Yahoo! Originals Studios

Aug 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Harrison Surtees

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Like Spinal Tap, whose amps go to 11, Yahoo! is cool-plus-one. It's part of the company culture, and it's a philosophy that has been embraced over the years by Ian Dittbrenner, newly named director, studio and content operations, at Yahoo!'s production facility in Santa Monica, Calif.

Yahoo! Originals’ newly named director of studio and content operations, Ian Dittbrenner, at the Solid State Logic AWS900Plus

Dittbrenner, formerly director of audio for Yahoo! Originals, continues to work out of a modest studio tucked away at the rear of the 35,000-square-foot, two-story office building in a high-tech, corporate neighborhood where Apple, MTV and Red Bull are just a stone's throw away. The cool-plus-one factor in the studio — which Dittbrenner helped implement 10 years ago and in which he has worked ever since — extended, until a few weeks ago, to the sort of rock 'n' roll ephemera more frequently associated with the Hard Rock Café. “Over a period of 10 years, living in this room I'd accumulated all these guitars and stuff,” he says. “I had guitars signed by Madonna and Rick James — all sorts of people.” But, he acknowledges, the clutter of instruments and racks of outboard gear were a smoke screen: “I was subtracting from the room; I needed something to distract people.”

Dittbrenner typically records, mixes and masters live performances by A-list artists in the studio, as well as produces and post-produces dozens of music-related lifestyle pieces every month for the Webcasting giant. Yahoo! Originals is one of the most visited online music destination and creates a broad variety of programming, including “Pepsi SMASH” and “Who's Next.” Then there is “Nissan Live Sets,” a mini-concert and audience Q&A show filmed on the 20th Century Fox lot that Dittbrenner both mixes live and post-produces, and which is the most popular music program on the Internet, he says.

The studio's analog Euphonix CS3000 console had served the company well, but it was time for it to be retired. Chosen after intensive test-driving of all the alternatives, its replacement, a Solid State Logic C200, “is cool-plus-nine,” he enthuses. “My excitement about the console now that I have it is tenfold compared to before we bought it.”

That's due in no small part to this being a one-of-a-kind “signature series” C200. Dittbrenner wrote a lengthy e-mail to Peter Gabriel (co-owner of SSL since 2005) outlining Yahoo!'s cool-plus-one credo. “I explained we have autographed guitars from John Paul Jones, Fifty Cent and other things that set us apart from everybody else in what we do. Regardless of what we do, we do the best production in our medium and we're trying to take that a step up.” The result? Indelibly scrawled across the C200's meterbridge is a handwritten message from Gabriel: “Boo to Yahoo! and thank you, too. Happy music making, Peter Gabriel.”

With Dittbrenner's change in job title has come an extension of his responsibilities. His purview is no longer just music, but also all Originals at Yahoo!, and the entire building has now been handed over to him to be transformed into a multipurpose production center. Preliminary plans have been drawn up for a facility — which will be designed by George Newburn and Studio 440 — that will include a substantial music stage, a news and sports studio, dedicated mix and tracking rooms, central ingest and machine rooms, edit suites and office space.

Dittbrenner's current corner of the building already houses a small Digidesign ICON that was supplemented very recently by an SSL AWS 900Plus system. Before the larger plans were approved, he says, he pushed for a “technical lobotomy” in his audio room, which will operate as an insert stage under the new plan.

“Right now, [the C200] is specifically to give us a leg up on our future endeavors,” he says. “It's also to track and record on a better scale the artists that we bring into the studio.” Although, he admits, “before, forcing a band like Coldplay to have only 16 inputs and four monitor mixes created a situation where we got something much more unique; that was our secret for a long time.”

As for the next stage: “How will this integrate into everything? Paul Cox!” Dittbrenner says with a laugh. Cox, of Paul J. Cox Studio Systems, provided the room's technical upgrade and is being retained for the larger technical install, which allowed him to design the room for easy integration into the future facility.

Cox elaborates on his role re-commissioning the room: “Everything is new for this console; I just like putting rooms together that are really tidy. I don't think there's any reason why you should ever need a cord across the floor. When it's clean and reliable, you can't beat it. There's nothing like a fresh console in a fresh room and a fresh complement of new outboard gear.” That equipment includes a new GML 9500 EQ and an API rack filled with A-Design and Shadow Hills preamps, and other outboard units.

Media convergence played a part in the decision to purchase the C200, as did SSL's strong broadcast background, according to Dittbrenner, who hints that a global live program from the facility next year might be a possibility. “The broadcast aspect was factored in; it was an important piece of the puzzle,” he confirms. Indeed, Dittbrenner believes that his nimble and flexible staff and facility are archetypes for the broadcast and Webcasting landscape going forward, especially in Santa Monica, where many Hollywood facilities have found new homes in recent years. “We're able to move really quickly. The marketplace is moving closer to where we've been for the last 10 years. And through lucky timing, we were able to get the first C200 on the Westside.”


Harrison Surtees is an L.A.-based writer.






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