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Power Station Studios

PowerStation Nick Orr Sessions 6.6.19

SFL Music: Hi, is this Rob?
Rob Roy: Yes, it is.

SFL Music: Hey, Rob. It’s Tom Craig from SFL. How are you?
Roy: It’s a pleasure to meet.

SFL Music: Pleasure to talk to you too. And thank you so much for your time.
Roy: Hey, man. My pleasure. My pleasure.

SFL Music: I wanted to start and ask you to give me a little bit of background on Power Station.
Roy: We’re celebrating our 19th year here. The studio started as a tool. I’m just trying to figure out where to start, because it’s a long story. I was working with Tony Bon Jovi. I was his engineer and producer, and I was working on a project that I ended up getting a … We did a showcase and I turned down three record deals because that was the beginning of the 360 deals. I ended up with Tony doing a joint venture with a label with some investors. So I had gotten investment to do a record. And 9-11 happened, and our investment pretty much got put on hold. So I had Tony Bon Jovi, who created the legendary Power Station, the original in New York City, which is arguably one of the most awarded studios in the history of recording studios.

And it was based on a very specific acoustical algorithm that made the magic of that studio. So I came here, I call this Pompton instead of Pompano. But I’m like, “We’re in the waiting game.” 9-11 had happened in the investors were heavily into aviation. So they’re like, “Rob, you got to wait.” So I actually built studio, the first side of the original studio here, maxed out every credit card, this, that. And the whole idea was just to complete the record, at least get enough started pre-production and stuff to keep the momentum of the project. So that way, when the investment came back, we’d go to New York, Power Station, New York and finish the record.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. 9-11 killed everything at that time. And so the project was forced on the side burner. I’ve had studios in town here for decades and friends found out I had a studio and they’re like, “Hey, Rob, can you do some tracking for me?” So I’m looking all these credit card bills coming due, and I’m like, “All right, come on down.” So I’m doing my project during the day, still working on that, but twisting knobs for else at night. And the by-product of all that was, as I said, the project took a detour and went on the side burner and eventually back burner, but the studio survived that.

And labels found out that Tony Bon Jovi was working out of a studio in Pompano, here. And so we started getting label stuff. So I had to grow there and we took over another bay in our warehouse, this warehouse facility, and we built Studio B and built, did a lounge, an office, and a second studio and we kept growing and growing and weathered the storm, the market crash of 2008. And we kept weathering the storm and kept growing.

And then in 2016, I had the opportunity to do some upgrades and really become a player in the studio business. I ended up getting my hands on one of arguably one of the best sounding, large format, super analog consoles, the Neve 9098i. There was only 23 of these made in the world, only nine made it to the United States, one of which I was able to get my hands on. And we commissioned here in our Studio A. And then Studio B, we commissioned another Amek/Neve that was once owned by Disney Studios.

And at that point in time, it was the separator that really took us into, as a player in the real world of real productions. There’s a lot of studios out there, a lot of project studios. But when you start getting into level of this 9098, brand new, the way it was configured and stuff, when they installed it, they probably put up over a million dollars getting that console installed. So this was a really big deal for us. And then we just kept growing, and growing, and growing and then here we are.

SFL Music: Wow.
Roy: And then this crazy COVID thing happened, and somehow we’ve created this little story that keeps us … The Little Engine That Could, we keep chugging along.

SFL Music: Yeah, it’s-
Roy: Which is how Joseph Conti plays into the whole COVID-19 thing, but we can get into that type of thing.

SFL Music: And one of the things Jay told me was, there’s quite a bit of famous-ness in that board. Can you tell me a little bit about the board itself and what its history is?
Roy: Well, I know what he’s referring to. One of the things that we did when we built these studios was we wanted to incorporate all life of recording technology and be able to utilize it at any given time, no matter how much, how little, how new, how old. So we are able to interface with true analog consoles, digital pro tools, and then outboard gear, and things like that. Some of the outboard gear that we have, we have … You’ve obviously heard of the Motown Sound, right?

SFL Music: Yes.
Roy: Part of what made that Motown Sound, that Motown Sound were these custom graphic EQs that are in the recording. Us gear heads are sought out after. There’s only a handful left in the world, and we’ve got a handful of the original Motown EQs here. We’ve got some these vintage Pultec, P-U-L-T-E-C, Pultec EQs built in 1951. We have just a ton of vintage and modern. We have these Neve module EQ and preamp modules that came out of the vintage Neve consoles of the ’70s, like the ones at Power Station, New York, the ones that Dave Grohl had bought the same modules. We have those. And then obviously we’ve got our bunch of modern SSL and all the new modern gear. But this console was just … Rupert Neve was the quintessential console designer. And this console that we have was considered his flagship model console that, this was the console that they said it couldn’t be done, and then it was done.

