Making Tracks

Falestra and his colleagues at Sync have a knack for breaking the rules by which studios tend to abide. Most owners put great emphasis on the physical nature of the building - the height of the ceilings, the thickness of the walls, the square footage, anything that might affect acoustics. The new room that houses Sync's equipment was not designed by a specialist (yes, there are specialists who design rooms to house studios). The owners used acoustic padding to enhance the less-than-standard acoustics of the space, built a wall to separate the control room from the studio, and made other hands-on adjustments. But as engineer, producer, and co-owner Michael MacNamee readily admits, "We adapt and improvise to this room's psychoacoustics."

At Sync, a separate, small "MIDI room" is dedicated to digital work, a computer-synthesizer process that eliminates the need for musical instruments and is essential to the making of hip-hop records, as well as jingles, dance music, and avant-garde or experimental efforts. For the old-fashioned and the rock and rollers, Sync's main studio features isolation booths for drums, guitars, and the other human-played instruments.

Sync's new home is located next to a club that's due to open soon and which plans to stage live music. The studio will then run wires to the club, which will allow the live performances to be recorded at the studio, generating the oxymoron of studio-recorded live music. "We can snake the mikes into the club for live-to-board recording," is how Falestra describes the technique. Most live recordings are made with mobile equipment, which is efficient, but hardly as flexible or versatile as having full studio facilities practically inside the club.

Despite the plethora of digital technology at Sync, Falestra says the emphasis is not on sterility and perfection - the distillation of sounds to their purest form. "Airplanes can cause problems," he says with a laugh. "But with the gates and expanders [special enhancement equipment - for more about these and other examples of studioese, see "Sound Words" sidebar], you won't hear those sounds. Then again, I say keep the distractions in if it's a good take. Some perfectionists demand dead silence, but we go for the performance." Sync also encourages musicians to turn the knobs and slide the faders of the console, rather than hiring an engineer to do it. "A young band with a friend who wants to be the producer comes in," he says, "and we tell them, `Sit down and do it. I'll be back to check on you later.' At a place like Criteria, it's, `No way. Don't touch that.' We mostly compete with the home studios, not the big established ones."

Home studios are a sign of the recent revolution in the availability of high-tech recording equipment and the boom the industry is experiencing. Though few of them are likely to boast a $400 Digital Super Effector Sampler Pitch Transporter like the one that rests on the console at Quadradial, these home studios are Star Wars compared to the professional studios of rock and roll's early days, when Elvis Presley and his contemporaries recorded on two-track equipment - one track for instruments, one for vocals.

"It's a trend," says Shirley Kaye of SPARS. "You can do some projects in small home studios, then finish in a large one with a lot of toys. Then again, some of what we call home studios are million-dollar setups. People think of a garage with a little piece of equipment, but Michael Jackson and Prince have home studios. The term `home studio' is a misnomer."

Big stars living in Miami tend to save their garages for their Rolls-Royces. They build their "home" studios in warehouses and other buildings. Emilio and Gloria Estefan had one of these private studios built on Bird Road; the Bee Gees have their Middle Ear at 1801 Bay Road in Miami Beach. Local stars also build their own public studios. Luther Campbell's new Luke Records complex, under construction at 8400 NE Second Avenue, will include a state-of-the-art 24-track studio. Chris Blackwell, legendary founder of Island Records and a talent scout who "discovered" Bob Marley and many others, is opening South Beach Studios at 1200 Collins Avenue, perhaps as soon as September.

WITH THE AVAILABILITY of high-tech recording gear, the boom in the industry, and the diversification of sound studios into the areas of film and video, Deerfield Beach's L-7 Studio would be a nostalgic piece of Americana if it weren't for the fact that some of South Florida's top rock and roll is still recorded there. You can't find L-7, at 273 NW First Street in Deerfield Beach, just by looking for it - it is one warehouse in a row of them, painted white. No sign, no nothing. The staff consists solely of Mike "Bongo" Hawn, a member of Stumble Church who performs chores around the studio in exchange for recording time. The inside doesn't stack up to a Criteria or a Quadradial, although there are a few toys, a couple of synthesizer keyboards, and an Atari computer. The few high-tech gadgets are overshadowed by a 30-year-old Wurlitzer piano, a psychedelic-colored Ludwig drum kit dating back to 1967 with the original skin on the bass, a pile of vintage guitars in their cases. The entire place is illuminated by one bare light bulb.

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