A quiet setting to make some noise
Why do it yourself? Many bands see Long View Farm an ideal place to record and relax
NORTH BROOKFIELD, Mass. -- When the indie band Death Cab for Cutie signed a deal with Atlantic Records in 2005, the group's financial resources ballooned. What did Death Cab do with its new corporate-size budget? Frontman Ben Gibbard answered that question without hesitation on the eve of the album release.
''We went to Long View Farm for a month."
Long View Farm is about as far as you can get, literally and figuratively, from a big-city recording studio. It has no street address. Horses roam the grounds and some doorways are too low for guitarists to pass through without hitting their heads. Circuitous passageways lead to crazy-shaped guest rooms filled with mismatched antiques. There are yards of worn velvet, a kitchen in a milking shed, and not a Coke machine to be found.
Located on 100 acres of rolling hills at the end of a winding road an hour and a half west of Boston, the rambling house and maze-like barn were originally built in the early 1800s for farmers and livestock. Now they house rock stars and consoles.
Opened in 1975 as a residential recording facility, Long View Farm has attracted such bands as the Rolling Stones, Cat Stevens, Aerosmith, Creed, Jet, Indigo Girls, and Limp Bizkit. Recording artists travel to this bucolic hideaway to slow down, settle in, and make music away from the distractions and demands of the daily grind. They've described it, variously, as a hippie commune, a place to gain 10 pounds, an escape from reality, and home.
''There's a spirit up there, in the rooms and on the property," says Mos Def, a regular client who returned to Long View between tour dates this past winter for a week of recording with Somalian rapper K'Naan and Preservation, a DJ. ''You wake up in the morning and take a walk along the pond. I stand out on the terrace at night, just after sunset, and I'm able to hear my own heart beat. It inspires you."
Inspiration is a word that comes up again and again in conversation with Bonnie Milner, Long View's proprietress and self-described spiritual caretaker. Milner is in love with this place. A former musician, burned-out home health care worker, and single mother, she moved to Long View Farm in 1989 as the weekend horse-stall cleaner and bought it five years later. Her son Ben, now 21, is the studio manager.
Milner sees herself as a shepherd of creativity more than a business owner. This is the reason, she's convinced, that despite the music industry's financial woes, the rise of digital technology and proliferation of home studios, and recent closures of recording studios both fabled and funky, Long View Farm has not only survived but is flourishing.
''Lots of studios are very centered around equipment and gear and acoustically designed rooms, and then there's a lounge with a ping-pong table," says Milner, a strapping, blond 45-year-old who's equally well-versed in the power of feng shui and the limits of Pro Tools. ''Every studio has to have great equipment. We do too. But it's not what we're about. Everything we do, from where we hang a picture to the food that's prepared, is centered around taking care of the artist. This place is set up to welcome the muse."
Something's working. More than 200 Grammy-winning recordings have been made at Long View Farm, where a meandering morning walk with Milner unfolds like a weirdly agrarian rock 'n' roll travelogue. Across the meadow from the farmhouse is the ''writer's shack," where Steven Tyler wrote songs for the 1993 disc ''Get a Grip." Aerosmith fans who've wondered why the album's cover features a pierced cow's udder will be happy to learn that it was inspired by the shack's unobstructed view of the dairy farm next door.
The barn, which was rebuilt in 1909 after a fire destroyed the original structure and has been renovated in piecemeal fashion since the '70s, is a veritable warren of sleeping, lounging, and recording spaces. (There are 10 bedrooms in the barn, and another six in the main house.) Milner's quarters are also here. One winding hallway leads to a sauna installed for Cat Stevens, who couldn't work without a daily steam. Around the bend is a hayloft where the Rolling Stones constructed a stage to rehearse for the ''Tattoo You" tour. A thick metal bar has been bolted into facing walls in the main studio at the request of Living Colour singer Corey Glover, who enjoyed hanging upside down during his stay. Milner explains that all the old windows in the building aren't acoustically desirable, but it's good for the soul to be able to gaze out at nature.
Sully Erna, frontman for the alternative metal group Godsmack, concurs.
''Even if you drink Bud, watch football, and scratch your [self]," Erna says, ''getting back to Mother Earth does something to you."
While Milner's earth mother attitude infuses Long View with unique character -- artists speak of her with an affection bordering on reverence -- she's also watching the store. With the recording industry in its fifth straight year of decline and labels drastically reducing artists' recording budgets, many studios have responded by slashing services and fees. After peaking in the '80s and '90s, Long View's rates are back to what they were when the studio opened in 1974: $1,600 to $2,000 a day for the barn, and $1,000 to $1,400 a day for the farmhouse -- depending on the size of the group and its particular requirements. The rates include overnight accommodations, home-cooked meals, daily housekeeping, staff engineering, and technical and adminstrative support.
There's also increasing competition. Even as labels tighten their purse strings, a new crop of residential studios is opening doors. Boston's Dresden Dolls recorded their new album at four-year-old Allaire Studios on a mountaintop in upstate New York, where Norah Jones, David Bowie, and Tim McGraw have also worked. Saint Claire Recording, a world-class studio/hotel, recently opened in Lexington, Ky., as did Sonoma Mountain Studio Estate, a luxury facility in northern California's wine country.
Milner has worked hard, however, to keep a steady stream of musicians coming through Long View's doors. The studio is currently booked at a little over 90 percent (after hitting a ''very scary" low of 50 percent) and continues to rebound, on the way, Milner hopes, to those heady pre-crash days back in the '90s when Long View was full, holidays included, for four and a half years straight.
A big part of getting back to full cruising speed is going to be generating repeat business. And that, explains Milner, involves a level of care that exceeds the most rigorous financial planning.
Since the bulk of Long View's marketing is done by word-of-mouth rather than advertising, Milner focuses her efforts on enhancing the studio's reputation for elite service from a 20-member staff that includes chefs, housekeepers, grounds and maintenance crew, engineers, technical support, sales and administration, and 24/7 project managers.
''The staff here is trained in greater detail than I think probably anybody realizes. We're a lot like Disneyland in that regard," Milner says. ''On the surface everything is happy and relaxed and friendly but behind it is a machine. Our staff needs to move in and out of client spaces without being felt, so we train them in Native American tracking techniques. They need to know everything from how to shake hands to when to make eye contact and when not to make eye contact. It's that level of detail."
Milner likes to call the Long View staff a family, but it's a family with a strictly enforced code of conduct. Staff members are required to go through eight training modules. If a breach of procedure occurs, immediate termination follows. There are no second chances at Long View Farm.
''That," Milner says, ''is how much we protect the brand."
The brand is expanding, fast. Long View LLC has a COO and an LA office, out of which several new ventures are being run: Long View Music, a publishing arm, Long View Productions, which develops music-related film and television properties, Long View Records, an independent label that will launch its first artist, Channing, later this year, and Long View Community, a nonprofit that does music outreach in public schools.
Ask Milner if Long View's diversification is motivated by economic need, and she says it should be. But it's not.
''I don't want to come off like it's all altruistic. There's a business component. But I believe that when your intention is correct and pure in the pursuit of something greater than money, money comes. Long View surviving is proof of that."
Joan Anderman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.