Part of the battle of recording is capturing the perfect audio, and studios are met with the ongoing challenge of providing the best technology for their clients. So when the owner of Brooklyn-based BB4 Studios was stocking his recording studio, he knew he wanted to offer his clients the right equipment to perform and record great audio. A long-time personal fan of A-T’s turntables, he sought out Audio-Technica’s professional microphones for his studio.
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with BB4 Studios’ owner/founder Rafael Planten and studio manager/house engineer Kiara Mudd. Read on for the full interview as we take you behind the scenes of BB4 Studios and look at the recording setup that attracts talent from Brooklyn and beyond.
Audio-Technica: Tell us a little bit about your background in music.
Rafael Planten: My background in music starts right here – I was literally born in the building that houses BB4 Studios! That’s one of the big reasons the studio is called that, it means “Brooklyn Born Brooklyn Bred.”
As I grew up, music became a huge part of my life. I was influenced by many genres of music, got into sampling, and from there got deeply interested in audio engineering and producing.
Kiara Mudd: I’m a composer and engineer, and I also worked at the audio post facility Gramercy Post before coming to BB4. I’m a co-founder of the music production company Evo Ent, where we’ve worked with artists such as Troy Ave, Raekwon, Bro4 and Jessenia Vice.
A-T: What gear is a must-have?
Rafael: When it comes to tracking, we were very careful about the instruments and amps, and microphones are a top priority as well. Our Audio-Technica ATM250 and AE2500 are widely respected mics – they’re our go-to in a variety of applications, including guitars, drums and horns. I’ve always been an Audio-Technica fan, ever since I first got their turntables to sample records.
For mixing and mastering, we aim for variety with our gear, often based on representing different genres and eras. We have a hybrid mentality of analog and digital – in the case of hardware or plugins, we look to reflect different styles and tastes.
For example, our great River Harrison 32 EQ is perfect for ’80s Michael Jackson-type sounds. The Alan Smart C2 stereo compressor can provide a very poppy ’80s type of feel. Our Manley SLAM! can go either way with hip-hop or rock.
A-T: What part of production are you most passionate about?
Kiara: I like mixing the most. That’s where you can really get creative with things like reverb and delay. It’s very rewarding to see a song come together.
Rafael: Before I started BB4, producing was my passion. Now my passions are expanding to include all aspects of recording, from setting up the mics to comparing guitar/amplifier combinations and capturing a drum kit. Looking for a certain sound through experimentation has been really exciting – as well as painful at times when you land a long way off from what you’re hearing in your head!
A-T: What inspired you to create BB4 studios?
Rafael: It was a dream of mine to start a studio back in the year 2000, when I was 20 years old and producing music out of my apartment. There were a lot of false starts along the way, but I’m so glad that it worked out the way it did.
When BB4 actually became a possibility to construct, our acoustician Christos Tsantilis told me a lot of his ideas about how the room can be maximized, despite the relatively small dimensions of the space. Another part of the equation was cryogenically pure silver wires, which was a treatment he had built into other rooms that he designed, which sounded fantastic. I was looking for a different sound, one that would translate extremely well outside the studio – I knew that this was the way we had to go.
There is also an important community aspect to what we do here at BB4. I’m from this neighborhood so it occurred to me to make a beautiful sign on the front that says, “We’re here!” A lot of studios prefer to remain in hiding, but you can’t miss us when you’re walking down Bedford Avenue, which is the heart of Williamsburg. The community has really thrived and changed in the time that I’ve lived here. So BB4 represents a past era, but one whose effects are in motion and blooming.
A-T: Did you face any major challenges when you first started?
Rafael: The challenges are ongoing. The first one was the initial build, where we had to get a great deal of it done within a short timeframe so that Ken Capton of Solar2Studios could come in and do his woodworking magic. Those weeks of working 17-hour days, almost every day, put so much pressure on all of us, but looking back it feels good to know that we made it through. The support, energy, and enthusiasm that we got from the team still gives me strength.
A-T: Who comprises the full BB4 team and how do your backgrounds complement each other to form the spirit of BB4?
Rafael: That would be Kiara, producer/musician David Lloyd, and myself. David took part in the studio’s initial build, and I feel very confident that if I need a second opinion on anything – from carpentry to music – I can call on Dave.
