SFP: Sync Sound Turns 25

Oct 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Gary Eskow



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The Sync Sound scrapbook: Founders Bill Marino and Ken Hahn are pictured through the years.

The Sync Sound scrapbook: Founders Bill Marino and Ken Hahn are pictured through the years.

Ken Hahn and Bill Marino may not have vowed to stand by each other in sickness and health, but they did make a meaningful commitment: They co-signed a pricey real estate lease in mid-Manhattan. Sync Sound, the enterprise they established in 1984, turned 25 recently, and Mix thought it fitting to sit down with the owners and talk about their careers, the company and the audio post industry.

“I got into the business right out of college,” says Hahn. “I graduated from Wagner College in 1977 with a music degree, but I pretty much knew all along that I wanted to get into the engineering side of the industry. Todd Rundgren was an idol of mine, someone who wrote the songs, played and was deep into the technical side of recording. I was the guy in the band who adjusted the P.A. system!”

Marino's dad, Frank, was the guitarist in The Tonight Show band. “I spent a lot of time in the control room,” says Bill Marino. “Kids under 14 weren't allowed in the audience so I'd hang out in the sponsor's booth. This was going back to the days when Jack Paar was the host. Bobby Bugg was mixing The Tonight Show at the time, and I remember thinking to myself that I could do it, too!

“I was also a musician,” he continues. “I started out taking lessons from my dad, then joined a group called the Hillside Singers. Our claim to fame was the record ‘I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing,’ which came from the jingle that was so popular.”

Marino and Hahn crossed paths at Regent Sound, one of Manhattan's early audio post facilities. “I was co-producing records for our group with Bob Liftin, who owned Regent Sound,” says Marino. “I came to him with a record idea, but the conversation turned to this new thing, sound for television. Bob was working on The Howard Cosell Show. Saturday Night Live was just ramping up, and NBC hired Bob as a consultant. It became pretty clear that he had little interest in producing our record. Instead, he offered me an entry-level job at the studio.”

While still in college, Hahn was logging upward of 60 hours a week at Regent as a second engineer, and that's where he met Marino. “I became a great second engineer,” Hahn says. “If you needed a razor blade, I was reaching for it before you asked for it! I studied engineering. Equally important, I studied people and how they got along.

“Sound for television was awful back then,” he continues. “Accurate sync was nonexistent, and audio was being cut in mono by video guys who didn't know what they were doing. Audio post took off in the 1980s when stereo became the standard. We did a lot of work for the emerging cable companies at Regent Sound. I recall us mixing a Charlie Daniels Band concert for the first commercially released laser disc. Bill and I worked on a Todd Rundgren project that was one of the first stereo VHS tape releases to hit the market. People were experimenting back then; audio post for television was a new world, and a lot of the tools we take for granted today — particularly in the area of synchornization — simply didn't exist. We took the best studio console technology from the recording industry and married it with the new videotape machines and sychronizers that were being developed.”

“Ken's exactly right,” adds Marino. “Post-production audio was just being defined. EECO's timecode had recently been adopted by SMPTE [1973], and the first audio tape machine synchronizer [the EECO 450] had just become available. Until this time, sound for television was being laid to 2-inch Quadruplex videotape during the video online session. Additional audio source material was usually ‘fired-in’ on ¼-inch tape cartridges. Younger engineers may have a hard time imagining what a typical session looked like — everything was being done manually, with stop watches and your reflexes being the most important tools of all.”

Hahn and Marino both credit Bob Liftin with helping usher in the new era in audio post. “Regent Sound had a reputation for being able to fix things, especially problems related to sync,” says Marino. “Some of my biggest contacts came through our clients' need to solve sync problems — particularly producers and directors working on projects where music was critically important.

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