There’s something romantic and very cool about music and New York City. The two are intertwined and always will be.
We all have friends on social media. Their posts fly by at the speed of light and the fact is a lot of what it posted is not able to be absorbed. But every once in a while something is mentioned that catches your eye. In my case, Rich DeCicco happened to mention a change in location for his musical endeavors. I have been in Manhattan a lot this year and WhiteWater had just moved into their new space. I asked if I could pay a visit and shoot around the studio. In the process I thought of some questions to ask them.
First a tour of the studio followed by an interview I conducted with Rich DeCicco and John White.
What is your earliest memory of making music?
Rich: My mom’s pots, pans, and wooden spoons. 3 years old, maybe? My folks saw that and figured, “well, we better get this kid a drum set.” They opted for the toy drums with a picture of Animal from the Muppets on it. That kit probably lasted a month before I had demolished it. I would pretend that our living room couch was a cargo van and load my drums, and most of the other instruments in the house into it. I’d then drive the couch to an imaginary gig, take all of the instruments out and set them up, jumping from bass, to drums, to guitar, playing along to my parent’s records.
John: The earliest memory of making music was with my sister Elyssa and my cousin Ellen and we did a re-enactment of the Billy Joel “Uptown Girl” video for our parents. We spent all day staging it in the living room! My first real experience with music and stage was being cast as the “Cowardly Lion” in our 3rd-Grade play. I’ll never forget the part where I was supposed to swing my tail during the Lion’s tune “If I Only have the Nerve” – well my costume was too big and I couldn’t find my tail – so it basically looked like I was scratching my derrière – definitely got the laughs from the audience though – and I was hooked!
What brought the two of you together to form Fidget NYC / WhiteWater?
Rich: We met through a mutual friend who was also an engineer. We got to discussing our distaste for the studio situations we were in. We hit it off immediately and agreed that it would be a great idea to pile both of our massive gear collections into one space. Then, this space at 19th and Broadway in Manhattan presented itself. It was a no brainer.
John: I think Rich and I happen to be at very similar stages in our careers, where by sloshing it out and finding our way into good projects, we have begun building good names for ourselves as producers, engineers and musicians. Years of hard work and learning – have just begun to foster a point of great creativity mixed with studio experience and knowledge. From the first session we did together we had an instant respect for each other’s abilities and an unspoken studio language that jelled right away.
The roster of brands you have worked with is diverse. Can you walk us through one example of a client hiring you all the way to a final piece?
Rich: In the case of Sam King, one of my favorite artists to work with, I had seen him play a solo set at Rockwood. I was so into what he was doing and I felt like I could do a great job with his stuff. I wrote him an email and said, “let’s record one of your songs. I do it for free. If you love it, then we’ll talk about doing more for my standard rate. If not, you’ve lost nothing.” He agreed, and it was instant magic. We’d record basic versions of his songs—just guitar and vocal—and then paint on top of that. It was all about serving the song and making those two basic elements the stars. When we had an idea for a part that was on an instrument that neither of us knew how to play, we’d call in someone who could get it done. Thorald Koren from The Kin was that person in a lot of cases. After we were done laying everything down, we just had to balance it and send it off for mastering. When you make good decisions during recording, the mix isn’t usually too much work.
John: Most clients come through referrals or from working with a musician or producer on another project, sometimes they have heard a song or album we have written or produced. I normally like to meet with a client and hear their vision for a song or project. I also always ask them to send me a list of the songs they think are similar as well as a list of the top things they are listening to personally at that moment. It starts to build an understanding of their likes and tastes and helps to begin to shape not only what piece of music may work for their specific need, but also what they would love to be part of sonically and emotionally.
What keeps you going creatively?
Rich: Lots of listening. I try and find anything current to latch on to and fall in love with. There’s always good new music if you’re willing to seek it out. “Ah, today’s music is just terrible.” Bullshit. Turn of the radio and get off your ass and go find something. When I find a thing I like, I dissect it. Really get into it and add it to the giant stew that is all of my life’s influences.
John: I’m really lucky in the fact that my clients are so diverse. Coming myself from a classical and jazz background a lot of my early recordings focused in those genres and clients. Now its all over the map. Last week alone I was working on several albums ranging from a full length jazz/soul record that we are building from pre-production, through recording, mixing and mastering, a pop-rock album, a really large gospel production track with some incredible singers, a singer/songwriter country album, working on new tracks for a Hip Hop artists with the legendary Producer Ski Beatz, and a jazz Christmas album. So my mind got to float all over the place and I got to pull inspirations and ideas from one project to another. A lick that a horn player may have played on one album inspired a vocal harmony idea in another track. They all feed each other.
How do you balance your work life and family?
Rich: If I’m being creative, I work in short bursts. 3 hours here, 2 hours there. I’m not terribly useful past a 10 hour day. I have two kids, and it’s really important to me that I get to see them grow up. The people I work with understand that I love music and want to give them my best, and that best does not come from marathon sessions.
