Veteran recording engineer Gerhard Joost has worked with major artists like Stevie Wonder, Usher, Missy Elliott, and Timbaland – to name a few – and is currently at the helm of Studio Hill Austin, a new recording studio in Austin, Texas that aims to produce “a new sound for the post-pandemic age”. The studio is scheduled to have its grand opening soon and will welcome artists from all over the world to record in their sunlight-filled recording room.

Joost and Sangeeta Kaur, the classical vocalist and owner of Studio Hill Austin, already have much to celebrate. They recently won a Grammy for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album and are looking forward to providing the music community in Austin with a cutting-edge space in which to make music across a wide variety of genres. Joost sat down with us recently to talk about his vision for the studio, installing a Rupert Neve Designs 5088 recording console with Vintage King, and what he thinks about this era of digital technology.

Tell us about Studio Hill Austin.

It was originally the vision of Steve Hennig to build a world-class studio here in Austin. He used architectural and electro acoustic designer Steven Durr to draw up the original plans for the studios. That vision was completed in 2015 by Mark Genfan who came in and did all the acoustics in the room. The studio is now owned by Sangeeta Kaur and Hai Nguyen. Sangeeta is a Grammy winner this year, for Best Classical Solo Vocal album. I’ve done her last five albums with her and I’m the Studio Manager and Chief Recording Engineer of Studio Hill Austin.

They flew me out to inspect the studio, see what the integrity of the building was like. There are five layers of drywall in the control room, there is 703 Owens Corning everywhere, there are bass traps, RPG diffusers. The studio proper area is 36x26 with 19-foot high ceilings and that is double wall construction with floating floors as well. We’re so lucky, we have windows in our studio! I’m just thrilled to have these. They’re all dual double-paned, and we’re fortunate to watch the deer walk by, through the forest, and just be inspired by nature as well as creativity in the studio.

It looks like an amazing room!

Yes it is, and we’re going to have an even further amazing room once we get done with it. We’re actually going to liven it up. It’s hard to believe, because most people are trying to deaden all the rooms and suck all the life out of them but we want to bring life back into it. We’re going to float some wood clouds and do some wood acoustic texturing around the entire circumference of the studio to bring a more natural decay sound that would be complementary to orchestral work, as well as rock, pop and country.

What drew you to the Rupert Neve Designs 5088 Shelford console you're using?

I can’t say enough about it! I’m so excited to have this console. It just eases my soul. We decided we wanted to go large and we went ahead and got a Rupert Neve Designs 5088 32-channel, fully loaded with the 5051 EQ/Compressor combo modules as well. So we have nine of those modules and we also have the SwiftMix automation module.

Maybe a little history is well deserved. I started my career in 1979 and that was one year before the first digital machine came out. In 1980, AES New York premiered the Sony 24-track and that was where the future was going, although a lot of us stayed on analog. My experience is extremely analog – Studer, MCI, Otari, I’ve worked on them all. The last 24-track tape machines I had were the second and third A827s ever made with 48 channels of Dolby SR, running a DDA analog custom console.

Then there were the Neves, the SSL… I worked on the first SSL. There was a lot of new technology coming out and the goal in the ‘80s was really to defeat the noise levels. Everybody in the manufacturing industry was trying to create gear that was quieter, cleaner, and more exacting so we were moving away from tube technology and moving more into transistor technology. I’ve worked on so many consoles, it’s just amazing, I’ve been very fortunate. 

But the direction of my choice for the Rupert Neve console was my experience in using a Shelford channel strip. I used it on a classical baritone soloist who flew in from L.A. to record his album. I used a Telefunken ELA M 251 in conjunction with the Shelford and the first thing I noticed was how strikingly clean it was. Absolutely just impeccably, dynamically clean, with incredible range. We’re talking about a baritone that is literally going from triple pianissimo all the way up to double, triple forte. I had him about two feet away from the 251 and I got all my settings on the Shelford, all my EQs which weren’t drastic at all. It was more about just some simple correction of the room, rolling off the bottom, taking out a little mid-range. I had him about two feet away from the mic and I thought I was really missing that proximity. So I took the Texture knob, focused on the low end, turned it, and it felt like the proximity came right back. I just threw up my hands and said, “There you have it!” That’s really how I made my decision on this board – by use.

