Flux Studios’ Fab Dupont and Daniel Sanint make the case that rookie artists need professional recording studios.
“Step into my office,” says Fab Dupont, gesturing toward the couch in his Flux Studios Revolution Room. The witty Frenchman is slammed between mixing and producing tracks for his massive and eclectic roster of clients. Not that it comes without recognition – a three-time Grammy nominee, Dupont won in 2004 for his work on Toots and the Maytals album Duets. But with a shaggy flow of wavy dark brown hair and a sharp Parisian jawline hidden by coarse hairs beginning to sneak out, it looks as though he’s been spending quite a bit of time at the studio. He doesn’t mind though, for the Berklee-trained musician, recording is a passion, and within the mixing and producing community, Dupont is revered as a legend.
Things are changing in the recording industry, though. There’s no better time to be a recording musician. With modern technology, artists have the ability to record at almost anytime, anywhere, and for a reasonable price. Software like GarageBand, Audacity and Avid Pro Tools range in price from free to a few hundred dollars and gives anyone, from the experimenting enthusiast to the Grammy winner, the ability to do it all by themselves. This makes recording in a studio, a costly and time-consuming endeavor, unnecessary.
But for all the benefits of home recording that have arisen over the past few years, there are many who argue that if you want a truly quality sound, you’ll only find it by recording in a studio. While it may be costly, it’s an investment that will lead to bigger returns due to the quality that only a studio and professional producers and engineers can bring.
Dupont, producer, engineer and owner of Flux Studios on the edge of Alphabet City in the East Village, is one of these recording studio purists. In his five years owning Flux, building it from the ground up, he has made it a premier recording location for artists of every genre and size – Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Queen Latifah and Bon Jovi have all spent time at Flux. There’s pretty much nothing Dupont wouldn’t touch. “I wanna hear as much music as possible, as different as possible,” the Grammy winner says. “It’s pretty wide who we attract. The other day we had Big Boi laying a rap verse and Bebel Gilberto doing a Duran Duran cover for a benefit.”
And together, he and his clients are making a case that if new artists want to be taken seriously, they need to record in a studio.
Entering an unmarked black door next to a 99-cent pizza place doesn’t reveal what you’d expect out of a top-notch recording studio. Climbing an eerie dark stairwell to the fourth floor calls to mind the beginning of horror flick rather than the source of great music. But through the door labeled “Flux” is a warm and homely environment. Most noticeable is the sound – or lack thereof. The acoustic panels covering the walls absorb any ambient reverberations which in a noise-polluted New York City, comes as an almost enlightening gift. Flux feels like a place you want to stay and write a novel – or, heck, maybe record a great album.
And that’s what Dupont wants. Not because he used to call this place home when he first began renting it, living and breathing Flux as he built the studio from scratch out of the remnants of another, called Dangerous Studio (that has now moved on to make equipment, which Dupont uses in his studio). And not because his crew spend most of each day perfecting mixes and assisting artists in whatever way they can, often spending the night on one of the lounge couches. But because he wants the artists to feel like Flux is their home, where they can feel comfortable and focused. “It’s all in the facility – the environment – which is the vibe you get from it and whether you wanna make music there,” Dupont says.
It’s also the people involved. “If you like the way our mixes sound, you come here,” he says. “Your needs are attended to, your mistakes will be called out.” These are all things he believes are necessary for producing a record that is meant to be heard by the world, not just yourself. “If you’re an artist, music shouldn’t be made in a vacuum. Music is made for people, unless of course you’re just making it for yourself and your cat,” he says. “It’s very healthy to play your music around to people in the process of recording it because it will shape it for other listeners.”
But so much of it, Dupont says, is in the equipment. A gear aficionado, Dupont is sponsored by several music equipment companies and has been intricately crafting his studios for the last half decade to make his trademark sound. “He’s very, very in touch with this gear world,” Sanint says, adding that with equipment from companies like Focal and Dangerous “All of our rooms have the same signal flow to keep a kind of consistency.” Three rooms in all, Flux has something for every recording artist. “People come to record here because they like the sound of our rooms,” Dupont says. “People go to Abbey Road in England because the Beatles recorded there.”
