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21 Years of York Street Studios

Posted by NZ Rockshop on 15 January 2014

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21 years of
york street studios

Studio Manager Jeremy McPike reflects on the musical legacy of New Zealand’s premier recording studio.

“If you add up the total number of record sales for albums recorded at York Street, it’s in excess of 5 million albums, which is pretty huge for a small town recording studio”
.  What’s huge is the number of bands and artists that make up this statistic, which reveals the important part that York Street Studios has played in the making of music in New Zealand in the last 21 years.

York Street Studios opened in 1992, originally founded and built by producer and engineer Martin Williams, producer Malcolm Welsford and Jaz Coleman.  It quickly became New Zealand’s leading music recording, mixing and mastering facility.

At the heart of the studio set up is the vintage 1974 EMI Neve 24-channel mixing console, one of only seven made.  It was first used at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London for nine months, while they waited on a 36-channel version to be built.  It was then shipped to EMI’s Wellington studio in 1975.

On a rundown site in Parnell that was once a car factory, the high studded brick and concrete building was transformed into York Street Studios. The recording area is  1,000 square feet, which houses a main room and mezzanine, with two adjoining isolation rooms and a third separate isolation booth. The main room is 20 feet high and is New Zealand’s only high-stud professional studio live room. It has virtually no permanent acoustic absorption, relying on room shape and deflective elements to achieve control of reverberation.  

The launch of York Street Studios in 1992 provided opportunities for new emerging New Zealand artists.  In the early days of York Street Shihad recorded ‘Churn’ and Supergroove recorded ‘Traction’. Albums like these became kiwi classics, established musical careers and inspired many other artists to further their own musical dreams.

In 2000, the Studio was sold to software developer Adrien de Croy and Jeremy McPike took over as Studio Manager. “The lease was up and the Studio was essentially bankrupt.”, reveals Jeremy. “Adrien bought York Street the business and the building to stop it being demolished by the developers. Adrien saved York Street”.

The reality of the recording music business in New Zealand is that diversity is essential for survival. “York Street has not cost any money but has essentially been a break-even business for 12-13 years”, says Jeremy. However the secret for York Street has been getting involved in multiple activities. Jeremy has been pro-active in keeping the studio engaged with various sectors of New Zealand music.  

Operating beyond the usual capacity of just a recording studio, York Street has hosted ‘live to air’ radio programmes/video recordings. These include the ‘ZM Sessions’, ‘The Coleman Sessions’, along with more recent recordings of the ‘Sundae Sessions’ for the NZ Herald. There have been initiatives like the ‘York Street Session Band’, where some of New Zealand’s most experienced session players work with songwriters to produce and record their songs. “It’s doing music for guys who might be plumbers or doctors but are aspiring musicians and have money to record their songs”, says Jeremy. “It’s making peoples dreams come true”.

York Street has also been very active in sponsoring charitable organisations. For many years they have provided studio recordings for national school programmes like ‘Play It Strange’ and ‘Rockquest’.  Other charitable work has brought well known New Zealand artists together to record for fundraising projects for Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre, Greenpeace and Plunket.  Many of these projects have seen great chart success. York Street opens its doors for educational tours, clinics and training.  Jeremy also lectures at SAE and the University of Auckland. “Just spreading the word and knowledge as well as giving back to the community.  It’s all of those things combined that keep us busy and keep this a cool place to make music”.

“These rooms and that Neve are just amazing”, says Jeremy. But it’s the people and the environment that has brought the rooms and the Neve to life. “It’s engineers who have come through York Street and work 14hrs a day because they love it”, according to Jeremy. York Street has been a breeding ground from training to actual careers in recording music. Jeremy has hired twelve interns over twelve years and every one of them has gone onto paid employment in some aspect of the business.

“The legacy is how the bands feel when they’re walking in.  I’m here everyday and meet all these famous people, so I forget how blown away the bands are when they finally come into York Street.” says Jeremy.  

“You get albums with famous people, you get singles on the charts, you get number one hits and you do high profile bands. But the ones I’m proudest of and the most impressed with my staff, are the guys that have never recorded before.  They have heard of York Street and they’ve dreamed of York Street and they put their hand in their pocket to come up with $1500 a day to pay us.  For that money they are going to get the best service, best equipment and best engineering available.  Afterwards they come up to my office and say ‘thank you so much, it’s way better than I imagined’. They leave with a massive smile on their face and with something better than they expected.  Everyone’s been lovely to them and they’ve had a good time, that’s a business success. These guys might not be famous, they might not get their songs on the radio but we’ve done a really good job of making these people’s dreams come true. We try really hard to do that.”  

In an interesting circle of life, Shihad are booked in for December 2013 at York Street Studios.  They were one of the first bands to record in the studio in 1992.  So it is fitting that they will see out 21 years of musical memories and a musical legacy that has been vital for New Zealand music. 

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