When you operate a commercial studio that is as busy as this one and you’re running every day, the priorities are simple: Creature comforts come first; Maintenance is a close second, meaning every piece of equipment has to work first time, every time; Third: you make friends for life by coming through for people no matter what; Fourth: we Water Music team are all British butlers.
This is 180 degrees from where Water Music started.
The doors were thrown open by a solo album by Chris Stamey of the dB’s recorded in 1982. The record was cut with Stamey, producer Scott Litt and Rob Grenoble working on a 16 channel EV/Tapco PA mixer, a Scully ½” 4 track and a single Urei 1176LN compressor. They used mono ¼” guitar cables for patch cords. The record made almost every Top 10 List in the country. Chris went on to A&M Records and Water Music was born.
It was a creative time. The Feelies, Yo La Tengo, the dB’s, Joe Jackson’s band, Chris Butler from the Waitresses and Freedy Johnston all camped out in the studio. The list included Marshall Crenshaw, Matthew Sweet, Bob Mould of Husker Du, Mitch Easter, Kevin Salem, Overkill and many more. An API console was shipped in from Sunset Sound in Los Angeles. Rob and his band were signed to RCA Records and they were out of town playing more than they were in town, so John Siket (Dave Matthews Band, Phish, Soul Asylum) came in as a young staff engineer to keep the studio humming.
In those days, the Water Music team did all the tracking and mixing. They made great records but they weren’t experienced at hosting visiting producers and engineers. One day Marshall Crenshaw remarked that his coffee was delicious but that there was at least a half an inch of soap in the bottom of his cup. That put John Siket over the top and from that day on, the Water Music staff was TRAINED.
Early one morning, the band came in off the road; Robert Miller was trying to fall asleep by watching a show on the training of British butlers. The candidates were standing in front of mirrors, fully dressed in butler uniforms, practicing speaking with enthusiasm: “Right away, Sir.” “I’d be delighted, Sir.” “I’d be happy to.” “Consider it done.”
“Rob, come look,” Miller called. “This is it. This is how we have to train our people.” Enter the British butler. The transformation had begun.
In 1992, George Augspurger designed the current installation at 931 Madison Street. Ken McKim of Bearsville Studios was technical advisor. Rob wanted a classic room (meaning a hanger) like A&R’s A1 in New York and Abbey Road in London. George wanted clean sight lines and lots of iso rooms. Ken found a way to do it all, putting his foot down when it came to the choice of console. No one has ever regretted installing the mint Neve 8088 that graces the control room today.
Water Music had a lot of help from producers who knew there was something special going on. John Agnello, Michael Barbiero, David Bendeth, Joe Ferla and Lou Giordano brought album after album to the studio. Warren Haynes booked month after month. This institution was built on friendship, respect and a common need for a great tracking room. Ultimately, the clients won. The studio that started as a tool for a songwriter and his band grew into a buttoned down, professional place where everything works first time, every time.
What the founders didn’t anticipate was that the residences would turn the studio into an international crossroads for talent. Today artists fly in from all over the world to work in the Big Room and eat great food from Hoboken’s incredible restaurant and club scene.
The rest is history: Dave Matthews Band, Shakira, Beyoncé, Allman Brothers Band, Sonic Youth…the list goes on and on. But the studio never let go of its roots. On any given day, there will be a cutting edge band right off the street to be found somewhere in the building. And for almost thirty years, Water Music has recorded every private and public school around, free of charge. Even the Hoboken cheerleaders.