Excellence and Creativity at MonkMusic in East Hampton

Cynthia Daniels, the record producer and sound engineer behind MonkMusic Studios in East Hampton, has a lot going on. She recently finished mixing the Broadway cast recording of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, she is completing work on the recorded accompaniment to Annie Reinking’s dance piece A Light in the Dark, with music by Bruce Wolosoff, and her new record label is issuing its first release next week.

Daniels recently took time out of her busy schedule to discuss her work. We met in the beautiful, light-filled control room of MonkMusic Studios, attached to her sleek, modern house in Northwest Woods.

This isn’t your typical small-town recording setup. In fact, MonkMusic Studios was nominated for a prestigious 2013 Technical Excellence and Creativity (TEC) Award from the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM). “It’s like a Grammy award for a studio,” Daniels explained, reflecting not only the state-of-the-art gear she has, but also the quality of sound she produces. Indeed, MonkMusic has become a low-key, seaside alternative to studios in New York and Los Angeles, attracting top-tier artists like Beyoncé and Paul McCartney.

Daniels is quick to credit her studio architect, John Storyk, for designing the studio space, the only one of its kind outside of the city. The acoustically perfect recording booths are built to the demanding specifications of Hollywood sound design.

The latest news from Daniels is the exciting launch of MonkMusic Records 360, her own record label. The maiden release from MonkMusic Records 360 comes from the East Quogue’s high-energy rock-punk trio InCircles. The album, entitled YoungBlood, was produced by Daniels at MonkMusic Studios, and it’s great.

InCircles’ sound comes through loud and clear on the 11-song release, a sound that hearkens back to pre-grunge punk, with careening drumbeats and trashy-sounding guitars—the sound that launched 1,000 mosh pits. There’s a refreshing taste of Ramones-like infantilism in “(Let Go Of) The Goddamn Bicycle,” and for those with a taste for pop-song hooks, there’s “As Above, So Below,” which couples a Black Flag-style beat to a crafty melody and a brusque but slyly skillful arrangement.

The classic punk sound isn’t exactly the audiophile ideal that Daniels is trained and equipped to achieve, but in this case that’s not the point. As a sound engineer, Daniels sees herself as “serving the music.” In fact, that’s where she got the “monk” part in the name “MonkMusic.” Three-thousand-dollar microphones and digital consoles are great, but if a song seems to call for feeding the vocal track through a tinny, distorted guitar amplifier to get the right sound, then that’s what Daniels will do.

“A lot of what we hear on the radio suffers under the weight of the production—what has to come through is the feeling. I don’t think about right vs. wrong, I ask ‘How can I get that sound ?’” To paraphrase, a punk-rock record has to SOUND like a punk-rock record, and it’s the recording engineer’s job to make that happen.

Current projects include a CD for Hamptons favorites Mamalee Rose and Friends—a live recording of both cover songs and originals. Also, a cast recording of Stephen Schwartz’s revival of Pippin on Broadway. As Daniels herself says, she’s at the top of her game.

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