There comes a time in most every engineer's life when balance becomes paramount. Balance in the types of work, balance in a mix, balance in lifestyle and balance in relationships, both personal and professional. Sometimes, the search for balance leads to a career change; sometimes it involves a move to a new town. Other times, it leads right back home.
Photo: Bill Holshevnikoff
We've seen it happen in the record industry over the past decade, this move back home. And now it seems that Jay Shilliday, a nationally known commercial mixer with credits including the Budweiser Frogs, “Got Milk?” Yahoo, E-Trade, Saturn, Microsoft and hundreds of others, is on the vanguard of a similar move in post. After 22 years at the top of his game, Shilliday decided to branch out.
“I had been mixing spots for a long time, to the point that I could do it in my sleep,” Shilliday says. “And this market had shrunk so far that the only way to stay afloat in some ways was to have diversity. I've had this vision for a while of what my dream facility would be. Because I'm a musician, because I now do video editing, as well as audio post, I wanted to create an environment where I had the ability to do several different kinds of work. Right now, I'm looking at companies like Pixar and PDI. I'm looking at the games market, and I've had some success with picture and sound in the corporate market.”
Tucked into the hills of Oakland, Calif., Slate Run Productions (www.slaterunpro.com) is a truly versatile facility, and while it is in a home, it's not at all what you think of when you think of a home studio. It's every bit pro as any room Shilliday has worked in. At this point in his career, having been employed by eight different facilities (all of which have been featured on Mix covers, which must be a record) — from Bison in his birthplace of Columbus, Ohio, to GHL Mobile, Streeterville, Summit Sound, Editel S.F., Focused Audio, Waves and Crescendo! — Shilliday knows what it takes to create a pro facility.
“The whole thing started out as a place for me to play,” Shilliday recalls. “Then as I looked at doing more types of projects, I decided to just put in a machine room, hire the wiring guys, Mack Clark and Nicho Ybarra, and do it right. I put in a Fairlight, Pyxis, the Yamaha 02R96, Final Cut Pro, Pro Tools, Genelecs in 5.1 — all the tools for all types of work.” Shilliday designed the suite, and he brought in noted San Francisco Bay Area contractor Dennis Stearns to build it, a process that went hand in hand with a rebuild of the house. All power is separate from the house, and all audio is on isolated ground, same as video. There's a separate entrance, and a window looks out over the Bay Area. “I wanted people to have the comforts of home without thinking they're in a home. It's totally pro, just not in the usual place,” Shilliday says.
In the control room, one wall is lined with Marshall stacks, a testament to Shilliday's guitar-slinging days. The other side wall is a window onto a relatively large vocal booth, where Shilliday has installed perhaps his most unique feature.
“We have a four-way split plasma screen, with cameras on the mic stands,” he explains. “So you have the ability to look at each actor's face when you record — for the animators. When I did the voice recordings for The Nightmare Before Christmas, we had only one camera and sometimes we had an ensemble cast. Now I can put three or four people on-mic, on camera, at the same time, then hand the animators a video tape and/or Final Cut video with all the talent in one picture, along with all the audio. I think it gives the studio some distinction.
“The other thing that's interesting is that with the Internet, FTP sites ISDN lines and EDNet, I no longer touch tape at all,” he continues, noting that the ad world still passes around DigiBeta. “When I do work for corporate clients, I have a 3-D guy in Walnut Creek, the video editor is in Marin, and I have voice talent down in L.A. I can do real-time recording anywhere in the world, and we never really see each other.”
Shilliday remains modest about his trailblazing, but is obviously excited at the prospect of adding longform audio post, music, games and anything that comes his way into his portfolio. “In the Bay Area, many of the larger facilities will be competing with the boutique shops because that's just the way the world is going. I've set this up to be very price-competitive with anybody so that you're getting a great product at an almost unheard of price.
“I have one grown daughter and two children at home, so this is certainly helping me balance my life. I no longer have to work so many jobs to make the same money. And the commute? What a commute!”