L.A. Grapevine

Since it was founded in 2000, Santa Monica's 5.1 Entertainment Group (www.5point1.net) has been in the forefront of both multimedia and multichannel sound

5.1 Entertainment’s Gary Lux (left) and Bob Michaels

Photo: Maureen Droney

Since it was founded in 2000, Santa Monica's 5.1 Entertainment Group (www.5point1.net) has been in the forefront of both multimedia and multichannel sound technology. Boasting a discography of more than 300 DVD-Video and DVD-Audio titles by artists including Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Sting, R. Kelly and Rob Thomas, in June 2005, 5.1 completed its 100th DualDisc.

“We've worked very hard with manufacturers and with the RIAA on getting DualDisc up to speed,” says company president Bob Michaels, “making sure the logos are correct and that all the companies are on one page. With DualDisc, we're giving the consumer the value they're looking for, like more video and surround mixes. It's a successful product that addresses all the concerns from both the audio and video worlds with plenty of room for content. It's very important to have one voice in this so that the consumer doesn't get confused, and that's what we've been working for.”

With both DualDiscs and high-definition video now prominent on the scene, 5.1's business model is evolving. Several recent customized recording projects were developed in partnership with major record labels, including Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama live at New York's Apollo Theatre (Live at the Apollo) and a Shelby Lynne concert with a behind-the-scenes video.

5.1's facility offers full-service production under one roof. Covered on-site are all the bases: storyboarding, project coordination, to audio and video recording — both studio and location — mixing, graphics, authoring and quality control. “We offer so much here that sometimes the biggest problem is explaining what we do,” Michaels acknowledges. “But clearly, we've become a catalyst to help traditional record labels become true multimedia publishers. Things have jumped very quickly to a new technology level, and project managers at the labels are faced with turning out DVD projects in addition to all the CD work they're doing.

“We've identified their needs and partnered with them to handle everything from mining their archives for content to — on the business side — ensuring that they have the proper rights. With so many changes in the industry, many audio and video vaults are in disarray. People don't know what they have or what its quality is. We're experienced at identifying and utilizing these assets.

“We also work with people to get projects off the ground,” Michaels continues. “Sometimes a great project doesn't immediately fit a label's marketing needs; in that case, we can partner and help produce it. Ben Harper's project was almost a dead deal. We stepped in, did the recording, financed the post and helped get it made. Because of our business model, which includes developing HD programming, it makes sense for us to get involved and to help move projects forward.”

“We do all kinds of projects,” adds producer/engineer and VP of production Gary Lux. “But whether it's a music video, a movie soundtrack, a concert recording or an album project, for us, the common denominator is music. Labels come to us because of our musicality, and we've partnered with people in video production who have a similar philosophy, so we're totally capable.”

That fact has made 5.1 a go-to place for projects in need of a fast turnaround. Included in that impressive run is Something to Be by Matchbox Twenty vocalist Rob Thomas. The DualDisc, 252,000 of which were sold in the title's first week, features a surround mix by Lux, who is well-known for both his surround mixes and his advocacy of the format.

“We've evolved with surround sound,” Lux observes. “Instead of seeing the listeners as being in the audience as you do with a front-loaded mix, we put them up onstage and wrap the music around them. When we did the Janet Jackson compilation project, From Janet. To Damita Jo, Janet told us she had never heard her music sound that way before; she was really excited about it. We hear that from many of the artists we work with, and for me, that's the ultimate thrill. To be able to take them somewhere they haven't been before and see them get turned on to the possibilities. It's extremely rewarding.”

And now, it's time to say goodbye to all our companeeee…M-I-C- (That's a microphone, right?) …K-E-Y (Why? Because we
you.) Okay, I'm getting a little carried away. But I'm in a quandary because, hard as it is for me to write these words, this is my last “L.A. Grapevine.”

L.A. editor Maureen Droney. Our loss is the NARAS P&E (Producers & Engineers) Wing’s gain.

It was 1994 when I began writing this column and what an amazing 11 years it's been since then. Y'all agree, right? Because since the '60s, the audio industry — for close to 30 years — has hardly changed. You had musicians playing together in a room, tape machines of one sort or another, microphones, cables, etc., etc., etc. Then came the seismic shift. What started in the mid-'80s with a few digital drum machines, keyboards and effects gained speed and processing power like a Cat-5 hurricane. Soon, it was more like an avalanche, changing our business and our lives with a force akin to the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s. So yes, indeedy, for me, these past 11 years have been a most interesting time to be an observer and chronicler of the story.

From recording and live sound, to film, television, games and equipment, I've covered it all. I've loved learning and writing about technology and techniques, but what I've loved most of all — and what keeps me in this business — are the people who devise the technology and techniques. Recording people are simply the best: dedicated, smart, passionate (and cynical!) with — best of all — damn good senses of humor.

My life has been enriched by all of the people whom I've written about and all of the people I've worked with, especially at Mix. Tom Kenny, George Peterson, Blair Jackson, Sarah Jones — there with me from the beginning: encouraging, inquiring, pushing and upholding the standards of editorial excellence in a time when that's no easy job. And to the rest of the wonderful Mix staff: Hats off to all of you.

The bottom line is gear is good, but people are better. I've learned that lesson well during the past 11 years. We in the music and sound recording business are a special community. And in these difficult and changing times, a sense of that community is more important than ever. This I truly believe, which is why, from now on, you'll find me at The Recording Academy (The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) working with and for producers and engineers. I encourage you to join me there and at SPARS and at AES and at any of the organizations that represent who we are. Music and sound are important; the people who work with them are important. Working as a community, we can keep letting the world know that.

So, got L.A. news? E-mail me at
maureen.droney@grammy.com. Stay in touch!