Janos Fulop never thought he would run a studio for over a decade, never mind run one so entrenched in music history. The Boston-based engineer and musician (who performs in the local hip-hop scene as The Arcitype) co-owns The Bridge Sound And Stage, a recording studio located in the heart of Cambridge. Back when he opened it, though, Fulop was wide-eyed and fresh out of school. After graduating from Emerson College in 2006 as an Audio Radio major, he worked as a freelance engineer around town until the primary studio he worked for shuttered. As heartbroken as he was, Fulop realized he could do an equally, if not better, job at operating a studio himself.
"I decided I wanted to stay in Boston because I loved it, but also because there was an opportunity here without the rat race of New York or Los Angeles," he recalls. "I wanted to do something where I could create a space that’s influential and important to a community. I wanted to set up a studio and do it right."
Fulop reached out to a professor, Owen Curtin, who mentored him during his senior year. As someone who was 10 years his senior, professionally established, and connected to the local rock scene, Curtin seemed like an obvious pick to be a co-owner in a future recording studio business. Curtin immediately expressed interest—he could handle the technical equipment and troubleshooting, Fulop could handle the engineering and booking—so long as Fulop could find an affordable space for them to start fresh.
The rest unfurled like fate. After tapping a friend in real estate to keep his eyes peeled, Fulop was offered the old recording studio that belonged to Fort Apache. Back in its heyday, the legendary studio operated as a warehouse in Roxbury before relocating to Cambridge, going on to record iconic albums like Hole's Live Through This and Dinosaur Jr.'s Green Mind, as well as Radiohead's Pablo Honey and The Bends. It's the recording studio where legends were made, and its legacy still lives on.
The year was 2007, over 30 years since Fort Apache first opened, and Fulop can still recall the tingles he felt upon viewing the studio in person for the first time. The current owner was using the space as a home. Couches lined the living room, the old tile floor acquired some dirt, and some of the wallpaper was peeling.
When Fulop told Curtin to meet him there, he didn’t expect fate had even more in store for the two of them. Standing in the doorway, Curtin was in shock. "It's crazy," he said. "I didn’t know you'd take me to this space. This is where my first date with my wife was."
When artists came through Boston to perform at The Wang or House of Blues, a local radio station would offer special giveaways. One such prize was the opportunity to see an intimate performance at Fort Apache. When Curtin found out his crush hoped to see her favorite artist at The Wang, he bought her tickets to the show for their first date. When he found out the band would be performing at Fort Apache too, he finagled his way into giveaway tickets to bring her there beforehand.
"He said, ‘I never thought I’d be in this room again, nevermind looking at it for a potential studio for myself,'" Fulop recalls. "Fortunately that date turned into a marriage, so when he went home to talk about investing in this with his wife, the two of them took it as a sign that it was meant to be."
Fulop and Curtin purchased the space and hit the ground running. The duo began remodeling sections of the space that had decayed and bought the old recording gear off the previous studio. They found and framed photographs of artists who recorded in this same Fort Apache studio like David Bowie, Radiohead, Lenny Kravitz.
Perhaps the most unexpectedly fun part came by way of their neighbors, who they were quick to introduce themselves to and learn a few stories. "An old lady who lived across the street told me a story about how the Red Hot Chili Peppers' limo broke the mirror off her car," Fulop says, laughing. "She walked outside of her house to yell at them, but when they rolled down the window and she saw who it was, she gasped and immediately changed her mind—because she's a huge Red Hot Chili Peppers fan."
With The Bridge nearly done, it was time to think of a name. "We wanted to pay homage to Fort Apache coming before us while still indicating [that] this is a new studio," says Fulop. "Because most of our clients are from Boston, we knew they'd be telling their friends a sentence like, 'Oh, we're going to that studio in Cambridge.' So we thought, 'Okay, then we're going to The Bridge.'" In that sense, The Bridge's name is indicative of their early hopes for the studio. It's equal parts literal, as a nod to Longfellow Bridge connecting downtown Boston with Cambridge; symbolic, as an extension between Fort Apache and a new studio; and metaphorical, as a connector of Boston's old music scene with its new scene.
