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
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.