Berklee College of Music will try to revive one of New York City’s most storied recording studios, where artists from Bruce Springsteen to Lady Gaga and the cast of the Broadway show “Hamilton” have produced hit albums.
The Boston performing arts school will take over Avatar Studios in Manhattan in a public-private deal involving the city of New York and one of the college’s trustees. The school will rename the studio the Power Station at BerkleeNYC, in a nod to the venue’s previous name and history as the former Consolidated Edison power plant, Berklee officials are expected to announce Tuesday.
The studio deal will give Berklee a significant foothold in New York City and in the recording industry, which is being transformed by technology. Berklee plans to update the 33,000-square-foot Power Station and continue to operate it as a commercial recording studio, but will also turn some of the building into rehearsal space, practice rooms, and classrooms.
Berklee students who are interested in working in the music industry or moving to New York City after graduation will be able to do internships and get training at the studio, said Roger Brown, Berklee’s president.
“We want to preserve and re-imagine the recording studio,” Brown said. “We know a lot of students will be taking off from Boston and heading to New York. This will give them a smooth transition to New York and increase the odds of success.”
Under the deal, Berklee College trustee Pete Muller, a well-known hedge fund investor and a singer-songwriter, will buy the building for close to $20 million. The City of New York will invest $6 million to help Berklee provide free and tuition-based educational programs for public school students and offer local musicians, composers, producers, and engineers, training and resources in the building.
Berklee will also invest about $20 million from donor gifts in the Power Station project for the renovations and programming. The school will lease the building from Muller, who will also have his own artist incubation space in the project. Muller and Berklee alumnus and producer Rick DiPofi first approached Berklee about the space, which the current owners put up for sale in 2015.
“I hope this becomes the first building of a BerkleeNYC campus,” Muller said. “Berklee has already become one of the preeminent music institutions in the world. To not have a footprint in New York is wrong.” The school is trying to grow in the city in a consistent and organic way, he said.
Brown declined to say how much Berklee would pay Muller in rent.
It is not unusual for colleges to do business with their trustees, and some institutions argue that it can save them money, because they are likely to get a better deal. The Internal Revenue Service requires schools to disclose these financial conflicts, and watchdog groups warn that these arrangements can be murky and leave institutions open to criticism of favoritism.
Berklee had lawyers and appraisers look over the deal, and the rent is appropriate for the neighborhood, Brown said.
“We feel very comfortable that it’s fair to everyone,” Brown said of the deal. Muller recused himself from the vote on the deal. If this venture succeeds, Muller will likely give the building to Berklee in the future, Brown said.
Power Station was founded in 1977 by Tony Bongiovi, a recording and acoustical engineer. With its recording rooms of pine slats and cork walls, the studio became the go-to place for many of the biggest artists of the time.
Springsteen recorded “Born in the U.S.A.” and Madonna produced “Like a Virgin” there, and everyone from Bon Jovi to David Bowie booked some time in the Power Station’s studios.
The current owners, Chieko and Kirk Imamura, bought and have operated the facility as Avatar Studios since 1996. The studio still hosts well-known performers, including Bruno Mars, Diana Krall, and Esperanza Spalding. But improved technology available on laptop computers has increasingly made such large studios obsolete.
A Sony recording studio in Hell’s Kitchen was sold in 2007 and demolished to make room for condominiums. Some in New York’s arts community feared the same fate would befall Power Station.
The Power Station studio is the last one in the city big enough to host the cast of a Broadway show, such as “Hamilton,” said Julie Menin, the city’s commissioner of media and entertainment.
Without these spaces, performers will go elsewhere to record their music, she said.
“It’s really vital to save the recording studios in the city,” Menin said.
Berklee plans to update the equipment in the studio and include more video and virtual reality technology to attract performers to the facility, which will be staffed by professionals and not students. The renovated studio and BerkleeNYC campus will likely re-open in 2019, Brown said.
Operating a recording studio won’t be a big revenue generator for Berklee, but the school hopes that the venture will break even financially, Brown said.
The studio will also be a resource to current students and the nearly 8,000 alumni living in New York City, he said.
Berklee has been expanding its reach recently. Last year, it merged with the Boston Conservatory. Berklee will not offer full-degree programs at the studio at this time and remains committed to staying in Boston, Brown said.
This story has been updated to correct the name of the song recorded by Bruce Springsteen at the Power Station.