I had also done a lot of research on it. I called up Neve, they invited me out to their facility, about 30 miles from Austin. I met with Josh and Tristan at Neve. It couldn’t have been a more gracious meeting. They literally showed me the entire facility – parts, storage, manufacturing, design. The other thing was, they weren’t selling a console, they were teaching me what it was, what it does, and what the design concept was. Their knowledge of the console is second-to-none. I think Tristan actually knows every trace on every motherboard and exactly what direction it goes in. It’s incredible knowledge to have.

I had also been reading how they developed the console, what their goal was as far as modeling the top end on the 1073 preamps, modeling the 1064 on the bottom end – fully discrete. I’ve had live drums in the room, I’ve had vocals, guitar, piano and all of them, especially the drums, were beyond my expectations. When tracking a rhythm section, I’m a big fan of using the console and all of the preamps in the console. The reason is, I love the sound of the slew rate of all the mic preamps on all of the instruments moving in the same direction and time or speed, if you will.  

There was also the fact that it’s absolutely brand new – I don’t have to worry about maintenance, I know the reliability of the Neve. With all of those factors in mind, I made that choice and I couldn’t be happier. 

What was it like working with Chris Bolitho, Sales Director at Vintage King while building out the studio?

Chris is wonderful, I just can’t say enough good things about him! I’ve known him since 2005. Are we embarrassed yet, Chris? I love working with him because of his reputation and his integrity. Working with him is like working with one of the best mastering engineers. Chris is hearing from an incredible amount of people within the industry in a wide and diverse range of work and that experience alone is priceless. He’s hearing from scoring stages, major recording studios, production houses, hit artists that are working out of their private studios. So if anybody knows what’s going on in the industry, gear-wise, Chris knows. Not only does he know about the gear but he can also tell you if there is maybe an issue with something, or what to watch out for, or if you need to expand into another format and so he’s had experience with all of the gear throughout all of the industry. To me that is absolutely priceless. And he does it in such a gentle way, the way he makes suggestions, or brings up other considerations that maybe I wouldn’t have thought of. I want to say “Thank you Chris, for all your help.” I really mean that.

Tell us about your ATC SCM150ASL monitors.

I love them tremendously. Chris had us at the showroom in L.A. and there were several contenders. We wanted to try them all and Chris was gracious enough to have all of the contenders set up in the showroom and do a shoot-out between them all. All of them had attributes that could have influenced my decision, one way or the other, but I think the biggest factor that worked in favor of the ATC SCMs was the fact that the vocal range was so incredibly detailed. I felt confident that they would show up either whatever is good about what’s going on and whatever is bad about what’s going on. That sold me on them.

The vocal range on the 150s is just so incredible and they’re not lacking by any stretch of the imagination in the power area as well. I have literally had these things at maximum SPL level and there is no sign of fatigue whatsoever. It was the winner, hands down. We put all of the monitors through the paces, played a lot of different music on them. We played pop, rock, and a lot of orchestral music… They do an amazing job on that and that’s just as important to me as pop or rock or country. The monitors had to work for all of those genres.

Steve came over to tune the ATCs and there really wasn’t a lot of manipulation going on to the room EQ – we have vintage White Instruments 4320 Passive EQs – so that’s quite a testimony to how the monitors work in the room. Of course, you have to have a good room. These are midfield monitors so they are responding not only to their cabinet design but also to the acoustics of the room. That, I would say, was one of the main considerations also, that we knew we wanted to fill the room and have an experience of the room.

