About » A Conversation with Mike DiBiase, Director of Power Station New England

A Conversation with Mike DiBiase, Director of Power Station New England

Power Station New England opened in 1995 and the exact plans for the original Power Station New York were used for the new studio in Waterford, Connecticut. The main live room is exactly the same as the studio in New York, which is important, and also the control room is a replica of the control room at Power Station New York. And there was no business affiliation with Power Station New York, correct?


Mike DiBiase: Correct. Sonalysts hired an architect to create “as built” plans and purchased the rights to recreate the big main room and the control room. After that it was all independent contractors who built the studio in Connecticut.


You have a refurbished Neve console in the control room?


Mike DiBiase: Yes, it’s a Neve 8068 manufactured in 1979. We bought it from Vintage King and Vintage King restored it and Ed Evans, who was previously the chief technician at Power Station New York, designed all the modifications to the console. It is really back to where it was when it first started its life. The console is in great condition, and in addition, it has all the bells and whistles that you need to make it more appropriate for today's recordings.


Ed Evans has been an industry legend for 30 years or so. He is basically a designer and wiring planner and all around studio genius. We hired Ed as a consultant and we went through the whole plan, soup to nuts, and we looked at everything, from video playback in the studio, to the wiring, studio ergonomics and workflow, all the way up to the acoustics -- everything. Ed and I made it so that any engineer could come in and sit down and understand the flow of the room.


We changed anything that was old technology, because the room was built in the early 90's, so there were DA-88's and cassette decks in the room when I got here. We went in and we pulled all that stuff out, and we rewired everything so it would be more appropriate. We put in pass-throughs, we wired the rooms for easy re-amping, new line tie/direct signal patch points, and Ed just really helped us make sure that it was what Power Station was supposed to be, but making it more appropriate for today and how people work as opposed to the early 90's.


In effect, this is a totally rejuvenated Power Station?


Mike DiBiase: Yes, under the hood we are completely brand new. Again, new wiring, new connectors, new soldered joints. New signal flow, new patch bays, new everything. Ed and I spent a good year looking at the flow of the room, how we wanted it to work. The room is a lot more than just gear. We talked about making the engineers comfortable, making it convenient, where the producer's desk would be. We went through it all to make sure that the room could have the best session/ergonomic flow possible. There was nothing missing, so that people would come in and go, "Oh man, can you guys not do this? Why can't we do that?" We went through and fixed all of that stuff, and there was a lot of cerebral work that Ed put into it with us. I definitely couldn't be where I am now without Ed. He is great.


There were a couple of things that were transitioned from Power Station New York to Power Station New England that didn't make sense. For example, there were connectors and there were things that existed in New York because they had multiple rooms. We only had one room. There were a lot of things like connectors that went nowhere, or they didn't make any sense because we didn't have the needs of the larger facility that Power Station New York had.


That's what I mean when we went in and whatever was not appropriate anymore for Power Station, we went in and just got rid of that, and we also tried to get the room back up and running for tape machines. We how have the ability to cut right to Pro Tools, cut to tape, and/or cut directly to Pro Tools and tape at the same time. It’s like a rocket ship now. It’s more custom; we have our own distinct room. Obviously, we enjoy the similarity of the dome and the physical wood, but we did do some things that would make it a little bit more unique to our studio.


If someone had experience working at Power Station New York in their big live room, and they walked into Power Station New England, would they feel that they were in the same room acoustically?


Mike DiBiase: Yes, absolutely. Before the renovation, we recorded an artist named Hiromi. Her engineer was multiple Grammy-winner Michael Bishop, who had recorded at Power Station New York a ton of times. The assistant engineer working with him was Gus, and all these guys kept taking pictures and saying, "Hey, guess where I am today?" Nobody knew that it was actually Power Station New England. People thought they were at Avatar, which was previously Power Station New York. Hiromi was one of the first projects I was involved with at Power Station, one of the first bigger projects. She had this unbelievable team with Anthony Jackson on bass, and Simon Phillips on drums.


That was really a session where I saw what was wrong with the room at that time. Nobody taught me how to use Power Station New England, they just kind of said, "Here's the room. Good luck. Go for it." That was really the first time I got to see what the hiccups were in the room, and what the holdups were and what stopped the flow of work.


Let’s talk about the Neve 8068 Mark II in Studio A.


