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Located just south of Nashville in Franklin, TN, in:ciite studios is a world-class recording and audio post-production facility. Their five studios have hosted an impressive list of clients across the music, film, TV, video game, and book publishing industries. Recently, Vintage King Audio Consultant James Good helped outfit In:ciite’s Studio B with an Avid S6 console and MTRX interface.
We spoke to Owner/CEO Chris Thomason, and Studio Manager/Chief Engineer Andrew Mayer about their recently upgraded Studio B, mixing in Atmos, and the future of the recording industry.
Tell me a little bit about in:ciite Studios.
CT: The studio facility was built in 2003, and it was designed by the world-renowned audio architect, Russ Berger. The building is a little over 22,000 square feet. The studios are about ten-and-a-half thousand of that and we have two film companies as tenants in the rest of the space. The largest room is Studio A, in the live room we can fit about a 30-piece orchestra. Our console is the SSL XL 9000K with Pro Tools Ultimate. We've got a Yamaha C7 piano in the A room, three iso booths, and then a fourth booth that is used for cartage and micing guitar amps. The room is designed and wired for 7.1 mixing and is flexible for all types of recording, music mixing, and tracking sessions.
Our B Room is the new Dolby Atmos room, which is the Vintage King installation, and the biggest upgrade that we've had in the facility. It's 9.1.4 and features the Avid S6 console and DynAudio custom speakers.
Studio C is a record/mix room with one iso booth. then we have a D Room, which is really a writer/producer room, and an E room, which is our Adobe Creative Suite room. We can edit up to 60 frames per second in 4k. That room is also 5.1, so you can screen films there as well. All rooms are controlled from a central machine room and are ProTools Ultimate.
What inspired you to upgrade Studio B to a Dolby Atmos system?
CT: Well, as we all know, the whole revolution of immersive sound has taken place. From Spatial Audio on Apple to film and TV, and especially the home entertainment world—Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Disney+, etc. Some of these platforms are requiring Atmos deliverable mixes, and some are requesting them. But it is definitely where the visual post world is going for audio because it is immersive and scalable. You can scale it from smaller rooms, to larger, down to headphones. We truly believe it is the future of audio or at minimum the start of the next of chapter of audio.
As we looked at what was happening not only in Nashville but worldwide, we wanted to serve the audio community with not only an excellent solution but be compatible and competitive with studios around the world.
I really don't like the word “compete,” because the way I look at it is it's the “rising tide floats all boats” concept and as the industry and tools grow we all grow. I believe Dolby Atmos is one of those things that is giving the industry new vitality and life. And so we want to be a part of giving life to the industry and delivering audio on all levels with excellence.
What was it like working with James at Vintage King while building out the studio?
CT: We had initial meetings, and talked about our goals and strategies for the studio and what we would like to accomplish. With James/VK’s help, we set a plan to execute in the first few months of 2022. But right off the bat, we faced a big challenge with what was happening with global supply chain issues. The equipment took a little longer than we all expected. No one’s fault, but it did delay the installation and launch of the room. And this was also frustrating to some clients who were already wanting to book the room.
The Vintage King team also had great patience with us as we were learning and understanding the process. James listened to us and then tried to accomplish what we were wanting. Vintage King also facilitated the relationship with Dolby and after the room was complete Brian Pennington from Dolby came to “certify” and complete the process. Everybody worked hard to make it work and did a great job! The result: we have a world-class room.
What drew you to the Avid S6 you’re using?
CT: Well, two things on that front. One is our research on what best practices are in this format. As we did our research of course we found several options out there, but the S6 is the flagship at the moment for Atmos mixing. And what we like about it also is that it's adaptable. You can configure it in lots of different ways, and you can utilize it for your project needs. Secondly, a big plus is there are a lot of Engineers/Producers very familiar with it.
AM: The thing about that, too, is that anybody can pretty much walk in and start using it. Maybe they won't use the advanced features if they've never used them before. But they can sit down and use it pretty easily, whereas I think most other consoles require quite a bit of knowledge. So the ease of use is kind of wonderful in that it's pretty seamless with Pro Tools. We actually got two extra blank extensions on ours so that we can potentially upgrade it to a dual mixer situation when we're doing film and TV work. So we've added that expandability option, which is nice that it's so modular.
