Company Spotlight: Professional Audio DesignBLENDING SALES AND SERVICE IN TODAY'S STUDIO CLIMATE 1/01/2006 7:00 AM Eastern
The nature of recording facilities is shifting almost too rapidly to grasp, but Professional Audio Design is uniquely qualified to give context to the constantly changing audio landscape. PAD's status as not only an equipment sales resource, but also as a design and technical services provider means that industry trends are unfolding within its view.
“The recording industry has changed a lot since I founded PAD in 1993,” observes company president Dave Malekpour. “At the pro level, there used to be one type of recording: big studios with huge budgets and anything else was demos. Today, the market is divided into a few key sectors. There's still a strong pro recording market, where professionals need the right environment with the right support. The other side of the market is drawn to more individually based production that can yield high-end results, but from single-room environments run by the person who's going to operate the equipment. And as the market has developed into the computer-based systems we're so accustomed to using, we have a whole other angle. Today, you get GarageBand free with your iMac! For any musician today, having a studio is within reach.”
Able to put complex systems together at its expansive, 17,000-square-foot facility in Rockland, Mass., PAD can handle often-daunting tasks — prewiring patchbays, synching word clock between multiple components, refurbishing consoles — that even the most talented engineers might not want to tackle. “As we've seen these facilities go to the single-operator level, they're often run by people who were used to going into a working studio,” Malekpour points out. “They're accustomed to working with Pro Tools, but perhaps not setting it up. A lot of our clients are great at mixing Gold records, but I wouldn't want them to assemble my Pro Tools system. Our studio guys, however, are great at helping with that.”
With a customer base that ranges from bedroom warriors to personal studio pros to high-profile operators such as Alicia Keys (The Oven), Timbaland Studios, Dave Fortman (Balance Productions) and ex-Stone Temple Pilots drummer Eric Kretz (Bomb Shelter Studios), Malekpour has seen first-hand the focus and philosophy that are needed to achieve studio success.
“One of the challenges today is understanding what you do and who you're serving,” he says. “Often, people's studios are covering too many areas because they want to assure themselves that they have all these ways to make money, but sometimes you should focus on what you do well. If you're a post-production facility, for example, designing your studio so you can track bands can distract you from your core business. We come from a service-oriented approach, knowing all the underlying elements of what makes a studio work. We'll ask the client, ‘It's six months down the road and the doors are open. What do you need to get your customers?’ We look at the business aspects of the decision-making process: Not just whether it's exciting to have a cool mic or mic pre, but how will they enhance their business?”
While the staff gets satisfaction from integrating cutting-edge components, you can see an extra gleam in Malekpour's eye when he talks about PAD's console refurbishments. These are deep projects involving the same level of detail usually afforded to classic car restorations, and the PAD shop — with its current collection of Neve, SSL and Trident boards in various stages of completion — has the intense feel of a hot-rod garage.
Nearly finished at the time of this interview was a breathtaking 40-channel Neve 8088, procured by PAD from the legendary Bearsville Studios and headed for ex-Crowded House/Split Enz leader Neil Finn's facility in New Zealand. “This was originally ordered by Pete Townshend for Rampart Studios in the UK, spec'd by him and Rupert Neve in 1973,” Malekpour says. “We gave Neil our recommendations of how to take it from a good, old used console to something you can invest in for years to come.” Finn approved a 1,000-plus-hour restoration that yielded improvements to the patchbay, phantom power layout, metering, signal path and more while respecting the rich original sound of this historic mixer.
Classic gear notwithstanding, Malekpour is excited about what the next generation of audio pros will need and how PAD will continue evolving to respond to those needs. “It will be an interesting time when all of today's 9-year-olds playing with GarageBand are in their 20s,” he concludes. “Technology is an important part of how they live, and that's why we're focusing on training and service — reaching out to the customer who needs to know what it takes to make a good system.”
David Weiss is Mix's New York editor.