A booming metropolis: When Metropolis DVD was formed in 1999 as a joint venture between London's Metropolis Studios, New York mastering powerhouse Sterling Sound and new-media pioneer David Anthony, the goal of the enterprise was to offer clients a full spectrum of DVD-related services, from conceptualization to authoring to audio mastering. Two years later, Anthony — who serves as president of Metropolis DVD — can point to a string of successful, high-profile projects that illustrate the clarity of the original vision. Among them are DVD releases by Moby, the Beastie Boys, Super Furry Animals, Sugar Ray, Def Leppard, Jay-Z, Hanson, Hootie & The Blowfish, The Corrs, Brandy and Insane Clown Posse.
At the same time, Anthony has been surprised by some trends in DVD authoring, particularly the artists' involvement in the process and their preference for DVD-Video over DVD-Audio. “The focus on DVD-Video is interesting to us,” he says. “There's DVD-Audio, which is meant to be a much higher-resolution audio format, but there's no putting the genie back in the bottle when it comes to visuals. That's why we're seeing artists like the Beastie Boys, Moby and Super Furry Animals take full advantage of DVD-Video.”
On those projects, the artists chose the DVD-Video format because it allowed them to make powerful visual statements. The Moby project, for instance, is a visually enhanced, surround sound presentation of his popular album Play (V2 Records). Titled Play — The DVD, it features multichannel remixes of album tracks with club-like visuals based on footage Moby shot on a digital video camera. There are also mock-documentary segments in which the artist interviews himself in various guises. “It's fundamentally different from a collection of videos,” says Anthony.
The Beastie Boys took a filmmaker's approach toward their new DVD, Beastie Boys Anthology. They collected images from various sources — including a film library — and collated them into an interactive, audio/visual montage that can be customized by the viewer. They also commissioned DJs to remix material on the album; those remixes are also presented interactively.
The UK alternative rock band Super Furry Animals went a step further than Moby and the Beastie Boys in that they conceived, recorded, mixed, authored and mastered their DVD as a surround sound product from the ground up. (They also released a Red Book Audio version on CD.)
The extent to which all three of those artists participated in the authoring process behind their DVD offerings suggests to Anthony that the digital revolution that began with computer-based audio workstations has now migrated to the visual side. Also, the fact that those three high-profile titles — as well as several other prominent releases from top-name artists — were done in the DVD-Video format raises questions about how important sound quality is to artists and consumers. “We're living in a time of real extremes,” says Anthony. “On the one hand, kids are happy as can be to have 5 gigabytes of MP3s; on the other hand, there are audiophiles who would really love to hear master-quality audio on DVD-Audio discs. So the record industry is asking itself, ‘What format suits the music?’”
While the industry continues to wrestle with that question, Metropolis DVD is keeping busy delivering state-of-the-art products to its clients and exploiting synergies between its affiliated companies. For example, the Moby, Beastie Boys and Super Furry Animals titles all underwent 5.1 channel audio mastering in-house: The Moby and Beastie Boys DVDs were mastered in surround by Sterling principal Ted Jensen, while the Super Furry Animals project was done by Metropolis' Mike Gillespie in London. Furthermore, the stereo version of the Beastie Boys album — which preceded the DVD — was mastered by Tom Coyne, another of Sterling's engineers/co-owners.
“One of the reasons we set up Metropolis DVD as a separate company from Metropolis and Sterling is that DVD posed so many non-audio issues,” says Anthony. “But there's a real honest synergy between audio mastering and DVD authoring, especially as it relates to these music projects. A lot of our music cleints have realized that having the ability to get both addressed at the same time in a very respectful way has its advantages.”
A switch at Quad: If anyone can be self-effacing and bold at the same time, it's Quad Studios owner Lou Gonzalez. On the one hand, he is as down-to-earth as they come — a simple, no-nonsense guy who learned almost everything he needed to know while growing up on a farm. On the other hand, Gonzalez got his first big break in the industry by bluffing his way into a top-notch studio, wears a rhinestone-studded denim jacket to trade shows, and was one of the first studio owners in the world to install a large-format digital console in a big room. Go figure.
Now, after much soul-searching and numbers-crunching, Gonzalez has made a decision that reflects both his bold streak and his down-to-earth wisdom: He replaced that digital board — a Solid State Logic Axiom-MT — with an SSL 9000 J, which he calls “the best-sounding console ever built.” Asked why he switched back to a 9000 J after trying the Axiom, Gonzalez says, “I always like to try new stuff, because you gotta try new stuff if it's a good thing to offer your customers. But the board didn't lend itself to the way our engineers like to work. It's not that there's anything wrong with that particular board; it's a fantastic piece of technology. But the digital offerings from the other manufacturers haven't made it either on a mass level.”
Quad's newest 9000 J — modified with a feature that allows multichannel mixers to control up to four submixes from the master fader — will join three other 9000 Js throughout the Quad complex, which encompasses five studios in New York and four in Nashville. In New York, Quad is an all-SSL facility, with 9000 Js in Studios A, B and 3; a G Plus with Ultimation in the Penthouse Studio; and a small E Series board in Studio C. (Don't ask Gonzalez to explain the logic behind Quad's studio nomenclature; he says it “just evolved that way.”) In Nashville, the rooms carry the comparatively simpler names of A-D, and their console offerings are as follows: an SSL 9000 J, a Neve 8068, an “off-brand” board that Gonzalez says will probably be replaced, and a Pro Tools workstation that, at press time, was in the process of being installed.
As he continues to tune and fine-tune his small empire of studios, Gonzalez maintains an optimistic outlook for the future, despite a current flatness in the recording market that he says is the result of a soft economy. “The softness started in July 2000,” he observes. “However, 2000 was only bad if you compare it to 1999, which was our best year ever. If you take 1999 out of the equation, 2000 was just as good as 1998. So it's not like we're in death land. We're doing fine, and we'll be doing even better when the economy picks up a little.”
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