Since moving to Weehawken, N.J., last fall, Stanley Brown has developed a nightly habit: He works long hours at the recording studio he runs in Midtown Manhattan, and usually takes an Uber home at 2 or 3 in the morning. When he arrives at his apartment building, which sits along the Hudson River with an unfettered view of Manhattan, he takes a quiet walk along the riverfront to process his day.
“I take that walk religiously,” said Mr. Brown, who lives alone. “I have conversations with the city at night. I want to see what it is that I’m buying into, or what I’m building there. It’s time to think about what’s happening and what’s coming tomorrow.”
Mr. Brown, 54, has been working in the music industry since he was in his early 20s. He grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where he played drums and keyboard in church. In his 20s, he met the members of the hip-hop group Run-DMC and began playing keyboard for them. (You can see him in the music video for “Pause,” decked out in the group’s signature rope chains and playing a solo on the keytar.)
Soon, mentors like Jam Master Jay and the producer Hiriam Hicks taught him the ins and outs of production. Since then, he has written and produced for a range of R&B and gospel acts. He has worked with artists, including Salt-N-Pepa, Dru Hill and Michelle Williams from Destiny’s Child. He also served as senior director of artists and repertoire for RCA Inspiration, a label under Sony Music, and recently signed a distribution deal with Roc Nation.
In 2004, Mr. Brown purchased a two-bedroom house in North Hills, N.Y. He built a recording studio, complete with a vocal booth, in his basement, where musicians and other producers would often visit from New York City. But those trips from the city usually meant a two-hour drive back after a recording session.
Last year, when the pandemic heated up the real estate market on Long Island, Mr. Brown realized that he could get a good price for his house, and he set his sights on Stroudsburg, Pa. He had two good friends who lived in a gated community there, where he figured he could build out a house with a recording studio and host songwriting camps.
But there are no trains that make for an easy commute between New York City and Stroudsburg. Mr. Brown’s friend, the producer Rodney (Darkchild) Jerkins, pointed out the holes in his plan. “He was like, ‘You’re going to be up there by yourself,’” Mr. Brown remembers. “‘Nobody’s coming to work up there.’”
As doubt set in, a new opportunity materialized. A friend called to let Mr. Brown know that a recording studio in Manhattan had opened up: Did he want to take the lease? The answer was an obvious, immediate yes.
$3,500 | Weehawken, New Jersey
Stanley Brown, 54
Occupation: Music producer
His weekend hobby: “I’m a motorcycle guy. I ride bikes really hard. But it’s always on open highways, so it’s safer. I’ll ride with my friends to Jones Beach or the Hamptons. [Interstate] 495, at the right time of day, is wide open.”
On taking days off: “I have no problem working weekends, but I don’t like to kill my engineers. So I give them the weekends off. Sundays I’m working, because I’m at my church in Jamaica, Queens. I run the music department. I’ve been there for 21 years.”
For Mr. Brown, having a studio “is like water to a fish — I need it to exist,” he said, laughing at his accidental rhyme. “Music is all I know. It’s all I’ve ever done. And if I have a studio, I can always write, I can always play music, I can always play with other artists.”
A plan emerged: He would use the money from the sale of his house to invest in the Manhattan studio, which first began as a few rooms and quickly expanded to the whole floor as Mr. Brown created suites for some of the producers who worked with him. “Now we can just create around the clock, and we don’t have to share the space with strangers — you can keep up the energy,” he explained.
With the Long Island house sold and the Pennsylvania plan nixed, Mr. Brown began looking for rentals. He had lived in Edgewater, N.J., at the turn of the millennium and began looking along the waterfront in nearby Weehawken. The second building he looked at, a waterfront property owned by Veris Residential that was a stone’s throw away from the Port Imperial ferry terminal, immediately felt right.
“The energy was great,” Mr. Brown said. “Walking in, it felt like a hotel. I liked that it was new. And the view played a big factor.”
He moved into a $3,500-a-month, one-bedroom apartment there last October, after putting nearly half of his belongings in storage. He will be moving to a two-bedroom, with a wraparound balcony, in the building this fall. When he’s not at the Manhattan studio, he is often on his building’s roof deck, drinking his morning coffee and taking a few calls before heading into the city. The deck and pool area make the place feel like a luxury hotel: “It’s like I get to have a staycation every day at home,” Mr. Brown said.
The building also gives him an enviable commute. When he sees the ferry approaching from the floor-to-ceiling windows in his apartment, he knows he has eight minutes to get on. From there, it’s just six minutes to Manhattan, and a brief shuttle takes him a few blocks from his studio.
For someone who works long hours, this sort of ease is a luxury. “It just makes me feel good about what I do, where I am,” Mr. Brown said. As it did for so many people, the pandemic offered him an opportunity to prioritize what mattered and discard the rest. Being in control of his living space and his time allows him to focus his creative energy toward the work that sustains him and that has defined his life, he said.
The studio is a dream come true, but an expensive one. “I gotta pay for it, so I’m there every day working and writing, constantly finding new writers and engineers to keep it going,” Mr. Brown said. “It’s an investment. But at this point, if I’m going to roll the dice and bet, I’m going to bet on me. Because I have no intentions of losing.”
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