With close to three million residents, a constantly evolving music and arts scene, and a virtually indescribable pace and overall vibe, Brooklyn has remained a magnet to creative types looking to find ‘their people’ and start a career. It’s a place to collaborate, a place to celebrate art, and a place to find inspiration (among high rents, a borderline cut-throat job market, and an urban environment that appears to be its own force of nature and cares little about its inhabitants).
Sitting at the base of the Pulaski Bridge at the northmost point of the borough in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn lies The Creamery Studio. A lofted space hidden among auto repair garages and other industrial buildings, The Creamery offers a large live room that would make most musicians drool, and a writing/lounge space that might make them want to move in permanently. Named one of the “Top 11 Brooklyn Studios” in Brooklyn Magazine, the Creamery opened its doors in 2008, and the studio is currently run by Quinn McCarthy and Jeff Fettig.
In an effort to highlight the amazing variety of bands and artists they’re happy to call clients, Fettig and McCarthy released their Creamery Mixtape last year. To follow up on that, they’ve tapped TuneCore on the shoulder to release The Creamery Mixtape 2.O on Friday, January 19th! It’s a 12-song compilation that was put together in a four-day recording sprint and, “like a subway car at rush hour, it crams together an eclectic group of New Yorkers into harmony.” You can check out this diverse array of music – ranging from afrobeat and alternative pop to singer/songwriters and garage rock – on Spotify and Soundcloud.
We got the chance to spend some time at The Creamery Studio and Quinn and Jeff were kind enough to answer some questions about the space, music in Brooklyn, and the mixtape series below.
First and foremost, tell us a little bit about your foray into the world of production and engineering, and how you came to open up The Creamery.
Quinn McCarthy: For both of us, engineering and producing originated from the most important source: an obsession with listening to and playing music. We’re musicians. We play in bands. We like a lot of different types of music. Recording and producing has been a way to become more broad than we ever could have as singular artists. I play bass, Jeff plays guitar and we both dabble with other instruments.
We started a studio because we wanted to make magical recordings, not because we wanted to open some kind of sound motel. People pay us to record and mix and use the studio, so sometimes I get a funny look when I say, “I’d rather listen to a crappy recording of a great song than a great mix of a crappy song.” When I first started listening to hip hop and electronic music, I realized there were other ways to create music other than just playing in a band.
That curiosity of making sounds and sonic worlds and combining it with instruments and performances led us here. We’re both collaborators and facilitators and when we share a goal with bands, great things happen.
In a music city – or borough, for that matter – it can be tough to stand out as a recording studio. What efforts have you made to make sure that The Creamery and it’s offerings stand out to artists?
QM: When it started, we couldn’t compete with anybody. We had minimal gear and no business plan. My buddy I wanted a place to record our music and our friends’ bands. We both had about $5,000 saved, so we found a forgotten building in Greenpoint and started framing and drywalling. We lived in the studio for many years and worked all types of other jobs while pouring ourselves into albums that were earning us nothing.
Some of those albums sounded cool and our friends’ friends started hitting us up. The lifestyle was like that of a musician, not a businessman. Because of that, the studio has always been about our community and what we can create from our tenacity rather than by owning a bunch of fancy gear. At this point, we do own a bunch of fancy gear. The reason we have two pianos, a Hammond organ, and an MCI console is because people who have worked with us have donated them.
This is New York City and people don’t like storing big stuff in their tiny apartments. We have a timpani drum! The Creamery isn’t just just a space you come cut a vocal. It’s a place to fill with musicians and be inspired. In NYC, that’s just not the usual business model, so I suppose we hit some niche that has been very true to who we are.
Building on that, how do you feel that The Creamery fits in with or contributes to Brooklyn’s diverse music scene?
QM: New York is the greatest melting pot on earth and it’s part of what makes it fun to run a studio here. I love making a salsa record one day with a bunch of Dominicans, the next day tracking an all-Hassid girl band, and the next a room full of classical musicians. We listen to a lot of different music so it’s great to live in a place that has it all. I guess in any business, there’s an argument to specialize, but we don’t want to. It’s too much fun.
We’re dining at the musical buffet of the whole world!
What inspired you and Jeff to release the studio’s first mixtape last year? What was the reception from the artists invited to partake?
Jeff Fettig: It’s a celebration and expression of our community and we make it a really fun event for everyone involved. Part of the conception grew out of the extremely challenging concept of it; can we actually record 12 bands in four days?
But it also came from a place where we were trying to remind ourselves that a recording doesn’t always have to be precious in its process.
We used the tape machine to help unify the process and the sonic architecture, and we made it entirely about the moment and having fun. I think for listeners, it’s cool to hear all this music and imagine it coming from the same place. It has that cohesiveness of a mixtape with a really diverse blend of bands.
As you continue the series this year, paint a picture of what it was like to record 12 bands over the course just four days!
JF: I don’t think we could do it without each other. To get even 1 band in and out with a complete recording in under four hours is almost a sport. We did this 3 times a day for 4 days in a row. I think it speaks to an unspoken communication between Quinn and I, and is a real lesson in people moving and organization. It becomes all about instinct, and embracing anything that comes out unexpected later.
Some days we had fifty musicians in and out, with cultural influences spanning the entire globe. The studio meets its full potential as a beacon of creation during these times.
This mixtape feels like more than just a promotional device for both the studio and the artists involved – what are you hoping to tell the world about what’s happening in music right now?
QM: Ha! It is promotional – just in an honest way. The mixtape is a reflection of life here at the studio and in Brooklyn. The Creamery is all of these genres. It’s really cool to hear it all in the same room, through the same tape, and with the sensibility with which Jeff and I bring to it.
We work on a lot of cool records each year, but in a way, this culminates the experience. If there is a message, it’s just to be open to music. Anyone who is going to enjoy this mix is already on that level This is about having fun and celebrating what’s around us.
You’ve got a lot happening in those three rooms – tell us about some of your personal favorite recording gear and instruments that The Creamery boasts.
JF: There are two live rooms, a little booth, and a control room. Everyone wants more gear, but I really think we’ve got it all: pianos (upright and grand), Hammond, Rhodes, Whurlitzer, Farfisa, Tympani, Synths, over 20 guitars and basses, a couple dozen amps, and a hundred pedals.
We can really make any sonic dreams come true. One of the newest additions to the space is a 50’s Deagan Vibraharp. It sounds like you’re entering the dream sequence of a movie every time you play a note on it!
What kind of advice would you offer to independent artists who are getting ready to step into a professional recording studio for the first time?
QM: Make it about music. If you can start with a great performance, that’s a hundred times more important than the rest. Write a good song with good lyrics and practice that shit.
Play it for your friends and people you trust to help refine it. Demo it with whatever tools you have and listen back so you know what you really want the studio, producer, or engineer to enhance. Put yourself around good musicians and start collaborating!