Original music, sound design, and music supervision–the good folks at Hyperballad Music do it all, for clients like Volkswagen, Kate Spade, Google, Ford, Coors Light, Maybelline, and the Super Bowl, to name a few. In addition, they are also always busy making records and co-writing, working with a variety of artists from across the NYC scene. As Co-Founder and Creative Director Jonathan Benedict tells us, the goal is to make great music and to have a great time while doing it–you will not find grumpy engineers or uninspiring spaces at the Brooklyn-based studio. 

Jonathan is a longtime friend of Vintage King and we sat down with him recently to talk about his love for vintage gear, his relationship with Vintage King, and what he thinks is the most important thing that his studio has accomplished over the years.

Take us back to when you were setting up Hyperballad Music–what was your vision for it and what niche were you trying to fill?

The goal has been the same from the beginning–to be a legendary New York space from which a lot of great music emanates. What we learned along the way is that we really excel, I think, at collaborating and creating a vibe; we've kind of doubled and tripled down on that, and we are really interested in fostering this incredible community around the space. There’s an energy when somebody steps into the studio that they can feel, which communicates to them, “Hey, I'm going to be comfortable here, I can express myself here; I'm not going to be judged for what I'm doing or who I am or where I come from.” That is really special and I think it's not true of all studios. 

Because studios were so expensive, back in the day, there was this notion of, “Oh, my God, we're on the clock, every second counts, we're paying so much for this!” So there was that pressure–and it was a real thing–but at the same time, people weren't thinking about what the environment was like. Things have evolved a lot in that respect, but certainly, when I started it was, in some cases, pretty brutal. It’s especially true for female and non-binary artists coming to a studio, and especially if you're coming to a session for the first time. You don't really know what to expect and it can be a really intense and unpleasant experience if the folks who run the space are not being mindful of people's feelings and emotions. I think a lot of studios can feel very, very closed, and very tight; it can get a little claustrophobic in the rooms and when the session is over, people are like, “Oh my God, let me out!” 

When we were building the facility, my partner Rob and I had discussions about how we wanted to create the opposite kind of feeling– create a space where, when people finish a session, they don't feel like they have to leave immediately; they just want to relax. We have proper acoustics but we also have a very open feel to the space–there's a skylight in every room, there are a lot of plants, a lot of wood, and it's a very relaxing environment. 

Also, we spend a lot of our lives there–the amount of time that we spend in the studio, whether we're producers, artists, engineers, singers… it really adds up; we probably spend more time here than with our families in a lot of cases, so the environment is really crucial–we wanted it to be a healthy place for all of us. 

How did you first become aware of Vintage King and what was your first experience working with us?

I think it was through a very early iteration of the Vintage King website. At the time, my facility was really small–it was just one room in an apartment in Brooklyn. I really wanted to get a Neve 53 series console and I ended up talking to Mike Nehra about this. We discussed what would be the right console for me and Mike said, “You should just go for it and get an 80 series.” I said, “I don't think I can afford it; that seems like a crazy pipe dream.” And he said, “No, I think you can do it, we can figure it out.” True to his word, he found an 8014 that had come from some space up in Canada; I don't know the history of it, but he was able to get this board for me and we got it delivered.

Now, I didn't realize that there was no way to bring the console up the stairwell of the building I was in–I had spent all of my money getting this console, it was scheduled to be delivered and I had multiple moving companies come out, look at my building and say they couldn’t do it! And I was like, “Well, I have this board coming that I've worked so hard for–what am I supposed to do?” 

Eventually, I had to get a rigging company to crane the console into the building. That used to happen a lot in the ‘70s and ‘80s with large facilities that were, let's say, in Manhattan on the seventh floor or something like that, but for a really small studio owner, that was a crazy experience! But that's what we did–we craned the new console into the studio and it became the centerpiece of all the work I was doing. 

All my early Vintage King purchases were from Mike–he was my original salesperson at Vintage King and we started having conversations about the studio, about equipment, and the relationship just grew from there. Then I started working with Darrin Fendley, who was fantastic and is still a friend. I've always come to Vintage King for any kind of serious studio purchases or infrastructure; I just feel like if I'm working with folks and I trust them, I'm going to be loyal to them. 

What are some of your favorite pieces of gear that you have purchased from Vintage King?

Definitely the Neve 8014 console, which gets used every day, and the Neumann U47 microphone. I'll tell you what's interesting to me about them, besides the great tones they impart: I think it's really special and very unique, with music making and record production, that we're using technology that is, in some cases, 50, 60, or even 70 years old to make our recordings – the U47 microphone that Darrin got for me is from 1954! To be in 2023 and be using a microphone from 1954 to do current work… I mean, we're not on a movie set, we're not trying to recreate the sound of the ‘50s here–we're trying to make records for right now–for Spotify, and hopefully for vinyl, but certainly for TikTok and Apple Music and all the other ways people listen to music right now.