SFL Music: Wow.
Roy: I still walk in the room, and I look at this thing, and I shake my head and have no idea how the hell we got this thing. I was presented the opportunity to get this, to commission it. And it was one of those deals. You do good things with good people and people remember that, and your friends circle start to grow. And I got this call from a friend of mine that came across the opportunity. It was one of those things that I couldn’t afford … He calls me up, he’s like, “Hey, Rob. You want a 9098i?” I’m like, “Does a bear shit in the woods?”

He was like, “Well, hey, I got one for you.” I’m like, “Fuck you.” Matter of fact, that guy was my console tech, who happens to be here today, incidentally. But he goes, “I got one for you.” I’m like, “Stop screwing with me. I can’t afford that.” He goes, “No, seriously, I got one.” I’m like, “No, seriously, leave me alone. Stop jerking me around.” He goes, “Rob, shut up and listen for a minute.” And it was one of those deals. I couldn’t afford to do it, but I couldn’t afford to pass it up. And through the grace of God, and the planets aligning, or whatever people believe in, something happened and we ended up with this crazy thing.

SFL Music: That’s awesome.
Roy: Yeah.

SFL Music: What are some of the projects that you’ve been able to do on it that stand out to you?
Roy: One of the things we did get to do is we mixed the Philly POPS Christmas record on that, which was, I think 390 or 380 people on the stage, including the choirs and stuff. And so we mixed the Philly POPS Christmas record on that. We actually flew up to Kimmel’s, the Philly, the Verizon Hall, the Kimmelman Center, or whatever it’s called up there, I forget the hall that they performed, but we recorded three or four performances of the Christmas record. We flew up there on a Thursday for dress rehearsal, recorded it on a Friday, recorded it on a Saturday, recorded the Sunday morning, the early matinee, flew back down marathon mixed this stuff. And then had it for sale printed, pressed, and packaged, the following Thursday, at the Kimmel Center, because the show goes on for a couple of weeks.

SFL Music: Right.
Roy: And if it wasn’t for a console of that magnitude, there would be no way that we could do something like that.

SFL Music: And turn it that quickly.
Roy: Yeah. Yeah. And last night, even in this crazy COVID thing, we actually had a horn section in here, live horns with … Because we have a large live room that allows us to do live horns and string sections and not just the rock, rap, and hip hop that everybody does. But it gives us the flexibility to do any style, any type of music with the features of a million dollar console that … and the whole concept is, is that when I was recording in bands and stuff, I couldn’t afford … back then it was Criteria, and New River, and some of the big studios like that. I couldn’t afford to go in there. And what we’ve been able to do is take that level of recording that people with million dollar budgets, the same equipment and the same skill engineers that they would use, we bring it to the local community. And that was one of the things that we talked about in the article I did with … Back when Sean was running the magazine.

SFL Music: Right.
Roy: He goes, “What’s the difference? When a local band of books Power Station or a record label does it?” Well, it’s budget. “Well, what is included in that budget?” And it’s really just time. A lot of the things that the record labels can do that they do, if that’s part of their elite way of doing things, we’re able to offer the public at rates that are a fraction of what we should be charging. So the studio is all about people and it always has been. And one of the things that I dislike about our industry is that as soon as you get a couple of your golden platinum records on the wall, and I don’t keep mine here at the studio. I have my vanity wall at home that I’m proud of, but it’s condescending. And as soon as someone gets records on the wall, they get … Their shit doesn’t stink. And then they get these egos. And I always disliked that about our industry.

And one of the things that I remember from working at Power Station in New York, I had the pleasure to work there that … There was heart in the studio. You could feel it. And I wanted to create that here. And no matter what we’ve done and we got a million dollar console sitting over there, all this vintage gear here, none of that matters. It’s always about the people. And it’s one of the things that I’ve always championed, our team of engineers, and production people, and musicians, is we’re no different than the guy mowing the lawn, the guy or girl that’s working the counter at a fast food restaurant, or the other person that’s cleaning toilets, we’re service providers, just like anybody else.

