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Producer/engineer Anthony “Rocky” Gallo came up in the fast-paced New York music scene, working on multi-platinum selling albums with award-winning artists like John Legend, Common, Norah Jones, Gavin DeGraw, Cat Power, Mos Def, Carly Simon, Jon Bon Jovi, Perry Farrell, and Travis Barker, to name a few. After a long stint as Chief Engineer at The Cutting Room studios, he went freelance and has since set up his own successful facility–the Brooklyn-based Virtue and Vice Studios.
We sat down with Anthony recently to talk about his career, his relationship with Vintage King, what he looks for when he buys new gear, and his plans for the future of his studio.
Take us back to when you were setting up Virtue and Vice–what was your vision for the studio?
The idea of owning a recording studio was the last thing on my mind back then–it was just about the desire to make records how I wanted to, to work the way I thought would be best, and to not be under the management of a bigger studio owner. I had been doing pop music, R&B, and hip-hop, and as much as I loved it, I grew up listening to rock music.
I really got a taste of working on it at the tail end of my time at the place I was at previously, while working on the KEXP Live In-Studio performances. There were these incredible artists–real instruments, musicians performing together–and that solidified the thing I wanted to solely work on. That was the catalyst, along with the fact that it was time to move on from the place I was at, and the desire to make music that involved instruments. I'm not opposed to digital or software stuff, I just feel like the challenge is much greater with instruments and that's kind of what has always got me going as far as the recording process goes–the challenge.
The kind of artist that is drawn to Virtue and Vice Studios is a band or an artist that has, not to sound cliché, the organic sound that's going to come out of an instrument or themselves. It’s artists that want a low-pressure situation with high-quality results–that's maybe the best way to put it.
You’ve worked with so many memorable artists–which sessions and moments stand out for you?
I’d say one moment that really stands out for me was with Cigarettes After Sex–they’re one of the groups that I've been working with recently that has gotten a lot of attention. There was a moment during the making of the first record where one of them picked up my Telecaster and began playing a Beatles song we were talking about and everyone was singing along and doing harmony… they were kind of a quiet band, not too much talking, so that one moment I found really special and there have been so many like that.
Also, working with people that you grew up listening to–you meet them and they're wonderful human beings… It’s hard to go through the list and pick them out but there have been some moments where you're just baffled by it and at a loss for words. I know I should be putting them all into some kind of catalog, like a written-down thing, but it's kind of hard to describe the emotions that you get from them.
How did you first become aware of Vintage King and what was your first experience working with us?
Around the industry, Vintage King was always a name; they were a thing for about 10 years when I started. When I opened up my first little studio, as soon as I went freelance, the gentleman I talked to at VK at the time was Peter Kehoe. I had called for a Neumann U48 or U47 mic and I know it sounds insane and pretty impulsive, but I ended up buying a Neve 53 Series console that day–so either a great salesman or a really impulsive buy. [Laughs] But the Neve was a great help to my career and it was a great help to the sound of everything I did–the console probably did more than the microphone would have.
What are some of your favorite pieces of gear that you have purchased from Vintage King?
That's going to have to be my vintage 8026 Neve console. I just love the sonic quality of it–the channels going through the routing modules; transformers, transformers, transformers!
Everything about it just makes everything sound better and sometimes colleagues will be like, “Does it really bring in more clients?” Well, I think there is a level of artist or label that will look at the place now and just be like, “Okay, it's professional.” Whatever that means–I'm not quite sure, but it is definitely a statement piece because of its quality, name, reputation, and sonic ability.
What are your criteria when it comes to buying gear?
Is it essential? Will I use it? What is the build quality? If it's new I have to know what the customer service is like, is there any kind of support?
