null Immersive Talk with Gatwick Production Studios
Immersive Talk with Gatwick Production Studios
What's the story behind Gatwick Production Studios?
When Covid hit, we'd both had around 25 years of touring experience as live engineers. One of us (Brandon) specialises in front-of-house and studio engineering and the other (Simon) in systems and monitor engineering. After travelling all over the world mixing 'bands you've heard of' and working for several years together, the numerous gig cancellations caused by the pandemic made us look for a way to stay busy - our solution was building a recording studio near Gatwick Airport!
Crazily, the project just grew and grew. It now includes multiple recording spaces and rooms for mixing, mastering and our Dolby Atmos system. Additionally, we have a photography or videography studio with a greenscreen infinity cove, and we even created a rooftop tiki bar.
What kind of space do you have there in Gatwick?
We're based in an old R&D facility that was run by a major battery manufacturer. It's a roughly eight-minute drive if you're coming south out of Gatwick Airport. We're one of the most convenient professional studios to visit from anywhere in the world, with excellent air, road, and rail links.
The property was built in the 1950s, and we decided it'd be nice to restore several original features, such as the building's solid mahogany parquet floors. So far, we've managed to construct multiple studio and live-room spaces, and there's more to follow over the next couple of years, including a room big enough to record symphony orchestras.
Importantly, the first phase of our plan is complete, and we're open to bookings.
Can you tell us a little about your most important gear?
Treehouse Studio, our Dolby Atmos mix and mastering room, uses an Avid Pro Tools Ultimate system with two HDX PCIe cards, which features an Avid MTRX interface as its central hub. The whole studio is Dante based, as is the whole building, which gives us superb adaptability and power, especially with multipurpose spaces. For flexible control, we've added an Avid Dock, three Avid S1s and a Digital Audio Denmark MOM monitor controller.
The other studio rooms are equipped for both Pro Tools and Logic Pro. Interestingly, our forthcoming 'Hybrid' room will fuse analogue and digital workflows, with the renowned Midas XL4 console at its core - perhaps the most advanced live console ever built, with 48 stunning fully transformer-balanced preamps and a monster 24 auxiliaries, 16 subgroups and 10 VCAs with flying faders. Of course, our console choice is based on our live engineering heritage, and we're delighted to make 'the king of live consoles' the centre piece.
What type of work do you do in your studio?
Our work in Treehouse Studio is focussed mainly on Dolby Atmos mixing and mastering, with some stereo mastering and video post-production projects alongside. With Atmos, we've been remixing a lot of established music into immersive, as well as mixing and mastering brand-new projects.
While we're setup to handle other immersive and surround formats, such as Ambisonics and Dolby Surround, we've chosen to specialise in Dolby Atmos because it's the format that's captured the world’s imagination. Atmos is quickly becoming the global standard for immersive, probably because it's playable on standard headphones and sound bars. Another great advantage of Atmos is its scalability, which works just as well for large stages and arenas as it does for living rooms.
How and when did you become interested in immersive audio?
We've been producing surround sound PA systems for dance and theatre events going as far back as the year 2000. Brandon was commissioned by the Royal College of Music to compose a piece for an immersive sound experiment about 13 years ago. More recently, he was part of the technical team that built and installed the Pink Floyd Exhibition for the Victoria & Albert Museum and a European tour, which featured an immersive room with remixed live stems. All in all, we have a long history with multichannel audio that led us to work in immersive.
How was the experience of kitting your studio out for Dolby Atmos?
Treehouse Studio was designed from the ground up with Atmos in mind from the start. We designed the monitoring system first and then designed the room around it. This makes it rather special because most studios are retrofitted, which makes it much more challenging to meet Dolby's requirements for Atmos certification. Since we started from scratch, we began with Dolby’s requirements and built everything accordingly.
Paired with Brandon’s astonishing diffuser-absorption and bass-trap designs, Simon’s background in systems, audio-over-networking and acoustics came in very useful from the outset. Also, we teamed up with John Johnson at HHB and Nick Hepfer at GIK Acoustics who both helped us predict the effect of our hand-built acoustic treatments.
How does it feel to work in immersive, compared to stereo?
Both from a production and composition point of view, immersive is a game changer. We feel as if we've been waiting for this technology forever, and now it's finally here! It's opened up so many possibilities by releasing us from the constraints of two compressed channels. The most striking benefits are the incredible definition of different sounds and the placement or movement of sonic objects in an environment that's familiar to the listener, such as their living room or favourite headphones - it's simply incredible.
Can you tell us a little about the Genelec monitoring you use?
Dolby's requirements for Atmos certification are extremely tough, and when we found that Genelec provides suitable solutions without compromise, we decided to check them out. After a few auditions, we were blown away by 'The Ones' series monitors. We feel there's nothing else comparable to them for pure imaging, fidelity and power, and in such a small package. The Atmos system's entire front row consists of 8351Bs, which is not just an LCR configuration, but has left and right wide channels. Our surrounds are 8350A two-ways, which sound superb too! We've also got one of the only subs on the market that meets the level requirements set by Dolby, the enormous Genelec 7382 SAM triple 15” Subwoofer. You really need to experience the 7382 to believe what it's capable of, and its response down to 15Hz is incredibly special to listen to with such a tight and punchy unit.
For stereo mastering, we added W371A SAM Woofer Systems to the left and right 8351Bs, which provides seamless bass extension. The 8351s start crossing over with the W371s at 500Hz, tidying up the low end considerably. This combination gives us one of the lowest distortion mastering monitors out there, with incredible frequency extension and resolution.
How does GLM fit into your workflow?
We use GLM every single day for various things, although our system was calibrated by Dolby using Avid's MTRX SPQ Speaker Processing system. They brought an array of measurement microphones for the job and were very surprised how little correction Treehouse needed, thanks in part to our very carefully designed acoustic treatment. Before Dolby arrived, we used GLM's automated calibration, and it did a very good job indeed.
You might be surprised by how we use GLM nowadays. Aside from controlling our 16 Genelecs, it's very useful for analysing other people's Dolby Atmos releases. Like many engineers, we listen to new tracks to analyse how they're made. GLM allows us to solo individual channels, which for example allows us to hear the reverb used in the overheads, or to separate out a vocal harmony.
What kind of immersive projects have you been working on?
After setting ourselves up with a world class studio and achieving some serious credentials in Dolby Atmos mixing, we've had a range of projects. Most recently, we've been mixing and remixing Soul II Soul's music and working with the record label Ninja Tune.
We've got some new online mixing, remixing and mastering services to watch out for, including Dolby Atmos options. So, we're hoping to give producers around the globe the chance to have their tracks polished in a world-class facility like Gatwick Production Studios.
In your opinion, what's the future of immersive?
Immersive audio is here to stay, and it's a genuine evolutionary leap beyond stereo. While there's a couple of other formats, such as Sony 360 Reality Audio, that have started to gain traction, it's Dolby Atmos that seems to have captured the biggest audience. With our 70-year-old-plus parents gaining knowledge about it, it's obviously taking hold in a serious way. In our opinion, the scalability of playback systems and the simplicity of listening using headphones or soundbars makes Atmos a universal format that artists and record labels will want to heavily invest in.
Herbie. All photos @Khali Ackford.
To find out more about Gatwick Production Studios, click here
Do you want to be featured in our ‘Immersive Talk’ series? If so, just post some pictures of your setup on Instagram using the #GenelecImmersive hashtag. We’ll be keeping a look out for the most interesting setups, so who knows? We may be in touch with you!