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THE NEWS FROM the nation's economists is not good. But while everyone's muttering about a recession, Miami's studio bosses are renovating and expanding, remodeling their rooms and adding new equipment. "The big part of that is the expansion of the music business itself and the diversification," explains Mix editor David Schwartz. "Studios don't just do demos and albums any more. There are other projects in the visual world - television is more audio-oriented with stereo TV, and there's more competition to put the soundtrack and audio effects into a prominent position. The film industry is drawing on audio more. Industrial presentations are demanding more music and sound. With all of that, studios have gone through an evolution to where it'shard to find a plain old single-room 24-track, unless it's private or artist-owned. The small studio is disappearing in favor of elaborate `project studios' with rooms for producers, artists, jingle people, soundtrack developers."
A project studio is not a guarantee of increased business - Joel Levy says Criteria was hurt when it overexpanded by building the cavernous Studio A, a room so large it was the site of a huge party to celebrate the release of Nuclear Valdez's first album two years ago. Studio A was designed with movie projects in mind. "We expected a lot of film activity in the area," Levy says, "but that didn't happen."
Overall, though, experts insist that the recording business is thriving, here and elsewhere. Shirley Kaye owned Coconuts Recording Studio in Miami before she sold it in 1987, a move that forced her to resign from the board of directors of the Society of Professional Audio Recording Studios (only owners are allowed on the board). But when the nonprofit umbrella group's executive director also resigned, Kaye joked that she'd take that job. No one laughed. One of Kaye's first acts as executive director was to move SPARS's offices from Beverly Hills to Lake Worth. "Everyone says we're in a recession," she observes, "but the top-of-the-line studios are doing well and the industry is spreading out across the nation - Kansas, Seattle, Portland, Phoenix. There's a new one on the West Coast that has nine rooms. There's no real trend, but with the availability of equipment now, it is viable to move across the U.S. - you don't need to go to New York or L.A."
An increase in SPARS membership and other indicators show that business is good, but no one, including SPARS, keeps track of exactly how many recording studios there are in any given city or how many open and close. But neither does anyone dispute that New York City and Los Angeles are America's recording capitals, due mostly to the fact that those cities are also home to the majority of the world's record labels. Nashville might be the third-biggest hub, and many insiders estimate that Miami is fourth. (Cities such as Chicago and Atlanta are known more for studios that specialize in advertising work, mainly jingles.)
The approximately 50 studios located in and around Miami offer all types of service, from jingles and soundtracks to standard albums. While this area's unique cultural situation helps business, there is no segregation as far as studio selection. For example, the large number of Latin-music stars living in Miami are just like any other musicians when it comes to choosing a studio, although many tend to prefer Puerto Rico (a favorite of salseros), South America, and Los Angeles. But it is not unlikely to find a top Latin act and a local rock band using the same studio on a given day.
Nuclear Valdez, Miami's top rock and roll band, didn't need to go to New York or L.A. for the sessions that will result in their second Epic Records album, Dream Another Dream, due to be released in July. Instead they joined a list that includes some of the biggest names and best-known projects in music history when they and their producer chose Criteria Recording Studios. "Basically everybody figures out where to get the best sound at the best price," explains Nuclear Valdez singer and veteran studio rat Fro Sosa. "Studios are more compatible these days than you might think. What differs most is price and hospitality - and location. In our case, we had a world-renowned studio in Miami - and everyone wants to be in Miami anyway, so it was very easy."
"Miami is becoming the real place for the future," adds Criteria's Joel Levy. "It's relaxing here compared to the pressure of L.A. and New York. This studio has the capacity and the technology, Miami has the culture, sports, and weather. You can use New York or L.A., or you can use Criteria and get Miami with it."
THE PROPRIETORS OF Sync Studios have taken geographical considerations a step further, pinpointing not just a city, but a neighborhood. The ten-year-old operation, which has moved several times over the years, just two weeks ago completed construction of its latest facility, which is on the first floor of the 940 Lincoln Road Building in south Miami Beach, tucked in a corner at the end of the entrance hallway. "Local musicians don't have cars, and they all live on South Beach," says Frank Falestra, one of Sync's five co-op owners, each of whom owns some of the studio equipment and shares in profits. "We had 100 people walk through to check it out during the first three days we were here."