The Neve console is from around 1975, so to have the centerpiece of what we do as creators, as technicians, be a piece of equipment that is basically 50 years old is pretty astonishing. That's just not something you find in other industries…with a few exceptions, like there are some photographers who use vintage lenses in their work.

I think the corollary to that is that anything that I have in the studio, I don't really consider mine. I mean, yes, I own it, but it's really like it's something that is mine to use for this period. Somebody else used it before me and someone's going to use it after me because it's still going to be useful and valuable in decades to come–I almost feel like a steward of the gear. For instance, we have a Rhodes 54 in the studio, and I have no idea who played that Rhodes 54 before we got it but certainly people made records with it; they gigged with it, played shows with it, and now it's here and someday it'll be in somebody else's studio. But right now it's here and we're going to make the most of it.

That's kind of how I feel about all of this vintage equipment that we have in our space, that we're just really blessed to have such fun tools for making music and we're in this very unique position in the music sector where we're able to use these really old artifacts in an incredibly current and vital way. 

Any other favorites that you'd like to give a shout-out to?

Off the top of my head, the GML 8200 EQ, or a pair of Distressors that I got in 2003 that I'm still using, so here they are, 20 years later–the original Distressors with the Brit mod. Our ATC monitors were a Vintage King purchase; I also got a full Pro Tools HD system, and later a Pro Tools HDX system, and many different kinds of digital devices and converters over the years, including the Avid MTRX and the Dangerous Audio AD+.

I also bought a Pultec EQP-1R which gets heavy use. It's incredible because when you run a sound through it, even with the EQ part bypassed, you've changed the tone–it's going to get thicker, it's going to get softer, it's going to get more rounded. That's one way you can really get to a more vintage sound but you can also use them on more modern things if you use them judiciously.

When I look around the studio, I'm just like, ‘Vintage King, Vintage King’. The thing is, it wasn't all bought in one day, it wasn't like I came in with this list of items and bought it all at once­–we've been working together for 20 years and we've pieced all these things together over time. When it comes to vintage gear, I've only ever really worked with Vintage King. Whether I was working with Mike or Darrin or currently with Jacob, there's a lot of trust and it's just easy; it's not something that I ever really think about. If I'm going to make a vintage gear purchase or also with new gear–if I were going to change the setup in the studio, if we're going to expand, and we will at some point, in terms of the actual equipment itself and the purchase, that would go through Vintage King.

What sets Vintage King apart from other pro audio companies?

There was a time, before I was working closely with Mike, that I talked to some other dealers, and the issue with some of the other dealers is that either they don't know what they have because they don't have the actual knowledge to really know what they're in possession of, or they do know what they have and they're somewhat disingenuous about it; they'll be misleading about what it is. 

Before I had the 8014, I went to look at another console from another dealer of vintage equipment, who will remain nameless. I traveled pretty far to see the board and they told me that the board was discrete. Then I got there, saw the board and I pulled out one of the modules, and it was filled with chips. I had traveled all this way to see this board that they had assured me was a discrete board, and it was not discrete, which is a pretty serious thing for the amount of money that they were asking for. Needless to say, they lost my trust after that incident.

There have never been any issues like that with Vintage King, because I feel like Mike and the team are trying to do right by people from the get-go; from the beginning, there's a good faith negotiation of, “We're going to get you the right equipment.” 

If there is an issue with the equipment, then they'll respect and honor and fix what needs to be fixed, so if they ship something and there's a part missing or whatever, then we can talk and they'll say, “Okay, great, we'll get you that other part.” There's just never any stress, no wrangling or arguing about it. It's just kind of understood, like, “This is the right thing to do, so let's get it done.” So those are the kinds of folks that I want to work with when it comes to–not just the studio–but really anything that I do.

Tell us more about the vintage synths in the studio–you have a great collection.

I love talking about vintage synths because it was really how I found my way into music and production. I was a piano player from the age of eight and I was always writing songs from early on, but I got into the production side of things as a teenager because of a friend of mine who was a little bit older, someone who was on a sports team with me. He would bring a boombox to practice and play Depeche Mode and I thought it was crazy–I didn't like it. [Laughs] I was very sheltered and inexperienced and I wasn't ready for it at that age; but I kind of did like it–I liked not liking it publicly, but privately, I kind of liked it.

One day I got to school and got the news that my friend had been in a car accident and was in a coma. A few hours later, tragically, he died. I hadn't experienced that kind of loss of someone that was close to me; I never had a friend or a young person like that pass away. It was very overwhelming and really upsetting, and the way that I coped with it was, I thought, “Because he was such a fan of this band, I'm going to go out and get one of their records and I'm going to listen to it” because that's what he would have loved. I ended up buying all of the Depeche Mode records, and I would listen to them incessantly. 

