Mon, Feb 23, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Musicians staying home to record

The widespread use of near-professional equipment is letting musiciansrecord in their bedrooms, though the neighbors may still notice the noise

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , New York

The Negatones play a practice session at their home studio and practice room. Such home studios are becoming more commonplace as professional recording equipment falls in price.

PHOTO: NY TIMES

Jay Braun, a guitarist for a New York City rock band called the Negatones, is well versed in the science of soundproofing.

"Sheetrock, soundboard and plywood, over and over," said Braun, a fast-talking 32-year-old who has erected soundproofing in two New York City living spaces. "We really did want to be good neighbors."

Although musicians began recording in their homes as early as the 1970s, the migration away from professional studios to homes expanded in the 1980s, as drum machines and multitrack tape recorders came into widespread use. Now that computers and recording software are household items -- Apple Computer's new operating system comes with a program called GarageBand -- recording at home, for musicians, has become routine. "It's becoming harder and harder to find people who do not have their own home studio," said Alan Fierstein, a Soho-based acoustic consultant, whose own professional studio, Sorcerer Sound, recently closed.

"Twenty years ago, a studio was the only place you could make music," said Russell Simins, drummer for the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, a New York City band. "Ten years ago that was less true. Now studios are being avoided. People have computers. They sit at home."

But with home studios came the noise. And the efforts to contain it.

"It's the neighbors that create the soundproofing equation," said Gary Silver, a sound designer who has been soundproofing homes and professional studios since 1984. "New York being what it is, that really makes it a problem."

For Michael Mehler, who lives directly below a home studio in a building on the city's Lower East Side, the most frustrating thing about the musician upstairs is his choice of instrument.

"Jumping up and down with the electric guitar is different than playing Bach," Mehler said on a recent Saturday. "It's not like he's a violinist."

Mehler added that the musician "could do it with headphones."

That is precisely the advice offered by Richard Murdock, a property manager in Manhattan, who has had to handle complaints about a tenant with a studio in a Lower East Side building.

"That boom boom boom, and the rattling of the dishes," he said. "Most of these old tenement buildings are not steel and concrete. Playing live music in an apartment, it's impossible not to encroach upon your neighbors."

The first mistake, Silver said, is the assumption that sound can be trapped in a room by putting up some carpets.

"I constantly have people talking about foam, fabric and egg cartons," he said. "You need mass. Sheetrock, concrete, wood. Expensive, heavy things have to be built."

Braun, like most people, began on the low end of the learning curve.

His first attempt at soundproofing came in 1996, when the band rented part of an artist's loft in Williamsburg. The band members marched to a Home Depot and bought plywood, and slabs of Sheetrock and layers of soundboard.

"We thought we were so sophisticated," recalled Braun, dressed in a rumpled suit jacket and sneakers on a recent Thursday afternoon. "We were all high-fiving each other up to the time we brought in the bass and the drum set."

But the new walls had a baffling effect. Instead of sounding muffled, Braun said, the music "seemed to have gotten louder."

It was a defining moment. Braun realized that "there is, in fact, a reason for science."

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