Cynthia Daniels has been very busy. When not recording Broadway cast albums in a New York studio, she is mixing those projects at her own MonkMusic Studios in East Hampton or producing a local artist’s recording or hosting recording sessions for the likes of Paul McCartney or Beyoncé.
Several times per year, she takes a remote recording rig to Crossroads Music in Amagansett, records several local artists, and mixes the recordings at MonkMusic Studios for later broadcast on WPPB, Peconic Public Broadcasting. For local artists especially, a professional with Ms. Daniels’s degree of passion, artistic skills, and technical expertise is a rare and valuable find.
It’s all in a day’s work for the two-time Grammy Award-winning producer-engineer who served an invaluable apprenticeship at New York’s legendary (and long-defunct) A&R Recording, under equally legendary producer-engineers such as Phil Ramone and Elliot Scheiner.
On Friday, March 15, at 7 p.m., Ms. Daniels’s career will enter a new realm with a party to launch MonkMusic Records, a new music label. “YoungBlood,” a full-length album by the Long Island band InCircles, is the label’s inaugural release, an in-house project that is likely to reach far beyond the studio walls within which it was created. Along with several other talented local bands including Jet Set Renegades, InCircles will celebrate the release of “YoungBlood” with a performance at East Hampton Bowl.
It is true that the World Wide Web has reduced the imbalance between the handful of remaining major-label music labels — each a transnational corporation driven more by quarterly profit statements than discovering and nurturing talent — and the independent artist of limited financial means. With a laptop and some inexpensive hardware, anyone can record in any physical space, and distribute their music to — in theory — a worldwide audience.
But knowing how to press the “record” button on a digital audio workstation does not make one an engineer, and the predictable result has been a glut of poorly crafted, mediocre music, albeit with the occasional gem shining through.
Ms. Daniels’s participation in “YoungBlood,” however, provides InCircles an advantage over bands similarly committed to rising above the cacophony of independent artists clamoring to be heard. She produced, recorded, and mixed the album, and has committed herself, a small team of associates, and her reputation to the success of a band that already has its collective hands full with its own commitments: to performing, booking tours, and promoting itself with the support and guidance of its label.
“I am disappointed that artists of all kinds are not able to make money from their art as much as they were,” Ms. Daniels said at MonkMusic Studios on Friday. “I’m not disappointed that there’s a sense of meritocracy and democracy that goes along with the new model.”
Ms. Daniels admits to a degree of cynicism for her chosen field, but anyone who has spent as much time in the music business as she has and isn’t cynical cannot have been paying attention. She described an artist’s ultimate goal in the pre-Internet era as “a record-label deal where they will take every bit of your royalties and own your soul, and you’ll never make a penny but you will be famous until they decide you’re not.” At the same time, she said, “Music is such a beautiful, huge world, and my whole purpose in life is to get to know it and love it and revere it.”
MonkMusic Records will not operate within the traditional model, which she described as building a roster and hoping that it will produce some hits among the misses. To date, the label houses one artist, and additions will, by design and necessity, be restricted.
“The main reason I want to have a record label for select artists is not because I enjoy administration in any way,” she said. “What interests me most is this: For many, many years, I’ve worked with people who invest huge amounts of time and money into creating songs, then we produce them, make a CD, and then I say, ‘Good luck.’ I wanted to finally become involved in the after-process of a music project, and figure out the different ways and means of the digital download channels. I didn’t think it was funny anymore to hand somebody a CD and say, ‘Congratulations, you’ve just finished the easy part.’ ”
Creative minds, goes an old saying, are rarely tidy, and musicians are not typically associated with business acumen. “I’ve been in the business a long time. I can benefit some people, I’m sure of it,” Ms. Daniels said. “I can continue producing records for people. Maybe there’s a hit, maybe there’s not, but what if I could really help somebody with the hard part, and let them do what they do creatively and go on the road?”
MonkMusic Records artists will have to create original music and be fully committed to promoting that music through a rigorous performance schedule. Of InCircles, she said, “I just want them to get to the next level, and maybe the one after that. That requires some support.”
One aspect of a music project that all of her clients enjoy is a high-quality production. On Friday, she was methodically, almost obsessively — in a positive sense — comparing mixes of “YoungBlood” tracks as they were routed through compressors, one a tube-powered piece of hardware, the other a software “plug-in.” Her studio was designed by John Storyk, a revered architect who designed Electric Lady Studios for Jimi Hendrix, among thousands of others, and it is stocked with equipment comparable to the industry’s top commercial rooms. Her Grammy Awards, including best cast album for her mix of “The Producers,” ably demonstrate her technical and artistic chops. Ms. Daniels, said Jewlee Trudden, the singer and guitarist of InCircles, “has got some super powers.”
But ultimately, said Ms. Daniels, “you have to get out there and play. So many people try, but you can’t just make your music available on iTunes, you need to promote it. The moral support of having a team behind you is, I think, critical to an artist’s level of anxiety. Jewlee works her ass off on behalf of her band. Together, we’re figuring out from this first release the most streamlined approach to reaching as far as possible.”
Simultaneously, Ms. Daniels stays busy in the studio she opened in August 2011. Recent mixes were for the cast recording of the Broadway revival of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” and a ballet by Ann Reinking, a dancer and choreographer known for her choreography work and relationship with the late Bob Fosse. In January, she traveled to Anaheim, Calif., to attend the National Association of Music Merchants Show, an annual trade show that draws some 100,000 attendees from around the world and in recent years has hosted another annual event, the Technical Excellence and Creativity Awards. MonkMusic Studios, a nominee in the studio design project category, lost to DreamWorks Animation Studios but, she said, “it was fun and a great honor to be part of, and something that will only happen once in the lifetime of a studio.”
The imminent release of a rock ’n’ roll record on her own label, the recording and mixing of Broadway music (“Pippin,” returning to Broadway, is an upcoming project), the premiere, last week, of the ballet she recorded and mixed the music for, and the recent TEC Award nomination, said Ms. Daniels, “has me feeling pretty good about the state of affairs of MonkMusic.”
But there is no rest for a successful music professional. Soon, the last power chord will fade at the March 15 release party at East Hampton Bowl. “Like any celebration,” said Ms. Daniels, “you wake up the next day and hit the street again.”