Albeit, it’s a skilled service, granted, but it’s always about the people. And that’s what I wanted to create in this studio was it’s not about the budgets and this, it’s about people. And that’s one of the things that, I think, differentiated us from other studios and why we’ve lasted for 19 years and are continuing to grow. And crazy enough, growing during this pandemic.

SFL Music: Right. Right. Well, it seems like that philosophy goes a long way towards giving you that close-knit feel or a relationship, I guess I should say, with the local music scene.
Roy: Yeah, absolutely. As a matter of fact, when, when COVID-19 hit, I took this very seriously, very early on. In the beginning weeks of February, nobody knew what this would turn into. But I knew that as soon as you started saying the word pandemic, that it was all about just sustainment, and keeping my team in good head space, and keeping everybody in the game. So we started our strategy early. I did everything from pulling lines of credit to whatever it took. And I promised everybody that, “Nobody’s losing their house on my watch. We are in this together.” And part of what we did was analyze what was happening with the community and stuff.

And one of the things that we noticed is that when we were all under quarantine is, nobody was working, nobody. Especially musicians, one of the hardest hit in our community and they’re home and they’re creative people. So they’re writing all this content and stuff, but they have no way to distribute it or to get it out in a professional manner. So what we did is we looked at the whole practice of, because of some of the work we did, we were able to stay open during the quarantine. But what we learned was how to protect the environment and keep it safe. Everything from the alcohol, the Lysol’s, and the stuff. We even tried to make sure that our microphones were safe, because some of these vintage microphones that we have, you can’t just spray them with Lysol.

So I stumbled on the whole concept of UV lighting and found that the UVC class lighting actually killed germs. And lo and behold, come April fast forward to April, the studies came out that I was right. So we would use the UV lighting to clean and sterilize the microphones, and then realize that higher wattage would actually sterilize rooms. And so we created this really safe environment just with respect to this pandemic. And once we did that, it was still slow. We had dead days. There was days that we were dark. Fortunately I was able to grab some assistance from the SBA, a PPP. And so now I’m like, “All right, I need to keep these guys working for us.” 100% of PPP went to our staff.

SFL Music: Right.
Roy: But what I was able to do is, with the guys, we created this campaign called, it was #PowerStationpaysitforward. And we needed to do, again, we’re all about people. That’s what this community is, what brought us to where we are today. So it was our chance to pay it forward and give back. And so we created this campaign where people would just create videos and, “What are you doing during the campaign?” We were giving away, all you had to do is create a video, tag us, and put the hashtag. And each week we picked one winner to get a free 10 hour block of studio time.

So we were doing different things to just … We’d have days that are dark anyway, why not bring somebody in, I can justify, I can pay the engineers with the PPP, and we could give it back to someone that, in turn, use this to help power through. Even if it’s just motivational, we tried different things. And some of these campaigns that we did, we gave away almost $10,000 in studio time during the pandemic. And Joseph was one of those guys that were able to get free studio time during that time. And that’s what started the whole Joseph Conti thing.

SFL Music: Yeah. Speaking of Joseph, what was it like to work with a young man like that? And tell me about that experience.
Roy: Obviously I was getting to introduced to a kid like him, he’s just one of those rare birds that just has it. He plays all these different instruments and it was like, “Okay. Yeah. I know, we’re going to get you in here for a day in the studio. Yeah. That’s fine. We got you. Don’t worry.” Then he started sending me some demos and I’m like, “Holy shit, this kid is actually really talented.” And then I got a chance to talk to his dad, because Joseph only told me so much, I’m some strange guy on the other side of the phone. And I got to know his dad a little bit. And his dad was telling me some of the things, and some of his background, and I was just like, “This is one of those kids that’s just, he’s got it.”

And so I was honored that he was able to get one of these 10 hour blocks in the studio. And he came in and he literally did everything himself. Everything from the drums to all the different instruments, and he literally was a solo artist creating this stuff. We just took what’s in his head and make it sound like what it was in his head. That’s obviously what we do as a professional studio. But yeah, he’s just a really talented kid. It’s not that often that you see people with that just God given gift to see music and where it should go.

SFL Music: Yeah. And at the age of 16.
Roy: Exactly. I was just like, “And you’re how old?” He’s definitely an old soul. He’s channeling some … I don’t know. He may be channeling some musical greats from lives, be it past us or before us, but yeah, he’s definitely an old soul.

SFL Music: Well, I guess his great grandfather was quite the musician himself. And-
Roy: Oh, really? I didn’t know that.

