Two years after building a surround-ready studio based around a Neve Capricorn digital console, pictured on this month's cover, Sound on Sound owner Dave Amlen is beginning to reap the rewards of his investment.
“On the surround front, there's actually money the labels are spending now to do that, after years of waiting to see how the formats would shake out,” says Amlen. “So, we're finally able to take advantage of that, especially in our Capricorn room. We recently did a big surround project for Ginuwine for Sony Music and another for Changing Faces for Atlantic. We also mixed the music for the film The Deep End.” That project won a cinematography award at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.
However, the bulk of the studio's business is still in stereo, which is why Amlen made sure the Capricorn room could be easily outfitted for either configuration.
“Most of the time, the room is set up for stereo,” he explains. “But whenever we have surround projects, all we have to do is set up five identical speakers, whether they be Genelecs, Yamaha NS-10s, or something an engineer or producer might want to bring in. We have a calibration program that we run in conjunction with a sound pressure meter to ensure that the room will work for any speakers. For subs, we use a pair of Genelec 1092s.”
While the Capricorn suite serves a variety of functions — surround mixing, stereo mixing, digital editing, audio post — Sound on Sound's two analog rooms, Studios A and B, provide the facility's bread-and-butter business of tracking and mixing music projects.
Amlen likes to joke that he runs the Noah's Ark of recording studios, because so much of his gear — from his tape machines to his outboard processors, to his monitors to his digital audio workstations — is duplicated in Studios A and B.
Effective this summer, the Noah's Ark concept extends to those rooms' consoles as well, as Amlen replaces an old Neve VR in Studio A with a Solid State Logic 9000 J to match the one in Studio B, which was installed in late 1998. The installation of the 9000 J shifts the room's focus from tracking to mixing, which suits Amlen just fine.
“This was strictly a business decision on our part,” he says. “The amount of tracking business going on in New York is good for one or two days a week,” he says. “I'm willing to sacrifice those bookings for a seven-day mix session.
“I've talked to jazz engineers, including the ones who did the last sessions on the VR, and they're disappointed,” says Amlen. “The jazz community has this bias that you need to record on a Neve console. But jazz is losing as much momentum as country music. You can't keep a room dedicated to someone who is going to book a six-hour session once a week.”
The new 9000 J was purchased from Boston-based equipment broker Dave Lyons of Sonic Circus; Lyons also bought back the VR.
As is often the case with high-end consoles, the J Series desk has a colorful history. It was commissioned by famed London studio Town House Recording, but was recently swapped for an SSL G-Plus. Then the board was used at Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry's home studio to mix the band's latest Columbia Records release, Just Push Play.
Whether analog or digital, multichannel or stereo, many projects these days take place, at least partially, in the Pro Tools domain. In response, Amlen has invested in three full-blown systems, one of which resides in the Capricorn room, another in a Pro Tools-oriented edit/mix room with a 24-fader Pro Control; the remaining one is in either of the two analog studios, depending on the clients' needs.
“We're seeing an equal number of sessions on analog 24-track or Pro Tools or both,” says Amlen. “We still get the odd session that's on 3348 DASH or DA-88, but those seem less and less everyday.”
Still, Amlen insists on offering virtually every major multitrack and mixdown format that his clients might want to use. That means maintaining a fleet of high-end analog and digital decks, including Studer A827s and A820s, Sony 3348s, Tascam DA-88s and Sony PCM 9000s.
As if keeping up a world-class studio isn't enough, Amlen and COO Christopher Bubacz have recently delved into such ancillary areas as producer/engineer management. Operating under the name SOS Management, the new division's clients include Jason Standard, Mark Partis, Matt Hathaway and Ted Cruz.
Also, Sound on Sound has just branched into mastering in a joint venture with Eric Enjem Studio. The aim of that partnership, according to Amlen, is to capture a mid-level market between the big, commercial mastering houses and the DAW-based, bedroom studios. “These ancillary areas help out,” says Amlen. “It's tough out there, but fortunately there's enough work that we're doing fine.”