With Kiara and I, there’s been a great dynamic that’s been happening. I think we both understand the spirit of the studio with its hybrid of digital and analog, the past and the future. With the graphics she’s making, we’re growing quickly into the visual world in addition to music.
A-T: What was the very first performance at BB4 Studios like?
Rafael: Unofficially, that would be me, singing Michael Jackson for five hours to celebrate that we got the speakers up! [Laughs] But the first official session was recording the great drummer John Ihle (Chuck Berry, the Righteous Brothers). It was extremely validating when John hit his kick drum and said, “This is a good room.”
A-T: The studio is beautiful! What’s your favorite room in the studio and why?
Rafael: I love every room, every inch. As someone that likes to create, I’ve written in the main room, I love to record in the lounge – and draw there as well! The first thing that everyone says is that BB4 is beautiful, and has vibe, which makes people comfortable. I’ve experienced that as well, I know it’s real.
Kiara: I like the main room, because you can really focus in here. It’s very isolated from outside noise, and it’s easy to lose track of time because there aren’t any windows. All that time is spent working.
A-T: What can artists get here that they can’t get anywhere else?
Kiara: They get a place where they can record, mix and master, and the sound of their project won’t change between the transitions, unless it’s intended to.
Rafael: BB4’s main room is designed to accommodate both mixing and mastering, which is actually the way studios were originally designed to operate. Being able to accommodate both phases, as well as tracking, means you can achieve precision, clarity and mixes that translate correctly. It saves time but it also gives peace of mind, which is priceless.
A-T: What are your studio guests most impressed with when they come to visit?
Rafael: It’s pretty universal: the vibe. This place used to be a nightclub a long time ago, and I think those energies are still here. It’s given it something special.
Kiara: People come into BB4 and say it looks like a spaceship. When they sit in the sweet spot, they really get lost in the environment. Everyone who’s worked here talks about losing track of time, creating without interruptions.
A-T: What is your favorite thing about Brooklyn?
Rafael: Aside from being born and raised here, I feel like I represent a special era of Brooklyn that isn’t around anymore. I’ve experienced a lot of changes, but I still love to see signs of the community. I’m biased, but I think Brooklyn is a place that survives and has a unique energy. It can really shape you, and you carry that with you.
Kiara: I also like the charm of the older buildings, and the art and murals that you see all around.
A-T: Do you think recording in Brooklyn adds a special element to an artist’s music-making?
Rafael: I think so! Brooklyn, and especially Bedford Avenue and Williamsburg, has a new level of excitement. But it can also feel quiet. So you can go out, soak up a lot of strong energy, and then go in another direction and find solitude – there are all these different experiences that you can squeeze out into the tunes.
Kiara: There’s an energy here, but it’s more laid-back compared to being in Manhattan. It’s a best-of-both-worlds feel that really helps a lot of the artists that come here.
A-T: Since opening your doors in 2015, what has been your most memorable project to work on?
Rafael: That’s tough – each project has brought something new. If pressed, I’d say the Beyond the Beyond project, because of the bonds we’ve formed with Ian Lloyd, David Lloyd, John Ihle. I care about that album, I feel like it will be something special. We’ve all collaborated so much on tracking, mixing, re-amping, instrument selection, working with so many guest musicians. It’s really inspired me creatively to work with such an accomplished artist as Ian Lloyd.
A-T: Why do you think artists need a recording studio like BB4?
Rafael: I think being in a studio alters the creative senses, to a degree. Artists have told me that the more they’re here, the more their ideas open up in ways that they wouldn’t have in a home studio. BB4 gets people to explore what they can do here, with the precise sound we have. That’s why an undiscovered jewel can come out of a studio environment.
A-T: Do you have any big plans for the next year? The next 5 years?
Kiara: We want new clients to keep coming in, bringing different energies and experiences. New sounds require new techniques for tracking and mixing, and that’s always welcome.
Rafael: I hope to maximize everything the studio can offer. That means not just tracking, mixing and mastering but also the visual side with video production and animation. We love having well-known artists here, but even more I’d like to see someone unknown come in here, make a hell of a record, and become an incredible success. We’ll all grow from that.
We’d like to thank Rafael and Kiara for taking the time to share their expert takes on studio recording, as well as their thoughts on the Audio-Technica ATM250 and AE2500 microphones used at BB4 Studios!
If you could record with any A-T microphone, which one would it be? Tweet your responses @USAudioTechnica!