Lots of changes at Hollywood's studio bau:ton-designed Atlantis Studios. Besides Studio A's upgrade last year, when an SSL 9080 J Series desk was installed, Atlantis has recently added gated, underground valet parking for 21 cars in a building that also houses six rented-out production suites. In the main studio complex (where Studio B with its Trident 80B console and 40×16×16 tracking space also continues online), 2,200 square feet of construction is under way: a new (also bau:ton-designed) client lounge and kitchen, a producer's office/lounge and a Pro Tools suite with overdub booth.
On the day I dropped in, engineer Neal Pogue (Outkast, Citizen Cope, Lucy Pearl, TLC) was finishing up mixes in Studio A for new DreamWorks artists Boomkat. The Tucson, Ariz.,-based Boomkat, one of the first projects under the leadership of new DreamWorks label head Robbie Robertson, comprises brother/sister team Kellin and Taryn Manning, along with co-producer Martin Pradler. “It's a very unique group,” enthuses Pogue. “When I first heard it, what came into my mind was that they'd brought the '80s back — in a good way. They combine hip hop beats with an '80s flair: soulful, old-school beats with cool melodies on top and great lyrics. It's definitely dance music, but it's got a fresh twist and the coolness of a band like the Thompson Twins. Music has been in what I call a ‘General Motors’ thing for a long time; you know, the assembly line. It really needs something fresh like the Boomkats.”
Pogue headed back to his mix and Atlantis studio manager Michelle Moore took me through the rest of the complex. The facility has retained its theatrical style, a look created by high ceilings, velvet curtains, backlit Lumacite panels, blue, green and ochre coloring, and curved walls reminiscent of some giant creature from the mythical undersea continent the studio was named for.
“[Owner] Jon [Newkirk] was so happy with what bau:ton had done,” says Moore, “that the same design and materials will be carried on in the new areas.”
The newly built production suites, part of a long-term lease package Newkirk has negotiated, are just a few steps out the door and up some stairs. Currently fully booked, they're occupied by music-related businesses including songwriter/producers, a mastering lab and several Pro Tools studios. “It's mostly people who were already involved in Studio Atlantis in some capacity,” Moore explains. “So it's already got a kind of synergy going amongst the tenants.”
According to Moore, if Newkirk had his way, “We'd take over all of Western Avenue. It's been his plan from the beginning to grow, but he's doing it as we can afford to. Jon's first studio experience was in this building, when he came to work here at what was originally Music Box Studio. He didn't have a lot of other studios' styles of doing things ingrained in him, so he developed things on his own by thinking about how — if he was a client — he would want to be treated. And one of the things that's really important to him is customer service.
“Anyone can buy the gear,” she continues. “It comes down to how you make the clients feel, how willing you are to meet their needs. We understand that a client is spending 14 to 16 hours a day on their project. We want to make it so all they have to think about is getting the best performance or the best mix. We'll walk the dog, buy the dog biscuits, get their car detailed for them, get their dry cleaning — whatever's necessary — and we don't charge a premium for it. We want clients to walk out of here happy, because we know they'll come back.”
Some of the clients in Studio A lately have included: producer Tom Rockrock mixing with Badly Drawn Boy (aka, Damon Gough) on the soundtrack album and score for About a Boy; producer/engineer Ken Andrews remixing a rock version of Pete Yorn's certified-Gold CD Strange Condition; mixer John Travis with Monster Magnet working on a single for the WWF Forceable Entry compilation album; and Ethan Mates mixing a single for Devine Recordings for one of the season's most famous, singer [and daughter of Ozzy] Amy Osbourne.
On a warm Sunday afternoon in Venice, near the trendy shops and restaurants of the Abbot Kinney neighborhood, I found studio architect John Storyk visiting one of his most recent designs: post-production mixer Robert Feist's RavensWork. Although Feist and Eric Ryan, RavensWork's other main mixer, have numerous film and video credits (including music vids for Jennifer Lopez, Destiny's Child and Aerosmith), they're best known for their contributions to high-profile television commercials for the likes of Apple, Budweiser, Intel, Nike, Microsoft, Coca-Cola and Jaguar, among others. Since its 1996 debut, RavensWork has garnered a loyal following among top ad agencies, along the way developing a reputation as “celebrity-friendly” by playing host to stars from Marlon Brando and Anthony Hopkins to Cameron Mannheim, Cindy Crawford and Martin Sheen.
Prior to opening his own company, Feist mixed at Pacific Ocean Post, then for five years at Hollywood's Margarita Mix, where he became a fan of Storyk's work. By 2001, he was ready to build his dream facility, enlisting both Storyk and building architect Eric Rosen to make it happen. The resulting three-room complex occupies two stories in a spacious, gallery-like space featuring natural light and a “modern retro” style, with an open floor plan that also allows for numerous private, client-friendly nooks.
“The rooms were really shaped by John,” says Feist. “When we took it over, it was one big space, kind of an empty concrete warehouse. It wasn't obvious where things were to go. I was sure, though, that I wanted to keep the large windows and the light.”
Natural light in studios is now common, but windows still provide challenges for acoustic design. At RavensWork, there was also size to consider: The upstairs control rooms, each with two walls that are basically floor-to-ceiling windows, are very large. “It was tricky,” admits Storyk, a veteran of many “natural light” projects. “There were issues with the layout as well as outside windows that forced the rooms, in some instances, to break free of total symmetry. All three control rooms are acoustically symmetrical for direct and first-order reflected sound [i.e., front half of the room]. When possible, complete symmetry — front to back — is recommended. However, given the complex nature of these rooms, by the time reflected sound is in the back of the spaces, it is down in level by 25 to 30 dB. Architectural symmetry can be relaxed in the rear of the room in exchange for other architectural detailing.
“Control rooms, particularly large ones, have been getting more and more reflective during recent years. This seems consistent with recording trends and a desire to make music in spaces that more accurately duplicate where music will be heard, such as our living rooms. Also, when control rooms, such as those at RavensWork, are larger, they can handle a more reverberant presence. The room is more statistical, particularly if the geometry is more complex.
“A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that every design element in a control room is completely acoustic,” he continues. “That's just not true. Some shapes have more importance. Some are critical; for example [at RavensWork] we pretty much agreed that the live rooms would be to the side. That's not uncommon in 5.1 post rooms, because nobody wants to put the three front speakers above a large piece of glass. But many other things can be variable. We work to get a balanced acoustic environment, and then we start going through — very specifically — what the surfaces have to be. Some of them look very simple; but in fact, much of it is acoustic treatment.”
Although the complex is fully equipped with Pro Tools, RavensWork's mixing hubs are all Fairlight MFX3plus systems. “I built my first studio around Fairlight, and I really believe a lot of my early success was because of its consistency,” Feist says. “Of course, Pro Tools is entrenched and you have to be able to integrate with it. But I still think the Fairlight system is great. There's nothing extraneous; it does one thing really well and really quickly. And it's so many layers deep — a console that would match it wouldn't fit, even in rooms as big as ours!”
Storyk professes to enjoy the design freedom that less — and smaller — hardware allows. “You're not held hostage acoustically by giant pieces of metal,” he says. “The room is quieter, it uses less power — you're not forced to do things in a prescribed way. The speakers, of course, still dictate the room, especially in a 5.1, as they should, since the room is all about listening.”
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