We’re also running dual Bag End subwoofers, two 12s on each side, running in stereo so that the impression of the monitors are more of a 4-way system, self-contained, not a 3-way system. I’ve never got good results from a 3-way system and then running a sub in the theatrical sense. Most of the music that I do is music for radio, TV and albums. I’m not doing a tremendous amount of theatrical anymore although I did as many as fourteen releases for trailer music, so in that case it was important to get the correct balance but I’m loving the combination of the ATC 150s and the dual Bag End subwoofers. It’s just amazing.

Do you have a go-to signal chain for recording, or do you use something different every time?

Except in the case of vocals, I probably am completely wide open to what I use as far as outboard gear is concerned. A lot of it is what is available to me and also every genre, I think, demands a different sound and a different piece of gear. Except for the vocal chain…

What is your go-to vocal chain?

I’m giving away my favorite vocal chain! I’m kidding. After being in the business for forty years, it’s all about teaching others and helping them get right to what they’d love to have. I’m a huge fan of the Neve 1073 mic pre, going directly into either the Telefunken ELA M 251E or the Telefunken 47 or a C12. Those are truly three of my favorite microphones of all time. I think the Sony C-800G is also a contender. That would give you four great mics. Depending on the style of music, if it’s modern, if it’s pop, I might change the preamp to the 1084 BAE which is based on the Neve EQ, so I can do some slight texture changes, depending on the singer. It’s not so much the mic but the singer, and I’ll have a Tube-Tech CL 1B compressor without question in that chain. Another mic that I use a lot is the Manley Reference Cardioid. I would probably say I use that 90 percent on a pop vocal sound. It just has that sound and clarity that I’m looking for. Other than that, I really am kind of very open-minded about what I use in each session.

 I’ve had a long history of producing vocals with music production companies. I wear many, many hats and I’m very sensitive to what people need. I don’t jump in with my ideas. I like to let an artist develop first. When I see them struggling, then I’ll jump in. Sometimes I will make a light suggestion, and if the artist asks, “What do you think?” okay then, “Here we go”. 

You recently won a Grammy for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album, which was recorded using a BAE 1073MP preamp and Telefunken ELA M 251 E condenser microphone – what is it about that combination that created a Grammy-winning recording?

So many different things. I think the romance of the sound of the 251 is by far the biggest reason for that choice. Just the absolute sonic perfection of that microphone and what it does for female vocals. It’s just an incredible microphone, it never sounds wrong to me, to be honest. Which mic you want to use is just a matter of creative choice, but by far that is my first go-to mic on female vocals, and then of course including the 1073 and/or the 1084 BAE… We all know that the mic is built to perfection and it completely replicates the original 251, which is one of the classic mics of all time. That mic will never go away.

How do you feel about plug-ins? Which plug-ins are a part of your workflow?

I’m addicted to plug-ins! Please don’t send me another email flashing that there’s a sale on a plug-in because I’m going to buy it. I have been mixing in the box since 1997. I have seen the history of design and technology from that point so I’ve heard a lot of changes occurring in the designs, the modeling and the philosophies of plug-ins and it’s just gotten so good. I keep buying them because they keep getting better and I love keeping up with them.

There is an AMEK 9099 Brainwork bx_console channel strip plug-in that I just had to have because I used that console in the ‘90s when I was working on projects by Timbaland, Missy Elliott, Jodeci, Dru Hill, Sisqo – all these major R&B artists, and we were using those channel strips as part of the sound. It was quite a shock to see that modeled and available again. I do use a lot of Waves plug-ins, UAD, I love FabFilter, Slate and McDSP does really great work as well. I am very open-minded about plug-ins as well. I don’t have a template that I go to every time. I love to keep creating and I’m always in pursuit of better sound.

What's a typical day in the studio like for you?

