Houses That Rock
Joel Feinberg knows exactly whom to credit for his love of music: his old headbanging babysitter from when he was a preteen in Queens, New York. That caretaker was none other than Scott Ian, the guitar player in the legendary heavy metal band Anthrax. Feinberg and Ian’s families lived in the same complex back in the mid-1980s.
“My mom would drop me off at Scott’s apartment,” Feinberg recalls. “The whole band would be there and would be like, ‘What is this kid doing here?’ By the time I was 10, I knew music was it for me. I wanted to be a rocker like them.”
Feinberg studied music in college and later played guitar and bass in several New York City bands. Now 40, he is the CEO of De Wolfe Music USA, a company that licenses and creates audio for television and film. He lives in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn with his wife and infant daughter.
Making a living in the music industry can be especially challenging for those who decide to start a family, whether that’s in the city or the suburbs. Some get it done by tapping into their creative reservoir.
That was the case for Feinberg, whose job includes recording original music for clients. For years, he rented a studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, which is a 40-minute subway ride from Park Slope. With a child on the way last year, Feinberg realized it would be tough to commute a long distance and spend evenings away from his family. “I had to make some choices,” he says.
The native New Yorker let go of his Greenpoint studio and instead built one in his Park Slope loft. He bought a new desk and a few high-end microphones to go with his large collection of instruments. His biggest challenge was creating a distraction-free environment where sessions could be engineered. After all, there would be a newborn in the apartment, plus the usual urban hazards such as loud neighbors and noise from street construction and vehicles. Any of those elements could ruin a perfect take.
“I had to take all that city life into consideration,” says Feinberg. “You have to find a way to inhibit the sound that’s coming in and out of where you’re recording.”
The solution: Feinberg bought a sound-resistant vocal booth that has a ventilation system and studio monitors inside, plus windows to keep an eye on his family. “I just did a session last week, and there was a baby screaming during the whole thing,” he says. “The recording still sounds great.”
Rockin’ the Suburbs
Back in 2000, Chad Johnson was looking for a backup singer for his band. The decision for the gig came down to a woman named Alli and a male vocalist.
“She was the better singer, but he had some sweet vintage gear,” says Johnson. “So I said to her, ‘We’re going to go with this guy because he brings more to the table, but would you like to go out sometime?’”
Flash forward 15 years. Chad and Alli are married and live with their two children in Anna, Texas, a city that’s 45 minutes north of Dallas. Chad is an author, editor, and session musician for Hal Leonard Corporation, the world’s largest music print publisher. He has written guitar instructional books about artists such as Radiohead and Eric Clapton. Alli is a singer for a local folk band. The couple also occasionally performs in a duo called the House Cats.
Prior to Texas, the couple had rented a home in North Carolina for two years. They wanted to buy a house, so they relocated to Chad’s native state of Texas because the market there was more affordable. They purchased their current two-story home in 2011.
A large part of Chad’s job is making audio tracks — including guitar, bass, drums, and vocals — that complement the instructional books he works on. He does this in a studio he built on the second floor of his home. Johnson uses his master bedroom as a control room and his kids’ playroom for recording. The latter is filled with both toys and amps. “That’s the home studio situation when you have kids,” he says with a laugh. “You have to work with what you’ve got.”
Johnson made several acoustic treatments to the home, such as adding sound panels to the walls of the control room and laminate floors in the recording room. Despite the nifty setup, his dream is to eventually move to a property that has enough land for a separate building where he can work in the wee hours.
“Right now I can’t crank the amp with the kids sleeping, so if I work after hours, I have to use amp simulators,” he says. “That does the job, but it’s not my preferred way of working.”
Tones of Home
Designing a suitable creative space is crucial for the home recording process — and even for brainstorming ideas.
“Sometimes I don’t even record — I just go in the booth to play,” says Feinberg. “It’s sort of my musical man cave. Nobody bothers me. I bring the lights down, and I can create uninhibitedly.”
It’s also a must for the rooms to have good acoustics, a factor that sometimes gets overlooked. Great gear and talent can only get you so far — if a recording is mixed in an area that’s not treated for sound, the audio could be muffled on other systems, such as a car stereo or an iPhone. “It’s so important to do what you can with the treatment so the recording translates from place to place,” says Johnson.
Putting together a home recording studio takes a lot of planning and work. Making it happen, however, could help sustain a career in music when the demands of family life take over — though of course no situation will ever be 100 percent childproof.
“It’s not an easy road to do the in-home studio,” says Feinberg. “There are compromises. Like, I’ll have an idea for a song, but I have this baby in my hands with a full diaper and have to deal with that. You’re going to have those trade-offs, but most of it is awesome.”