Rich Macar of Buttons Sound works to educate his clients about the sonic benefits of surround.
Poking around for New York City audio pros who understand sound-for-picture? Actually, in Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs, it's much easier these days to count the sonic-minded men and women who
interested in the business of locking music to visuals. A new highly functioning for-media music/post house opens at least once a week, but only a few can nail the sweet spot that leads to robust performance and consistent growth in New York City's incredibly competitive environment.
As a dependable top player in the sound design/mixing arena since 1988, Buttons Sound's (www.buttonssound.com) founder, Rich Macar, has seen countless technologies, industry trends and facilities come and go. The increasingly sophisticated standards of the viewers, however, are what the often outspoken Macar sees as the driving force in his sector today. “There's more demand than ever for good-quality audio,” he observes. “I think the one thing that viewers will agree on is that the difference between well-done media and not-well-done boils down to the sound.”
The numerous film, TV and commercial clients that Macar and his team mix and sound design for include the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, Saatchi & Saatchi, Animal Planet and MTV.
Listen to one of Macar's enveloping 5.1 mixes in his Paduak suite, which runs Pro Tools HD through a Dolby-certified accurate Meyer HD1 surround system with Bag End dual 12-inch sub, and you quickly find out that he considers staying on the forefront of audio technology to be a top priority. “My mantra for a long time has been that I never wanted to not get a job based on equipment,” explains Macar. “Once you get over the hardware issues, everything is software, and the question is, ‘How is it going to directly impact the client?’ They're interested in results, so if you can get them four or five quick, alternate results, they love that. And the more spontaneous you can be, the better. So when you're evaluating a plug-in, it comes down to, ‘How quickly can it deploy a particular task? Can you do it on the spot?’”
While whether or not to offer surround capabilities is a question that many audio houses continue to grapple with as HD uptake remains slow (but steady), Macar has made 5.1 a mainstay of every aspect of his business. “Even the simplest of surround mixes, when downmixed to stereo, sounds better than a regular stereo mix,” he points out. “I'm at the point where I don't even want to mix in stereo. Instead, I'm developing processes so that I can do surrounds so fast that I'll mix in surround, whether the client is paying for it or not. When they come in, just by pushing a button, I'll say, ‘You could have this [the stereo mix], but you could have this [the surround]. Why not have all of them?’ I think you need an education curve about surround, and I'm trying to be a catalyst if I can. Surround is not really about things flying around the room; it's about effectively using those speakers to captivate an audience.” Check out Buttons' recently launched blog at www.buttonsny.blogspot.com.
Look a few miles south of midtown and you'll find Hudson Soundlab (www.hudsonsoundlab.com), a strikingly different style of facility that has also found its way to New York City's SFP sweet spot. Founded in 1999 by Texas-bred composer Robby LeDoux and in its current location since 2004, Hudson Soundlab has developed a following — including clients such as HBO, Euro RSCG and Comedy Central — by blending sharp business management with a laid-back vibe.
“I said if I ever had a company that did music post,” LeDoux says, “I would steer away from that corporate feeling and go for a truer essence.” That outlook is clearly communicated in the modern angles of Hudson Soundlab, where studio designer Martin Vahtra helped to pack equal parts technical efficiency and space to relax into the Pro Tools HD — equipped control room, live room and lounge of the 700-square-foot facility. “Basically, I want the creative process to feel more intimate, like the way I feel when I sit down and write a song on a piano because you're in the moment and you can concentrate more. The lounge is wired for recording, and we've captured many horn sections in there. Clients love that because they can literally be in the room while the music is being recorded.”
To keep his main room (plus a satellite Brooklyn studio) booked, LeDoux places emphasis on attracting a team of complementary artistic talents, including longtime collaborator JZ Barrell and three other composers. “Building a good team and letting them do what they do is the key to a successful business,” says LeDoux. “I tend to shy away from big rep firms and instead try to go with a full-time, 100-percent Hudson Soundlab — dedicated person who has a proven track record of helping the people they've worked with.”
LeDoux was able to add considerable versatility and income to Hudson Soundlab simply by hiring freelance mixer Lihi Orbach so that he could concentrate on his own strengths. “Mixing is not my chief passion. It used to be that we'd do post to fill in the down time after composing music, but it has evolved that more and more clients are coming to us because we do music, sound design and post in one spot.”
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