Henry Hirsch is best known as Lenny Kravitz's collaborator and engineer. The partnership has continued for twenty years and is as strong as ever. What started as a session booked with Lenny's band at Hirsch's Waterfront Studio, soon turned into Lenny playing all the instruments himself with Hirsch's help and input. This partnership has continued for twenty plus years, yielding some well- received albums. Hirsch is also an outspoken, passionate and focused individual — and his opinions on recording and technology come from experience. We met up at his new digs, which he still runs under the name Waterfront, but are the old Edison Studios in New York City. It's a beautiful space and mainly a private facility. The level of commitment to quality has included our friend Dave Amels (VocME, Bomb Factory) as a tech, electrical engineer, advisor and designer to assist Hirsch in his quest for a great studio space — with his work rebuilding the custom Helios console here and his own mic pres, DIs and variable phase units, reminding me of the true "old days" of studios in the '50s.
Where did this space come from?
This space was the ballroom [The Sun Room] of the hotel, in which they had a club two stories down — this is its own building. It's actually separate from the Edison Hotel. They used to snake cables up here and start doing some recordings of the jazz greats that were playing in this club. So then a company, National, back in the very early '60s, took the space over and they had the control room up high, ala Abbey Road. Then it got taken over in the '80s and they turned it into an SSL studio.
Did you have to redesign the studio?
Well, I've had two different recording studios and both of them were RF nightmares. So, I was determined to make sure the Edison worked. So I had Dave Amels come in with me and we did some tests, and we discovered that they had basically used their original cabling. They had some problems with a high and low end roll-off with their mic lines going back into the control room. So we rebuilt it. I had an engineer from Florida, Ross Alexander [Synergistic Systems], and Dave Amels rebuild the studio.
Did you keep original floors and things like that?
We used the money that we had to make it as professional as possible.
What's downstairs from it now?
There's a restaurant downstairs and a club below that.
Is there any room at the Edison to build a live chamber?
Yes there is, and it's very tempting to do that. Their plates were good, so I just left it at that — all this great stuff, like all this old keyboard stuff and all the mic stands were basically given away.
Some of the musical equipment was left behind — there's a tack piano, celeste, the vibes.
Yes, we inherited all of that great equipment and we use it all the time. I work a lot with Dave Baron [Edison Music Corp.] on his television music. A lot of it is period recording, so he hires me to make something like a '50s thing, or a '40s thing, or a '60s thing. Dave is probably the best going, in terms of being able to quickly make music that works very well on television, and he understands the market to a high degree. He is very impressive with how quick he does what he does. So, the studio has a consistent flow of that type of thing. If he's looking for a certain type of recording or a certain type of sound, he'll come to me and I'll do that for him, because a lot of times everything is done by, "It should sound like that but not be exactly like that" — and he calls me in and I have a vocabulary to help him do this.
Is that kind of fun in a way? A fun exercise?
Oh I love doing that. I just did an ELO thing that was great. The thing that Dave always reminds me is that with all the legal divisions, I shouldn't get that close to the original material. Dave was telling me he did a version of "Tax Man", for example, and they couldn't use the bass.
I see a lot of older recording equipment here. What about new gear?
I have nothing against and use a variety of new equipment. However, it seems now that due to the digital recording with Pro Tools, the companies that sell audio equipment are using misleading advertising by using such terms as "warm" and "vintage". They are now selling semi-pro equipment, which is now their clientele. The equipment on its own will not make a good recording. A good recording is made using a good engineer with good equipment.
I see that you have a lot of esoteric microphones. Could you please tell us what they are?
To start with, I have a collection of RCA 10001 microphones. It's a cardioid ribbon mic. When I had purchased the Olympic Recording console [the studio which the Stones, The Beatles and everyone else used], Keith Grant, who was responsible for Olympic Studio, had these mics and told me he...