SFL Music: Yeah, I guess he was a mandolin player. And in talking with Jay, that jumped out at me when I was having my interview with Joseph, you know?
Roy: Right, right.

SFL Music: That maybe as his great grandfather was coming through.
Roy: Hey, I think it would make sense to me. From what I saw and what I heard that totally makes sense. He channeled something from within and it definitely came out.

SFL Music: When I chatted with him, one of the things that he really, besides the chance of recording at your studio, one of the things that really stuck out at him was what he learned from you guys on the board, and watching you work the board, and how you brought his song to life.
Roy: Well, there’s a big difference from recording music and making a record. And anybody, it’s not hard with technology, anybody can get a microphone and a computer with some Pro Tools or Logic, or any of these programs and plug in a mic, a guitar, and record and capture sound. That’s not hard to do, but understanding how all of that works together and creates a record that stands beyond what can survive in a commercial environment, that’s the art that’s behind it. And one of the things that we always do here, and it’s funny, my engineers would, if I’m on a mix and a lot of times it’s a label mix or something. And I have people in the studio, young guys, and I love … Any of our interns are available, I invite them all to my sessions. Obviously I’m the owner. I can get away with it.

But guys like Joseph, it’s great because I love teaching these people and where they take these ideas that I have that were taught to me, passed down from the Tony Bon Jovi’s, the Ron St. Germain’s and all these great, famous engineers and producers I got to work under, they taught me those. So I like doing is paying it forward, did the same thing. And I always get this question sooner or later. It’s like, “Rob, in this competitive world, why do you tell everybody all your tricks? You give everything away. I’m like, ‘Why do you do that?'” I’m like, “Because it’s the right thing to do. But here’s the thing I can give them, I can show them everything in my arsenal, every technique, every trick, I can give them everything, but I can’t give them one thing. And that’s my ears and my ears, that have … my experience and my ears. I can’t give them that.”

So, it’s about take the thing and that’s how I did it. I remember I was working with Ron St. Germain, who, he’s done everything from Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Jimmy Hendrix, Tool, Soundgarden, 311, you name it. He’s one of my mentors. And I remember working with him on a session. And I think it might’ve been a 311 session, I can’t remember. But anyhow, he gets this massive, huge, wide, and detailed, and clean, and punchy drum sound that he’s got this sound. And of course I didn’t have all the gear at that time to recreate what he was doing. I knew what he was doing because I was assisting him on a lot of these sessions.

So I would take that knowledge and I’d bring it back to my little studio at the time, and figure out how to, “Okay, I know what it’s supposed to sound like. I don’t have this, this, and this, but I could try this, this, and this. All right.” Did I nail it? Probably not, but especially back then, but it was close enough to teach my ear and train my ear, how to really understand, and how to develop, and how to grow as an engineer. So having somebody like Joseph in the studio, that’s just, he’s attentive, and he’s a sponge, and he gets it. Kids like that is, this is what it’s about. That’s what makes it fun.

SFL Music: Yeah. And like you say, to run across one with a special ear like he’s got, and the idea in his head that he’s just chomping at the bit to get out.
Roy: Exactly. Wait and see what this kid, where he goes in 10 years. He’s just going to keep growing and he’s going to be a monster. He keeps doing what he’s doing and he has the support of his parents that support him in his arts and stuff. And that in itself is such a huge thing to have the support of your family and your parents to be able to do something like this. He’s one of those guys that’ll be the exception. He will do something special in his life. And it will be because of these experiences. Now, keep in mind, I set out, when I started, I’m a guitar player. I played in a band and that’s how I met Tony Bon Jovi originally, was trying to pitch him my band.

But in life, in your music path, sometimes the direction changed. And it did for me. So I went from one side of the glass in the studio, into the other side and the rest is history.

SFL Music: Yeah. Wow. Other than Tony and Ron, who were a couple more of your mentors or idols, as far as engineers?
Roy: I gravitate, engineering is one thing. But I really gravitated towards producers and arrangers because they brought such a musicality and direction. And many of them are also engineers as well. Matter of fact, just last night, I got to work with the legendary Charles Calello.

And he’s done everything. He was one of the original Four Seasons. He’s arranged and produced a lot of the Four Seasons stuff.

SFL Music: That’s right.
Roy: He arranged and produced for Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, obviously, you know the song (singing)?

SFL Music: Yep.
Roy: (singing). Those three notes, that’s Charlie Calello.