John: This is always a hard one and something that I have struggled with over the least few years. I try to give my all to everything I am working on including my family. My wife and I just had our second son last week and I want to make sure that I am there to support her and our new little guy as well as our son who is also adjusting. Over the last few years I have realized how important it is for me to be home with him as well. Now, I try to work as smart as possible. While there is always time for a laugh in the studio, I try to be very focused on the work and try to stick to timelines. I try to lay out the production schedule with an artist ahead of time and set expectations from the start. At least two nights a week I am home for dinner with the family, even if I put the boys to bed and come back to the studio. There are times though, that I call or text my wife if something special is happening in a session, and after years of being together – she is pretty understanding!
Childhood heroes you have had a chance to make music with?
Rich: I was doing re-records for ABKCO Music for a while, and I got to produce Bobby Womack singing If You Think You’re Lonely Now. It was truly amazing. Such a sweet and talented guy.
I’ve always been amazed by composers like John Williams. He can look at essentially a silent film and create scores that most people can hum 40 years later.
John: I’ve been really lucky in this regard. My first instrument was the saxophone and for years I thought that I would be a professional saxophonist. Then I discovered singing and that took me on a whole different path, but in the studio I have been able to work with some incredible jazz legends. We recorded an album titled “Miles from India” a few years back, which was nominated for a Grammy for best jazz instrumental album. It was a true blend of eastern and western music and we had some of the greatest players of the last 50 years on it including Chick Correa, Ron Carter, Lenny White, Mike Henderson, Pete Cosey, Mike Stern, Gary Bartz, Dave Liebman, Rudresh Mahantappa, Wallace Roney and many others. Each session was an opportunity to record a player I idolized and it was absolutely incredible. I had been preparing for a performance of Benjamin Britten’s Opera “Albert Herring” and I’ll never forget that Chick and I got into an incredible conversation about Debussy and how he was quoting him in a lot of his soloing at the time. Then he went into the live room and played one of the coolest piano parts over “So What” that I’ve ever heard – which included him literally plucking the piano strings.
When you are asked to write a piece of music for a commercial, do you have the opportunity to see the commercial prior to writing?
Rich: Half the time the commercial is nearly complete when it gets to me. One out of ten commercials are just ideas or storyboards that haven’t been shot yet. That usually means that they want to build around the music, and that’s my absolute favorite way to work.
John: Yes, most times we do get to see the piece we are writing for or at least mock-ups of the idea. The visual really helps and inspires the music down to the instrumentation choices. The mood and coloring of a piece and especially how it is shot really changes how you look at the music and how it fits in. Yes, when the project is right or inspiring, there are times we do work on spec, and sometimes this has really paid off. You need to make judgment calls as to when you think its beneficial to do spec work as somehow the rent is due every month!
One cool project you are working on at the moment?
Rich: Matt Cranstoun. Prince meets Tom Waits. Watch out for that in the fall.
John: In response to your previous question – last year I took a project on spec with an up and coming writer and producer named Mitchy Collins. I met him while working on another album and he asked if I would help record some songs he was working on for his own project. I had a lot of respect for his writing and he came in and played the songs for me and you could just tell these songs were going to be incredible. When we bang production he did not even have a band yet but he had a very clear picture of where the project was heading and what he wanted it to be. We started with seven songs last fall – fast forward less than a year – and his band “Oh Honey” is now signed to Atlantic – they have spent the last four months opening for James Blunt and The Fray and are leaving on tour with American Authors I a few weeks. The first single “I’ll Be Okay” is in the To 40, the song was performed by Leah Michelle and this season go “Glee” and it was the number one download of the season, its been in numerous commercial campaigns in the US and across the world in numerous languages – its being used in Oprah’s new film next month and in Fox’s campaign for its new show “Red Band Society.”
Best place to grab food in Manhattan?
Rich: My treat: Taqueria LES near Rockwood Music Hall.
Your Treat: Prime Meats
John: Still one of my favorite spots in on 2nd Avenue between 7th and 8th – its a little family owned Diner with about 15 seats called Stage Delicatessen – right next door to Stomp. If you want some home-cooked fell-good food – hit this spot.
It’s the early 1970s and you are in the band KISS. What is your character?
Rich: Ace. I couldn’t tell you why. That’s just what my gut says.
John: Definitely “Starchild” – hey it was the 70’s – I’d definitely want to be known by this moniker!
For the last 15 years, Whitewater has been synonymous with the highest integrity of recordings in NYC. Our first studio the Grammy Nominated Midtown Sound was a staple in Midtown for over 10 years. After 5 years out in Williamsburg, WW has returned to midtown in Union Square. Our brand new facility combines the best of Vintage Analog Equipment with today’s cutting edge technologies.
We have worked with some of the world’s greatest artists from all genres including: M.I.A., Matisyahu, The Kin, Norah Jones, Chick Correa, Lil’ Kim, Ron Carter, Bernard Purdy, Dr. John, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Manhattan Transfer and all of the major record Labels: Interscope, Warner, Universal, EMI, Blue Note, Epic, Ultra and Elektra and Atlantic.
Our work also spans, TV, Film, Commercials, VO’s, ADR and all live and location sound and production services.
Learn more about WhiteWater:
5 East 19th Street, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10003