City Lights Recording Studio
FARMINGDALE, NJ—For many years some of the world’s most renowned musical acts have done their recording right here in the Garden State. And until recently, you would be hard-pressed to know where. Indeed, rockers Bad Company, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones and Skid Row, rappers Das EFX and The Fat Boys, R&B legends Parliament/Funkadelic and Kool & The Gang, and even pop queen Cher have used City Lights Recording Studio as the setting where their artistic visions were realized.
After opening in 1989, producer extraordinaire Guy Daniel’s state-of-the-art facility has been doing business with some of the most powerful organizations in music. And two years ago, after years of recording artists from all over the world, Daniel decided to enter the New Jersey music scene in a big way by starting what is essentially his own record label.
1299 On The Highway, is just in its infancy at this point, but when it grows up it will be record label, online store, promotion/marketing company, booking agency and, of course, a recording studio all at one location. Daniel was born and raised in New Jersey, and working with some of the industry’s finest over the years has not blinded him to the immeasurable amount of talent in the area, so he has afforded the first opportunity to become a part of 1299 to artists right here in his home state.
Daniel took some time out to discuss his notable past, sustained success over the past two decades and his ambitious new venture, 1299onthehighway.com.
How do you spend most of your time at City Lights Recording Studio?
Depending upon the project, with the engineers and the amount of people I’ve known in the industry for the past 30 years that changes from session to session depending on what the needs of the session are.
I’m on a bunch of different projects doing a bunch of different things. I kind of put in place the people who do the right job. So, depending on if it’s a rock project I go to rock engineers, depending on who would be the best for the recording session.
So you have a pool of people?
Well, I’ve been dealing with the industry’s finest for the past 30 years.
You‘ve established quite a name for yourself in the music industry at large. How did you manage that?
When I was building City Lights, and getting ready to build City Lights, I kinda went—when it was time to pick the equipment—I went so state-of-the-art and so far in advance that I knew it would give the studio longevity. Now people are just catching up to me. I was doing digital here in 1990. So, I went so far ahead of the spectrum that the studio has maintained state-of-the-art for all these years.
And then—other things I’ve done—I’m teaming up with producers all over the world. I just finished, in the last 10 months, doing an album with Jimmy Cliff’s producer, Rick Iantosca. He just came in with reggae legend Denroy Morgan of the reggae group Morgan Heritage. And Morgan Heritage do 60,000 seat arenas and 140,000 show up. They’re a spiritual reggae group.
Denroy is the Father, we just did the soundtrack to his ministry. I actually got to write and produce a track that is on the album [Link Up To Ethiopia]. It’s called “Peace.”
Are you a reggae guy?
I’m a song guy. I start with a great song because we can make a great song anything we wanna make it. We can make it R&B, we can make it rock, depending which artist is covering it. A great song remains a great song, there’s just a good arrangement you have to put under it.
How did you get started as a producer?
Well, I kinda always had that gene and I always knew what I wanted music to sound like. I think we’re all producers at heart, it’s just how carried away you’re gonna get with it. I knew I would be able to produce great product if I had a great facility. I designed my studio to facilitate the ability to make great music and make great sounds.
The studio was constructed from the ground up to be a recording studio. So I wasn’t dealing with an existing structure that I had to put a Band-Aid on. And I sat in front of the planning board for three and a half years because of it; they’d never seen anything built like this. The design itself is just outstanding.
Tell me about the design. What do people expect when they walk into City Lights?
First off, they expect to see their music come to life. That’s what they’re expecting and when they come into the place they see an environment that allows them to do that. It is a great working environment and things are set up strategically to keep a forward motion to a project.
When they first walk in the door I sit them down in the middle of the studio and we brainstorm, we game plan, we figure out what’s going to be the best and what we need to make the best thing happen.
And again, like I said, it’s not just me here. When it’s a rock or a reggae project, I know who to reach out to; who’s been successful in that kind of work, so I do what’s best for the project.
