I walked past the Virgin Records store on Times Square several times on my way to BMG Studios. Eventually I realized that although BMG has a Broadway address, you have to enter the building on a side street-or by strolling through Virgin, as I did.
BMG is concentrating on mixing and remastering work these days. The old RCA Studios had six live rooms, but BMG decided to get out of the live area, says Bobby Gordon, director of studio operations. Instead, the company put in a mix room, a small overdub room for radio IDs and 15 mastering suites.
BMG's business is divided among several different groups. Those include its classical reissue division, which turns out about 25% of the company's work, and its special products division, which handles reissue work, compilations, retail mail orders and premiums. Another quarter of the pie is devoted exclusively to the work that BMG turns out for Reader's Digest. Outside projects account for the other quarter of the company's billings.
According to Russ Hamm, whose company-G Prime-represents Weiss Engineering Ltd., BMG owns more Weiss 24-bit/96k converters than any other single studio. "When we purchased the Weiss converters two years or so ago, 24-bit was just beginning to be discussed," Gordon says. "The Crystals that would make them a reality weren't available, so they shipped with 20-bit converters.
"Daniel Weiss offered us an attractive upgrade path, so we knew that we were going to be able to move into the 24-bit realm as soon at it was possible to do so. We went to 24/96 in November of '98, when we sent the units over to Switzerland to be updated."
Lots of steam has been spent debating whether anyone outside the business gives a hoot about moving beyond 16-bit/44.1 technology. "We're client-driven, that's a given," Gordon says. "The bottom line for us is that the response from our clients has been outstanding. The difference between these converters and any of the others we tested them against is obvious."
While at BMG, we stopped in on a session that senior producer for reissues Nathaniel S. Johnson was conducting. BMG principal remastering engineer Michael Oliver Drexler was seated at a Sonic Solutions workstation as an early 1970s Boston Symphony performance of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana was being transferred.
"I coordinate and supervise three teams in the BMG Classics reissue program," Johnson says. "One of our junior producers had the Weiss converters installed in his room as a test, although I wasn't aware of it at the time. Over a period of a month or so I noticed that the projects coming through his room were superior to the stuff the rest of us were turning out-the stereo image was wider and had greater detail, the dynamic range more closely resembled the originals, and all of the music simply sounded better. I went to Bobby and told him how I felt, and he said that he was happy to get another opinion that confirmed the rest of the staff's."
Also on the equipment front, BMG is waiting for the delivery of two Genex 8500s. "We're gearing up for 5.1 mixing," says Gordon. "We've decided to keep our mix room analog for the time being, but we need a way to be able to get a 6-channel mix out of the room and into our Sonic Solutions High Density Suite. We were originally using tielines for stereo information and converting in the mastering room. We did this because there was no medium that we knew of that could hold 75 minutes of information at 24/96.
"But the coming of the Genex 8500 has now made this possible. The 8500s offer eight tracks at assignable sampling rates. We will mix down to the 8500 6-channel discrete-with the Weiss converters on the front end, only using the 8500s as a storage medium-and then take it into a mastering suite, dump it into Sonic and begin the mastering process. We wouldn't have invested in this digital pathway if we weren't convinced that having [material] archived at 24/96 will be seen as essential and forward-thinking at some point in the future."