As far as fitting the needs of the studio goes, it's got to be able to be a workhorse, used every day, sound great, be rugged, and make financial sense. There are places with mic lockers that blow mine away, but at a certain point, I'm not seeing a jump in quality for ten times the price of a certain piece. I always think about adding more but the sounds I'm getting now are satisfying to me. As much as I want a pair of C12s for overheads, I don't see how $50,000 in microphones will justify raising my price by, say, $50 a day or something like that. [Laughs] I mean, I would love to get more mics and if I were to get more, it would most likely be from Vintage King, to be honest with you.
What makes Vintage King stand out from other pro audio companies?
I've had many experiences with other audio brokers and, unfortunately, none of them have been good besides Vintage King. We will not name names but there are a few–there is not just one other place that I'm talking about. The adage ‘you get what you pay for’ is very true, and this is the thing that’s going to be your livelihood.
With some of the other brokers, it’s like playing the Lotto, it’s almost like a mystery–you can have stuff show up and you're just kind of hoping that what comes in is going to work. I have not had that experience even once with Vintage King and I'm talking about the biggest purchases of my life, for sure–they are the only ones I really trust with something that is large scale.
How has Vintage King helped you with gear selection, purchasing, and servicing in the past?
There hasn't had to be much servicing because I know the things I'm getting from them are taken care of and if there is an issue, it is taken care of too.
How has the industry changed most since you first opened your doors and how has the studio had to adapt to those changes?
I feel like I came into the industry at the perfect time because at the turn of the 2000s, it actually plummeted, so when I was making the least, everyone was making the least. I just slowly crept up and it's been a slow climb from there but as far as how things have changed–obviously there are changes in the way records are made. When I started I was tape-opping and calibrating Digidesign 888s, and now we have all this equipment, capabilities, storage, workflow… just to be able to mix in real-time with someone that is literally on the other side of the world is amazing.
In the early aughts, I would work with major label artists but there was also a good share of independent clients and sometimes, deep down inside, you're like, “I know this is great, but I know it's not going anywhere just because of what the industry is.” I feel like now, more than ever, the artist has a chance. The rates for streaming are a different story–there is an argument that it's not good enough–but it's something and it's there. I have way more clients coming in and being like, “Oh, we had this one song, it got a few million streams so we have the budget to do another one and keep the thing going”.
There was a good stretch of 10 to 15 years where it was just the haves and have-nots in the record making industry. I would say 30 or 40 years ago, if you didn't have a quarter of a million dollars to make a record there wasn't a record being made. Now, I'm not saying that you can just make it for… actually you can make it for no money, [laughs] and amazing things may happen. So it definitely levels the playing field and sparks creativity; the opportunity for great music to get through is there, for sure.
Looking back, what are you most proud of or excited about in terms of your studio's history?
Staying open. [Laughs]
You survived Covid–that can’t have been easy.
Yeah, getting through that was important! My biggest goal with this place was to take an artist from nothing and turn them into something big and it finally did happen with Cigarettes After Sex, which was very fulfilling to see; it was also great career-wise–I knew that would be the thing that really changed things the most for the place.
Starting from pretty much a rehearsal space that I tossed a bunch of equipment into, then at one transitional point having my setup in my bedroom while I was freelancing, to this–that wild swing within 10 years is kind of mindblowing.
What are your plans for the future of your studio?
Stay open. We just re-signed our lease and I'm sure we’ll be here another 10+ years. We've also taken over a production room, which has been really fulfilling because it's another service we can offer to the clients where they can write here and do overdubs at a fraction of the cost, so that’s something we're currently growing. It may turn into a total Dolby Atmos room but I'm waiting to see if the protocol survives in the next 2-3 years before I end up converting it. There’s also a possible lathe printing idea…there's been a lot of ideas tossed around.
Project-wise, I'm very excited for this third Cigarettes After Sex record to be completed. We’ve been working on it for a while, it's highly anticipated and it sounds great. There's something about putting tons of effort into a record where you know people are actually looking forward to hearing it–and not just like a couple of thousand…it’s millions of people! You’re working really long days but you have to think of this as short-term pain–this is going to mean a lot to people so you have to ignore your exhaustion for the moment and see it through for them.