What is 1299 On The Highway?
The highway is 33, of course, and 1299 is my address. It’s the whole ball of wax here, the whole environment of 1299 On The Highway. The studios on 1299 on the highway are City Lights Recording Studios. I have the building next door that I’m actually looking to put management and booking and be a full service entertainment environment right on one property; booking, management, the whole nine.
I’m actually looking for people to catch on as to what I’m doing and there is space available there now, in the other building.
So you’re looking for artists?
Here’s the thing, at 1299onthehighway.com I have the ability to sell music via download. And what’s great about it is that 1299 is getting ready to go out and—I’m not putting a gaggle of artists on here, I’m limiting it to 99 artists, because the branding element is very important. I’m going to brand these 99 artists, whatever they may be—rock, reggae, rap, pop. The 99 artists who are at 1299onthehighway, will be promoted accordingly and everybody is very excited about this element as far as there’s a location behind the music. There’s iTunes, but there’s no iTunes studios. There’s studios at 1299onthehighway.
So, it’s full service. We make your music. We can tailor it and we can sell it for you. I’ve got some legendary people on the site now. As far as the studio is concerned, it was actually The Aquarian, you guys, who had one of the live albums that I did here, a Pat Guadagno album, Live At The City Lights Saloon, the Live Album Of The Year in 2004.
So what you’re doing with 1299 On The Highway sounds a lot like a record label.
Exactly, and I do have distribution. I’m the middle of putting together a distribution deal with a distribution company that I feel very confident in. So we do have the ability to put hard goods into the stores across America.
You’ve been in this business, at least with the studio, for 20 years now. When did this idea manifest?
Well, 1299, I always thought was a cool number to have as an address, first off. And, I thought that at one point I would used 1299—not twelve-ninety-nine, I call it one-two-nine-nine, but anybody can call it whatever they like. When did I come up with the idea? When I wanted to start linking some of the local artists and some of the Jersey artists with the rest of the world, giving them the right push because it’s tough out there. I’d really like to make my place home to everybody who’s serious about their music and wants to take it to another level. Through the years I’ve had some of the greatest artists in here; starting with Bad Company, Skid Row, Parliament/Funkadelic, members of the Bon Jovi band, Bruce Springsteen, Kool & The Gand and the list goes on.
City Lights was actually the link, for a lot of years, to the major labels. I really didn’t do too much local work because I was too busy doing records for the majors; Sony, RCA and Atlantic—big companies.
City Lights has been described as one of the “hidden secrets” of New Jersey. Why do you think that is?
Basically, for years I didn’t have a sign out front and I was recording some of the biggest talent in the world right in this location in Farmingdale, NJ. I would have people like Cher and the Rolling Stones here in Farmingdale, so it kinda was the best kept secret there for a long time. I’m centrally located between New York, Philly and Atlantic City, and I’m reaching artists as far as London.
Is the goal eventually to expand this label to artists outside of Jersey?
Sure. Wherever the music is great, I wanna be there. I’ve got some artists from Chicago who are on the site, there’s artists from Philadelphia that have been getting ready to put product up there. They’ve actually been in my studio trying to tighten it up before they put it out.
What do you want artists here in New Jersey to know about City Lights?
I want them to know that there is a facility right here in New Jersey that has been recognized throughout the world for excellence. And I am the link to the rest of the world with music via 1299 On The Highway and if they’d like to come in and join, I’d love to have them.
How many artists do you have right now?
I believe there’s about 55.
We’re also going to be traveling through the state to bring people on board to 1299, bring them up here and show them what’s available.
How is that going to work?
I’m actually thinking about doing it the old-fashioned way; getting out in a van with some people, looking for some great entertainment and trying to bring everybody in.
So you’ll be scouting.
Sure, I’m always scouting. That never stops.
For more info, go to 1299onthehighway.com, call 732 938 4565 or send an email to email@example.com. City Lights Recording Studio is located at 1299 State Route 33 in Farmingdale, NJ.