Wendy Schneider started Coney Island Studio in Madison, Wisconsin, over two years ago, after doing audio/visual post production, doing live sound, interning at the local famous studio (Smart) and recording out of her basement. She also plays in Bugatti Type 35, which initially led to some of her first recording jobs. Hers is a familiar tale of opening a small-scale studio and surviving by working on lots of rock records, but with her own twists and turns.
Are you from Madison originally?
No. I grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey, which is like a suburb of Manhattan almost. My mom did commercial work, and is from a musical family, so I wanted to do production work of some sort and got involved with a multi-media company in Manhattan that was doing Fortune 500 magazine work at the time. This was in the early '80s. I was mentored by a really talented, but corporate- minded man, who taught me all about post- production sound for video, film and slide. I did that for about eight years and I got really burnt out on just the whole corporate environment that I was in. I decided to quit and go to school in Madison because I wanted to get out of New York. I came out to Madison and started doing live sound for a ska band about a year into moving here. I really had no idea how to do it. I would just help out all the guys in the club, just picking up stuff as I went along. During that time they told me about Smart Studios, which I didn't know existed — I didn't even know who Butch [Vig] was. In fact, I don't think I had even heard Nevermind at that time. It was around the time that Butch was into Sonic Youth and Smashing Pumpkins work. I started interning there. At the time Smart was so much smaller — the place was really lo-fi but hi-fi studio. The guy that hired me there just threw me into sessions. I was just terrified when working with bands. Fortunately I was given the usual free time, with bands that I brought in, to kind of learn. I ended up doing a record for the ska band that I had been working with, at the time I think I did one session with Steve Marker, who is in Garbage, and I helped out. Doug Erickson used to do some sessions there. It was very informal seven years ago. So I hung around there for a couple of years, still doing live sound and then I started my own band. Then a guy that I met, at Smart actually, had a lead on a 16-track 1". It was available in Milwaukee, and he thought I could get it for $1500. I think I ended up paying two grand for it and I got this Logic mixer — all stuff from an old ad agency that had really low hours. So I picked up the deck and the board and I came across this old British board. Legend has that it's the old Cheap Trick live board. But I found this 24 x 4 x 2 Hill for $150, and everything worked on it. I mean it needed some modifications on it — like it didn't have direct outs or anything.
And that's not too hard.
Actually, I modified it and then I had this Logic 12 channel board that was really sweet and I would track on the Logic and do the tape returns through the Hill. So I started doing projects in the basement of the house I was living in. Really lo-fi set-up, but really good for crunchy rock and roll records. It was a way for me to do whatever projects I wanted, and not rely on the studio's time, but my own time. I began to work a lot more by having a studio. Madison, you know, is a real hotbed for bands that just want to do quick turn-around stuff. Like do a quick single, or their first demo on cassette. I was doing a lot of that work. The first studio was up for two and a half years, then they were tearing the house down. So I needed to decide if I was going to just stop or actually look for a space and upgrade. So I looked for about three months for a self-contained building in Madison, which was not easy to find. It took me three months to find one, I was looking everyday.
So you found a small warehouse space?
Well it's relatively big. It's 700 square feet....