CT: To speak to that point, where we're seeing Nashville head toward more film, TV, and video game work. I've been around the Nashville recording industry for about 34 years. We really wanted to be on that cutting edge of what's happening here in town, and Dolby Atmos and this type of equipment really gives us the tools and flexibility for whatever project comes in the door.
What are some of your favorite features?
AM: I love the pan module; it makes it super easy for working in Atmos. It's really flexible for moving [sounds] around in the room. The fact that they're touch-sensitive and not motorized is a really cool part of it. The beauty of it is, if you've got five things that you want to put in one spot, you put the joystick there. Then just bank to each track, tap the joystick, and it moves the objects to that location.
So it's really easy, especially when you're doing a lot of sound effects, to put things in place. The displays on all the functionality—whether it's the waveform, or the meters, or pan positions, or the plug-in parameters—just make it really easy to see what you're doing. Especially if you're the kind of person that’s like, “I wanna work in that console format, I wanna be grabbing knobs all the time,” having that visual feedback is great.
What do you like most about the Avid MTRX?
AM: It's pretty daunting when you first start diving into the DADman software and all the routing configurations that you can do. But most of this stuff comes down to flexibility, right? What do we want our facility to do? Well, we want to do whatever our client wants to do! And that means being able to change a lot. The fact that we can put in lots of different card systems for whatever we may need is pretty awesome. The fact that you can route things to multiple different places, within the interface, using different outputs, is awesome.
Without having to deal with Pro Tools, I'm doing all that through the DADman software. I can send stuff to the speakers, to Dante, to MADI, to AES. I can do basically whatever I want and mult those things in a lot of different places.
It's pretty amazing, especially with all the EQ tuning that we had Dolby come in and do for us on it, on the SPQ card. I have a friend that has the MTRX Studio, and even those are extremely powerful interfaces.
What are some of your favorite pieces of outboard gear?
AM: Well, in the B room we're really not using much as far as outboard gear. Just the recalls—I mean, no one wants to deal with that usually! And then when you get into Atmos, you probably just don't have enough to satisfy somebody when you're mixing the projects on a large scale. The MTRX’s preamps are fantastic and controllable from the S6, which is really cool. That’s another really cool feature of the Avid S6: I can run those preamps from the console, but I can lock them. When you're in the DADman software and you switch to Pro Tools, that stuff all goes away. But you can lock channels on the S6.
So I can have my Pro Tools session laid out however I want and then lock all the channels in a different order on the console, which is pretty fantastic.
And then we use John Hardy Co. M-1 preamps pretty regularly for voiceover, ADR, and things like that. We've also got a floating rack of API 512s that we can bring in, typically for vocals.
How do you feel about plug-ins?
AM: Fabfilter is the number one everybody uses on everything. So we've got their whole bundle. And then it's a wide mixture of stuff. We're on the latest subscriptions for Pro Tools, so all the Avid stuff's in there, and iZotope RX and Insight plug-ins.
Yeah, the iZotope post-production suite is kind of miraculous.
AM: Oh, yeah—I feel like a magician every time!
CT: Another thing is we work with Book Publishers for audiobooks and there's a lot of editing and cleanup. We also do sound packages for film, so there's a lot of dialogue editing and production audio from live sets and we are looking to match studio to live as well—getting rid of noises and being able to put those things together. Andrew and his team are experts in this area.
AM: Insight also is an extremely useful tool, especially in Atmos environments. Obviously, we've got the Dolby Production Suite, and Celemony Melodyne. And then Source-Connect is the other big thing we're using regularly in there, whether it's ADR or mix reviews for a TV show. The mixer is actually in Connecticut, and the directors and producers are all here in the studio listening to surround playback via Source-Connect, in the room. Pretty cool!
What microphones do you find yourselves using most often?
AM: Well, it depends on what we're doing, because we do a wide variety of stuff: whether it be music tracking, ADR, or voiceover. We're using different setups all the time. But we have a Warm Audio WA-47 that gets used all the time, pretty much every session, except for voiceover or ADR. The Schoeps CMC6 pretty much sound good on anything. We've got a stereo pair of those.