Mike DiBiase: When we bought it from Vintage King, it had come to them from Pachyderm. It was in rough shape and it had been years since anybody put significant money into it. When we talked with Vintage King, we went through what we wanted to have done, and this is where Ed and I sat down looking at the console and asked, "What is possible?" We put Vintage King through the ringer. We asked for some heavy lifting on their part -- everything from making sure that the rails were not sagging to making sure that we had some mods under the board that some of the old 8068's had using group assigns and busses and stuff like that.


We wanted it to look like it was an original console, but we also wanted it to so that somebody could come in and see the frequencies that they wanted to dial up on an EQ. Visually, it's absolutely gorgeous. I think it's every bit as beautiful as it ever was. Inside right now, it's working probably the best since it was first built and delivered in 1979.


Ed was really demanding, to make sure that the console was as best as it possibly could be. I think Vintage King really came through in the end. They were up to the task, and Ed's a tough guy to please because he's been around so long and knows so much. Vintage King, at the end of the day, knocked it out of the park.


In the very first session, everybody was just smiling ear to ear about how good it was running. I've had two engineers come through and say, "There is something about this console that's just magic. It's got its own thing, it's got its own mojo." Vintage King, Rich Hunt and all the guys there really put a lot of time into it and a lot of effort. They really stepped up to the plate and did a great job.


It must feel good when it's really working perfectly and you know that that same exact console was part of some historic recordings. Let’s move on to Studio B, the Mix Room. Can you tell us about Bruce Millett, the Desk Doctor? How does he fit into the picture?


Mike DiBiase: Bruce supplied us with the SSL console for Studio B, the mix room. And Brian Kunitz was the designer, the acoustician and the architect for studio B, which has our own original design. When we decided to build this room, I wanted it to be different from Power Station. We wanted it to be rustic, but sexy, and just a room you could come in and take your shoes off and mix. Just sit there and get a totally different vibe from Power Station. To me, when you're in Power Station, you're working. When you're in the mix room, you're sitting there and you're by yourself with your thoughts. I wanted it to be a cool vibe and something different. With onyx on the walls, and the LED lights we have, it's super slick, and it's super comfortable. It's all about the vibe for that room.


The console is a mid-90s SSL 4064 G+. Did you work with Bruce Millett, the Desk Doctor on that acquisition?


Mike DiBiase: That's correct. I met Bruce through a friend of mine, Theo Cruz from South Africa. We met at Mix With the Masters in France. Theo introduced me to Bruce, who is really well known for all the SSL work that he's done, and studio designs. When I was looking for an SSL, I was looking around with a bunch of people. I threw a lot of nets out, but my friend Theo had said, "Bruce sold me mine. He's a really good guy, you got to get in touch with him." We went out and we met with him, and we talked, and then Bruce was basically able to find the console. He gave us a couple of choices and we ended up choosing this one, which was the console previously at Royaltone in Los Angeles, and when Linda Perry bought that studio it became hers. I had had some experience with SSL's, and that was the one that I liked the best. A lot of engineers are SSL guys and they especially like the sound of the 4000 series. That's why we chose this one.


Can you tell us about the Tangerine automation system?


Mike DiBiase: The SSL is notorious for their computer systems dying. Plus it's like an old DOS-based, floppy disk thing. The Tangerine is basically a replacement for the SSL computer, but what it does, instead of using old DOS based commands, it actually runs on a modern computer and you use another program to run the automation system. For example, we're running the Tangerine on a Mac Mini, using the program Reaper. When you're in Pro Tools, and you're mixing, all your data gets trapped in Reaper real time, and you can use all the functions of the SSL and it's basically just written as MIDI data in a different program. You can go home and actually edit your automation at home and then bring it back to the studio and then when you boot up the SSL, it actually reads all the data.


It's very modern. I'm looking forward to it, because the console is great, but the SSL computer language is a dead language. Not a lot of people now even know it – everybody today knows in the box. Whether you're old school or new school, you can use it. There's a way that it'll run as an exact replica of the original. You don't even have to look at another program. Then again, you can run it on a different program and you can even run it in Pro Tools.


If you were only using 32 faders, you could actually use it all in Pro Tools, just basically like a control surface, but you have an SSL in front of you. There's three different ways to use it, and it's way more modern, it's way more reliable. You store the data as a MIDI file on a Mac Mini or on the computer you're using. To me, it's just more reliable. It's faster. It's just a much better way to go. Plus, it's only a matter of time before that SSL computer dies. They're notorious. Instead of buying an old one again, I figured we'd just go down a different route and do our own thing.