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Flashback – Chelsea Sound Studios

Before working at A&R, I worked at a small downtown studio named Chelsea Sound. It was a cozy little room located on the top floor of a small building on 14th street.  I’m having a hard time finding pictures of this room, which is disappointing because it was a funky looking classic 70’s tracking room. The studio live room was about 25 ft x  35ft and had a large shag carpet in the center of the floor. The vocal booth was lined Floor to ceiling with blue shag carpet and the drum booth ( which looked like a little shack ) was covered with green and orange carpet inside and out. The drum booth  ” windows ”  were open to the live room and didn’t contain glass.

Dead rooms like this have some huge advantages. There are less reflections hitting the microphone which makes the sound more coherent, with less phase cancellation and unwanted room sound. The result can be  clear and warm. On most instruments except maybe strings this can be quite pleasing, on drums it is amazing. Imagine bringing up a tom mic and getting very little cymbal or snare leakage.

Dead rooms can also help provide a very intimate recording setup. All the players can be close together. A simple gobo can be sufficient to reduce leakage, and since the leakage is direct and coherent, it adds some air to the sound without stamping a sonic imprint of the room on your recording. The last dead room I had the pleasure to work in was the Hit Factory studio 2 before it closed.  It had 2 vintage Neve 8068 consoles strapped together to form a single 72 input desk. The control room was surrounded by 4 recording booths. The 1st room was totally dead, the second a live stone room, the third and fourth were wood rooms of different sizes. I was cutting basics on a ” Five For Fighting ” album. Originally I had the bass in the dead room, 3 different Pianos in the Marble room , Drums in the large wood room, and guitar in the small wood room. After cutting a couple tracks we swapped the drums and bass, putting the drums in the dead room. They were Huge, big, fat, and punchy. It reminded me how much I missed a dead recording space. A very high percentage of pre 1980 recordings were tracked in dead or very controlled studios. A few years later, almost all studios would switch to ” Live Rooms “. Hard walls and floors for that ambient sound. Live rooms can be great but the charm and versatility of the acoustically dead studio has been lost.

The control room at Chelsea was next to the hall leading off the elevator. Cutting the width of the control room down to about 10 feet. The console was a MCI JH 428 fitted with 18 modules, and the tape machine was a MCI JH-24 16 track multitrack. Outboard, as you can see in this picture, was Eventide 910 Harmonizer ( used primarily for delay ), an Eventide Phaser, a pair of LA-3a’s, one LA-2A, and a pair of DBX 160’s. We also had a tape sonic 1/4 inch 2trk for slap delay. This machine didn’t have a varispeed which is needed to adjust the slap delay time, so we would just would wrap some masking tape around the capstan to speed the machine up, if you wanted a shorter delay, just add some more masking tape!
In the photo is Engineer Bob Clifford working with Tiny Tim. ( note the deep pile carpet on the walls )

For reverb there were two choices, an AKG BX-20 spring reverb located in the office, and the EMT 140 tube plate in the basement. Having the plate in the basement caused two problems. First, the elevator motor was located down there, so every time the elevator started you heard a loud click and humming sound in the plates. Second (but more humorous) the landlord rented the basement to a Latin band to rehearse on Thursday nights. So in the middle of tracking you would hear the reverb of a Latin band in your echo returns. We eventually built a huge case to mount the plates in and moved them away from the elevator, which solved both problems.
Behind the control room was a small lounge and office. Man, did I love that place.
I was 17 and I had the keys. It was like having my own private loft with a built in recording studio.
© Bradshaw Leigh 2010

One thought on “Flashback – Chelsea Sound Studios

  1. Clif Jones says:

    Love reading your studio blogs Brad ! Keep em’ coming !
    Clif Jones – lavintagegear@earthlink.net

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