Untypical! It really is. Let’s see, I’m currently mixing shows that we recorded at SXSW. Studio Hill Austin built venues at SXSW and we had incredible performances there for six or seven days at three different venues. Geodesic domes were constructed there and then equipped with streaming gear. So we recorded all of the shows, and I’m currently mixing Sangeeta’s performance. We then have three songs we’re working on for an album release later this year. Last week we hosted Van-Anh Nguyen and Mark Olsen, two incredible composers from Australia who go by the name Double Touch.

The music market in Austin is incredible. There is music literally everywhere. There are venues all over town and it’s amazing, you can go see everything from local talent to national talent. I’ve been working with a local artist called Arkansas Dave, a modern contemporary country artist with flavors of historic country in his instrumentation. I’m producing vocals with him and mixing.

I’ve been tracking solo piano pieces for people. We have a beautiful Steinway B piano and a technician from Steinway who was here to recondition it said it is probably the best sounding Steinway in Austin right now! We’re proud to have it. The keys are even actual real ivory, it’s quite the piece to have. That’s kind of a typical day at Studio Hill Austin – there are a lot of things going on and that’s a good thing. We’re thrilled to be able to do it and blessed to provide what I think is going to be Austin’s new world-class room. 

What are some of your favorite pieces of outboard gear?

We have a lot of outboard gear and I don’t really want to go into that in detail, not because I’m trying to hide anything but it’s the standard stuff that everybody has. We’re also going to be purchasing a fair amount of outboard gear to complement our room and I’m going through those choices right now. Of course there are some standards like UA 1176 compressors that we’ll have. I’m really so happy with the EQ and compression on the Neve console, there is really not a lot of need for other EQ in the room other than just to be like “Oh I want to try something different, let’s just see what this EQ does.” But I am literally so happy with the sound of the console that there is no need to plug in another EQ.

The console is the heart of the room and the way we’ve wired it, we made it as flexible as it could be. We took full advantage of the way Neve designed it. You can choose what your signal flow is through the patchbay and there’s some normalling going on and other times there’s no normalling going on so we can be very flexible about what’s going on because it’s about making those choices.

What is the plan for Studio Hill Austin going forward? 

Studio Hill Austin will become not only Austin’s newest world-class studio, but we will be able to house and support artists. It is a 3-acre property, it has an external building that houses my studio office and also another lounge area for the studio that’s outside. We are currently re-landscaping, we’re building a fire pit and swings so we can go out and have acoustic nights, and there’s a five-bedroom home that will be available for artists to rent and stay long-term if they like.

 I’m fortunate to have experienced world-class studios in L.A., New York, and Nashville. I know the needs of major artists, especially when it comes to non-disclosure, to not even reveal that an artist is here. I understand that need for privacy completely. There are some studios in L.A., like EastWest, which is one of my favorite rooms. I love the sound of that studio. You go in and there are five rooms and you don’t even know who’s working in the other rooms. They don’t talk about who is working in the other rooms and I give that great respect, I really do. I understand what that’s like, if you’re bombarded with people walking in to say hello. And then it’s always fun when you run into people in the lounge, “There’s Phil X or Bruce Watson or Nate Morton, didn’t know you were here today!” We’re going to run it with that same level of professionalism here so I look forward to that.

Congratulations on the Grammy and good luck with the launch of Studio Hill Austin!

Thank you, it’s been such an incredible journey and it’s not over! I was weaned on an MCI 1” 8-track. We had to do all of our productions on a 1” 8-track – that was drums, bass, guitar, piano, vocals, all on 8 tracks. What a miracle! What an experience to have to commit and constantly bounce. To go from there to 24-track, then 48-track. And then we became the beta test center for Studer Dyaxis, the digital editing machine. I have literally gone through that entire change of the industry and I think we’re at that place now where we can get the sounds we envision with accuracy and dependability. The best era ever in digital recording technology is probably right now. The choices are almost endless. Exciting times, truly exciting times!

Chris BolithoIf you have any questions about any of the gear mentioned in this blog, please reach out to us! Contact a Vintage King Audio Consultant via email or by phone at 866.644.0160.