The best music happens when you least expect it. Melodies come together in the backyard by an open fire, while notes find their match on the couch in the wee hours of evening. These sounds are raw, emotional, and almost impossible to recreate.
In the Hudson Valley, there’s a place where artists and musicians can harness that energy. It’s been around for almost 20 years, and yet locals have probably never heard of it.
Situated on an impressive acreage in a cellular dead zone, Artfarm Recording is a pristine, rural retreat that attracts a surprising number of big-name musicians. To name only a few, Theo Katzman, The Fretless, and The Felice Brothers have recorded sessions, albums, and memories at the meditative space. The owner, Sean Boyd, was a contemporary with the likes of Blues Traveler and the Spin Doctors before turning his expertise and experience towards other artists in the form of Artfarm.
In 2000, Boyd decided to step back from touring and focus more on production. With nothing but sheer willpower and a group of close friends, Boyd turned a 100-year-old barn into a musical marvel with a near perfect ambience and a dead-silent recording room. With a minimalist exterior, rare and exciting instruments, and a professional space that still feels like home, the studio is unlike anything musicians have seen before.
Boyd hopes to create a space of relaxation and comfort. In his mind, that is the secret to recording a solid piece of music.
“When we play in our living rooms, we’re genius. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have equipment, if your living room is the wrong shape or your guitar needs a new string, it’s the real deal,” he says. “I really try to get people relaxed enough so they can play for me like they would in their living room.”
Sean’s drum set in the live room / Photo by Sean Boyd
His studio is anything but a traditional living room. What is now the live room was once a cow stable, used to store hay and cattle. During the renovation process the group found that the large, open room had an excellent sound quality to it and decided to keep it open as opposed to closing it off and totally soundproofing it.
The control room is even more impressive, with 16 layers of sheet rock separating it from the rest of the house. It sits on its own concrete and, aside from the stairs touching the upper corner of one wall, it’s completely isolated from the vibrations of the rest of the house. All the absorbers were created by Boyd and Dave Swanson, who has collaborated with Widespread Panic, Spin Doctors, Chris Whitley, and more. At Artfarm, the homegrown professional quality goes all the way to the foundation.
Boyd still plays music, mostly Hindi Kirtan, a traditional style of music with Vedic roots featuring call-and-response-style chants set to music that narrates a story or expresses a spiritual idea, but overall has made the switch into a producer role.
“A third of my clients come in green. I honor that position a lot because when I first started recording, I had a lot of people help me out when I was young,” Boyd reflects. “It’s really easy to get in your own head at that time.”
Artfarm Studios breaks the mold by being a retreat as opposed to just a studio. Boyd is there 24/7 and can assist any type of musical group in multiple ways. His knowledge of a wide range of instruments, vocal prowess, and close workings with many musicians in his lengthy career make him an invaluable asset.
“It’s really exciting to get people in, get them relaxed, and get them to give me 10 percent better than they thought they could,” he says.
On top of the personal touches, Artfarm is home to industry standard equipment at an affordable price. He owns a Steinway 1910 baby grand piano, a Hammond m3 organ, and a large collection of guitars, banjos, and mandolins. Boyd’s personal favorite part is his tape-recording equipment; he owns an impressive Ampex 1200 16-track, as well as a standard 24-track. To Boyd, though, gear only goes so far.
“The gear I have is awesome, I know how to use it, and that’s really all I need,” he says. “I have great sounding, quality gear, but not a ton of it. The priorities are the player, the instrument, the room, and the mic, in that order.”
Artfarm is a recording studio, but Boyd likes to shake up what kind of people come to his place. He has hosted a wide variety of spiritual groups, clubs, covens, and organizations in the past.
“In some ways, we live in a cultural, ethnic desert here, so I love that I get to see different types of music, people, all of that,” he says. “Also, I don’t want to burn myself out. I have a lot of friends who spend their lives in the studio. It’s 14-hour days for a lot of people, back to back to back.”
Artfarm is an inclusive, open space for all sorts of groups to go and enjoy nature and life in its truest form. An impressive set of gear inside a perfectly tuned space with an industry professional at its helm is a rare treat in the Valley, and not one to miss.
“People walk into this room and fall in love with it,” Boyd says. “This room is one of the nicest that I’ve ever been in.”