound on Sound Studios, providing Montclair with its first world-class recording studio.
The team behind the Greenwood Avenue operation boasts a combined 60 years of experience producing a wide range of artists from rapper Redman to opera great Renée Fleming, as well as helming sessions with The Roots and some guy named Springsteen.
Sound on Sound is the latest incarnation of a Manhattan studio founded by engineer/producer David Amlen in 1987 near Times Square. The studio merged with Right Track Recording in 2005, and was renamed Legacy Studios. A subsequent name change to MSR Studios followed in 2009 until Amlen shuttered the facility in 2016 due to construction in the area.
“The main reason that the facility closed in Manhattan was because of construction noise that was going on,” said studio manager Tony Drootin, whose resume includes stints managing Sony Music Studios and Area 51 in New York city. “The facility was located on 48th street, right where all the music stores used to be, when Manny’s and Sam Ash were historically called what would be called Music Row in Manhattan. There was a hotel going up right behind the facility that literally decimated business for over a year.”
The dilemma caused by the hotel construction interrupted a host of prestigious projects. “A lot of the business that the studio had at the time were not just the pop/R&B billboard-charting albums,but Broadway cast album work, classical ensemble work, jazz projects that were very high quality,” Drootin said.
DISCOVERING TUNE TOWN
It was more than the sound of jackhammers, though, that stopped the music. Real estate prices had made rents in Manhattan unmanageable.
So where to go? The Sound on Sound team considered Brooklyn and Queens, but “even though there were some great spaces there, it just wasn’t practical,” Drootin said. “So when you weighed the commute and the distance, the Montclair area became an extremely viable option.
“It’s a great town. It’s got a great arts community, William Paterson University, Montclair State University, the Wellmont Theater, a lot of culture, art, music and great restaurants and great bars. The location made it perfect. We’re three blocks from the Bay Street station, a 28-minute commute, which is probably as far as hopping on the F train and going to Brooklyn.”
Inside Sound on Sound are two state-of-the-art recording rooms. Studio B is a 600-square-foot space that opened last summer with two isolation booths that accommodates small ensembles, bands and podcasts.
In December, Studio A opened, with a 1,250-square-foot space. Each room is stocked with enough top-shelf equipment to keep a gear-head in perpetual ecstasy.
SWEET HOME A LA CARTE
But according to Drootin, the fancy consoles and microphones are only part of the studio’s allure. “My motto is a good studio is like a good hotel. All the rooms need to work, they need to sound good and they need to have excellent service.
“We’re almost like concierges in that we need to know the community. We need to know where the nearest Starbucks is, who has the best sushi and chicken wings, and where the best burger in town is. We may need to go do dry cleaning for an artist. We have a small kitchen area, so we can cater certain sessions and certain events. There’s Crockett’s Fish Fry, there’s Egan’s… it’s amazing what’s around us.”
However, Drootin took care to point out that the studio is not just for the musical elite. “We have a local music school that’s now sending kids over whose parents want to just record them playing solo piano piece,” he explained. “So we’re trying to take it easy on those types of people who don’t have the backing and record label budgets behind them. Every session is a deal. We try to say, ‘What do you need? How much time do you need? How much money do you have? We’re going to try and make it work.”
In addition, Drootin and his staff are mentoring audio engineering majors at William Paterson University to help teach them the ins and outs of the studio. “William Paterson is wonderful, because the audio engineers are required to be music majors, so they perform and they read,” he said. “We absolutely embrace having audio engineers that can read a score and can follow along with the producer and the band.”
In short, the facility is looking to serve both the Montclair community and a music industry that is undergoing seismic changes. “We think we’re actually at the forefront of a movement,” he said. “You’re going to see a lot of audio facilities trying to find new homes because of the cost of doing business in Manhattan — and we think we made the right choice.”