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Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, Bill Jabr is a world-class producer, musician and engineer who has hosted hip-hop elite like Childish Gambino, André 3000, Juice Wrld and Travis Scott at his Blue Room studios. Under the banner of Blue Room, Bill and his partners have built out two amazing studios including Blue South in the ATL and the newer Blue West in Los Angeles.
With the buildout of Blue West, Bill was looking to install a centerpiece that carried the weight and punch of a classic API console. While he had always wanted an API 1608, the brand's newly debuted 2448 was an even better fit for the studio and Bill worked with Vintage King Audio Consultant Chris Karn to bring the desk home.
We recently sat down with Bill to talk about the formation of Blue Room, setting up shop in Los Angeles and the API 2448 console. Continue reading to find out how the 2448 has already had an impact on Blue West and learn more about some of the other gear that Blue Room has procured from Vintage King.
How did the original Blue Room come into existence?
I started Blue South as a producer in Atlanta in 2009. It was called the Blue Room back then, but after opening Blue West in Los Angeles in 2014, we changed the name of the original location to Blue South.
I had just gotten out of a production deal and had a production room that evolved into a commercial recording studio. We were a small team of engineers and producers working in this tiny little production room. It was about the size of a closet. Over time, we were able to grow organically.
A lot of people who came in originally were young college students at the time, but they went on to become Mike Will, Young Thug, Cash Out, DJ Spinz, Sonny Digital, and Metro Boomin. These guys were the original Blue Room crew that graced the studio before anyone was established at all. We were just a bunch of broke college kids trying to get started and be heard.
None of the bigger established producers and labels in Atlanta were paying attention to the movement that came through our studio but we got to experience it from the ground up and that was really exciting to be a part of. It is amazing to see how far that Atlanta sound has gone.
We all got to be part of the start of a new era of music in Atlanta. Even the workflow of our engineers I think pushed that a little bit. A lot of studios at the time were operating under an older model—I think our engineers were pushing a lot more. We had a new way of working that was faster and catered to younger, more backpack or laptop-style producers.
We were able to tap into that early on, but over time we expanded what we were doing with larger-scale projects. In 2014, James Kang, one of our head engineers in Atlanta, and I, opened up a second location called Blue West in Los Angeles.
What did you have in mind gear-wise for Blue West?
When we came out to LA, we started with very minimal gear. We started very lean with more of a strong digital setup; nice conversion, clocking, and digital monitoring. I think we only had an eight-channel interface, a few mic pres, a few pieces of outboard gear and a good mic. We've always had good quality gear, just not a ton of outboard gear. At first, we were really focused on getting our main monitoring going, then our next step in the process was getting the console and expanding that side of things as well.
So you decide on getting a console for Blue West. What made you go with an API?
Well, I'm a guitar player myself and a lifelong musician. I went to school for guitar. As a lot of guitar players will say, if you've worked around different consoles and outboard gear, I think API is regularly used for guitar, especially for electric. I mean, you can't beat it in my opinion. There's just not a better match for a guitar.
So, from the beginning, that was on my mind. When I was younger I always remember doing production sessions in API rooms and getting that punch and weight out of the sound that is indescribable. The headroom with API is so great you can just smash the transformers and get great sounds.
When I started shopping for a console, I felt like API fit our identity as a character-driven analog board well suited for a wide range of music. Also, in my humble opinion, I just felt like it was just a very quality piece. It feels like a super-solid build. It really feels like nothing was spared, like it's a real true analog console.
When the new API 2448 came out, I was amazed. I wanted a 1608 for years for our studio room! We don't have the biggest control room and my partner does a lot of mixing, so having a compact inline console is amazing. Plus, it’s just a legendary sound.
Some of my favorite albums ever were recorded through API consoles, classics from Prince, Radiohead, and Stevie Wonder. It's got a punchy, 3D sound. It's just a classic sound, especially for the front-end tracking. I mean, we just want something with front-end muscle and vibe, and the 2448 has all those things. It's an instant classic.
What are some of your favorite pieces that you've acquired over the years?
Well, I've actually been doing a lot of mastering myself this year, so I've kind of been nerding out in that space when it comes to outboard gear. Currently, I'm loving the Maselec Master Transfer Console that we're using. I also love our Maselec MEA-2 EQ and the Whitestone P331 leveling amp. I've been getting some really cool tones out of that.
As far as the tracking room, we have all the classic stuff like a Tube-Tech CL1B and API 2500 compressors. That's an awesome compressor that we've used a lot. Most of my favorites are the classics that everybody loves. My favorite microphones are the Telefunken 251 or Neumann U67. We have some brass cap AKG C-414s that are amazing too, I love those.
We also have an original Neve preamp in Los Angeles, and we wanted to get that classic Neve sound in this room as well, so we picked up a Neve 1066 module with the original Marinair transformers. The original Neve that we bought from Vintage King a couple of years ago was around $6,000 at the time. Everybody thought I was insane for paying that much for one channel, but now it’s worth probably double that. It’s a classic piece and engineers that come in always comment on it. Like, why doesn’t my 1073 sound like this?!
What has it been like working with Chris Karn and Vintage King to build out the studio?
It's been great. Vintage King has relationships with a lot of the high-end gear brands that we use and have been very knowledgeable about different types of gear. For instance, when I was searching for a guitar amp, Chris is a player as well, so he was able to help me work through the tone I was looking for and find the right piece.
Vintage King has a close working relationship with big companies like Neve, but it’s not really a “big box” feel. It’s more personal relationships and finding a configuration that works for the individual. Vintage King has definitely been extremely helpful over the years, whether it’s just from an informational standpoint or a repair standpoint, which is often overlooked.
That's another reason why we bought an API. We're a commercial studio, so working with a company that has that reputation for good service and can get things done or answer questions quickly is important.
What's in store for the future of both Blue Room studios?
Well, this has obviously been a crazy year for the world, so it's been interesting. When we first locked down in California, it lasted for more than three months. We were counting down before we could actually open up and do sessions in a safe way again. During that time, my partner, who's a mix engineer, was able to work remotely.
Over the years, we've had a lot of demand for mastering. It's something we've never done, so that was a new service for us. I've always done a lot of room tuning with our rooms. We have a room management system in both studios, so I've done a lot of that. Mastering kind of feels like a similar process to me. I’ve understood the process but I’ve never really taken a really focused interest in it like I have been this past year.
I've been able to learn a lot from Tatsuya Sato, who is a great engineer from Mastering Palace in New York and also previously worked at Sterling Sound. So I’ve really gotten to learn the “Sterling Sound” method of analog mastering and how Tatsuya approaches the process. Having friends I can learn from is so amazing. I am always trying to learn as much as I can from more experienced engineers, producers, or studio owners.
My other partner, Kevin Williams, and I also just completely renovated our B-room in the Atlanta location. We’re building some custom mains in there now, but it’s a really, really nice space, and a huge upgrade for that Atlanta studio. In LA, our team has grown a lot and I'm hoping that we can continue to grow, expand, and be involved with more and more great music.