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Build a Stronger Room – Strongroom Studios

Strongroom Studios, an independent UK facility of 18 years standing has managed to stay that way by anticipating the market and bringing solutions to its clients, sometimes before they know there’s a problem. PAUL MAC investigates the latest run-around.

strongroom_people.sspecialreport_robkelly.sA couple of years ago Strongroom was experimenting with its first 5.1 DVD-V music release, and was getting to grips with Pavement, a ‘partner’ company that took up residence at the Strongroom complex to provide video and DVD production services both internally and externally. Things have come on in leaps and bounds since then. Pavement has grown from three people to 14 (at last count), and many DVD titles have gone to the presses since (including Orbital, Ash, Texas, Motorhead, and The Petshop Boys), not to mention a couple of SACD titles. And the new ProControl 5.1 room shouldn’t escape without a mention. It’s most recent acquisition has been Rob Kelly, ex-Digidesign, ex-engineer, now Business Development Manager. The title doesn’t sound too rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s one that many studios in the current European music studio climate might take heed of. He has plans, not only to develop and evolve current business, but also to look at new ways of using the Strongroom’s resources, ‘for the good of the turnover’, as it were.

Rob Buckler, Studio Manager, introduced the ideas: “The problem that we always had was that we are a studio – our resources were geared to doing that. We had lots of other ideas and opportunities, but we couldn’t follow them up – we hadn’t got the time, the money, or the resources. Now Rob has joined us we’ve got someone who can take on new projects and make them work… One area is Digital Hire, another is Audio Solutions, and the other areas are Super Audio CD and DVD Audio, and post production.”

The first things they’ve got to make work are the two new Pro Tools|HD systems that are coming their way; one 64-channel system and one 48-channel system, (plus upgrades more plug-ins, I/Os, and so on) for the existing two systems. These will form part of both the core studio stock, and the hire company stock.

“The niche we’re going for is high-end, very well maintained, very well supported Pro Tools, with large numbers of plug-ins,” Kelly explains. “We will be sending out a member of staff to plumb them in, get them working, talk to the client, figure out how they want to use it, and tell them what they need to know. We’re not initially planning to hire them out with editors, but that is something we are able to do.

“Hire would also extend to the high res’ products. We’ve got a DSD Sonoma system, a DSD Genex system here, we’ve got specialities in producing SACD, so we’d like to hire that expertise out. We’ve got Radars, Digibetas, AV XL options, and so on.

Buckler: “We’ve never been interested in setting up a hire company before, but we see a definite need for this – we are customers. We want to keep it really focussed… If we stick to what we call specialist or digital hire, we’re not going to dissipate ourselves and it will benefit the studios and our clients.”

According to Kelly, there are two main objectives with the Audio Solutions side of the plan. One is “glorified tape copying” (format conversion, transfer, and so on, to high-resolution ‘future-proof’ formats), and the other is ‘reporting’. Kelly: “A record company might find itself with a project made up of ADATs, Cubase sessions, Pro Tools sessions, Logic sessions, Radar sessions, two-inch tape, and half-inch tape, and have no idea what is where. We give them a report – these are your tapes, the formats, this is how they are lined up; these are the Pro Tools sessions, these are the version numbers and the sample rates; and here’s a list of files we think are missing or off-line. From that we can go ahead and compile the whole thing into a high-resolution Pro Tools session. They could send an album that’s been worked on by lots of engineers in lots of different studios and get a single, consolidated archive back.

“We’re going to couple it in with Rocket Networks as well. So we can, for example, receive a two-inch tape, digitise the lead vocal, and send it to New York for a re-mix.”

Next on the list is SACD and DVD production. Buckler: “We are trying to engineer ourselves into a high-end 5.1 facility. We’ve got two DSD systems now – the Sony Sonoma system and the Genex system – so we have the ability to run two studios with DSD. The ProControl room will become the first 192kHz 5.1 mix facility, able to do SACD and DVD.”

The post-production plans are split into two – short-term and long-term. First Kelly wants to simply increase business in the DVD-A room (soon to be re-dubbed Edit 1). That includes AC3 and DTS encoding, surround synthesis, and indeed any audio post production processes for music and video. Kelly: “I’m hoping to wrap that up by increasing marketing, re-designing the website, and talking to contacts.

“Over the long-term I’d like to get Studio 5 doing more traditional TV and even film-based post. There’s no reason why, with the right operator, it isn’t capable of mixing dramas, documentaries, soap operas, and so on.”

Buckler tempers this by explaining:”We are more than aware that we can’t just morph ourselves into film and TV post production based on the fact that we’re a music studio… we can’t just stick a few rooms in the car park and call ourselves Strongroom Post.”

For now, the priorities are the digital hire and audio solutions business models – both potential new revenue streams, both drawing on existing resources and equipment. Buckler: “All this investment benefits the music studios as well – there’ll be more Pro Tools, more outboard gear, more plug-ins, more technical help.”

Kelly: “We’ll be the only place that can say to a label, ‘Hire our Pro Tools and send your back catalogue here to be transferred and you can have 20 percent discount on the studios’. Or, ‘We’ll digitise your tapes and, by the way, did you know we can do a Super Audio CD mix of it at the same time?’ The data is on our server and we have a Euphonix room to mix it on.”

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