Old Mill Road Recording offers musicians, performers natural inspiration
By Greg Sukiennik
EAST ARLINGTON, Vt.
There is lots of comfortable space at Old Mill Road Recording, the professional-grade recording studio that Grammy-winning recording engineer Benjamin J. Arrindell and Broadway producer Joshua Sherman opened in late 2017.
There is a kitchen with bowls full of trail mix and gummy bears on the counter. The “live” room and vocal isolation booth have a splendid view of Fayville Branch as its cascades flow past the grist mill that Remember Baker, Ethan Allen’s first cousin and fellow member of the Green Mountain Boys, built in 1764.
But, Arrindell, when asked where he wants to sit and talk about himself and his chosen field, chooses the control room, with its Solid State Logic 48-track recording deck and Tannoy studio monitors.
Perhaps this is why: Asked whether he prefers recording musicians or mixing their songs, Arrindell said he is most at home mixing behind the board. It’s less nerve-wracking than live recordings, where human and technological variables can get in the way, and solidly in the groove of what he does best.
“[Mixing is] my most favorite portion of this process,” Arrindell said. “Especially when I get left alone, or if you leave me alone, or send me materials to work with. I love when I’m left to my own and I can do whatever I want.
“I like that the most, because that’s what you paid me to do — why you came to me in the first place. That doesn’t mean I don’t do it the opposite way, sitting there with the producer and artist. … I like working with people that way, too.”
Sherman certainly is happy to have Arrindell as a partner at Old Mill Road Recording.
“Ben is smart, and he has great ‘ears.’ He listens well — not just to music, but to other people. Therefore, he is a great collaborator with artists and producers,” Sherman said. “He is always professional and friendly — and is a true master at recording and mixing.”
Growing up on Staten Island, Arrindell didn’t have his heart set on becoming a recording engineer or pursuing a career in the music business. That came later. But, he recalls his family listening to music of all kinds on AM radio, when stations still played a diverse variety of styles, and on a home stereo with an eight-track tape player. A favorite memory? The eight-track of The Spinners’ self-titled Atlantic Records debut, released in 1973. (It’s the one with “I’ll Be Around” and “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love.” ) Maybe that’s why, when asked what has caught his ear lately, he says “Everything. I mean that in an honest, literal type of way.”
Arrindell’s decision to pursue a music industry career came when he returned home from the U.S. Army, which had stationed him in Europe. He learned the skills of recording and mixing at the now-defunct Center for Media Arts in New York, and as an intern at Look & Co., a firm that produced commercial radio jingles.
The level of skill and professionalism at that first job taught Arrindell a lot. These were first-call professionals who had worked on recording sessions and knew their stuff, he said.
“Look & Co. was the ‘ah-ha’ moment,” he said. “It was really such a great environment. I was working with a lot of engineers who had worked on albums. They were working in the recording industry already. … They were top-notch guys.”
After his time at Look & Co. and at Platinum Island, a studio known for its dance remixes, Arrindell landed at Soundtrack, a New York recording studio. It was there that he first met Darrell “Delite” Allamby, a composer and producer with a string of multiplatinum success in R&B and hip-hop music.
That set in motion the opportunity that changed Arrindell’s life, as Allamby called him in to handle the mixing duties on “My Body,” a single Allamby was producing for the trio of Gerald Lavert, Keith Sweat and Johnny Gill, performing as LSG.
That single sold millions of units all over the world and took the charts by storm, spending seven weeks at No. 1 on the R&B chart and peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. The success created enough demand for Arrindell’s services that he became a freelance engineer.
But, here’s the thing: It was Arrindell’s “rough mix” of the song — that’s the rough draft, if you will — that listeners heard.
Arrindell’s job on the session was simple enough: Merge the vocals and the backing track together to create a rough mix.
A finished mix of the song was produced after it left Arrindell’s hands, and as Arrindell recalled, Allamby was so unhappy with the final result that he complained to the record company executives. He told them he wanted it to sound like the mix Arrindell had completed.