So Depeche Mode and the hip-hop music that I was also listening to at that age really drew me to the sound sources that they were using–synthesizers and samplers. I'm thinking, “How is this music being made? What are these sounds? Why am I so fascinated with this?” And that's really what drew me into that world. As soon as I could, I wanted to get keyboards and synthesizers to be able to explore the kinds of sounds that these folks were creating, so I started to buy vintage synths. I think the very first one I bought was a Roland Juno-106, which, by the way, is the first synth everyone should buy–it is the greatest thing. Everyone should have a Roland Juno-106 and a Roland Space Echo; if you have any interest in vintage gear whatsoever, start with those items because there's so much you can get out of that. 

Around the same time, soft synths were becoming very popular and very powerful so as a young music producer, I thought to myself, “Well, this is the future–it's not these vintage synths, it's these soft synths. But I really like these old synths, I enjoy the experience of playing with them and I get to other places creatively when I use them, so even though it's a waste of money, I'm going to go out and just buy some of these synths.” I bought a Jupiter-8 for about $1100, the Juno for around $350, my TR-808 for about $800, and I also bought a Prophet-5 and a Memorymoog–I started getting all of these items and it was just purely out of love. I loved the experience of working with the sounds and the tactile experience of using knobs together with the keys and where that leads creatively–I just wanted to have that. So every time I had a little bit of money I would try to invest it in these items and that's how I started the collection. 

To this day, I find them very inspiring–I don't get to use them every day in the work that I do, but when I do use them, it always leads me to some great places in terms of all the stuff that I'm most proud of. Needless to say, we use them extensively on our artist projects, and we use them on our film scores, but they make their way into the commercial work too. In the first commercial we did for the Super Bowl, I ended up using a Roland SH-101 and, I think, a TR-707 and I just thought that was very satisfying–the fact that we were using this vintage equipment to make a current Super Bowl commercial.

How has the industry changed since you first opened your doors and how has your studio adapted to those changes?

It's been an extraordinary change in a lot of ways. The idea of a room full of equipment, a console, tape machines, outboard racks, the patchbay, and so on and so forth…the idea of that being essential to making a great record–well, it’s just no longer the case. We can take a laptop, get a DAW on there, get a relatively inexpensive interface and some microphones, and as long as we have a way to listen–some monitoring or headphones–we can just get to work and make great music. That's changed everything. It's such a seismic shift in the way music is produced and I think we have gained a lot from that; it's much more democratic now, much more accessible, and easier for people with ideas to sit down and make a record–that part is awesome.

The part that's maybe less awesome is that when we think about music over the years and how it's been made, it has, generally speaking, been through some kind of ensemble. If you think about people drumming together, like a tribal circle or something, or you think about an orchestral symphony…the idea of people coming together and each person having a role to play in the creation of the music creates a very rich sound. That has been lost, a little bit.

I think that just because someone can sit down and make a record on their laptop doesn't necessarily mean they should do it themselves; I think that when we get other people involved, it gets more exciting, the music gets more interesting, the DNA of the music gets more complex. Even Prince–who could play anything and write anything and is absolutely a legend in every sense of the word–would still bring other folks to the studio to play certain parts, because he knew that would ultimately make the music better.

I think that's something I'm really proud of with our Hyperballad facility right now–people go in and out of rooms to hear what the others are doing; they play on each other's productions, contribute musical ideas, and sing on each other's records. Sometimes chance meetings happen in the hallway and all of a sudden they're in a session together–that's something I'm really excited about.

Looking back, what are you most proud of in terms of your studio's history?

I really feel like the studio culture that we've created is the thing that I'm most proud of–I think it is unusual to find a space that is, hopefully, as open and inspiring as what we've created. New York City has so many studios and so many places that are very storied; a lot of phenomenal historical recordings have come out of these hallways and studio rooms. I think within that world, the fact that we can exist and be adding to that with this kind of studio culture and this cross-section of people working in the facility–I think that's really special, so that's the thing I'm most proud of.

What are your plans for the future of your studio?

We have a growing roster of producers and composers that we work with–we've been working with a producer named Soular, who recently won a Latin GRAMMY; our youngest producer, Amara Jaeger, is just phenomenal and she’s winning all this commercial work right now. We would like to expand and create more rooms, but we're just going to have to take our time with that. I love the facility, so it's not really a question of moving, it’s a question of building on what we already have and maybe adding some satellite facilities or additional rooms on the same block–I definitely see expansion in the near future.

Jacob SchneiderIf you’re interested in purchasing gear for your studio, contact a Vintage King Audio Consultant via email or by phone at 866.644.0160.