In that world, Dreamland Studios in West Hurley, located in a century-old church that the legendary monk Thomas Merton used to summer in, was considered a true prize. Owner Joel Bluestein had not only assembled an extensive collection of top-of-the-line vintage equipment, but was also proud to have capped his career in the industry by developing what he calls the prototype of a healthy recording environment, where the employees took home benefits, women worked in the studio as well as front office, and few of the old excesses were entertained.
"We recorded Love Shack here, 10,000 Maniacs and Suzanne Vega, Bobby McFerrin with Yo Yo Ma. Pat Metheny met Herbie Hancock in the building," Bluestein remembers. "All in all, we made 350 records here. The time was filled with highlights."
Then it all shifted.
Five years ago Bluestein closed Dreamland down. The recording industry had changed so much - people were recording with digital tools in home studios, owning their own products and record companies were less and less interested in spending money on artists that would sell less than Brittney levels, less than the Jonas Brothers. People bought fewer CDs and there just wasn't the sort of income, or spending money, necessary to keep open large studios that provides premium levels of service, to feed Bluestein's creation as he'd become accustomed to. In the span of a few short years after that, Bearsville and Allaire also closed. What's been left have been a few smaller studios, such as Chris Anderson's Nevessa, Applehead on 212, Clubhouse in Rhinebeck, Levon's barn, and NRS in Hurley, plus a number of home studios, from legendary engineer Julie Last's to places such as engineer Pete Caigan's Flymax and drummer Jerry Marotta's Jersville.
Last summer Marotta, who'd been friends with Bluestein since first recording at Dreamland in 1986, noted how he and fellow drummer/engineer Caigan all had there own studios...but the big room was sitting empty. How about getting it open once again?
"He's probably the only person in the world I'd do this for," Bluestein said this week of Marotta, the legendary drummer for Orleans, Hall and Oates, Peter Gabriel, and countless timeless sessions. "He's very entrepreneurial and enterprising, as well as someone who's always been very straight with me regarding money."
Marotta knew which way to take it.
"I'd known and respected Pete for a long time so it seemed natural to bring him on. We took over last summer," Marotta said. "We've been working to resurrect the church ever since, if you will."
That, he and Caigan explained during a lull in a recent recording session, ended up involving "a lot of paper towels, Windex and Pledge," plus a bit of maintenance updating the studio's digital systems and bringing in equipment from home studios.
"It had literally been left as it was after the last session in here five years back," Marotta added. "I believe it was Rhett Miller and the Old 97s, from New Paltz."
The way things work now, as compared to the old days of large record company advances, is "sort of like a Chinese restaurant: everything's all kind of ala carte," according to Marotta, who's had his fair share of high-end studio experiences over the years. "If you want an assistant, we add that to the fee. Same if you want accommodations here. Or catering."
He and Caigan note that much of the talent-side of the old Woodstock studio industry is still around town, in terms of technicians and session musicians, with more arriving every day as "folks keep on moving up here from the City."
"Business has been complicated, for sure, as we keep bending over backwards to get people in here. It's basically Priceline," Marotta said. "We work with what people have to spend. There's very little record company now. Most projects are being self-financed."
Yet he adds that the studio's been getting increasingly busy, with more and more interesting musicians and projects coming in.
They just finished an album for Peter Murphy of Bauhaus, have worked through several projects produced by Darryl Jenifer of Bad Brains fame. Earlier the day we spoke, B-52 Kate Pierson had been by, talking about an upcoming recording.
"It's been great. This was always one of my favorite places to work," said Caigan. "It was like it had been frozen in time. All we had to do, when we came in last summer, was update all the digital things."
He said he'd started noticing more people lining up to record at New York's last "big room," what used to be known as the Power Station. He and Marotta, and then Bluestein, came up with the idea of running their own "really big ass room," complete with 35 foot tall church ceilings (and acoustics, along with four isolation chambers), as a collective. Making it affordable.
"It all makes a big difference in the sound," Caigan said.
Bluestein, for his part, said his feelings were somewhat mixed about Dreamland as it now is.
"It's quite a different environment, a lot more relaxed now than when I had ten or twelve full time staff on hand," he says. "I do miss what I had there before, which had taken me years to develop. But it's a new world and this is nice, too."
All three men said they'd started off working with local artists at first, and brought over people who they'd worked with in their own studios. More recently, word-of-mouth has been picking up, with Caigan noting how, "the music industry, especially in New York, just isn't all that big."
"It was a little bumpy at the beginning, but it seems to be congealing now," Bluestein admitted. "Now we're starting to get some real projects back in. It feels good to go into that room again and hear good music being made."
Talk about a long, strange trip...++
For further information on the newly revived Dreamland Studios, located on old Route 28 in West Hurley, call them at 338-7151 or visit their web page on MySpace.