- In Residence
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Avatar Studios is a full service, multi-room recording facility in New York City. We have been recording hits for over 30 years.
We are known for great acoustic spaces, well maintained vintage gear, competent staff and professional client services.
Our specialty is orchestral recordings (able to accommodate up to 60+ pieces), Jazz, Rock, music for film / TV / commercials, and Broadway cast albums. Over 400 Gold & Platinum records have been recorded here.
We can take care of your recording needs from writing and pre-production to tracking, mixing and mastering, all under one roof.
Musicians stepping forward to “warn” politicians not to use their music – HBO Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. (Mixed by Roy Hendrickson at Avatar in Studio R).
In a past blog entry, we talked about how we tracked a large Broadway cast album in Studio A. We have done quite a few cast albums in the manner described since then. Although we prefer recording in one room to keep things simple and at a lower cost for the client, there are cases where we simply have to use more than one room because of a larger cast / orchestra and the need for more isolation. In 2014, we recorded cast albums for Rocky the Musical and Side Show using the two-room set up utilizing both Studios A and B. A case study for recording the Side Show cast album is presented below.
The 15-piece orchestra, conductor and two principal singers were situated in Studio A and the remaining singers (featured soloists and chorus) in Studio B. Frank Filipetti engineered the session.
The conductor was positioned with his back to the glass of the control room facing the live room. The main live room was split into three sections bordered by a wall of gobos separating the strings, woodwinds and brass instruments. A bass booth was set up and tall gobos were used to isolate guitars. The drummer was in the piano room and the percussionist was in the rhythm room with all sliding glass doors closed for isolation. Two principal soloists occupied the side iso-booths of Studio A adjacent to the control room.
The rest of the soloists were in iso-booths in Studio B and when the chorus sang, they were in the main live room of Studio B. Soloists took turns at designated solo mics depending on which song was being recorded. The control room was manned by a second engineer who took care of levels and took care of the singers.
Between A and B
There are 48 channels of analog tie-lines available between Studios A and B. All the vocal tracks and console talk back was routed from B to A. The instrumental mix, two principal vocal tracks, conductor talk back and console talk back was routed from A to B.
In addition to using the Neve 8088 console, a few external mic pres were used in the A control room. We ended up with a total of 80 inputs going into the Studio A Pro Tools rig.
Sight lines – Video system
In order to secure sight lines, a video routing system was used so the conductor could see all the singers, and the orchestra and singers could see the conductor as well. The people in the control room had access to the same images.
It took all day to set up both rooms and the orchestra was recorded on the same day in the evening. The cast came in the next day to record with the orchestra and recording ended at night.
The session was produced by Sam Davis and engineered by Frank Filipetti assisted by Aki Nishimura and Thom Beemer. Engineer Alex Venguer manned the Studio B control room assisted by Nate Odden. The cast recording will be released by Broadway Records.
QUESTION: How do you record a large Broadway cast album?
There are not many large rooms left in New York City to record Broadway cast albums, particularly ones that require an orchestra and a group of singers to be recorded at the same time. Our Studio A is large enough to accommodate both in one room and have a proven track record to do it successfully. Sure you can do it split across two rooms, but why pay for two when you could do it in one and why add the additional complexity and heighten the risk of something going wrong?
Avatar Studios has recorded many cast albums over the years including Les Miserables, A Catered Affair, Avenue Q, Cabaret, Grey Gardens, The Pajama Game, Spelling Bee, Sweeney Todd, Little Women, Next To Normal, Xanadu and many others. The most recent cast album we tracked was Stephen Sondheim’s Road Show. By doing many of these types of sessions, we have accumulated experience in carrying out what some might describe as a pressure cooker since there are many actors / actresses / musicians involved, who are all on the clock, and the sessions are often attended by producers, songwriters, other production personnel and sometimes VIPs.
The important factor here is to be able to isolate the players. There will be some leakage, but minimizing the effect is the key. Taking a session we did in Studio A for Les Miserables, the set up that worked well is shown below (click on image for a larger view). In this session, there were a dozen singers and the orchestra was made up of a dozen string players and a woodwind and brass section.
Studio A has two large isolation booths in the rear – the piano room and the rhythm room, which can be closed off using sliding glass doors. Studio A also has two smaller iso booths next to the control room. The multiple singers and chorus section were all situated in the piano room with eight microphones. The rhythm section consisting of percussion, drums and guitars were in the rhythm room. The principal singers were in the small iso booth closest to the main live room. The main live room was split down the middle using a wall of tall gobos to isolate string players from the horn players. Looking out from the control room, the string players were on the left side and the horn players on the right all facing away from the control room. The conductor was at the edge of the main live room facing towards the control room. The Fender Rhodes player was right in front of the conductor. All the singers and players had a clear view of the conductor as did the people in the control room.
Some variation of this set up was used in other cast album sessions. Sometimes the conductor stood in front with his back against the control room glass with all players looking towards the conductor / control room. Sometimes, the singers / chorus and rhythm section swapped rear iso booths depending on the sonic and size preferences, i.e. one booth is more lively and slightly smaller than the other larger and drier rhythm room.
Another important point is to be organized and have multiple cue mixes go out to each subsection and make sure that everyone with headphones is comfortable. Typically in these sessions, we assign two experienced assistant engineers with one or two additional runners. We usually spend a few hours preparing and setting up either the day or night before the session. After a while, the set up goes fast.
This type of session is quite hectic and often lasts one full day, but once the session is done, there is a great sense of accomplishment of having successfully dealt with so many people and any unexpected hiccups (countered by quick workarounds). It is all about working quickly and you cannot do these types of sessions unless your equipment is well maintained and your staff is right on the ball. It also helps to have thick skin. I know these are not the kind of things one thinks about when listening to cast albums, but hopefully you now have an insight into how it was recorded.