And obviously, for voiceover, the classic is the Neumann U 87. When we're doing ADR, we're using Sennheiser MKH 50s or MKH 416s for shotgun mics to match what they're doing on set. And then we've got a set of three Neumann M 150s for our Decca Tree. We use those for miking piano as well.
And then one of our new favorites is the Lewitt LCT 1040. It's their multi-pattern tube mic. It's pretty fantastic. It's a great-sounding mic. And it's got a remote that you can bring into the control room, and patch it via XLR into the power supply. So we're able to patch it out into the live room and then control it. They've got a FET output, so you can bypass the tube if you want. And then they have a mix knob so you can mix between the FET and the tube outputs, so you can get a blend. Then all the polar pattern and roll-off and pad controls are on the remote as well, which is really, really cool.
That's the thing I think that Lewitt does well. They have decided that they're not going to make something that looks like a U 87, right? They're just like, “no, we're gonna make a microphone that looks like it should be in the future, and that's how we're gonna design it and we're gonna give you features that make you feel like you're in a modern era.” Which I think they do pretty well.
Do you have a go-to signal chain for recording, or do you use something different every time?
AM: It's different every time, but again, it just depends on what you're talking about. If you're talking about vocals, I'm very much an “API 512 to LA-2A'' kind of person. Sometimes I'll throw an API 560 EQ on there. The GML 8200, actually, is my favorite EQ to put on vocals. So, yeah, for a vocal it would be a 512 to GML to LA-2A.
What's a typical day in the studio like for you?
CT: There's not a typical day, which is awesome. We usually have a wide variety of projects in the studio. We'll do anything from string sessions to rhythm sections in A. And then we'll be having an ADR session in B, and having an audiobook recording in C, and then for the past couple of months we've been working on a sound package for a film. So we had sound design and dialogue editing and all of those things in different rooms and mixing in the Dolby Atmos room. And then we've got Studio E video/graphics room, as I mentioned earlier, and we will have video editing going on in there.
AM: Yeah. And because the studio's a great-looking facility, we get a lot of people that shoot video here. So we'll do a lot of “in the studio” videos, where they'll track live and shoot it. Or sometimes they'll come in and shoot it like a music video, or even just commercials. We've had commercials shoot in here. We had 60 minutes and Fox & Friends shoot interviews and a commercial for Samsung phones in the past few months.
It's a wide variety of stuff. Just the last three days we had guys recording samples for virtual instruments. They love our quiet rooms because we have some of the quietest rooms in Nashville.
Right before Covid, we had Toontrack in here doing an EZdrummer pack. I believe it's their gospel pack. Calvin Rodgers was the drummer. They recorded for 10 days in our A room. We spent a day just getting all the microphones phase-aligned. They're probably the best-sounding drum samples you'll be able to get anywhere. And it's funny, it's probably the best you'll ever hear the room. Because most people don't have that kind of time to set up microphones!
Are you working on any exciting projects right now that you're able to talk about?
CT: We're finishing up production—I can't tell you what it is, but I can tell you it's a song, for a Netflix original series. We just finished an overdub for an immersive ride at a theme park. And we've got a documentary coming up that we're about to start working on. And we've got a couple of big string sessions coming in, which we are always looking forward to hosting.
What is a “big string session” in your studio? How many pieces?
CT: Anywhere from eight to sixteen. But we've got one coming in January—it's going to be twenty-one.
AM: The most I've ever done is 35. I don't typically want to go that big though. That's a lot of people in the room. It sounds great, but for comfort at least, you start getting people too close together.
It feels like there's more riding on the session if there are that many people in the room.
CT: Yes that is always true.
AM: One of the cool things is, we do a lot of our own projects, but we also are just a commercial facility that people can come and rent. So there are so many things that we don't even know we're going to be doing, but next week I'll get booked for something that is really cool. It's gonna be an exciting project. So it really depends on the month or week. Like sometimes we're cranking out a ton of our own stuff that we're doing internally and then other times, we're just doing client stuff coming in and out, in and out. It's really fun.
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