The Changing Face of New York Studios
Oct 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By David Weiss
RECORDING, MIXING AND POST FACILITIES ADAPT TO ECONOMIC REALITIES
Two New Post Players
Everyone wants to be “the post with the most.” Even though advertising budgets are in tatters, a plethora of elite options remain in the extremely competitive New York City audio post scene. In fact, fresh mix-to-picture capacity has recently been added to the Manhattan skyline in the forms of two new mix suites at audioEngine (www.audioengine.net), and an entirely new facility called Sonic Union (www.sonicunion.com).
Residing just a tad south of the downtown border at 12th Street and Broadway, audioEngine ordered up its two new suites in 2007, when business was booming and the elite facility was routinely turning down work. Although conditions feel much more threatening today, audioEngine's co-founders — Rex Recker, Brian Wick, Tom Goldblatt and Bob Giammarco — have set their company up for maximum competitiveness with their advanced pair of Walters-Storyk Design Group rooms.
“We knew that we needed another Dolby-approved room for theatrical work,” Giammarco says. “We wanted to build high-end rooms that were acoustically correct, and work with a designer like John Storyk, who did the original rooms at audioEngine when it was known as Lower East Side.”
Returning to the site of his original 1998 eighth-floor design, Storyk now found himself designing a build-out on audioEngine's seventh floor. For mixer Hillary Kew Martell, the result was “The French Quarter” — aka the minimalist, chic 29x17 Studio E, a 5.1 room with exceedingly clean lines, Digidesign D-Command control, Sony HD projector and 122-inch diagonal Stewart screen, and a Dolby certification for theatrical sound mixes.
“Nothing has changed, and on the other hand everything has changed,” Storyk says of the differences between audio post design today and a decade ago, when he first helped shape the facility. “The standards have gotten tougher, and so the environments improve. It used to be that the equipment brokered everything. It was ridiculously expensive and hard to get, but now it's been democratized.
“So what distinguishes one studio from the other?” continues Storyk. “The environments and the people. We're constantly being called on to step up the environments, which could mean daylight in the room, improved acoustics and 5.1 is finally getting some legs.”
Just across the hall, but seemingly a world away, is an equal and opposite suite created for recently added star mixer Rob DiFondi. “The Cabin,” or Studio F, has the feel of a spacious (27x20) and rustic luxury log-cabin complete with fireplace holding a 65-inch Sharp LC flat-screen. DiFondi commands commercial campaign mixes via a Digidesign Pro Tools HD3 workstation, while monitoring via B&W 5.1 speakers with 803D mains, SCMS surrounds and an ASW855 sub.
As welcoming as they are acoustically accurate, audioEngine's two new rooms bring them up to six suites total, backing up their belief that the high end can continue to expand. “I think there will always be room for quality,” notes Giammarco. “We're inevitably going to see some players fall away because New York City right now is over capacity. If I had a crystal ball to see the future of this business, I'd be very popular in our company — and with some of our competitors! For our part, we have to continue to be financially smart, keep up relations with our clients and keep working to be the best at what we do.”
Meanwhile, a brash counterpoint has set up shop just a few blocks uptown on the West side of Union Square in the guise of Sonic Union. Founded by in-demand mixers Michael Marinelli (formerly of Buzz/NY) and Steve Rosen (formerly of HSR/NY), along with managing director Adam Barone, Sonic Union sports five total rooms. The pleasantly advanced environment takes maximum advantage of a glorious park view, while allowing Rosen and Marinelli to tackle their favorite mixing activity.
“I think that the biggest change in New York City since AES 2007, with regards to the commercial audio post industry, is that surround mixing has gone from being attempted to being expected,” says Marinelli. “Well over half of the spots we mix at Sonic Union are being finished in HD and mixed in surround. I have to say that after mixing as long as Steve Rosen and I have, it's been a welcome addition to our daily routine.”
Sonic Union's inviting layout feels alive with natural colors, textures and abundant light. “When we set out to design our new home,” Marinelli recalls, “one of our main objectives was to not build a place that looked like it was designed by a bunch of audio geeks. Through some crazy circles we met this brilliant architect, Raya Ani, who had never designed anything like this — she worked on huge projects like the New York Stock Exchange, The Time Warner Towers at Columbus Circle and the first Green School in New York City. Sonic Union was the first project undertaken by her own architectural practice. Because we were planning on using Rich Alderson for the acoustics and technical design, we felt we could push the envelope on facility design and that Richard would make sure that the rooms would sound incredible.”
For the main suites, Alderson created two approximately 600-square-foot rooms, each running Pro Tools HD3 systems and bolstered by Blue Sky Big Blue and Genelec monitoring systems. Endowed with a 120-inch projection screen, Rosen's room qualified for and received a Dolby approval.
“Sonic Union's clients have grown up in the dotcom world and are totally accustomed to working in a minimal environment with a small equipment footprint,” Alderson says of the open-feeling rooms. “A lot of care went into accommodating the display screens and projector so that they could have very good visual contact. In a typical post session, there can be as many as 10 people in the room, so care was taken with the monitoring to ensure everyone could hear well, no matter where they were sitting.”
The design philosophy backs up Sonic Union's 10,000-foot view on what it takes to succeed in New York City's hotly contested audio post scene. “More and more it's not about the tools as much as it's about the talent and the relationships,” concludes Marinelli. “We just want to continue to put out the kind of mixes that make our clients look and sound great.”
— David Weiss
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