by Jennifer Landes
Cynthia Daniels has a voice meant for radio. Low in timbre, rich and melodic, it soothes the ears like warm buttered rum. Her radio shows, “MonkMusic Radio” and “On the Air at Crossroads,” showcase East End musicians playing and talking about their music.
Tomorrow, those musicians will join her and her co-host Bonnie Grice at Guild Hall at a fund-raising event for it and WPPB 88.3FM, the Southampton public radio station that broadcasts her shows.
Describing the event as well as her life’s work and the genesis of her new recording studio she calls MonkMusic on Nov. 15, Ms. Daniels’s voice was particularly resonant in the warmth and silence of her studio, where the pelt of cold rain outside could be seen but not heard.
On the approach to her house in the Northwest area of East Hampton, the only indication of the studio’s presence is a small sign over the doorway. Low and wood-clad to blend in with the wooded surroundings, it is a house appurtenance that could be anything but is in fact a state-of-the-art facility with maximal impact in a minimal 650-square-foot space.
The studio was designed by John Storyk, who began his career designing Electric Lady Studios for Jimi Hendrix in 1969 and has since gone on to design some 3,000 studios around the world. His client list includes Alicia Keys, Green Day, Bruce Springsteen, and the Ross School. Ms. Daniels’s studio was completed in August.
The space, she said, is the culmination of everything she has been working for since she first knew she wanted to be a recording engineer as a teenager.
She went to Boston University and received a film degree, but summers were spent at the Institute for Audio Research in New York City, one of the few schools at the time that offered instruction for recording engineers. “Then I got in on the ground floor of a large recording studio,” working for Phil Ramone who recorded Grammy-winning music for Billy Joel, scores for “giant films,” and many other musicians such as James Taylor.
“I learned how I now train people, from the bottom up,” she said. For her, that means “sharpening pencils, bringing tapes, and keeping your mouth shut, and watching the greats.” She continues to work with some of the clients she met in those early days in New York City.
With gray-blue walls, the color of the North Atlantic and sandy-color stained-wood floors, “it’s pretty and acoustically perfect,” she said of her studio. A pin could drop on the carpet and still be heard, yet in the two soundproof booths that flank the main studio, loud rock music is inaudible with the doors closed. Both booths can be opened to form one large studio. Or vocalists or certain instruments can be isolated within them. It is a pretty impressive space, where the sound is “not too live, not too dead,” she said, clapping her hands to demonstrate her point.
Her East Hampton guestbook both here and in a previous studio space in her house has included Alec Baldwin, Blythe Danner, Paul McCartney, Steve Martin, Kelsey Grammer, Liev Schreiber, Mercedes Ruehl, Lorraine Bracco, and Roy Scheider. She has recorded albums for Nancy Atlas and in the new space for Joe Delia and Inda Eaton. She has also mixed music for Chaka Khan there. Her other recording credits are too numerous to name, but she has a surprising mix of genres including caberet standards, Broadway cast albums, classical compositions, and more.
She became an East Hampton full-timer they way most people do, expanding her weekends until just a couple of days were spent in the city per week and then none.
This summer she was asked by a BBC producer to record an interview of Terry Smith, a financial analyst who summers here, to air first thing the next morning in England. She has a mobile rig for just this purpose.
“I loaded up the rig in the car at 11 p.m. and went over to his house. They spoke on the telephone with his answers recorded by me.” She sent the recording electronically, “they married the two and had it on the air at 6 a.m.” Coordinated Umiversal Time. She has flown all over the country with her mobile devices and can record anywhere.
Still, she likes it better at home with as many live performers in her studio as the project and space allow. “Bands like to play together and like to play together live. I made sure I had a space where that could happen and where they could see each other.” Since August, she has worked on three different projects with full bands.
“I can’t bring an orchestra out here, nor do they want to come out on the Jitney,” she said with a laugh. Still, she finds the space perfect for her purposes: recording rock albums, mixing classical or popular music, voice-overs, and replacing dialogue in movies and television with new lines after a scene has been filmed. She even has surround-sound equipment and said she looks forward to using it for both music and film sound projects.
Her cables and other wired connections are all through the ceiling and from her console. “There’s no chasing wires on the floor. I can engineer from all rooms as well. Any room can be my control room.” A closet that abuts the studio can serve as another recording booth and has the same cable setup through the wall.
Not only are the rooms soundproofed, they have also been insulated from the sounds of things like heat and air-conditioning and computer fans. She has chosen chairs that don’t squeak and the walls are configured to absorb sound and return it in an amount and form to keep it lively and focused.
The individual spaces are additionally isolated by climate. “They’re thermostatically separate. Alec loves it like a meat locker. I don’t.” Mr. Baldwin was in the studio to record a book on eye rhymes, words that are spelled similarly but are pronounced differently. Ms. Danner also worked on the project.
The glass doors on the side of the building open out to the green of the woods, which can be seen from all of the separate spaces. “I love the open doors, but I have to be careful not to offend other people.” On the other hand, before she had this studio, “I had Julie Andrews in here recording and I was out begging the neighbor not to mow his lawn in the middle of the afternoon. I got tired of that.”
She also tired of having sound interfere with her home life, so a thick door separates the studio space from her living quarters. She has a suite in her house for people to stay and a concierge service to provide more visiting artists with accommodations and other services they might desire.
Her work is a balance of music and voice work, something necessary in this market. The days of the big record contract are over, but then again, “it was never that easy to begin with.” A select few made it and the rest sold records out of the back of their cars, building reputations on small gigs and word of mouth, which has become the acceptable norm today, she said. As the industry contracted, so have the studios, making her new venture the kind of downsized model that still succeeds in these times. “The business model has failed, but the music will continue.”