SFL Music: Okay.
Roy: And he’s done Bruce Springsteen. The list goes … I think he had something crazy. Don’t quote my numbers here, but it was something like 37 number one hits in his career, 90 some odd top 10 hit. It’s insane. And he was here last night, and working with him, and I’ve worked with him in a bunch of things. And just working with somebody like that and watching his arrangement, it has nothing to do with the recording. You put a microphone up and you put a decent microphone, placed somewhat decently, into a decent signal path. You’re going to get sound. But the magic to recording that I learned with guys like that is you’re listening to these horn arrangements. I was blown away. When you hear something from that kind of a talent, it’s all about the magic, and the music, and the musicians. And again, back to the people. You know.

SFL Music: Right.
Roy: In any hit single, the recipe for a hit single boils down to three simple things: the song, the song, the song. It’s all about the songwriting. You can have the greatest song in the world, the greatest songwriting in the world and the shittiest recording, it’s still the greatest songwriting in the world. You get a shitty written song that’s just a piece of crap with a masterpiece recording. It’s still a piece of shit. It’s just a good sounding piece of shit at that point.

SFL Music: Yeah.
Roy: So it’s guys like Charlie Calello that really opened my eyes to … There’s more to recording than just putting a microphone in front of a speaker, in front of a vocalist. There’s much more to it. And guys like him is where it really dug in and made me be like, “Wow.” You know.

SFL Music: Yes.
Roy: “This is amazing.”

SFL Music: Other than Power Station in New York. Were there any other studios that you drew from when you went to set up the one in Pompano?
Roy: Not really. Power Station, New York just made so much sense, not just because of its acoustical design, it’s based off an acoustical formula that we have recreated here. But just the ergonomics. When Tony had built that back in ’76, he was so beyond his time and to this day, as a matter of fact, that studio went up for sale. And we thought just like every other studio in New York, it was going to turn, that was the end of an era. And it turned into condos, because everything in New York is about building up air rights. And then they’re asking $26 million for the studio. And there’s no way you can support a studio business with that kind of mortgage over your head. So we figured that was the end of it. In the 11th hour, we get a phone call and Berkeley School of Music actually bought it.

SFL Music: Wow.
Roy: And not only did they buy it, but they called us asking, they wanted to license the name back, which now it’s called Berkeley at NYC. And even better, they’re going to update the place and they’re doing some construction right now. But the main studios, Studio A, Studio B, Studio C, and Studio G are all staying exactly the same, because that’s part of the heart of recording. And this physics of sound don’t change.

SFL Music: Right.
Roy: And it was right. So to circle back around to your question, Power Station was probably what I drew from the most. But keep in mind, I had Tony here. I was a business partner with Tony doing a bunch of other things. I had him in my back pocket. So I would bring him in here and he’s, “Oh, do this, do this, do this. And call me when you’re done.” And I do that. He’d come back. Then, “All right. Now, all right, we got to change that.” And he’s a freaking genius. And he just knows it.

And it got to the point where, when the control room was done and we did the wood in the control room, and actually the wood was done a little bit later on. It was when this first started, we didn’t have the budget. But in the wood, just like New York, it was little things like, “All right, let’s play some music. I want to hear how the room focuses the high-frequency content.” And I would play things that he mixed and he knew intimately. And we’d do something, and he was like, “All right, we got to do this. We got to do this.” And he was the key magic in the sound of this room. He just knows it, he lives it.

SFL Music: Very cool.
Roy: I wish I could take the credit for a lot of the cool, cool acoustic design that came out of here. But, a lot of it, it was really Tony. My contributions, which just was more for functionality and workflow processes, but acoustically Tony was the … I came up with the design and then Tony made my design work.

SFL Music: So when is your 20th anniversary?
Roy: It’ll be January, I want to say January 3rd was our first session, 2021 or two. I’m going to have to go back and look. It might be this January.

SFL Music: Okay. Might be your 20th?
Roy: Might be our 20th. Actually, no, I think … Hang on. 2020, no, 2022, I believe, is our 20th anniversary, I believe. But then again, I can’t remember what I had for lunch this afternoon. It’s something like that, but now that you reminded me, I’m going to have to go look, check that.

SFL Music: Okay. All right. Well I sure appreciate your time. And I’m really looking forward to this trilogy interview with you, Joseph, and Joe being in the magazine.
Roy: Yeah, that’d be great.

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