The biggest and most grandiose studio – the Dangerous Room – is big enough to sustain a full band to record live, something that is uncommon in this day and age of recording. “It’s great for jazz musicians who still need to play everybody at the same time,” Sanint says. “They need to feel their cues, they want to play their solos, so it’s great for that.” It’s Dupont’s masterpiece, full of state of the art equipment and loads of history – the Rolling Stones would rehearse there in the 1970s when their tour came to town, long before Dupont rented it. “There’s a lot of equipment here that’s only here,” he says. “It would take somebody a million dollars to put this stuff together.”
According to Dupont it is the full package that makes it advantageous for artists to record in a studio. “It’s the sound, plus the environment, plus the counseling, plus the emulation, plus the networking,” he says. “Being in the studio, of course there’s a cost to it, but the returns are much higher.”
“Every single decision - every single act in the process of making a record - influences the natural outcome of the record,” Dupont says. “So you have to work with people who are in command of that stuff, and it’s an enormous knowledge base.” It’s for this reason that Dupont believes it is not accomplished and experienced artists who really need the studio, but the rookie artists who don’t have the capacity to perfect a record themselves. “There’s this thing that you only deserve to go in the studio later when you’re better,” he says. “The problem is that when you just start, you know nothing. So it’s best to surround yourself with people who do and those people are found in recording studios. You need somebody to have your back.”
For new artists, though, it may be a struggle to cover those cost. For starters, they don’t have labels to fund recording. But Dupont believes the return on investment of recording in a studio far outweighs the initial cost. “How much does it cost to make a record?” he asks rhetorically. “Well a studio like the Dangerous Room at Flux goes for about $1,200 a day.” If a band is really on it’s game, well rehearsed and in the right mindset, it can record an album in 10 or so days. “That’s $10,000 in your cost of production, and that’s low,” Dupont says. “That’s only 1,000 records sold to recoup your investment. That’s a low cost of entry to invest in a product that’s going to get you gigs, reviews and support to be able to make things like videos.”
Recently, an independent South African duo, The Arrows, flew in to record at Flux. Soon after producing their album, they were picked up by Universal. Though this doesn’t always happen, Dupont does see it happen quite often. “It happens a lot. People come in here and record and soon after they get picked up,” he says. “But it’s not like they’re people who have been singing in their shower and then the day after they have Universal at their door.” The Arrows had been around awhile for several years as an independent band, touring extensively and getting some radio play.
The price tag can also help speed up the process. “Cost is a beautiful thing because it essentializes the process,” Dupont says. “Most artists who start working on their first record, it takes two years. Some people work on a track for six months. It’s preposterous. You can’t do that if it costs $80 an hour.” But with a professional, whose job it is to get things done as efficiently as possible, artists can have an album recorded in a month. “A professional is not just gonna hang out,” he says. “He’s gonna come in, do the work, get paid, do it again tomorrow – it’s not in a good professional’s interest to drag things along.” Dupont, for instance, hates working on one song for more than two days.
The most important thing in recording a quality album is finding the perfect and appropriate sound to make sure listeners don’t pass it up. “There’s so much music that if your stuff is ever so slightly subpar, then you won’t get through to people,” Dupont says. And he’s right; the music industry has changed and because of the increase in recording techniques, there is more competition. “The reality is that there’s still money in the music business, it’s just not sitting there on the low branch like it used to,” he says. “Now it’s way up high, and you gotta climb to get it.” And the best way to get there is to sound better than the next artist.
While there’s no guaranteed correlation between recording in a studio and making it big, and obviously not every artist who has recorded at Flux has gone on to get signed, Dupont maintains if an artist is serious, they have to consider the studio. And it’s artists who are just starting out who need it the most. “If you go to a studio you’ll sound better than when you do it in GarageBand in your living room, that’s for sure,” he says. “As the artist gets better at what they do, then they will start doing more and more on their own.”
Billy Mitchell is a freelance journalist based in Nashville, Tennessee. Mitchell is a recent graduate of NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and a former data journalism intern with music analytics company Next Big Sound. The Newport News, VA native has previously worked with CMJ and Rolling Stone.