composing

TOM HEDDEN MUSIC, inc.

consulting

Criteria Studios

Mack_Emerman_at_Criteria_Studios

Miami, Florida

Miami has some of the most attractive cityscapes I’ve ever seen. If you’ve had the pleasure of sitting at one of the outdoor cafes along South Beach and done a little people watching you now exactly what I mean. Criteria is not in one of these locations… On the flip side of the Florida coin are the endless parking lots and strip malls that were devastated by some economic downturn of the last forty years and left for dead. Instead of the seaside glitz and glamour, plywood covered windows and cracked asphalt seem to be part of some perverse style guide. It is in one of these neighborhoods that Miami had hidden its world-class recording space. To be fair, I didn’t see Criteria in the heyday and there had been a few changes (to say the least) but I wanted to make it part of this blog for the same reason I wanted to work there: history.

 

To this day, I’m not sure that electric guitars have ever sounded better than they did on the Derek and the Dominoes album and I’m just about the perfect age to have spent my early adolescence falling in love with Stevie Nicks. Add Wishbone Ash, CSN, Bob Marley and a ton of amazing southern rock and suffice it to say that my interest was peaked… Criteria has one hell of a discography.

 

I was looking around for a place to record some strings when a friend recommended Miami. He had a connection to a bunch of the players in the New World Symphony and suggested that it would be a lot of fun to work with players that were young and very talented. This turned out to be true but one note about booking strings: older players have way better instruments and this means a great deal when recording a string section. We thought about Crescent Moon but the timing was bad for them so an engineer friend mentioned Criteria and I jumped at the idea.

 

Like many of the studios I’ve been writing about, the walls were covered with various gold and platinum awards and the feel of the control room, lounge and office areas was very much in keeping with my expectations for such a historic place. However, the realities of keeping the facility alive had driven the owners to install a hard psych in the main recording room. For those of you who don’t work in television, a hard psych is a curved meeting of the back wall and floor of a shooting stage. This enables those who are skilled in the arts of stagecraft and framing to use lighting tricks to create an almost infinite distance to the visual backdrop but it’s not really great for acoustics to pour a mountain of concrete into a studio. Upon our arrival, we were rather disappointed at this discovery (to put it mildly). Sure, it’s not great for the sound of a space but the really deflating thing was that we were too late to capture any essence of the studio we had been listening to all our lives. We had our own shooting stage with a hard psych and the room might have even been a bit bigger! The session went well enough and the recordings served the intended purpose but there was always a little lingering disappointment that we had just missed the real deal.

 

The Hit Factory purchased the space a few years later and they spent some money renovating the studios. I can’t tell you much about the new digs other than it is not the “original” studio because sadly, it can’t be; that place fell victim to a truckload of concrete. I do hope they found a way to recapture some of the magic the studio held in the 70’s and 80’s and I certainly wish them the best of luck.