Sound Approved NYC Studios
Updated: Jan 18, 2019
We often hear, "This location is terrible for sound!" which is especially true here in New York City. It's very difficult to find a good sounding location to shoot at and record sound in this city and many others. Consider how many old buildings there are that are not well insulated, have old loud pipes and vents visible and closed windows sound wide open to a city of 9 million people, workers and machines. You're doing a studio shoot, a sit-down interview perhaps, where the sound is by far the most important aspect. In fact, statistically speaking,
for every 1 minute of interview sound used, only about 18 seconds of the video from that interview is being used.
I can't seem to find my reference but I swear, I read this in a film textbook! So why are we constantly given bad sounding locations? Well, other than the obvious, I find that in NYC, the term, "sound stage" is thrown around more often than "where's crafty?" but I'm here to tell you about a handful of studio locations in NYC and LA in which sound department actually loves to work. In the event that those spaces are booked up or out of budget, I'll also tell you what to look for when scouting another location or studio space.
There are many studio spaces in New York City that advertise themselves as "soundproof" or "popular for video shoots, interviews, etc.;" those are often misleading. On one particular instance, I was recording sound in a "soundproofed" studio and the owner came to me and said "You're gonna be hearing our neighbors but you have a good microphone right?" Yes, I do, I have a great microphone that is great at picking up sounds with much clarity. It's a microphone, not a wand. Sorry, my sound-snark is pretty full right now, but think about this; most studio spaces I've been in in NYC have multiple studios next to each other where they rent them out to other loud film or photo shoots blasting music for a music video or modeling, or they rent the space out to a dance team to rehearse. These are all 100% real experiences I've had and I 100% hear all of this. We hear outside, we hear the neighbors on all 6 walls, we often hear the A/C and electrical system INSIDE the studio room. Do not confuse "soundproof" with "sound stage" and be very skeptical of a sound stage in NYC because that term is probably being stretched.
The idea of a "sound stage" is that it is sound-proofed well enough so sound cannot enter or escape the room.
To be honest, this is very difficult to find in New York City despite the studio labeling themselves as a "sound stage." On top of that, proper acoustic treatment such as foam, sound blankets, thick curtains or other sound absorbing materials are extremely helpful as well, yet rare in these studios and "sound stages."
Acoustic treatment and soundproofing are two different things. Soundproofing a room is not just putting foam or blankets on the walls; it involves proper installation of proper insulation within the walls, often using dry-wall, fiberglass, caulk and other dense materials. Even ventilation and climate control can be designed and installed with sound-proofing in mind. Sound can travel through tiny cracks and pathways within walls and floors. If air can get in, sound can get in, and when it comes to soundproofing, you are only as strong as your weakest link.
I do have good news though! I have worked in some studio spaces and other locations that I really liked and have gathered more recommendations from other local sound mixers. A personal favorite studio space of mine is Digital Arts NY on W. 29th in Manhattan. It has soundproof A/C, Acoustic treatment, no windows, soundproofed doors and was very quiet. They had a green room right next to the studio for clients to comfortably sit in and watch the monitor on a big screen with a short cable run from the studio. The studio was small, however, so with cameras, lights, crew, etc, it might not be big enough for anything much larger than a two person interview. If that works for you, check them out; I personally don't know rates but it seemed it would be fairly priced.
Red Line Studios in FiDi came in recommended and looks fantastic to me. They state, "Our walls, floors, & ceilings have been treated with three layers of sound containment. Double sided sheet rock, sound proof green glue, roxul, and sound proof foam have been applied to provide as much sound isolation as possible." Check them out, but remember, the Cyc is not the "sound stage," only Studio B is properly soundproofed.
Bravo Studios in Manhattan seems to be popular and I'm certainly not the only one raving about it. They have three stages, all of which are acceptable. The studio on 28th street is their best one in terms of soundproofing though, but the two on 27th street are fine with enough sound blankets. See if the location provides furniture pads or if your Sound Mixer can bring some.
The Guggenheim Annex on W. 54th in Manhattan was recommended to me as well by a trusted Sound Mixer. I've never worked there but I see it is advertising itself as a "sound stage," however, it looks suspect to me, being an older building with windows, so keep your expectations lower on this. I believe they are the only location on this list with a kitchen set though, so it may work for those louder cooking shows.
I've added a few other locations at the end of this article, but if you can't book any of these studios, other great ideas are looking for different types of spaces such as a music recording studio as no soundstage will be any better sound-wise. In fact, a recording studio in East Williamsburg called Strange Weather is one that comes to mind because it's both very spacious for crew and equipment for a talking head shoot and has a large control room that can be comfortable for clients.
Another idea is a hotel conference room, preferably in the basement. Basement or below ground locations are fantastic because the earth around them acts as a very effective sound insulator, plus there's no windows to street noise. I've done a shoot in a restaurant where they had seating below ground along with above ground. Albeit, this is certainly no sound stage and I still heard the subway and a little traffic, but being below ground was much better than shooting upstairs. Downstairs was an above average location for me. Of course, being a restaurant, they had a kitchen with prep workers still making noise at all hours and loud industrial refrigerators that can't be shut off for health code purposes.
I've even worked in big popular expensive studios or "sound stages" in NYC where our studio wall is being shared with the wall of one of their kitchens. These studios get so big and popular that they build a restaurant for their high end clientele, but of course, that brings a million new noises on their client's soundtrack. Then what do they do? Blame the sound guy of course ; )
Sorry, I can't end an article with "Blame the sound guy," so let's try this; there are indeed some great locations to record clean sound in; a short-list of Sound Mixer Approved™ (trademark pending) sound stages is below for your convenience. Book away and happy recording!
Guggenheim Annex (Has a kitchen set)
Soundtrack New York (Also in Boston)
NEP Group (For large talk shows/audience shows)
Strange Weather (Music Recording Studio)