With the studio set up, Fulop and Curtin gave themselves a five-year deadline to make it work. The goal was clear: operate on a large-scale format with a boutique studio approach. They kept the studio space open, allowing everything from a 20-person orchestra to a live show setup to be possible in the studio. No matter how many connections the two of them had, Fulop and Curtin were quick to remind themselves they were the new kids and should work to earn their spot in the recording studio neighborhood.
"We found there was a serious need for affordable small booths. What helped us stay alive was offering Studio B for $35 an hour. There’s nothing wrong with recording in a bedroom, but it does come with certain limitations: noisy AC units, neighbor sleeping hours, and outside sounds. We wanted to remain flexible to make the studio work beyond the way we saw it working. In some cases, we even barter with people who prefer that, where they work as an electrician or a carpenter. We did day-for-day trades early on, which allowed a whole booth to be built solely by exchanging recording sessions for barter work."
Fulop and Curtin began spreading the word in creative ways. They partnered with promoters to sponsor live concerts. They offered free Q&A meetings with local artists about licensing music and similarly under-discussed options. They looked outside the box to allow television outlets, like ESPN and PBS, record interviews in their space. For a short while, they even tried to recreate the radio station intimate performance giveaway, bringing contest winners into the studio to see live sessions with Sheryl Crow, Keane and David Gray.
Internally, the duo created a straightforward method to build their staff. The Bridge hires through an internship program. It's the only way to join the staff. Applicants, who range from teenagers to 60-year-olds, aren't expected to have engineering degrees, official tutoring, or even previous studio experience. They just need to know how to do basic equipment setup. The rest is taught through first-hand experience. "I've had a few opportunities to bring people in from the outside who have a lot of clients, and that would have helped us financially, but that’s not what we're looking for," he says. "I'd rather do the long plan to work with someone long term to know that they care about the studio, they want to form relationships, and they care about what they're working on." Alex Allinson, an intern who eventually rose to the position of partner this past January, is a prime example of how committed interns can be.
While big names come through to record at The Bridge (think Macklemore, Gucci Mane and Termanology), the heartbeat of The Bridge is comprised of local musicians like Michael Christmas, Dutch ReBelle, STL GLD, and Oompa. Their clients tend to skew more hip-hop than anything else, but it’s only because of Fulop’s background—and, if the past few years indicate anything, it's diversifying quickly.
"I've always wanted our studio to be a community hub where artists can meet each other, where opportunities can spawn from unexpected run-ins," says Fulop. "I’ve had moments where a young artist is working in Studio B on his first-ever project. Meanwhile, Slaine is working on a new album in Studio A, and he says, ‘Hey, who is that dude down there? He’s pretty good.’ All of a sudden the two are talking, exchanging information, and bonding. That’s where we can mark our success: if people can say working here helped, in some part, to launch their career."
The Bridge may be a new crew and a new iteration, but it’s carrying on both the soul and literal frame of Fort Apache. Recently, an old engineer from the original Fort Apache studio stopped by to see if the space remained a studio, and he was impressed at how similar it remained. Those stamps of approval mean the world to Fulop and Curtin. The control room remains unchanged. Some of the gear remains unchanged. Apart from acoustic treatment and a few manicured alterations, The Bridge stayed faithful to Fort Apache—and it’s slowly making a similar legacy for itself.
"Knowing that The Bridge's name has reached folks I don’t know by way of clients or people who work here still surprises me," says Fulop. "Because look, at the beginning, I knew whoever was coming in because I must have, in one way or another, played a part in them choosing to work at our studio. But now, I'll meet strangers at shows or bars who know the studio by name and are excited to talk about it. Knowing it’s created a helpful studio in the greater Boston area is what I’m proudest about. I’ll be honest, I always thought I could run a successful studio, but the fact it’s grown to be so big still surprises me regularly."