Inside Moon Studios--A Recording Experience

     By Laura Jean Watters

 

    "It's gonna sound great if you work here!"

    Henry Falco is charming, expansive, affable, voluble, hospitable. In

the ancient   world  Falco  might  have  been  an  innkeeper,  welcoming

weary travelers,  seeing  to their every need and assuring them they were in

good hands.  In  this lifetime, Falco is the "proprietor", the chief engineer

of Moon  Studios,  in  Rosebank,  welcoming  musicians, sometimes weary from

a difficult  creative  journey,  into  the  warm,  candle-lit confines of

the studio  where  they are certainly in good hands. "It's gonna sound great

if you work here!"

    Having  listened  to  too  many  poorly  produced work samples that

hurt otherwise  wonderful  COAHSI grant applications, I've wanted to

investigate production  resources  available  to  Staten  Island musicians. I met

Henry Falco  at  Nicole  Wright  and Karlus Trapp's fabulous Junefest

performance this  year.  He  is  immediately  likable  and obviously excited to

invite interested  parties to Moon Studios. So I was delighted with the

invitation to  find  out  what goes on inside the Bay Street studio with the

celestial Scott LoBaido mural.

    Once  inside,  I  freaked.  The  console looks like a rocket ship,

where graphics  add a visual element to mixing and editing and digital

technology preserves  everything,  for better or worse. I figured I was in way over

my head,  especially when Falco enthusiastically launched into a

jargon-filled tour.  I needn't have worried. Sure, Moon Studios has all the computers

and gadgets  that  you'd  expect  to find in an effective modern studio, but

as Falco  points  out,  they're merely tools, new kinds of hammers for

shaping the  final  product  you want. They haven't replaced the ear, which

remains the  most important tool. The recording process still comes down to

talent, experience  and  a passion for the work. That's what Falco and Moon

Studios really provide to Staten Island's music community.

    The  fee for studio time is $55 and hour--a bit pricey for Staten

Island but  a  fraction  of  the  $150  fees  that large Manhattan studios

charge. Musicians  can  expect  to  spend  between  $200 and $500 to record a

song, though  Falco  is quick to reassure musicians that he can work within

their budgets.  When  musicians  book  the  studio  Falco  wants  them to feel

as comfortable as in their own living room, where many report doing their

best work.  Beyond  recording  expertise,  musicians  can  get  assistance

with arrangements  and  securing  other musicians. And with the price of

booking the studio time comes Falco's commitment to the project, his experience

and his trained ear.

    Falco  started in the business 25 years ago, when his supportive

parents turned  him  on  to a music engineering school in Ohio. His mother

probably picked up on her son's interest in music, which didn't necessarily take

the usual  course.  Although  vocals  have always been important to him and

the Beatles  were  an  early  influence,  Falco  reports being entranced by

the photograph  of  the  Beatles  on the Let It Be album. You remember, the

one where  they are performing on the roof of Apple Studios. Instead of

looking at  the  guitars  or how cool the Beatles looked, Falco was wondering

where all those wires ran to.

    After returning from the program in 1985 Falco started his career at

the bottom  when an employer offered $8-a-day wages though the guy would

really have  rather  paid  $5.  Starting at $40 a week he learned to hustle,

doing what  the  recording  studios  wanted  and  doing  it fast, proving

himself intuitive  and  capable  along the way. In a few years he was a

$70-an-hour engineer working at the well-known Quad Studios in Manhattan.

     But  technology  moves  fast, especially on the music scene. The era

of the  large, $150-an-hour studios is past. Falco is seeing an evolution

that favors  a  symbiotic relationship between smaller studios like Moon

Studios and  musicians  who  have  some equipment at home. Even now musicians

often bring  a  CD  they've recorded in their home studios with them so Falco

can separate  out  the  tracks,  perfecting  them  adding  special  effects

and correcting  errors.  A  vocal  track or additional instrument tracks may

be added.

    What  musicians  don't  have at home, though, is the critical,

objective ear  that  Falco  has  developed  from  a  natural gift through 25 years

of training in the business. He's worked with a wide range of artists

covering many  musical  genres.  Famous  players, like Miles Davis, recorded at

Quad Studios. The high times of the '80s were an education. He learned on

analog but  gradually  moved on to digital. But Falco could foresee the end to

the large  studios.  The  prevalence  of  new, readily available technology

was bound to put some of those engineers out of work.

    So again with support from his parents, and partner Dan McNealley,

Falco built  Moon Studios with his own hands. (It seems he finds the same kind

of creative  rush  in  carpentry  as  in  mixing music.) Although the scale

is different,  at  Moon  Studios  he was looking to recreate the atmosphere

of Quad's  coffeehouse,  where  musicians had a chance to hang out, talk

about their craft and potentially work together.

     Falco  knows  that the big studios will still exist for the one

percent of  acts signed to major labels, but there's still a lot to be done for

the 99  percent  of  musicians who are not signed but steadily working at

their music. He's amazed at the talent he hears on Staten Island. As the

engineer works in partnership with musicians, cajoling them, pushing them a little.

    He   dreams   of  a  changing  music  industry  where  between  the

few multi-millionaires and the musicians struggling to make a living there

will evolve  a  "music  middle  class."  The Web is still anarchy, but if

record companies  can  figure  out  a  way to effectively market through the Web

a musician could make a decent living selling 30 copies of a CD in Bejing

and 30  copies  in  a little town in Jersey, he says. That's where he sees

Moon Studios playing a role, working with those artists.

     While  talent  won't guarantee success in the music business (though

it will  certainly keep you in the business), and good breaks certainly mean

a lot,  having  a  professionally  produced  demo  will  make you sound

good, perhaps  help  you get a gig, secure a grant or help you get signed.

That's enough  to  keep the phone ringing while I'm there at Moon Studios.