“It was being in the right place at the right time, and being prepared,” Arrindell said of that experience. “I was good just enough at that point.”
More work with Allamby followed, with recording artists including Lavert, The O’Jays, The Temptations, K-Ci & Jo-Jo, and “What’s it Gonna Be,” a collaboration between Janet Jackson and Busta Rhymes. It also included mixing “The Experience” for gospel singer Yolanda Adams. That album earned him the 2001 Grammy Award for best contemporary gospel album.
Then there was the recording session with the “Queen of Soul” herself.
Arrindell recalls well the session with Aretha Franklin. It was in her hometown of Detroit, at a studio where she often recorded, and he was working with Allamby. He remembers that Franklin was sweet to the crew working with her that day, and she sprang for a proper lunch — a catered meal, not sandwiches and chips.
“She just went into the booth and she sang her [butt] off. She just sang,” he recalled. “You didn’t have to tell her what to do. … You’re not going to have her in there singing 90 times. No, that’s not happening.”
What was it like to record an artist he and his parents had listened to? It was a “pinch me” moment in more ways than one.
“I had to turn around and pinch [Allamby],” Arrindell said. “He asked, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Pinching you, bro.’ I think I did that when we went to record Janet Jackson, too.”
Arrindell met Sherman at Quad Recording Studios in New York in connection with a Broadway project. Sherman was born into show business — his mother, lyricist Eileen Bluestone Sherman, and aunt, composer Gail C. Bluestone, are a team — and he was transitioning from his previous role as set and costume designer to producer at the time.
“Whenever you are producing a new musical, the first thing people ask is, ‘Can I hear the music?’ or ‘What does the music sound like?’ So, I found myself in the recording studio, producing demos, concept albums and cast albums for new musicals,” Sherman said. “And that’s how Ben and I met … 20 years ago!”
They soon became friends and, from time to time, talked about what they would do if they could design their own recording studio from scratch.
“We’d be working in a studio in New York City and I’d say, ‘When we do our studio, we won’t do that,’” Sherman said. “Or we’d see a cool detail and he’d say, ‘When we do our studio, let’s do that!’”
When it came time to make that hypothetical real, Sherman knew just the place: in East Arlington, where he had spent so much time growing up and where he was investing in properties on Old Mill Road, including Remember Baker’s grist mill and some adjacent properties he had hoped to convert into a performance space.
Instead, the grist mill became the performance space and the apartments turned into Old Mill Road Recording. The studio, designed by Francis Manzella, recently was honored with a technical excellence and creativity award for studio design from the National Association of Music Merchants.
“When I called [Arrindell] up and said ‘It’s time. We’re doing this,’ it was actually very easy and expected,” Sherman said of bringing his friend to East Arlington. “Initially, he traveled back and forth between Staten Island and Vermont, but he loved it up here, so, no convincing was necessary.”
Arrindell has been a Vermont resident “officially” since 2019 — that’s when he got his Vermont driver’s license. He is working on projects with pianist and rapper Benjamin Lerner (the great-grandson of Irving Berlin), and with Emmy- and Tony-winning singer and actress Lillias White.
“I like the fresh air,” he said. “Am I comfortable? Yeah … it’s just not New York City. You can’t come up here expecting it to be. There’s far less people — that’s cool and not cool at the same time. It’s just one of those things.”
Arrindell and Sherman conceived Old Mill Road Recording as a space where musicians and performers can be inspired by the natural beauty, focus their efforts amid the relative solitude of Southern Vermont and still work with cutting-edge technology. It blends neatly into the small-town streetscape of East Arlington.
“They get it, everybody gets that,” Arrindell said of the studio’s tranquil surroundings.
“Just from looking at the pictures, people are like, ‘I totally get what you guys are about — it’s about coming up here and chilling and absorbing this, and creating at the same time.”
Greg Sukiennik is editor of Southern Vermont Landscapes, the weekend arts and living section of the Bennington Banner and Brattleboro Reformer.