The live room and control room (below) feature broadband acoustic treatment in custom Red Bull colors.
Photos: Robert Wright
Does it really surprise anyone in 2008 that Red Bull would build a world-class recording studio in the heart of Santa Monica, Calif., a few miles down the I-10 from the entertainment capital of the world? Or that the company would hire the former owner of The Hit Factory, who would then bring in his longtime partner, one of the world's leading designers, to bring it to life?
Red Bull North America doesn't do “small.” And they don't do “local.” In the summer of 2005, Greg Hammer, a veteran label exec and now head of music at Red Bull, called Troy Germano and told him of plans to build a recording space within the new 100,000-square-foot U.S. headquarters then just starting construction. By September 2005, Germano, now the principal of Studio Design Group, New York, and David Bell, a partner in White Mark Ltd., London, began designing the studio together.
During the ensuing months, the live room was made slightly bigger, the control room was pushed back and some editing rooms were nixed. “Thirty-foot ceilings, no columns — it was an ideal space,” says Germano. “We knew the enormity of the project going in. To have 100,000 square feet on one level is essentially four airplane hangars. We were able to work with our 5,000 square feet in the back as they were shoring up the front. It went very smoothly.”
From concept to completion took 26 months, with the actual construction happening from February 2007 to the opening this past October. For Germano, it marked a re-entry into studio life following the sale of The Hit Factory building in 2005 and a two-year stint purchasing large-scale concerts for the Sazka arena in Prague. It also rekindled his 20-year partnership with Bell.
“David and I first worked together on Hit Factory London in 1989, when my dad and I began a joint venture with the CBS UK facility on Whitfield Street in Soho,” Germano recalls. “David was heavily involved in that project with his previous partnership. Ten years later, Dave formed White Mark with partners Derek Buckingham and Alan Cundell, and we did Studios 6 and 7 in New York, as well as the entire facility at the Hit Factory Criteria in Miami. Red Bull is very reminiscent of Studio 6, and that room was modeled loosely on a studio I'd seen in Stockholm back in 1992.
“I went one weekend in ‘91 to see Polar Studios, where Led Zeppelin had recorded In Through the Out Door and where all those great ABBA records were created,” Germano continues. “There was a 56-input SSL E Series and really just three booths around the control room. One was marble, one was wood and one was a combination of materials. I called my dad from Stockholm and told him I knew how we should build the new room on the third floor. Not really a studio, but a control room with four booths. That idea became Studio 2, and the same concept was extended to Studio 6, which won a TEC Award in 2003. In some ways, that concept carried over to Red Bull. There are three booths surrounding a large live room, and one of them is tremendous.”
The rooms could have been even larger, but Germano and Bell opted not to use all 30 feet of ceiling in favor of accessible and isolated HVAC systems. The advantage, besides luxurious room to treat the studio ceiling, is a 12-foot pocket of air between studio and structure.
“The height of the building translates from a user's point of view into a live room of majestic size with great decay,” says Bell. “The acoustic treatment is a mixture of broadband absorption and a large amount of diffusion. We believe in broadband solutions in all designs and do not install tuned elements, as these can run the risk of producing unevenness in the room's response.” The back wall is made up of three sections of diffusers with areas of absorption between them, and the live room features diffuser clouds.
On the cover this month is the 48-channel SSL K Series in custom Red Bull colors; this is the last K series ever built. Directly behind it, built into the producer's desk, is a Digidesign Icon D-Command. “Usually that would be rolled into the side for a project,” Germano explains. “This is an experiment, and we'll see if it gets used. But in today's world, 48 faders is enough, even without the small faders. So much processing goes on inside the box, we thought it would be nice to have D-Command at the listening point — the benefit of both worlds.”
The main monitoring system is by Exigy, the London-based company of Matt Dobson, former owner of Boxer. (Germano installed Boxer monitors in the original Hit Factory at 421 West 54th St.) “There are four 18-inch subwoofers built into the front wall below the stereo mains. I wanted to do something different; these punch, they have clarity.”
The D-Command atop the producer's desk is flanked by Teletronix, Manley and vintage Universal Audio gear, among countless other analog gems. The mic collection is still growing, and the room has had its share of sessions.
Red Bull has been in the music industry for more than a decade now, promoting music worldwide far better than most major labels. It should come as no surprise that they now have a world-class space.
Tom Kenny is the group editorial director for Mix, EM and Remix magazines.